Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy

Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy

Samuel Gregg

Wilhelm Röpke is best known for his decisive intellectual contributions to the economic reforms that took post-war West Germany from ruin to riches within a decade. In this informative book, Samuel Gregg presents Röpke as a sophisticated économiste-philosophe in the tradition of Adam Smith, who was as much concerned with exploring and reforming the moral, social and intellectual foundations of the market economy, as he was in examining subjects such as business-cycles, trade-policy, inflation, employment, and the welfare state. By situating Röpke’s ideas in the history of modern Western economic thought, Samuel Gregg illustrates that while Röpke’s ‘neoliberalism’ departed from much nineteenth-century classical liberal thought, it was also profoundly anti-Keynesian and contested key aspects of the post-war Keynesian economic consensus.

Chapter 2: Ruin and Reform: The Crisis of German Economic Liberalism

Samuel Gregg

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought, political economy, politics and public policy, political economy


In the beerhall brawls and street fights of the Weimar Republic, National Socialists gradually gained the upper hand over Communists. But it was an intimate struggle with many conversions to and fro and evident family resemblances: National Socialism adopted the negative, brutal, and cynically subversive tendencies of Communism and also its technocratic-totalitarian enthusiasm for a centrally planned economy. This last similarity lent some justification to the claim that the Nazis were a National ‘Socialist’ movement. But to the street brawler, this bit of Marxian economic doctrine meant little, and he readily replaced Marxian internationalism with nationalism. Alexander Rüstow (1980, p. 644) For understandable reasons, analysis of National Socialism’s economic dimension often takes second place to study of the regime’s foreign, military and racial policies. In part, this reflects the immensity of its crimes. It may, however, also proceed from the fact that many Nazi economic policies met with approval from large segments of European and North American opinion, even from individuals who otherwise detested Hitler’s creed. The regime’s success in reducing unemployment, its willingness to adopt expansionist fiscal policies, its extensive welfare programs, its protectionist agricultural policies, and its goal of an autarkic economy were praised by many politicians and economists throughout the 1930s. But for some German economists in the 1930s, the Nazis’ economic policies reflected their totalitarian inclinations as much as their nullification of basic civil liberties via the 1933 Enabling Act. In Wilhelm Röpke’s view, the Nazis’ increasingly interventionist economic policies, culminating in the extensive...

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