Creative destruction

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Creative destruction is a term originally derived from Marxist economic theory which refers to the linked processes of the accumulation and annihilation of wealth under capitalism. These processes were first described in The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels, 1848)[1] and were expanded in Marx's Grundrisse (1857)[2] and "Volume IV" (1863) of Das Kapital.[3] At its most basic, "creative destruction" (German: schöpferische Zerstörung) describes the way in which capitalist economic development arises out of the destruction of some prior economic order, and this is largely the sense implied by the German Marxist sociologist Werner Sombart who has been credited[4] with the first use of these terms in his work Krieg und Kapitalismus ("War and Capitalism", 1913).[5] In the earlier work of Marx, however, the idea of creative destruction or annihilation (German: Vernichtung) implies not only that capitalism destroys and reconfigures previous economic orders, but that it must ceaselessly devalue existing wealth (whether through war, dereliction, or regular and periodic economic crises) in order to clear the ground for the creation of new wealth.[1][2][3]

From the 1950s onwards, the term "creative destruction" has become more readily identified with the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter,[4] who adapted and popularized it as a theory of economic innovation and progress. The term, as used by Schumpeter, bears little resemblance with how it used by Marx. As such, the term gained popularity within neoliberal or free-market economics as a description of processes such as downsizing in order to increase the efficiency and dynamism of a company. The original Marxist usage has, however, been maintained in the work of influential social scientists such as David Harvey,[6] Marshall Berman,[7] and Manuel Castells.[8]


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