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Who here can refute Einstein on socialism?

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McDuffie posted on Fri, Apr 24 2009 9:14 AM

Why Socialism?

by Albert Einstein

This essay was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review (May 1949).

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

Read my Nolan Chart column "Me & My Big Mouth"

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Eric replied on Fri, Apr 24 2009 7:31 PM

Whoever wrote this is no Einstein. :D

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fezwhatley:

Einstein:
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.

ORLY?  Surely he would elaborate...of course not

 He did elaborate. When he fled the national SOCIALISTS.

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wilderness:

McDuffie:
(Einstein)Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all.

    The thing about unemployment in a free society that allows for homesteading is the unemployed can find a stick, maybe find somebody that would surely give them some seeds, and they can farm.  They could even hunt or gather food in the woods in the meantime.  But with the State this can't be done due to no homesteading allowed, property taxes, and they can't hunt without a license off-season.  Now that's the real lacking of a safety net in which the individual is coerced from their own willingness and efforts to survive.

 



I would've been less forgiving with this point in his argument; leftists have been shouting (& continue to do, as a recent conversation with a largley non-typical Marxist friend confirmed) for decades about the imaginary & idiotic situation of technology progressing to the point of automating everyone out of jobs.

Even when you consider the possibility, like "Well, perhaps one day...", there have so many idiots in the past century who, on the cusp on another decade, shout that we are approaching the Automated Age of some sorts, where typical jobs would no longer be available, and yet....?  

Nope, didn't, has not, & probably will not ever occur, considering the possibility that the very Statists who decry such a ridiculous scenario will probably blow everyone else up while their leader is clutching the red button over imaginary nukes from North Korea or some other red-herring country.    

If the conservatives / right (largely) like to bitch about immigrants in the same manner of jobs being stolen, then the left (largely) also does so with technology (with technological progress or the robots being the ultimate immigration threat, in ways).  



Pro-Tips for Argument (Off-Topic; Ignore if you want):

I guarantee if you point the above out in an argument & accuse a socialist of being a Luddite, you will put a dent in such backwards thinking, that technological progress itself will render us all jobless.  

Added bonus points if you also point out the hypocrisy of Leftists using this argument (of technology somehow decreasing jobs), yet at the same time, they go on & on about The New Green Economy that Comrade Obama is helping to rev up to save us from The Great "Recession" (aka The Great Depression Part II:  Attack of The Dollar Clones).  

Wrap up your point by reminded them that reading the The Communist Manifesto, watching C-Span late at night, and wallowing in forums & the socialist sub-reddit, does not make them an economics genius, & that if they read anything beyond their own group think, they'd realize they don't know much about jack.  

 

"Look at me, I'm quoting another user to show how wrong I think they are, out of arrogance of my own position. Wait, this is my own quote, oh shi-" ~ Nitroadict

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Nitroadict:

If the conservatives / right (largely) like to bitch about immigrants in the same manner of jobs being stolen, then the left (largely) also does so with technology (with technological progress or the robots being the ultimate immigration threat, in ways).

Haha.  That reminds me of an episode of the Twilight Zone, "The Brain Center at Whipples".   It makes use of the 'robots will replace us' scare tactic - in 1964.  And yet, here in 2009, at my work the robots are probably the most unreliable things at the whole plant.

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sicsempertyrannis:

Nitroadict:

If the conservatives / right (largely) like to bitch about immigrants in the same manner of jobs being stolen, then the left (largely) also does so with technology (with technological progress or the robots being the ultimate immigration threat, in ways).

Haha.  That reminds me of an episode of the Twilight Zone, "The Brain Center at Whipples".   It makes use of the 'robots will replace us' scare tactic - in 1964.  And yet, here in 2009, at my work the robots are probably the most unreliable things at the whole plant.

I don't get the lefties, first they complain about working hours that are too long and then they complain because machines make them shorter.

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"

Bob Dylan

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Mises' Theory and History Chapter 15 Section 3 'The Egalitarians' Interpretation of History' should do the job in refuting this essay. It appears that Einstein was a victim to the vicious Marxian "presumption that civilization, progress, and and improvement emanate from the operation of some mythical factor—in the Marxian philosophy, the material productive forces—shaping the minds of men in such a way that certain ideas are successively produced contemporaneously in them." What Einstein failed to see is that without the Capitalist system of the division of labor accompanied by private ownership of the means of production, not only is the incentive to excel, achieve, innovate removed, but also the very capacity to do so is also removed in that there would be no means for economic calculation.

 

To simply ask the question "Can anyone here refute this?" is a simplistic question. Yes we can, but not justifiably so in just a couple of paragraphs in a discussion forum. Ludwig von Mises, the preeminent economist of the 20th century, spent a good portion of his esteemed career refuting such claims as Einstein made in this essay. If you really want a satisfactory answer that delves deeply into the issue, then you should study his master works: Human Action, Theory and History, and Socialism. If you want an answer as simplistic as your question, then here it is: A society based on the socialist ideology espoused by Einstein would be Utopian, if by Utopian you mean a society marked by extreme poverty, rampant violence, totalitarian control by an omnipotent centralized State power, mass death, short life expectancy, miserable living standards, etc.

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Azure replied on Tue, Sep 7 2010 8:40 AM

I would've been less forgiving with this point in his argument; leftists have been shouting (& continue to do, as a recent conversation with a largley non-typical Marxist friend confirmed) for decades about the imaginary & idiotic situation of technology progressing to the point of automating everyone out of jobs.

Even when you consider the possibility, like "Well, perhaps one day...", there have so many idiots in the past century who, on the cusp on another decade, shout that we are approaching the Automated Age of some sorts, where typical jobs would no longer be available, and yet....?  

