Tuesday, May 22, 2018

O capitalismo e o imperialismo segundo Schumpeter

Schumpeter’s two theories of imperialism, por Branko Milanovic:

Schumpeter’s theory is interesting for several reasons. It was formulated at the same time as Lenin’s and Luxemburg’s and clearly with the knowledge of the two. It reacts to the exactly the same events as theirs. It is different though and it was held by Schumpeter throughout his life. The key text for Schumpeter’s theory is “The sociology of imperialisms” (note the  plural) published in 1918-19. It is a very long essay of some tightly printed 80 pages in its English translation.  (...)

What Schumpeter says is the following. Imperialism, most purely defined, is “objectless”, that is, it is not directed against something or somebody that can be shown to impede one’s interest. It is thus not rational: it is a simple will to power. The canonic examples, according to Schumpeter, are Assyrians, Persians, Arabs and Franks (...)

Now, imperialism as such is atavistic and in contradiction with “normal” capitalism which is rational and individualistic and whose objectives can be much better achieved in peace and by peace. We should thus expect imperialism to diminish as capitalism becomes stronger. The least imperialistic are the most capitalistic countries like the United States. (...)

However, I think that an alternative reading of Schumpeter is possible, based on his own writings and view of capitalism.

In “Imperialisms…” Schumpeter allows that imperialism can appears in capitalistic societies. But there “we must evidently see [imperialistic tendencies] only as alien  elements carried into the world of capitalism from the outside, supported by non-capitalistic factors in modern life”. (p. 194).

But (and it is a crucial “but”) if capitalism is not the one of perfect competition and free trade but capitalism of monopolies then Schumpeter allows that “organized capital may very well make the discovery that the interest rate can be maintained above the level of free competition if the resulting surplus (my emphasis) can be sent abroad” (p. 200). “Organized capital” may realize that it has a lot to gain from having colonies.  (...)

In this description of the role of monopoly capital in fostering colonization and imperialism Schumpeter is hardly a hair's breadth away from Lenin and Luxemburg. Perhaps so, it could be argued, but these are, according to Schumpeter, special conditions of monopoly (“trustified”) capitalism that cannot be identified with “normal” or “usual” free market capitalism.

But this is not what Schumpeter says in [Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy]. There the point is forcefully made that the key feature of capitalism (what makes it grow) is innovation and that it is possible only if capitalism is monopolistic, or if it is not, innovation itself will lead to monopolies (...).

But if the normal form of capitalism is monopolistic, then the “normal” form of behavior of such capitalism is as forcefully described in “Imperialisms….”: trying to keep the domestic rate of profit above the “natural” level by exporting capital to colonies, aiming to control cheap labor and resources, and likely running into struggle and conflict with other monopolized national capitalisms. So this is the normal modus operandi of capitalism—according to Schumpeter.

The contention that perfect competition and free trade would be incompatible with imperialism becomes really irrelevant: even if the contention is valid, it refers to a textbook case of capitalism that, Schumpeter tells us, is bound to lose out and yield to a more dynamic and innovative monopolistic capitalism.

Putting these two things together then gives us a reformulated Schumpeter’s theory of imperialism which comes exceedingly close, nay is practically identical even in its emphasis on the low domestic rate of return, to classical Marxist theories of imperialism. Whether Schumpeter would be appalled, or whether he might have been aware of it, is relevant for la petite histoire. But it seems to me that the logical proximity of the two theories cannot be denied.

No comments: