Reflections of Eminent Economists

Reflections of Eminent Economists

Edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan

In this collection of autobiographical essays, 26 prominent scholars detail their professional development, while offering insight into their lives and philosophies. With candor and humor they relate how they came to the field of economics, as well as how their views have evolved over the years.

Chapter 23: An Accidental Schumpeterian

F. M. Scherer

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


* F.M. Scherer My research program as an economist has emphasized two intersecting themes: the causes and consequences of technological innovations; and how business firms’ behavior varies with the structural environment (e.g., competitive, oligopolistic, or monopolistic) within which they operate. In commencing this agenda I was powerfully influenced by the writings of Joseph A. Schumpeter (whose death coincided with my senior year in high school). Although the insights I have attained were often at odds with Schumpeter’s teaching, I continue both substantively and methodologically to be a Schumpeterian. BLUNDERING INTO ECONOMICS How I came to be a Schumpeterian economist and indeed an economist at all is a chronicle of accidents. My formal graduate studies in economics commenced only when I was 29 years of age – at the close of life’s third decade, which, Schumpeter insisted, is the most creative period in the typical economist’s career. I was born in 1932 and grew up in Ottawa, a central Illinois farming and glass-producing community whose population was approximately 16000. My father sold coal and ice at retail – commodities with relatively low income elasticities, so we were not traumatized by the Great Depression. (My maternal grandfather, however, was forced to liquidate his department store and become an insurance salesman.) My childhood hero was Thomas Alva Edison, and if I had distinct career hopes in my early years, it was to become an inventor–chemist. Half of grade school and all of high school were spent in local Catholic schools, strong on Latin and English,...

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