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Russell S. Sobel: Schumpeter sagely foresaw today’s anti-capitalist class 

Commentary

It might be hard to believe, but one of capitalism’s biggest proponents predicted it wouldn’t survive—and that socialism would replace it. Looking at the changes in the world today, it’s hard to argue this prognosis doesn’t have a ring of truth.

In Canada and beyond, governments are extending their reach across the economy—whether it be spending, taxation, debt or regulation—displacing individual choice and the private sector in daily economic affairs. Concentrated interests increasingly use government to lessen competition and secure favours at taxpayer expense. And on college campuses, students and faculty have become increasingly hostile toward capitalism and private ownership and more positive toward the notion of socialism.

The prognosticator Joseph Schumpeter, one of the early 20th century’s most influential economists, is best known for popularizing the term “creative destruction”: where new entrepreneurial innovations arise and cause the old way of doing things to disappear (digital music replacing compact discs, for example). Schumpeter viewed the continuous introduction of new goods, services and methods of production as the primary source of improvements in living standards.

His most famous book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (published in 1942), contained his pioneering description of creative destruction and prognosis that socialism would replace capitalism. Schumpeter discussed his agreement with the similar prediction of socialist writer Karl Marx but was also clear that his view of both the causes and desirability differed.

While Marx believed the end of capitalism would come in the form of a working-class revolt due to capitalism’s failures, Schumpeter believed capitalism’s very successes would destroy the system from within. Rather than Marx’s view that the transition would improve living standards, Schumpeter thought it would lead to economic decline and stagnation.

Schumpeter saw several factors eventually causing the demise of capitalism. First, he believed the process of innovation would become entrenched in the routine operation of large firms such as Apple or General Electric. Progress would then no longer be so visibly attributed to the innovative actions of entrepreneurs as emotionally unattached employees, managers, and shareholders of large bureaucratic firms replaced small entrepreneurs and their employees who once directly felt vested in capitalism and property ownership. Children would aspire to be doctors or politicians but no longer entrepreneurs.

Second, Schumpeter saw the business failures that accompanied creative destruction as causing workers and businessowners to seek greater government intervention in the economy to protect their jobs and business profits. These entrepreneurs who benefitted from the competitive marketplace of capitalism themselves would lobby for government to limit competition and regulate industrial structure. Crony capitalism ensues when politically connected large businesses prosper due to the favours politicians grant them in exchange for votes, campaign contributions, and other forms of political support.

Schumpeter’s final reason puts him most in contrast with Marx. Unlike Marx’s view that capitalism exploits and impoverishes the average person, Schumpeter believed the enormous productivity of capitalism would churn out the goods needed for basic consumption, freeing up labour from the fields and factories to enjoy a leisurely life in the new modern intellectual class of academics, journalists, and bureaucrats.

This new intellectual class would be so separated and removed from the actual process of entrepreneurship and production that it would turn against its very philosophical foundations and institutions. Not understanding the roots of their very own condition, those in the intellectual class would spend their daily efforts deliberately working to undermine the systems of private property, private contracting, and markets. They condemn capitalism as a foregone conclusion and view any pro-capitalism position as illogical and anti-social. Discussion among intellectuals would require the condemnation of capitalism as “virtually a requirement of the etiquette of discussion”—a prediction many believe has come true on university campuses and in mainstream media in Canada, the United States, and beyond.

Until people once again celebrate and aspire to the creative genius of entrepreneurship and recognize that markets and the system of private property and unfettered market competition have saved them from poverty-stricken farm and factory work just to survive, we remain solidly on the path Schumpeter predicted. 

Malcolm Jolley: Ten restaurants that guarantee you a fun evening

Commentary

When Howard proposed we each draw up a list of ten of our favourite restaurants and post them at The Hub, I instantly and unequivocally agreed. Making up lists of favourite restaurants is the sort of thing I do when I daydream; it seemed like an easy and fun exercise. And, I reasoned, it would be handy to have a list committed to the World Wide Web.

