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A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market

by Wilhelm Röpke

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1531144,050 (4.43)1
A Humane Economy offers one of the most accessible and compelling explanations of how economies operate ever written. The masterwork of the great twentieth-century economist Wilhelm Rpke, this book presents a sweeping, brilliant exposition of market mechanics and moral philosophy. Rpke cuts through the jargon and statistics that make most economic writing so obscure and confusing. Over and over, the great Swiss economist stresses one simple point: you cannot separate economic principles from human behavior. Rpke's observations are as relevant today as when they were first set forth a half century ago. He clearly demonstrates how those societies that have embraced free-market principles have achieved phenomenal economic success - and how those that cling to theories of economic centralization endure stagnation and persistent poverty. A Humane Economy shows how economic processes and government policies influence our behavior and choices - to the betterment or detriment of life in those vital and highly fragile human structures we call communities. "It is the precept of ethical and humane behavior, no less than of political wisdom," Rpke reminds us, "to adapt economic policy to man, not man to economic policy."… (more)
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Much of this book is beautifully written --Ropke (even in translation) has a vivid and sympathetic style that reminds me of Chesterton. However, I bought the book because it was supposed to be a brilliant defense of the ethics of a free market economy -- that the free market not only works, but is ethically preferable to even fully democratic socialism. Frankly, I simply did not find that here. Ropke is credited with much of the West German economic recovery, but the first 150 pages (out of 261) are nostalgic praise of a pre-industrial economy. It reminds me more of Small Is Beautiful than, say, Milton Friedman. Ropke's ideal seems to be a simple agrarian society with a low technological level. He speaks of a painting of a farm with a horse and says it would not be so pretty with a tractor. No doubt that is true, but no-one is seriously suggesting that modern farms go back to horses. It may well be that much of German agriculture was still horse-powered up to World War II, and I suppose Ropke may have grown up with that life, but it does not fit the Germany of Volkswagens and BMWs when he was writing in the 1960s. He laments the "proletarianization" of the industrial workforce, but he has no serious suggestion for how to move industry back to small-scale independent factories. After page 150, he moves into a serious critique of the welfare state, arguing that it includes built-in inflation, which may well be true, though very few economists (even conservatives) are serious "hard money" theorists nowadays, and politically I suspect hard money is impossible even if it is desirable. He also criticizes the "monopoly" position of labor unions, but given the collapse of unions in the US and Britain since he wrote, that does not seem very relevant either He says he is writing to convince sincere Christian socialists that the free market is morally preferable to the welfare state, but he says almost nothing about the application of Christian ethics to business. Personally, I am not a socialist, but if I were, I do not think this book would convert me. ( )
  antiquary | May 22, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wilhelm Röpkeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gregg, SamuelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henderson, ElizabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A Humane Economy offers one of the most accessible and compelling explanations of how economies operate ever written. The masterwork of the great twentieth-century economist Wilhelm Rpke, this book presents a sweeping, brilliant exposition of market mechanics and moral philosophy. Rpke cuts through the jargon and statistics that make most economic writing so obscure and confusing. Over and over, the great Swiss economist stresses one simple point: you cannot separate economic principles from human behavior. Rpke's observations are as relevant today as when they were first set forth a half century ago. He clearly demonstrates how those societies that have embraced free-market principles have achieved phenomenal economic success - and how those that cling to theories of economic centralization endure stagnation and persistent poverty. A Humane Economy shows how economic processes and government policies influence our behavior and choices - to the betterment or detriment of life in those vital and highly fragile human structures we call communities. "It is the precept of ethical and humane behavior, no less than of political wisdom," Rpke reminds us, "to adapt economic policy to man, not man to economic policy."

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