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Monday, October 25, 2010

What is the Opposite of "Creative Destruction?"

Live by the (Innovation) Sword, Die by the (Innovation) Sword

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

--Isaac Newton

First, there was the original kind of destruction, "destructive destruction": things like wars and earthquakes and other scourges that have always afflicted mankind, without anyone noting silver linings.

Then, in the 1940's, economist Joseph Schumpeter posited a beneficial form of destruction, "creative destruction," i.e., the notion that undergirding capitalism's success is a continual process of technological innovation, by which newcomers oust entrenched incumbents -- only to be displaced themselves eventually.

So, just as department stores like Montgomery Wards and Sears supplanted mom-and-pop retailers, Wal-Mart later supplanted Wards and Sears.

Two More Strains

But, in a world of Newtonian "equal and opposite reactions," two more strains of creative destruction logically must also exist: 'creative construction,' and 'destructive construction.'

The latter is best exemplified by so-called "bridges to nowhere": expensive, unnecessary public works whose only legacy is greater national debt.

The opposite of that would be worthwhile public projects, whose benefits more than outweigh their costs.

Best examples of the latter?

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which helped electrify the Southeast; Eisenhower's interstate highway system in the 1950's; and a little project initally underwritten by the Defense Department, now called "the Internet."

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