Nope, didn't, has not, & probably will not ever occur, considering the possibility that the very Statists who decry such a ridiculous scenario will probably blow everyone else up while their leader is clutching the red button over imaginary nukes from North Korea or some other red-herring country.

Can't happen by definition. Comparative advantage, remember? You can always gain by cooperating and trading with someone, no matter what. Absent non-market forces there will always be work for those who want it no matter how automated things become.

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It's so odd that many individuals in the realm of religion seek Einsteins quotes and pantheistic opinions as muster against atheism, but when he speaks of politics his misguided opinions are simply overlooked.

Read until you have something to write...Write until you have nothing to write...when you have nothing to write, read...read until you have something to write...Jeremiah 

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Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being

-------

I hate hate hate when people turn that into "therefore socialism is good" 

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^Why not, it's got the word social in it *rolls eyes*

Freedom has always been the only route to progress.

Post Neo-Left Libertarian Manifesto (PNL lib)
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I just watched the recent discovery announced by the CERN at Switzerland today, and I said to myself: "I need to get back to this post so that you can show that idiot that Einstein's theories were wrong", yeah in your face two years later!! imao! http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-0923-speed-of-light-20110923,0,497738.story

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thelion replied on Sat, Sep 24 2011 12:19 AM

Quote:

"I'm not really shocked by this, as most intellectuals are leftist or statist anyway, and definitely were back then. I think I see this in my own physics department and at University generally. In all fairness I think it would have been fairly unlikely for Einstein to have come across Mises, though part of me just wishes they bumped into each other at least once! Or better yet both Einstein and Godel meet Mises, the results could have been tantalising!"

 

Kurt Godel was best friend of Oscar Morgenstern, and vice versa. Morgenstern learned all his economics under Mises. Too bad Morgenstern was a bad economist, however, since he believed in cardinal utility (see first chapter of his book with Von Neumann, which was just Morgenstern's attempt to refute ordinal utility).

Problem is, physiologically, Donald Hebb showed in 1949, that pleasure is growth of neural network, literally. There is no numerical comparison, because it is just topological change. It can't be compared, because old neural network is gone, and only topology of neuron growth and firing within confined of glial matrix matters. This also proved Mises' 1949 contention that preferences change every time we do anything, and cannot be revealed over time (Rothbard expanded more on this question in 1956).


Speaking of which, most scientists are socialists, but ordinal utility in terms of pure preferences (preferences between bundles and within bundles), which is result of physiology, kills "social preferences" concept. Its just that most scientists thinking about this question simply ignore the economics and physiological literature entirely. They don't read outside their narrow field...

Einstein is classic example, who notoriously cited very few people (compared, say with modern physicists such as Roger Penrose, who has pages and pages of citations in virtually any major article or book). So of course he was a socialist...

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Joe the Butcher = Butcher.  This man by defintion cares and knows about butching

Joe The Baker = Baker.. This man by definition cares and knows about baking

Joe the Candle Stick Maker = Candle Stick Maker.  This man by definition knows and cares about candle stick making

What these men say "with authority" outside of their scope of practice outside of there significant esoteric circles, mean nothing to me outside of what the price of their product sell for....and if what they said did mean something more to me in the subiective sense, by definition, would logically have no more consequence as Joe the physicist, Joe the priest,  or Joe the McDonalds employee vs Einstein the physicist.   He is just as much working for his interest, using his subjective values, and using his comparative advantage to subsidize his aesthetics on top of someone elses as much as the next guy and with equal qualifications as the butcher, baker, and candle stick maker.  They are all knaves in this regard

Intellectuals hate economists because they happen to, by the nature of their trade, have a more relevant and qualified narrative on scientism,  evolution, materialism, psychology (to an odd extant),  society, egoism, subjectivism, etc than they can give in relation to human affairs and actions.  Like it or not economics is the corner stone of all sociological (and to a degree personal/ psychological) metaphysical and scientific thought when it comes to the world of universal intersubjective communication.  Einstein, in this regard is subject to the laws that Mises spelled out. 

They are both amazing relativists, however Einstein was trying to walk into territory where he was no more qualified to comment than a McDonalds employee.  If Einstein cared that much about intersubjective relations, he should have studied it as rigoursly as Mises had...likewise if he cared about the quality of serving friesquickly and with a satisfactory taste - he should have worked at McDonalds.

It seems as if academics still can not accept radical Aristotelian styled empiricism when it is empolyed by the social sciences. 

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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thelion replied on Sat, Sep 24 2011 12:25 PM

Actually, Gottfried Leibniz, founder of Calculus, Dynamics, and more, was also one of earliest jurists (his real job) to defend market rationality in way the Mises did:

"Every time someone does anything, they do it only because they prefer it to something else. If they did not receive or expect to receive pleasure, they would not have done it. Also, there is no opposition of love and pleasure. You only love others if their appearence of well-being gives you pleasure. There cannot be any other kind of love. Everytime someone denies this, they contradict themselve the moment they bend their finger or open their mouth."

(translation from latin preface to his book of legal documents in 1670's if I remember correctly).

James Hutton wrote 600 pages more on this topic (Volume 3, Investigations of Principles of Knowledge).

Thus:

Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Condillac, Hutton, and Mises are one side,

Socialists, even including Einstein, are on other side.

Question:

Which side is more impressive scientifically overall? Especially now with neutrino experiment:

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McDuffie replied on Sun, Sep 25 2011 11:28 PM

What idiot?

Read my Nolan Chart column "Me & My Big Mouth"

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