Einstein was a socialist. One of his reasons was the ‘ole tried and true criticism of capitalism: that capitalism funnels the wealth of society to the few, the bold, the pathological, the guys like Ray Kroc. But more than that, in his essay Why Socialism? Einstein points out that concentration of wealth impedes democracy, the result of which is that masses of people go without representation.
Using the today’s terms, we would say that economic privilege goes hand-in-hand with other kinds of privilege, like white privilege and male privilege. Deep inequality isn’t simply about whether or not the workers are getting a fair shake, it’s about the wider ripple effect.
Capitalism creates a society where the big fishes swallow up the smaller ones. It’s the rat-eat-rat world that Ray Kroc thrived in. Here’s how Einstein put it:
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 this is that democracy is perverted.
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.
Let us not forget the famous words of another great cultural icon, Yoda: Understand oligarchy, you must.
It’s true, Yoda didn’t put it quite like that, he did oppose the Sith and the Empire, and really, it’s all kind of the same thing: powerful people who use their wealth and power to get more even more powerful. It’s also kind of the opposite of democracy.
It’s also true that Yoda advised Luke to finish his training, so in that spirit, here’s the recipe for an oligarchy:
- When the nation’s wealth is largely in the hands of the few — the uber-rich or a few corporations
- And when those elites few then use their wealth to control governments,
- Then you’ve got the two main ingredients for an oligarchy
Oligarchy results in a darkening of the cultural mood. When individuals are disempowered, they get discouraged. When we look around at friends and neighbors who are being so obviously manipulated, we get frustrated. When the powers-that-be lack accountability and exploit the vulnerable to gain even more wealth and power, we begin to feel oppressed and beat down.
The world has been through this before, however. Einstein himself lived in times such as these, and he discusses this in his essay, Why Socialism? In the next post we will continue to explore Einstein’s essay and his critique of capitalism in terms of the psychological and spiritual darkness that results from the oligarchy of capitalism.