Rev Austrian Econ (2006) 19:275–287
Water in the desert? The inﬂuence of Wilhelm R¨opke on
Ludwig Erhard and the social market economy
Alfred C. Mierzejewski
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2006
Abstract It is commonly believed that Wilhelm R¨opke heavily inﬂuenced Ludwig
Erhard and, through him, West Germany’s social market economy. This article demon-
strates that R¨opke’s inﬂuence on Erhard was limited. Although the two men shared
many common ideals, they also differed on many fundamental issues. Moreover,
Erhard developed his ideas before he read R¨opke’s wartime trilogy.
Keywords Social market economy
JEL classiﬁcation B25, B31, B53.
In a talk given on 10 October 1959, Ludwig Erhard recounted how he had illegally
obtained the books of Wilhelm R¨opke during World War II. He described how, “I
soaked them up like the desert absorbs life giving water” (Erhard, 1959: 12). Al-
though Erhard was given to exaggeration and ﬂorid expression, he was sincere in this
testament to R¨opke’s importance to him. Erhard repeated his sentiments both publicly
and privately, referring to R¨opke as his “spiritual brother” and stressing his “complete
agreement” with R¨opke’s ideas.
From these striking assertions, it is an easy step to
claim that the conservative R¨opke exerted a decisive inﬂuence on Erhard’s economic
policies. R¨opke’s most recent biographer, John Zmirak, goes so far as to claim that
A. C. Mierzejewski (
Professor, Department of History, University of North Texas, 569 Inca Place Highland Village, TX
Erhard to R¨opke, Bonn, 22 May 1950, Ludwig-Erhard-Stiftung, Nachlaß Erhard (hereafter cited as LES
NE with appropriate ﬁle number) I 4)59, Erhard to R¨opke, Bonn, 7 October 1959, LES NE I 4)59; Erhard
to R¨opke, Bonn, 23 Feb 1963, LES NE I 4)59.