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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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McDuffie:
Who here can refute Einstein on socialism?

A better question would be:  Why should anyone listen to or seek council from Einstein on government and the economy?  He has no credentials to speak on the subject simply by virtue of his name.  I do not seek out the wisdom of Livy or Hayek when it comes to physics.  I do not invest with the brick maker when buying jewels.  So why should I take the advice of a physicist who subscribes to a system which has caused more oppression, poverty, war, and mass-murder than any other?  Take note as well that Einstein specifically chose not to live in a socialist economy, having two major ones to choose from.

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MaikU replied on Wed, Sep 28 2011 8:33 AM

If socialism is so cool, then how come Einstein is DEAD?

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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Even as a theoretical physicist, Einstein was wrong on a number of factors so it's safe to assume that his views of economics where just plain wrong. He would of received the Nobel Prize on several more occasions if he only believed what his equations put forth.

Once he discovered general relativity, I believe, he only made a few more major ground breaking contributions (Bose-Einstein condensates/statistics) to physics.

A number of mistakes that he made of the top of my head:

The cosmological constant that cost him dearly thanks to Hubble.

His constant tirades against quantum mechanics where Neils Bohr defeated him in every debate. Because Einstein didn't accept quantum mechanics, he's work suffered tremendously in attempting to find a master equation that would couple gravity with electrodynamics.

Not accepting that his equations predicted black holes, big bang, and singularities in general.

 

 

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Decided I wanted a laugh, so I started reading:

 

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.

Anyone see the irony here? If he had only taken it to it's logical conclusion: this is what the government is doing to us!!!!

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If socialism is so cool, then how come Einstein is DEAD?

Reductio ad absurdum. You win.

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Einstein:
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.
 
The logical conclusion of this is methodological dualism.
 
Einstein:
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.
 
Conquest is largely economic. "I want what you have and I'm not willing to exchange anything for it, but I'm willing to take it by force." However, the systems of values in various (arbitrarily-delineated) societies have not been made out of whole cloth, as it were - they have evolved over centuries and millennia. In other words, Mr. Einstein gives the priests too much credit.
 
Einstein:
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.
 
Sure it can. Economic science, as advanced by the Austrian School of Economics, demonstrates that any conscious organism (e.g. man) acts in its own perceived self-interest. Unless and until there's a way for one person to literally drive another's action (i.e. think for him), all human beings will remain in the "predatory phase" of development (as it were). However, once there's a way to do the above, then some human beings - namely those doing the thinking for others - will remain in that phase. Taking it to its logical endpoint, there would ultimately be one person doing the thinking for literally everyone else. Even then, mankind as a whole would still be in the "predatory phase" of development. So I fail to see how this phase of development could ever truly be overcome. It seems that the purpose Mr. Einstein attributes to socialism is doomed from the start.
 
But on the other hand, if economic science can throw little light on the socialist society of the future, how in the world can Mr. Einstein himself - or anyone else - do so?

The keyboard is mightier than the gun.

Non parit potestas ipsius auctoritatem.

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McDuffie replied on Thu, Sep 29 2011 10:44 AM

I am not an idiot. Look at my avatar. Does it look like I am defending socialism?

I posted this without commenting on it because, at the time, I was working well over 80 hours per week. I just wanted other people on this forum to check it out and comment upon it.

EDIT: Maybe I am an idiot. Look at how many times I quoted this person, and now I can't figure out how to edit it.

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

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Hi, I didn't call you an idiot, I know what you posted (excelent article by the way). I was talking about a user named hax0r in the following link --> http://www.reddit.com/r/Libertarian/comments/8a50o/are_you_as_tired_as_i_am_of_the_media/c08o6q8 (Nitroadict posted this link in 2009 in the first page after your first post). Have a nice day!

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xahrx replied on Thu, Sep 29 2011 3:33 PM
"I was just in the bathroom getting ready to leave the house, if you must know, and a sudden wave of admiration for the cotton swab came over me." - Anonymous
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Ok, sorry. I misunderstood.

I guess I am a little overly-sensitive today.

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

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Suggested by whakaheke

Einstein himself "refuted" this in other things he wrote...

e.g.:

It is no accident that Capitalism has brought with it progress, not merely in production but also in knowledge. Egoism and competition are, alas, stronger forces than 'public spirit' and 'sense of duty.' In Russia they say it is impossible to get a decent piece of bread. Perhaps I am over-pessimistic concerning State and other forms of communal enterprise, but I expect little good from them. Bureaucracy is the death of achievement.

~ Albert Einstein, The World As I See It: Culture and Prosperity (1954), pp.88-89

An autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. Force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels. ... The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; the individual alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.

~ Albert Einstein, The World As I See It: Culture and Prosperity (1954) p.13

Every individual should have the opportunity to develop the gifts which may be latent in him. Alone in that way can the individual obtain the satisfaction to which he is justly entitled; and alone in that way can the community achieve its richest flowering. For everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labour in freedom. Restriction is justified only in so far as it may be needed for the security of existence.

~ Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (1950), p.19

 

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Justin replied on Sun, Oct 23 2011 10:32 PM

It's very interesting, but it serves to prove what I always tell friends.  If a person has Phd in physics, it does not mean they are qualified to discuss Botany based on that.  

 

I'm a biology nerd, and when I was growing up I heard, "Albert Einstein said that when all the bee's are gone, man only has 3 years left on the planet".  To which I can only respond, "But Einstein isn't a biologist or environmental studies professor.  He also has not shown any great aptitude in studying the evolution of any environment, let alone one in which bee's do not exist."  

