Social Justice

Creative Destruction’s Impacts

The last few weeks have been exceptionally hard as I watch one important social program after another see immediate cuts, and as I talk to those in our community and state who are already struggling take one more punch to the gut. This is not a story of unwise individuals making poor, lazy choices. This is rather a story of systems of oppression — our sins and the sins of our ancestors — holding fast for yet another generation of oppressed. Programs that had a chance to in some small ways right a wrong are once again dismantled.

Then I was introduced to the concept of Creative Destruction in a recent article. And my stomach did backflips (excerpts taken from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economic entry on the term):

Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950) coined the seemingly paradoxical term “creative destruction,” and generations of economists have adopted it as a shorthand description of the free market’s messy way of delivering progress.

Schumpeter and the economists who adopt his succinct summary of the free market’s ceaseless churning echo capitalism’s critics in acknowledging that lost jobs, ruined companies, and vanishing industries are inherent parts of the growth system. The saving grace comes from recognizing the good that comes from the turmoil. Over time, societies that allow creative destruction to operate grow more productive and richer; their citizens see the benefits of new and better products, shorter work weeks, better jobs, and higher living standards.

And here’s the clincher that makes my stomach do those backflips!

Herein lies the paradox of progress. A society cannot reap the rewards of creative destruction without accepting that some individuals might be worse off, not just in the short term, but perhaps forever. At the same time, attempts to soften the harsher aspects of creative destruction by trying to preserve jobs or protect industries will lead to stagnation and decline, short-circuiting the march of progress.

“…some individuals might be worse off, not just in the short term, but perhaps forever.”

But heaven forbid we should short-circuit the march of progress to soften the harsher aspects of creative destruction.

If creative destruction is the price for progress, then progress be damned.

Any philosophy that recognizes and blithely accepts that some individuals might be worse off, perhaps forever — especially given the odds of that individual arising from a systemically oppressed class — is an evil condemned in the gospels, for instance this passage from Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It is inconsistent with a new kingdom lifestyle that gave to any who had need, for instance as described in Acts 2:

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

It is inconsistent with a Jesus who overturned the tables of moneychangers to upset the systems that oppressed the poor, a theme that carries over the whole of the Bible.

Economists, please correct me where I am wrong in my understanding. I don’t want to make false claims or act out of misunderstandings. But I simply cannot reconcile a capitalist political economy based on creative destruction with the gospels of Jesus.

Everyone else, please take a minute to read the encyclopedia entry on creative destruction and let me know what you think.

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