Two Essays By Wilhelm Ropke: The Problem Of Economic Order; Welfare, Freedom, And Inflation, with an introduction by Johannes Overbeek
For those who are not aware, Wilhelm Ropke is one of the most noted economists of the 20th century, a founder of the neoliberal tradition that remains important among the economists of the free world who oppose protectionism as well as socialism, and someone whose thoughts have been implemented by successful governments seeking to recover from the horrors and destruction of war. These two essays are short ones and have a bit of overlap, but they give a flavor of Ropke’s thinking for readers who might be intrigued to figure out what is so bad about inflation and how it threatens the well-being of people and how it is that planned economies fail to spectacularly and why. These were important questions at the time the author wrote these essays and they remain important questions now in an age where a great many people who know little or nothing about economic realities are drawn to socialism because of the rhetoric of justice that it brings with it. To be sure, these are not the only writing of Ropke that are well worth reading, but like ten thousand lawyers at the bottom of the sea, they are a good start at least.
The work as a whole is a bit more than 100 pages long and is divided into two essays that are themselves made up of smaller lectures by the author. The problem of economic order, for example, is addressed in four lectures. The first lecture introduces the problem. After that the author provides the different solutions to the problem, in which the author identifies only two possible contemporary solutions in the free market economy on the one hand and some kind of socialist/planned economy on the other (2). The author then discusses the grounds upon which a choice is to be made between the two options with regards to liberty, the centralization of power, and economic efficiency. In these matters socialist and planned economies in general come up wanting (3). The fourth lecture then repeats some of these concerns again, deepening them and bringing up the matter of inflation and integration of international economics and provides a third way to what is usually seen as a false dilemma (4). The second essay on welfare, freedom, and inflation, discusses the way that inflation becomes inevitable in an economic system that has become too politicized and where the interests of many of the parties involve make restraint impossible in the goal of full employment where there is no concern about honest money or the value of thrift. This essay covers inflation as well, slightly overlapping with the first, but hatred of inflation and the way it saps confidence and trust is worth repeating.
The two essays as a whole give a fair idea of Ropke’s strengths as an economist. He has both passionate ideals concerning the importance of freedom and the value of small farmers and petit bourgeoisie as well as practical knowledge in how the best interests of the population can actually be served. This combination of the right goals (pro-Western civilization with its tradition of limited government and liberty and free markets) as well as the right means by which this liberty is to preserved through an economic order makes Ropke someone well worth supporting and someone whose ideas remain worthwhile and relevant. And these essays are certainly short enough that they can provide a good entrance into his works for those who are not interested in reading his longer works until they know that they are worth reading (spoiler alert: they are).