Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

``Collective struggle for existence": Albert Schäffle and the social consequences of metaphors

Kuster Marius, University of Lausanne - Centre Walras Pareto

This paper explores the reliance of Austrian-German economist Albert Schäffle (1831-1903) on organic metaphors he borrowed from recent developments in (social) biology to understand capitalism. Schäffle advocated state intervention in the existing economy and had considerable influence on the scientific foundation of social reforms in the German Empire. Consequently, he was characterized as a ``New Dealer" by Schumpeter. Close to socialist thought, Schäffle accentuated the weaknesses of capitalism, but accepted them as belonging to unavoidable features of the economic system. ``Wild speculation" and ``masses of unemployed" were inherent to its functioning. To close in on these ``economic diseases", Schäffle concentrated on how to alleviate the sufferings of the weak who could not keep up with the strongest. I argue that organic metaphors to understand the economic system – the ``social body'' (Sozialkörper) and ``struggle for existence'' (Kampf ums Dasein) – shaped Schäffle’s persuasion that only the ``symptoms" of crises and capitalism could be treated. By recognizing that society cannot suppress competition, Schäffle put aside attempts to change capitalism in its fundamentals, but concentrated on holding it together by curing its worst symptoms instead.


Keywords: Schäffle, unemployment, speculation, metaphor, social body, organism

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