Economics Of The Free Society, by Wilhelm Ropke
One of the fascinating aspects of Wilhelm Ropke, a somewhat unjustly obscure economist in the present world, is that he explored the economic basis of the free society and spent a great deal of time and effort discussing and defending a just economic and political order that demonstrated ordered freedom that nevertheless included concern for the well-being of society as a whole and what conditions were necessary to secure that well-being. This is not as common a phenomenon as one would hope. It is easy to pay lip service to such matters but hard to get to the brass tacks of actually setting up and defending a just social order. This book is admittedly pretty heavy on economic principles and that is not going to be everyone’s taste, but to those who are able to wade through this book (and who will appreciate the book’s entertaining endnotes at the end of each chapter), there is a lot here to inform as well as to appreciate. The author shows a winsome sense of humor even as he writes about serious and not always very entertaining subjects, and that is to be appreciated because economics is important even though it is by no means always fun.
This book is a bit more than 250 pages long and it is divided into nine somewhat lengthy chapters. The book begins with a preface and a translator’s preface and this book was (somewhat unusually for the author) promoted after it was published by the Von Mises Institute. After that the author discusses the problem of free economics in ordered anarchy and the issue of choice and limitation (1). After that comes a discussion of the basic data of economics including moral foundations, costs, and possible systems of economic equilibrium (2). After that the author discusses the structure of the division of labor including its dangers and limits and our dependence on it (3). This is followed by a discussion of the history of money and credit, including inflation and deflation (4) as well a look at the world of goods and the flow of production (5). A chapter is devoted to markets and prices, including their interdependence (6) as well as a discussion of the distribution of income between rich and poor (7). The last two chapters cover disturbances of economic equilibrium including the impact of Keynesianism (8) as well as the structure of the economy as it relates to the current crisis (9), before the book closes with an index of persons and subjects.
It is perhaps to be regretted that the subject of economics is tedious enough that few relish it, thus leaving their economic worldviews to be informed by a mixture of prejudice and garbled and self-serving interpretations of the popular writings of those few economists that people are likely to be familiar with on a second-hand basis. It is our good fortune, at least, that we have available to us a host of excellent economists who have struggled with the relationship between morals, economics, and politics, as these are issues that are difficult to wrestle with and keep separated from each other. It may be easy to see that there is a class of people whose relative independence and sturdiness is a benefit to society at large and whom a great many people may claim to wish to protect and encourage but whose lives are made difficult by the political and economic policies pursued by governments nonetheless. In order for freedom to endure, the well-being of the general public has to be maintained, and political and economic power must be kept from being overly centralized in the hands of a few people or institutions where it becomes the subject of immense conflict, as is the case in our own world. As is often the case with Ropke, his sound writing about the problems of the first half of the 20th century give us plenty of food for thought and reflection today.