Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wilhelm Röpke (1899 - 1966)

"I champion an economic order ruled by free prices and markets...the only economic order compatible with human freedom." ~ Wilhelm Röpke, A Human Economy, p. 6.
On this date in 1966 Wilhelm Röpke entered his eternal rest.

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

Röpke was born on October 10, 1899, at Schwarmstedt in Hannover, Germany. He was the son of a physician who brought him up in the classical and Protestant Christian tradition. Serving in the Germany army during World War I, he was shocked by the sheer brutality of war, and it had a profound effect on his life. He became, in his words, "a fervent hater of war, of brutal and stupid national pride, of the greed for domination and of every collective outrage against ethics."

Consistent with intellectual trends, Röpke initially blamed war on capitalist imperialism and was drawn toward socialism as its only alternative. But he had a change of mind after reading Ludwig von Mises's Nation, State, and Economy, published in 1919. That work was, "in many ways the redeeming answer to the many questions tormenting a young man who had just come back from the trenches." A socialist economy was, necessarily, an internationally planned economy. Such a regime would seriously hinder international trade, which generates cooperation between nations and decreases the likelihood of war. The only form of socialism compatible with international trade, he concluded, is the national variety, which Röpke could not abide. He then recognized socialism for what it is: collectivism through empowerment of the state.

For some of the best of Röpke's economic work, I recommend his Economics of a Free Society and Against the Tide.

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