IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Schumpeter’s theory of self-restoration: a casualty of Samuelson’s Whig historiography of science


  • Alan Freeman


This article argues that Samuelson’s influential 1987 call for a ‘Whig history of economic science’ rests on a Whig historiography of the natural sciences. This contrasts with how science actually works: Samuelson neglects the critical role of controversy in the development of knowledge, leading to the misleading idea that scientists pursue discovery at the expense of reflection on the foundation and history of their subject. The consequence is institutional delegitimation: the exclusion of legitimate contrary hypotheses when economists test their theories, invalidating the test. Samuelson further confuses the history of ideas with the history of texts. This expands the scope of institutional delegitimation to a systematic misrepresentation of the actual ideas at stake in the economic controversies, erecting a permanent obstacle to the discovery of truth. I illustrate this with Samuelson’s exclusion from consideration of two ‘non-ignorable’ contributions to macroeconomic theory: Schumpeter’s Business Cycles, which he failed to recognise as a theory of endogenous capitalist self-restoration, and the concept of endogenous decline, excluded by his Whig reinterpretation of Marx’s theory of value. Schumpeter and Marx offered opposed, but legitimate, alternatives to the post-war macroeconomic consensus of which Samuelson was a major architect. In particular, both recognised that deep and prolonged crises were a natural product of capitalism, not an inexplicable exception. To respond to the 2008 downturn, economics needs to reopen a wide discussion without excluding, a priori, any of these opposed theoretical explanations, instead seeking to understand clearly what each of them actually says and testing them against the empirical evidence of history.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Freeman, 2014. "Schumpeter’s theory of self-restoration: a casualty of Samuelson’s Whig historiography of science," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(3), pages 663-679.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:38:y:2014:i:3:p:663-679.

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Freeman, Alan, 2016. "The Whole of the Storm: Money, debt and crisis in the current Long Depression," MPRA Paper 84394, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Mário Graça Moura, 2017. "Schumpeter and the meanings of rationality," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 115-138, January.
    3. Freeman, Alan, 2015. "Social Structures of disaccumulation: a 101 on the rate of profit and the cause of crisis," MPRA Paper 69649, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 21 Feb 2016.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:38:y:2014:i:3:p:663-679.. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.