Einstein — The Physics Giant and the Economics Dwarf

When it came to science and theoretical physics, Einstein was no dummy. Indeed Einstein’s contribution to science is unparalleled. Many of the technological tools we routinely depend on would not exist without Einstein’s theories of relativity. Examples abound: cellular telecommunications, GPS, space travel.

Without doubt Einstein was a smart cookie. With reference to him, the year 1905 is called Annus Mirabilis  (in English “miracle year”, in German Wunderjahr). That year, he published four papers in the Annalen der Physik scientific journal on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, Special relativity, and Mass-energy equivalence. They dramatically changed our understanding of space, time, mass and energy, thus building one of the pillars of modern physics (the other pillar being quantum mechanics built by Planck, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Born, et al.) The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 was awarded to Albert Einstein “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” (Fun fact:  The 1921 Physics prize was actually awarded a year later in 1922.)

Einstein was clever. But when it comes to understanding how that great big enterprise we call society operates in terms of production, distribution, exchange and consumption, Einstein was evidently clueless. His basic instincts of compassion, generosity, and altruism combined with his ignorance of economics, political economy, and economic history led him to fundamentally flawed conclusions about capitalism and socialism. It appears that he perhaps read a bit of Marx — just enough to get the wrong ideas. The kind of ideas that instinctively appeal to bleeding-heart teenagers, but which with some maturity, are discarded with a “I can’t believe that I actually believed in that pile of horse manure. Was I stupid or what?” Continue reading