 

The terrible thing about smart men is that they wield power over things that are out of their scope.

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Answered (Not Verified) Shep replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 1:13 PM
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Well we have to remember that Einstein was an ethical humanist, and found this (and agnosticism) to be a middle ground between religion and atheism. Einstein preferred "an attitude of humility" over the two dogmas.

Now maybe Einstein was just doing the same thing with economics. Seeing the excesses of capitalism in the industrial-class American society, and the excesses of statism in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, socialism may have been his "middle ground" belief between the two. 

Einstein's assessment of history is true in the sense that capitalism and government have often been the twin tools of humanity at its worst: excessively greedy, monopolistic, and in favor of conquest and colonialization. This is even a view shared by one of America's founders, Thomas Jefferson: “I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." It was not government alone, nor capitalism alone, which allowed for the slave trade, for example. And since even America's founders seemed to believe in a small government yet one that was big enough to make sure corporations did not become more powerful than people, Einstein seemed to be merely reflecting that capitalism needs a dose of humanity, and until they day that humanity comes from within, it will have to come from without (through democratic socialism's government interventions). Women, black people, Asian immigrants, the Irish and other Catholics- I'm sure they all would have agreed with him at the time.

 

So as somebody who was trying to navigate between hardcore atheism and hardcore Christianity; and the excesses of the state as well as the excesses of corporations, it really makes sense that he would choose an ethically humanist middle ground. To refute Einstein, we need to look at psychology: is there a way we can ever get to a place where corporations have internal checks on their excesses, so that we do not need to rely on external ones that have potential for abuse (overly-bureaucratic potential- something Einstian was also against)?

Yes. Through education. Einstein was right to say we need to be educated in an ethical humanist framework. If everyone were socially responsible and valued their communities through action, we would not need government intervention in the free market. We need a campaign through media, schools, and parents to instill this. It has happened a little bit so far and now you hear about "socially responsible corporate practices," which is a good start. Let's continue this! Perhaps we can get more independent, NGO watchdogs to provide rating systems of corporations, documenting their practices (or lack of transparency), to better educate people on this; and instill in people, through social media, the importance of boycotting more. It is true that we often don't care about human rights abuses for our cool toys (Foxconn's Apple products made by terrible conditions in China, leading to mass suicides, but we didn't boycott s***). We just need to work on that! 

...my opinion, anyway

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So the brilliant Einstein's automatic position on every question imaginable is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

He didn't bother to examine the quality of the ideas on their own merits.

And this is to expalin how smart he was.

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It's easy to refute an argument if you first misrepresent it. William Keizer

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Shep replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 9:59 AM

The purpose of what I wrote was clearly just to explain the historical context and philosophy behind his choice.  I sure hope that if I am ever wrong about something in your entire life, people would be fair enough to judge me by taking into account my context.

People's economic beliefs tend to follow after their beliefs about cosmology, metaphysics, ontology, and and human nature. To Albert Einstein, the problem of capitalism seemed to be a problem of human nature: that great power is dangerous to us humans, and so big business is dangerous to us humans. The quality of its own merits argument? I am not sure what you mean by that. What about the fact Einstein could look around at capitalism and saw its excesses? It's not as if he was just like "I'm going to choose between two extremes on everything." There was empirical evidence was already there for Einstein to believe in socialism. 

"Charles Booth, a wealthy and politically conservative London ship owner who set out in 1886 to disprove claims by Marxists that one-fourth of the working class lived in severe poverty. Using his own money to fund the research, Booth and his assistants surveyed East London residents about many socioeconomic forces that affected their lives. It took 17 volumes of The Life and Labour of the People of London (1891-1903) to report the study. Ironically, instead of disproving the Marxists’ claims, Booth concluded that they had underestimated the proportion of people living in poverty. Booth even recommended social welfare measures that he termed limited socialism."

Another example is How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890) by Jacob Riis. This book convinced the conservative Theodore Roosevelt, then a police chief, to explore the idea of exploitation of the poor; he changed his mind to believing that it is true that in many cases, people are poor not because they do not work hard enough, but because of external forces (such as exploitative rent). Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, describing the conditions of the meat packing industry- "where rats, putrid meat, and posioned ratbait were routinely ground up into sausages." Roosevelt responded with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. 

Both Roosevelt and Charles Booth wanted social reforms not only because they were practical and ethical, but also *to keep people from socialism* (which is a stage leading to the dictatorship of communism). Democratic socialism (a limited socialism, with no pretext to any form of dictatorship, hence the word "democratic") was the conclusion of both these conservative men, not simply because it was "the middle ground" but because it was the best idea at the time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Booth_(philanthropist)#The_survey_into_London_life_and_labour) "Booth argued that such reforms would help prevent socialist revolution from occurring in Britain."

(http://millercenter.org/president/roosevelt/essays/biography/4) "As chief executive, Roosevelt felt empowered by the people to help ensure social justice and economic opportunity through government regulation. He was not a radical, however; TR believed that big business was a natural part of a maturing economy and, therefore, saw no reason to abolish it. He never suggested fundamentally altering American society or the economy to address various economic and social ills. In fact, he often stated that there must be reform in order to stave off socialism; if government did not act, the people would turn to more extreme measures to seek remedies."

 

Albert Einstien would have been accoustmed to Marx, Charles Booth, Jacob Riis, and Theodore Roosevelt. Even Einstein had criticisms of socialism gone-too-far. My argument was that it was rational of him, given the choices he was facing at the time, to choose democratic socalism. 

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