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August 29, 2008

Barack Obama and Joseph Schumpeter

I love many aspects of the Obama Campaign, but until recently, I had been thinking that its "change" slogan was pretty much empty. Then it occurred to me that the slogan could reflect a particular conception of democracy--if not intentionally, at least in the way it is being received. This is that idea that the people's job is to vote the incumbent party in or out, depending on recent performance. As Joseph Schumpeter wrote in 1942:

Applying Schumpeter to the 2008 election would mean saying that the Republicans and Democrats are "would-be leaders," and the Democrats are asking to be chosen because the Republicans have messed up. That could be a good way for Democrats to get elected, assuming (a) that Americans act like Schumpeterians and (b) that we render verdicts on parties rather than individuals.

There are two big problems with Schumpeter's theory, however. First, immediate past performance is often a poor predictor of future performance. Schumpeter believed that citizens voted on the past record because they simply couldn't make rational predictions. But that's bad news, if true.

Second, limiting voters' role to an up-or-down verdict is very much at odds with the other rhetoric of the Obama Campaign, which (pace Schumpeter) is about the people actually ruling. Perhaps "change" means a new way of tapping the energies and ideas of American citizens. If that's the intention, it must be made very clear.

August 29, 2008 5:19 PM | category: none



Your second point is very important. I've felt I "got" the Obama strategy for change from a post of yours several months ago comparing community organizing and national politics. Organizers tap into a persons anger at the problems and tap into belief that they can make it better with others. Then the hard work begins.

Last night Obama used lots of "I will" and not much "if you demand it, will support you" civic language.

I thought you were going to Creative Destruction, which Obama seemed to align with the American Dream when he used new language about the hope in the unseen future. Walter Russell Mead highlighted this aspect of Anglo-American culture and religion in his latest book, God & Gold. That is, God was seen not in institutions of the past or present but in the innovation which created a new future. This was newish to me but made much sense and I was impressed and surprised when Obama added that to his mostly boiler-plate liberal Dem acceptance speech.

August 29, 2008 6:01 PM | Comments (1) | posted by Scott D

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