Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Wilhelm Röepke

Professor of Economics who collaborated to organize the post-World War II economic re-awakening called Soziologischer Liberalismus

"The nidus [nest] of the malady from which our civilization suffers lies in the individual soul and is only to be overcome within the individual soul."

"A free market and performance competition do not just occur - as the laissez-faire philosophers of historical liberalism have asserted - because the state remains completely passive; they are by no means the surpris­ingly positive product of a negative economic policy. They are, rather, extremely fragile artificial products which depend on many other circumstances and presup­pose not only a high degree of business ethics but also a state constantly concerned to maintain the freedom of the market and competition in its legislation, admin­is­tration, law courts, financial policy and spiritual and moral leader­ship, by creating the necessary framework of laws and institutions, by laying down the rules for competi­tion and watching over their obser­vance with relentless but just severity."

"A healthy society, firmly resting on its own founda­tion, possesses a genuine `structure' with many interme­diate stages; it exhibits a necessarily `hierarchi­cal' composition...where each individual has the good fortune of knowing his position. Whereas such a society is based on the grouping functions of genuine communi­ties filled with the spirit of human fellowship (such as the neighbourhood, the family, the parish, the Church, the occupation), society has during the last hundred years moved further and further away from such an ideal and has disintegrated into a mass of abstract individuals who are solitary and isolated as human beings, but packed tightly like termites in their role of social functionaries."

"A peasant who is unburdened by debt and has an adequate holding is the freest and most independent man among us; neither food problems nor the threat of unemployment need worry him and the subjection to the moods of nature which he exchanges for that of the market and the business cycle, usually ennobles a man instead of embittering him. His life, from whatever angle we view it, is the most satisfying, the richest and the most complete in terms of human needs."

"A simultaneous change of our whole economic and social system in favor of drastic decentralization of cities and indus­tries, of the resto­ration of some more `natural order', more rural, but less urbanized, mecha­nized, indus­trialized, proleta­rized and commer­cialized. People will not like to face competition unless they have some firm stand. They must not feel lost in this present dehumanized world. Competition is a necessary social arrangement not a social gospel likely to make us enthusi­astic. It is a nega­tive concept which derives its strength from the fact that we like the alterna­tives, i.e., monop­oly and collectiv­ism, even less. It must be supple­mented by some­thing which is humanly positive."

"By paralyzing the price mechanism . . . creates a situation which immediately calls for further and even greater intervention, transferring the regulating function so far carried out by the market to a government agency. If the government introduces rent ceilings, the divergence between supply and demand in the housing market grows ever greater as rents remain below the level which is necessary to promote construction and lessen demand. Consequently, the state is forced to go further and ration housing, as at the same time building activity collapses under these conditions, it must finally take over housing construction under its own management. In addition, this tends to lead to a "freezing" of the housing situation--everyone clinging to the home which he was lucky enough to get hold of, without making any adjustments if his family should decrease--and to a progressive diminution of mobility. This should teach us that the price mechanism is an essential part of the mechanism of our whole economic system and that one cannot do away with it without in the end being forced down a path leading to pure collectivism."

"Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism. Ethics and economics are two equally difficult subjects, and while the former needs discerning and expert reason, the latter cannot do without humane values."

"It is though we had wanted to add to the already existing proofs of God's Existence, a new and finally convincing one: the universal destruction that follows on assuming God's non-existence."

"Even if certain sacrifices have to be made as regards immediate and measurable profit­ableness and technical practicability, it must neverthe­less be stressed that this sacrifice will be repaid in a wider, social sense and may in the long run even redound to the advantage of the enterprise itself. If we take into consideration all the sociological consequences of proletarization, we are...entitled to the conclusion that in certain circum­stances the mechanical organiza­tion of industrial plants which permits the cheapest form of production on the basis of measurable costs, may in the end prove to be the most expensive for society as a whole."

