“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.”
The above quote is from a paper that Dr. Einstein wrote in 1949, which originally appeared in the Monthly Review and is available online here. The rest of this essay is a libertarian’s response, a strong disagreement with his analysis of social reality.
Einstein (hereinafter “the socialist”) recognizes that there is are distinctions between the methods applicable to the science of Astronomy and those applicable to the study of Economics, and correctly attributes these distinctions to the innumerable and nigh immeasurable factors which govern human action. Scientists attempt to discover the laws which govern the movements of objects under such forces as gravity and electromagnetism, while the Economist’s endeavor is plagued by biochemistry and feelings and morality and what the subjects in question might have eaten for breakfast six weeks ago. Planetary bodies and chemicals do not have feelings, morals, memories and upbringings; human beings do, and all these traits are difficult to quantify. Stars and asteroids do not owe their existence to the conquest of contrary stars and asteroids, as do states; solar systems are constructed and spin in their orbits without a thought to property rights or social justice.
The socialist government, like a libertarian thinker, espouses the idea that the mathematical tools used to determine the orbits of planets are ill-suited to determining the human pursuits of happiness and sustenance. Nor does it assume that all men are predatory beasts, driven only by our desires for food and fornication; no, idealized socialism recognizes the value of human cooperation, love, devotion and honor. The socialist strives not to better his station, but to better the average conditions of all members of his species. He wishes to overcome the threat of global extinction through war, and to encourage international cooperation and a unification of human efforts for universal wellbeing.
It is here that the libertarian view begins to differ from the socialist. The socialist recognizes the same pieces of evidence as does the libertarian; he sees the injustice man does to man, and desires a means of rectifying that injustice. But the socialist believes that government action, supra-government action on a world scale, is the means by which this might best be achieved. He speaks of man receiving a home and a livelihood from the benevolence of society, and does not recognize that man might have accomplished anything constructive by the use of his own hands, save as they serve that society. In the socialist’s view, man is not noble in and of himself, but acquires that nobility from his friends and neighbors.
Certainly, a man is noble who treats others well, and a group of people is happiest when all members strive together and do not fight. But the socialist, upon seeing this, concludes that it ought to be the duty of some council of men to govern the actions of others; that all the productive effort undertaken by humanity must be carefully planned by some central power, lest we twiddle our thumbs and end up with too many trains and not enough automobiles or hammers. He recognizes that human effort is inexorably tied to humanity’s efforts by the world economy, and based on this he concludes that man must have his course chosen for him, and must not be permitted to choose for himself.
The socialist’s greatest enemy, as he terms it, is the “economic anarchy” of modern capitalism. This anarchy allows anyone to feed his own ego, to retain the fruits of his labors for the sake of his further efforts, and to convince his less canny compatriots to part with their own productivity. In other words, it permits and encourages the existence of an unacceptable inequality between the scheming capitalist and the oppressed worker.
Here, the socialist slips. As he puts it,
It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
I am uncertain as to the origin of this line of thinking. Clearly, the value of the worker’s product is not the only factor determining his compensation, but it necessarily plays an integral part: the capitalist is unable to realistically pay the worker more than the value of his product! From there, it is left to competing workers offering their labor to reach an agreement with the capitalist as to the wage they are willing to accept. Woe indeed to the worker whose demands exceed his productive capabilities, for he must subsist on his fellow man’s charity in some form or another.
The socialist further attacks the concentration of wealth that arises from snowballing capital. He decries the deflationary results of technological progress, which allow a few workers to do the tasks of many, freeing the others to other pursuits, because this same deflation and progress serves to enrich a capitalist oligarchy. He decries the unfortunate reality that “There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment,” and then decries the waste of labor borne of competition, completely ignoring (or perhaps failing to notice) the contradiction between those two complaints.
Just before his conclusion, he finally attacks the ways in which capitalism harms the individual, who has an unnecessary competitive spirit drilled into him by the education system and may never find productive employment in which he is truly happy and socially adjusted.
Finally, he leaves the reader with this: that the solution to these capitalist evils is a planned socialist economy, but that central planning in and of itself may result in bureaucratic tyranny and must be combated with a suitable education system. How this centralized and homogeneous education system may reliably impart general social wellness without falling under the influence of that bureaucracy is apparently left as an exercise for the reader.
It is not with the socialist’s first principles that the libertarian disagrees. Rather, it is his reading of the problems facing the world as it is, and the conclusion that he reaches regarding a solution. Indeed, the socialist and libertarian are united in many of their goals. The differences between the two are mostly in how these goals are to be achieved. The socialist sees too much freedom for the oligarchs and capitalists of the world, to take advantage of the workers as they wish, with nobody there to stop them; the libertarian sees fascists and corporatists ruling the supposedly free market by the use of too-strong governments, leaving the worker with no freedom to improve his own situation. The socialist sees an educational system poisoned by an ultracompetitive working environment which demands motivated slave labor; the libertarian sees a single monolithic indoctrination system, designed by the powers that be to produce willing and unthinking cattle for corporate feedlots and government tax slaughterhouses. The socialist sees men’s souls destroyed by the plight of too much effort; the libertarian sees that sadness stems from forcibly misdirected efforts.
In the 60 years since Einstein wrote his piece, Socialism and Capitalism have largely passed from the world, if they ever had a place in it. Those nations which called themselves ‘Socialist’ toppled under the weight of their own centrally-planned mismanagement; you can buy thousands of rounds of cheap ammunition produced by Russian and Yugoslavian manufacturers at the behest of those bureaucrats Einstein feared. The ‘Capitalist’ nations fall to pieces before our eyes, victims of the oligarchs and fascists and those same attempts at poisonous central planning.
Neither Socialism nor the present incarnation of what we call Capitalism has offered any sort of solution to the problems that Einstein and you and I fear. These past decades of evidence stand against the Socialist experiment behind the Iron Curtain and the Corporatist disaster in the west. I believe, as a libertarian, that the solution lies in a lack of force and violence, a lack of government intervention in what human beings ought to be choosing for themselves on an individual basis. I believe that grown men do not need leaders, and that there is a basic human goodness which asserts itself in the absence of authority.
I believe in freedom.