I have a tendency to freeze like the proverbial deer in the headlights when a real person asks me for a restaurant recommendation, this way I would create a reference point for myself and others that I could effortlessly share.

How wrong I was! The first few restaurants were easy enough to conjure up, but after the first few that came to mind my inner deer returned and the panic came back. What if I forgot one? What if one my favourites had declined since the last time I was there? Would I attract the ire of disappointed Hubbists?

Also, what if most of my favourites were of the same type, or clustered in the same city? Worse than wrong, it might be boring. This list project turned out to be more difficult, than I first imagined.

Despite requiring some effort and some thought, the exercise of enumerating ten restaurants, spread around my hometown and some of the places I am familiar with, turned out to be quite enjoyable. My first criteria for a great restaurant is neither the quality of food nor service, per se. Instead it’s whether or not I have fun when I am there.

The places on this list are places where I have had fun. Of course good food (and often, but not always, wine) is important, and I would argue good service is essential. Though, what exactly is good is always up for debate. Fun, to my mind, isn’t: either you’ve had it or you have not. Revisiting these ten top restaurants was an exercise in conjuring up memories of fun.

Here they are in no particular order.

Restaurant L’Express, Montreal

I fell for the young lady who would become my wife after a long lunch at L’Express; it was a long time ago, in our last year of undergrad and living in Montreal. It is not clear to me which direction the positive association to this perfect bistro runs. Do I love L’Express in part because it’s where I began to fall in love with my wife, or do I love my wife in part because she also loves L’Express? Last time we were in Montreal, this time to drop off our kid at university himself, we traversed the black on white tiles up to the door and sweet-talked our way to the last two seats at the bar. We ordered from the big wine list, which helpfully tells you how many bottles of each listing are left and tried with mixed success not to simply order favourites like the sorrel soup, or classic Tartare. Then we craned our necks to look at the chic Montréalais eating well into Saturday night and let out a bit of a sigh.

The Anchor & Hope, London

In my humble opinion the “gastropub” is not a concept that travels well outside of the British Isles. Probably because North America has always had casual restaurants with good food and a bar. Britain (I am told) did not until the last decade of the last century, and when Londoners were offered the opportunity to eat well without linen table clothes and uniformed waiters and the gastropub boom was on. This restaurant pub is firmly in the tradition. The Anchor & Hope is two rooms: a bar and a dining room. If you’re lucky, you’ll start in the former, maybe with a pint of bitter, before heading to the bare unvarnished wooden tables of the latter for wine and fancy British food, like a salad with smoked mackerel. It’s on The Cut, by the Old Vic, near Waterloo Station on the south side of the river. It’s lovely to meet locals for a drink after (their) work and stay for dinner. But it’s also great fun as a kind of escape valve and temporary oasis from the West End and tourist London on the other side of the river. It should be mentioned that it was founded and is operated by alumni of St. John, and is loyal to that restaurant’s ethos.

Scaramouche, Toronto

Until COVID-19 wreaked its horrors on the hospitality industry, Scaramouche was one kitchen with two restaurants, with two menus: the dining room proper and the Pasta Bar. As a young(er) man, I had a number of formative meals in the dining room which were as expertly executed and served as any I have had in the étoilees in New York, California or Europe. There’s a period in one’s career as a diner, where this is very exciting. But when good friends took us to the somewhat erroneously named Pasta Bar I fell in love again, as it felt more intimate and convivial, and started to book it with regularity. (It also had excellent people watching.) Now, I hear it’s all one restaurant, and I regret I haven’t returned yet for the locally sourced, beautifully cooked food and the best restaurant view of the Toronto skyline going.

Il Sorpasso, Rome

I don’t go to Italy for modern cooking; I want it traditional and I want a lesson in what exactly is supposed to happen gastronomically in whatever town or countryside I am in. And yet, and yet… I love Il Sorpasso, which likes to break the rules, while making it clear they know exactly what they are doing. A good example of this is their pasta with butter and anchovy, the memory of which, paired with a Trebbiano Spolentino, is bringing water to my mouth as I type. Their gastronomic irreverence is matched with the shabby chic decor and friendly service from young people who know you know they are much cooler than you. It’s tucked in a quiet street between the Vatican and the Castle of Saint Angelo, which it makes it another escape pod oasis from the busy, tourist Rome. Unsurpassed, indeed.

