Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Einstein and Hayek, On Planning

Dark Chemistry posts a nice Einstein quote (I won't re-post the whole thing -- that's thunder-stealing):

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. ...

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. ... How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Very interesting.  As it happens I'm just reading Hayek's essay 'The Use of Knowledge in Society,' which serves as a useful counterpoint to this.

The question of economic planning as both a problem in the sociology of knowledge and political theory (not to mention economics) doesn't get anywhere near enough attention from leftists.  The right-wing polarisation of the debate between totally 'free' decentralisation on the one hand and, monolithic Big Brother-esque central bureaucracy on the other is incredibly important but isn't widely challenged.  What we've tended to end up with in policy terms is a Third Way mishmash of centralisation and decentralisation -- a mix that, in some ways, might be the worst of both worlds.

Hayek's discussion of these issues (in the aforementioned essay at least) is actually rather more sophisticated than the manner in which his acolytes have appropriated his ideas.  While I find his solutions absurd he raises some very serious problems for socialism, problems that I'm not sure have ever found a decent answer -- something that Einstein himself seems to hint at.

1 comment:

  1. Ultimately two things face us: mistrust and soverignty in the world... Nations mistrust each other and zealously guard their soverign right to wage war to protect their interests. Einstein had another quote, which aligns with the previous one:

    "The only hope for protection lies in the securing of peace in a supranational way. A world government must be created which is able to solve conflicts between nations by judicial decision. This government must be based on a clearcut constitution which is approved by the governments and the nations and which gives it the sole disposition of offensive weapons. A person or a nation can be considered peace loving only if it is ready to cede its military force to the international authorities and to renounce every attempt or even the means, of achieving its interests abroad by the use of force."

    And of course what person or nation is ready to cede such force of arms in our world today? And, even if the did, to whom would they entrust such decisive withdrawel of that most cherised ability to revolt? It's a tough nut to crack: to cede security to a greater autority, a world court and judicial system with the military force to enforce its decisions would be powerful, yet also a global terror if those in power were to fall into those old socialist dictatorships of old... this fine line between socialism and democracy, pedagogy and individual and collective right is central to many of the debates....

    Einstein, Albert (2011-03-14). Essays in Humanism (p. 16).