One of our regular readers and occasional commentators, Doug Garnett, happens to have expertise about media.

After he read Jill Lepore’s article, he reacted to it and added several other commentaries. He also links to Clayton Christensen’s rebuttal to Lepore.

This link is an amazing article which I urge you to read. It links together “creative disruption” with the complacency of our nation’s elites about the deindustrialization of the nation and the human toll it created.

Here is a small excerpt from a fascinating article:

A little backstory may help here. Prof. Christensen is now the most prominent heir of Joseph A. Schumpeter’s twin definition of capitalism as the source of all meaningful innovation in life, and of innovation as “creative destruction.” For both of these thinkers, the entrepreneur is the fountainhead of new value, and capital must be pulled out of less productive uses and allocated to the entrepreneur, who is the privileged source of all future of wealth-creation. In Schumpeter’s view, governments, publics, regulations, communities, traditions, habits, faculty senates, teacher’s unions, zoning boards, homeowner’s groups, professional organizations, and, last but not least, business corporations, do not create value but interfere with its creation. All that is solid must be melted into air for the entrepreneur to be free to innovate and thus transform. The resulting wreckage and waste is part of progress, and must not be reduced through regulation. This is true for shuttered factories, and also for high levels of inequality: both are part of liberating the entrepreneur to create the greater wealth of the future.

Although years of reading Prof. Christensen makes me think he’s personally humane, his theory is the business world’s single most powerful rationalization for disrupting every type of humane condition, such as job security, tax-funded public infrastructure, or carefully nurtured, high-quality product lines. Prof. Lepore was right to state, “Disruptive innovation is competitive strategy for an age seized by terror.” Disruption feeds on major and also minor terrors, like being left behind by a change deemed unavoidable, or being excluded from debate about the costs and benefits of undermining entire regional economies by offering tax breaks to companies that offshore production.

One outcome of the theory of disruptive innovation has been the shocking complacency of the U.S. political class about the national devastation wrought by deindustrialization. We have a “rust belt,” and ruined cities like Newark and Detroit, and wide areas of social and economic decline amidst enormous wealth, because business and political leaders were taught by consultants like Prof. Christensen that capitalism must destroy in order to advance. Journalists might come along and chronicle the horrible human costs of the decline of the steel industry in, say, Youngstown, Ohio (see the Tammy Thomas sections in George Packer’s The Unwinding (2013). But by the time someone like Mr. Packer arrived, decline has been baked into the regional cake.

The theory of disruptive innovation was arguably head baker, for it taught politicians in Youngstown and elsewhere that industries like steel and their unionized employees had been judged by an impartial market to be uncompetitive. Consultants would routinely opine that the only logical response to falling profits was the mass layoff and/or factory closure. In The Disposable American (2007), Louis Uchitelle pointed out that layoffs were not wars of necessity but wars of choice, and yet to say that deindustrialization expressed a cultural entitlement rather than an economic law was to stick one’s finger in the dike. Slowly but surely, Youngstown and everyplace like it no longer had economies that supported a broad, stable middle class. In addition, like Beckett’s Godot, the renewal to which this disruption was to lead never actually showed up.

Thus Prof. Lepore’s critique of disruptive innovation tapped into a pervasive, long-term anger about ruin in America and an anger at the corporate and political classes that deemed ruin necessary.