Langdon Hall, Cambridge Ontario

Full disclosure: I am friends with the Bennett family that owns and operates Langdon Hall. I have been treated well there, but since they rest their reputation, and correspondingly high rates, on treating people well, I believe that’s par for the course of all their guests. Langdon is, I admit, a cheat because it’s my way of sneaking in an extra restaurant, apart from its renowned dining room. I love the Wilks Bar equally, and see the two dining areas, which share Chef Jason Bangerter’s renowned kitchen and extensive gardens, as a continuation of a whole. One can attack the gastronomic pleasures of Langdon by arriving in time for sandwich or a burger at the bar, as a kind of warm-up to the tasting menu at the dining room. Or, one can arrive later, dive fully into Bangerter’s tasting menu, and the myriad pleasures of the cavernous wine cellar, in the evening, and keep lunch at the bar as a civilizing restorative exercise the next day, after good long walk around the grounds.

Hotdog Cart (Various locations), Toronto

Hot Italian sausage on a yellow brioche bun with sauerkraut, raw onions, dill pickles, sliced banana peppers and French’s mustard. Particularly as a late lunch after some kind of business engagement, eaten standing up on the sidewalk in an alcove to get out of the way of traffic. I will defend Toronto street meat until the day I die, and those who speak down on it are wrong and damned to a life of joyless culinary ignorance.

The Rose Venice, Los Angeles

The Rose is an American restaurant that only Americans can do, and do well. In between the beach and Venice’s hipster scene on Abbot Kinney, it’s a really big space, mostly under a kind of tent and exudes boisterous energy, like a good party. I mean it’s fun and impossible not to get caught up in the vibe. Portions are, of course, commensurately expansive: a giant chopped salad with a really big glass of rosé, please.

Mi Mi, Toronto

A friend who lived around Broadview and Gerrard took me to Mi Mi’s in Toronto’s Chinatown East longer ago than I can remember, and it quickly became a regular Sunday lunch spot for our family in cold months when a steaming bowl of their Pho is more than worth the drive over the Don River. There are more exotically authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto. Mi Mi is, I think, a kind of Vietnamese diner, it serves the greatest hits of the diaspora. Cash only, fluorescent lights and good hot food made well and they are generous with the accompaniments including a homemade garlic hot sauce. It’s never empty.

La Piola, Alba

The town of Alba, in Piedmont, south of Turin, has a number of gastronomic claims including being the birthplace of Nutella, its festival of local white truffles, and the centre of the wine region of the Langhe, which includes the prestigious appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco. It’s the latter that has brought me to this perfectly sized pretty old walled town, that lives up to its reputation for the appreciation of good food and drink. The most famous restaurant in Alba is the three star Michelin Ristorante Piazza Duomo, but my favourite is across the square on the other side of the cathedral. The release of Nebbiolo wines is typically in the spring, when it is warm enough to have lunch outside, and La Piola’s tables on the piazza are a perfect spot to people-watch and enjoy a glass or two of Arneis or Dolcetto while moving through the specialities of Piedmont, like vitello tonnato or the small ravioli of pasta a plin.   

St. John (Smithfield), London

Howard has captured the spirit of St. John so well, I am not sure how to add to it, especially having written about it in my wine column too. I suppose, like the nine places that precede it on this list, it represents an oasis (a word I have used in this list twice before). It’s an island of calm in a big city, a machine that is tuned to please its guests, if (and only if) the guests are willing to be pleased and respect the pleasure. It’s in the noise of cutlery and the standard, short stemmed wine glasses, and of course the food and service. A great restaurant calls one back. I might visit London and miss a meal at St. John, but I’d be sad about it, like I had walked by the door of a good friend without knocking on it. Long may it run.