Wilhelm Röpke (1899 – 1966)



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Wilhelm Röpke (1899 – 1966)

February 12, 2016

“I champion an economic order ruled by free prices and markets…the only economic order compatible with human freedom.”

Wilhelm Röpke died on this date fifty years ago. He was an excellent economist thoroughly grounded in a realistic view of human action and who, therefore, continually fought against the dehumanizing effects of Keynesian and mathematical economics. He has also served as one of my intellectual inspirations in his effort to incorporate economics into the broader fabric of general social thought. That he did not always do so successfully is manifest by his failure to square his affection for a “third way” with his conviction that a free market is the best exchange institution for attaining a good society. Nevertheless his work on critique of fascism, socialism, Keynesianism, and price controls, and his free market apologetic is worthy of both honor and study.

As I noted in these excerpts from my “Wilhelm Röpke: A Humane Economist” published in The Great Austrian Economists:

Wilhelm Röpke devoted his scholarly career to combating collectivism in economic, social, and political theory. As a student and proponent of the Austrian School, he contributed to its theoretical structure and political vision, warning of the dangers of political consolidation and underscoring the connection between culture and economic systems. More than any other Austrian of his time, he explored the ethical foundations of a market-based social order.

He defended the free market from socialist cultural critics by pointing out that social crises and cultural decline are not the product of the free society; one needs to look to state control, political centralization, welfare, and inflation as a primary source of social decay. Röpke influenced the direction of post-war German economic reform, became a leading intellectual force in shaping the post-war American conservative movement, particularly its “fusionist” branch, and has been compared with Mises as an archetype of the individualist thinker. . . .

. . .From his earliest years, Wilhelm Röpke fought collectivist and statist power in every way an intellectual could. His tools included not only economic theory but also a vision of moral goodness rooted in Christian faith. As Hayek said of Röpke: “let me at least emphasize a special gift for which we, his colleagues, admire him particularly–perhaps because it is so rare among scholars: his courage, his moral courage.” If are we concerned about fostering societies where people can live more humane lives, Röpke's advances in both Austrian economics and his vision of the good society deserve close attention.

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