"It is a poor species of human being which this grim vision conjures up before our eyes: 'fragmentary and disintegrated' man, the end product of growing mechanization, specialization, and functionalization, which decompose the unity of human personality and dissolve it in the mass, an aborted form of Homo sapiens created by a largely technical civilization, a race of spiritual and moral pygmies lending itself willingly--indeed gladly, because that way lies redemption--to use as raw material for the modern collectivist and totalitarian mass state."

"Let us beware of that caricature of an economist who, watching people cheerfully disporting themselves in their suburban allotments, thinks he has said everything there is to say when he observes that this is not a rational way of producing vegetables–forgetting that it may be an eminently rational way of producing happiness, which alone matters in the last resort."

"Modern nationalism and collectivism have, by the restriction of migration, perhaps come nearest to the “servile state.” …Man can hardly be reduced more to a mere wheel in the clockwork of the national collectivist state that being deprived of his freedom to move.... Feeling that he belongs now to his nation, body and soul, he will be more easily subdued to the obedient state serf which nationalist and collectivist governments demand."

"One must further note that the economic order of a free society presupposes competition only in as far as that economy is a market economy dependent on the division of labor. Competition, therefore, is only one of the pillars on which such an order rests, while the other is self-sufficiency. We are, therefore, free to modify the competitive character of the economy in full harmony with the principles of our economic order, by enlarging the sphere of marketless self-sufficiency...­This is a new and important point illustrating the inestimable importance of sustenance farming and the `rurification' of the industrial proletariat."

"Suffice it to say that competition, and competition alone, can solve the task of directing production based on the division of labor in a manner which corresponds to the autonomous system of production existing on the self-sufficient farm of a free and independent peasant. There is no other solution, and there can be none. The self-sufficiency of the free individual (in the undifferen­tiated economy) and competition (in the differentiated economy) therefore correspond exactly to each other: together both secure, in the economic sphere, that autonomy of which, in the field of politics, democ­racy is the counter­part."

"The market economy is not everything. It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices and competition. It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by law and in which man is not denied conditions of life appropriate to his nature."

"The market economy must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices, and competition. It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by law and in which man is not denied conditions of life appropriate to his nature."

"Only too often do we thoughtlessly follow a fashion which favors mass produced commodities, and only slowly do we come to realize that these also have great disadvantages."

"There is no denying it: the collectivist state is rooted in the masses (to which professors can belong as well as workers) and it can only exist under conditions which, sociologically speaking, we term spiritual collectivization, that is, conditions of society for which precisely the extreme democratic development is an excellent preparation but which is the direct opposite of the liberal as well as the conservative-aristocratic ideal."

"There is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else — poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance."

"Today we are aware of the high price that had to be paid for it [materi­al progress] and that we will contin­ue to have to pay, and we are by no means still certain that the price is not too high. We distrust the opti­mistic assertion that technology and the machine are complete­ly inno­cent of all this and that the blame rests squarely on man alone who is using them in the wrong way and will just have to learn the right one...The problem of the machine - which happens to be something else than just a highly developed tool - is not merely one of its use, but also one of the machine itself, which, follow­ing its own laws and imposing them on man, extracts its tribute from him."

"There is no symmetry in the market economy between the forces favoring this extraordinarily widespread modern form of sales promotion and the forces which impede it. Yet the warmest supporter of installment buying will not deny that it is in danger of excess and degeneration. As in the first case, asymmetry is due to the fact that the impulses originating in the market work to the benefit of consumer credit because the interests of those who want to sell their wares are joined by the special interests of the finance institutes making money out of installment-plan sales."

"We are not the helpless slaves of technology, but as before - if only we wish to be - captains of our fate.... this argument of technological inevitability is also misleading because it depends entirely on extra-techni­cal factors whether a certain technological process which, for example, favors mass production, is in actual fact really superior from the economic point of view or not."

"We need a combination of supreme moral sensitivity and economic knowledge. Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism."