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6. Production: The Rate of Interest and Its Determination

Appendix: Schumpeter and the Zero Rate of Interest

The late Professor Joseph Schumpeter pioneered a theory of interest which holds that the rate of interest will be zero in the evenly rotating economy. It should be clear from the above discussion why the rate of interest (the pure rate of interest in the ERE) could never be zero. It is determined by individual time preferences, which are all positive. To maintain his position, Schumpeter was forced to assert, as does Frank Knight, that capital maintains itself permanently in the ERE. If there is no problem of maintenance, then there appears to be no necessity for the payment of interest in order to maintain the capital structure. This view, treated above, is apparently derived from the static state of J.B. Clark and seems to follow purely by definition, since the value of capital is maintained by definition in the ERE. But this, of course, is no answer whatever; the important question is: How is this constancy maintained? And the only answer can be that it is maintained by the decisions of capitalists induced by a rate of interest return. If the rate of interest paid were zero, complete capital consumption would ensue.42

The conclusive Mises-Robbins critique of Schumpeter's theory of the zero rate of interest, which we have tried to present above, has been attacked by two of Schumpeter's disciples.43 First, they deny that constancy of capital is assumed by definition in Schumpeter's ERE; instead it is “deduced from the conditions of the system.” What are these conditions? There is, first, the absence of uncertainty concerning the future. This, indeed, would seem to be the condition for any ERE. But Clemence and Doody add: “Neither is there time preference unless we introduce it as a special assumption, in which case it may be either positive or negative as we prefer, and there is nothing further to discuss.” With such a view of time preference, there is indeed nothing to discuss. The whole basis for pure interest, requiring interest payments, is time preference, and if we casually assume that time preference is either nonexistent or has no discernible influence, then it follows very easily that the pure rate of interest is zero. The authors’ “proof” simply consists of ignoring the powerful, universal fact of time preference.44

  • 42. See Mises, Human Action, pp. 527–29. Also see Lionel Robbins, “On a Certain Ambiguity in the Conception of Stationary Equilibrium” in Richard V. Clemence, ed., Readings in Economic Analysis (Cambridge: Addison-Wesley Press, 1950), I, 176 ff.
  • 43. Richard V. Clemence and Francis S. Doody, The Schumpeterian System (Cambridge: Addison Wesley Press, 1950), pp. 28–30.
  • 44. As has been the case with all theorists who have attempted to deny time preference, Clemence and Doody hastily brush consumers’ loans aside. As Frank A. Fetter pointed out years ago, only time preference can integrate interest on consumers’ as well as on producers’ loans into a single unified explanation. Consumers’ loans are clearly unrelated to “productivity” explanations of interest and are obviously due to time preference. Cf. Clemence and Doody, The Schumpeterian System, p. 29 n.