miércoles, 29 de agosto de 2012

J.A. Schumpeter (desde su biografía - 14)


“In describing the industrial revolution –and in probing the nature of change, which is the heart of his thesis- Schumpeter draws sharp distinctions between inventors and entrepreneurs, and between inventions and innovations: “The making of the invention and the carrying out of the corresponding innovation are, economically and sociologically, two entirely different things.” Often the two interact, but they are never the same, and innovations are usually more important than inventions.

The career of Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) exemplifies these distinctions especially well. Arkwright was an inventor, but –much more critically- an innovating entrepreneur. Before he developed his machines, which spun cotton faster and produced stronger thread, weavers had problems in blending cotton thread with linen fibers, which come from flax. But Arkwright’s innovations, including his own emergent factory system, soon began to revolutionize the industry. Other industrialists paid him handsome fees for the use of his patented machines, and he operated several factories himself. Before long, he became very rich and received a knighthood. In Schumpeter’s terms, Arkwright was a New Man organizing a New Firm and reaping a high entrepreneurial Profit.

Arkwright’s multiple innovations and skills in organizing the whole system far surpassed the significance of his inventions alone. “Doing the thing,” as Schumpeter puts it –“the actual setting up of new production functions- is a distinct phenomenon.” The falling domino of one innovation topples the next domino, in an endless series radiating in all directions. “We readily see how every step conditions other steps –yarn and cloth, for instance, alternating in offering new demand to each other and in running up against bottlenecks, the removal of which then makes the next achievement.”

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it does not automatically produce innovation. New men operating new firms –such as Richard Arkwright in textiles, Josiah Wedgwood in pottery, James Watt and Matthew Boulton in steam engines, and many others –had to “do the thing.” In silks and woolens, which had previously dominated the British textile market, the necessary action was not taken. Both industries should have been reorganized during the 1700S. Yet as Schumpeter points out, “The rich and well-established woolen industry lagged behind, right into the thirties of the nineteenth century. It accepted progress under pressure [from cotton] and was drawn along by the more active younger sister.” The silk industry held its own but did not expand. Meanwhile, production of cotton textiles simply exploded, yielding billions of yards of fabric for export to Britain’s markets all over the world.

Eventually, after many decades of prosperity, the cotton industry itself drifted into torpor. British firms prospered so handsomely that they had little incentive to innovate further. They held to traditional mule-spinning, turning their backs on the vastly superior ring-spinning technique. And they recoiled from the commonsense idea of having the same company spin thread and weave cloth. For about 150 years after the breakthroughs of Hargreaves, Cartwright, and Arkwright, thousands of family-owned companies specialized in only one or two steps in the long process of production and were very slow to innovate. The industry declined because of “the presence of many small or medium-size firms which were inefficient but unencumbered [with debt] and could muddle indefinitely.” Schumpeter notes that “the hand jenny and the hand loom persisted for the greater part of the period and even toward the end of it there seem to have been firms which used not only antiquated power machinery, but no power machinery at all.

Meanwhile, the Americans had innovated as early as the 1830S, integrating spinning with weaving under one roof, in giant factories. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the British began to lose ground to more efficient firms in the United States and Europe, and by the time they finally modernized their factories, it was too late. Both the rise and decline of the British cotton textile industry demonstrated Schumpeter’s argument almost perfectly. Britain’s most important industry had neglected the organizational innovations so important in Schumpeter’s scheme. For this entrepreneurial negligence, the cotton textile industry paid a grievous price, particularly in the twentieth century.”

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