Book Review: Wilhelm Ropke

Wilhelm Ropke:  Swiss Localist, Global Economist, by John Zmirak

Recently I made a purchase of a handful of books written by an internet acquaintance of mine [1], and this was the first one of them that I got around to reading.  I must admit that while I have some interest in the Austrian School of Economics [2], that this economist is not one that I had on my radar.  I had the expectation going into the book that it would be a good one but none whatsoever about the character of the book’s subject.  I have to say I was very impressed, though, by the way that the author paints Ropke as being deeply concerned not only with the free market itself, but with the society in which that free market exists, and in the avoidance of concentration of power and wealth in too few hands.  Needless to say, while I did not go into this book knowing much about the author, I definitely have finished the book with a deep interest in knowing a lot more about what he had to say, and that is a success as far as I am concerned as a reader of economics and history.

This book is a short one at about 200 pages.  It begins with acknowledgements and abbreviations and references.  After that the author discusses Ropke as a man for the twenty-first century, showing how his anti-socialist perspective and his concern for the well-being of ordinary people make him a worthwhile economist for contemporaries to be more familiar with (1).  This leads to a discussion of how Ropke’s hostility to the Nazis led him to exile first in Turkey and then in Switzerland (2), where he gave a warning to the people of his time about the war that was coming and the dangers that were resulting from the economic problems faced during the Depression (3).  The author discusses the modern crisis of socialism in various forms as well as the tendency for that which was called capitalism to be crony capitalism with feudalistic holdovers (4).  The defeat of Germany and the enthusiasm of the German conservatives for his economic thinking allowed it to strongly influence Germany’s rise from the ashes (5), and to the establishment of an ideal for a “third way” between the pitiless extremes of many market enthusiasts on the one hand and the utter failures of leftist economics (6).  The book ends with endnotes and an index.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ropke and his world was that in the aftermath of World War I and World War II he refused to cheer on any of the sorts of socialism that were then in favor, opposing the autarchy that was common to versions of National Socialism as well as the protectionist tariffs of the Great Depression as well as the distortions to the well-being of people that came about from Socialism.  Despite being strongly anti-socialist, though, Ropke understood the need for economics to serve the well-being of ordinary people, and this in his mind meant a support for local and community institutions that were able to provide for the general welfare of people, and even the support of the establishment of specialty farming to preserve family farms as an economically competitive endeavor in the face of free global trade and the reduction of trade barriers.  The fact that Ropke’s thinking helped to inspire the West German economic “miracle” that led to German’s current strength and the resolute opposition to inflation is all the more remarkable and makes it all the more worthwhile to know about him and his influence on contemporary economics, despite his general obscurity to many people today.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Wilhelm Ropke

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    The “voice crying out in the wilderness.” He sounds like the Bastiat of the twentieth century. I wonder who will be the voice for the twenty-first. America is treading a dangerous path and needs the guidance of this type of visionary. But will it listen? I sincerely doubt it, especially because it spurns the ideals of the Founding Fathers. There exists a mindset in this culture that is unlike any of the past; one that is impervious to common sense reasoning. The United States is no longer united; it is a house divided and in serious trouble because its power source refuses to listen. The proof of this is its treatment of the former President and everything he stood for. Regardless of his many personal faults, he was a brave soul who dared to warn his country against the universal poverty and loss of freedom that results from socialism .

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