Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Wilhelm Röpke's Political Economy

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Wilhelm Röpke's Political Economy

Article excerpt

Wilhelm Röpke's Political Economy BY SAMUEL GREGG EDWARD ELGAR, 216 PAGES, $115

Once upon a time, a political economist could write a book titled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and another one titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Not so anymore. Though derogatively called "the dismal science," economics was originally a "moral science." But trends in rationalism and scientism over the last two centuries turned it into a "value-free" social science - to some, just a form of applied mathematics.

Wilhelm Röpke, a neglected twentieth-century intellectual giant, stood in direct opposition to this trend. Röpke's approach recognizes the objective aspects of the economic science but insists that normative values lie at its core; a healthy polity must move beyond calculations of utility if it is to uphold just and humane economic institutions. Samuel Gregg, author of award-winning titles such as Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded, On Ordered Liberty, The Commercial Society, and The Modern Papacy (on John Paul IPs and Benedict XVI's social and political thought), highlights Röpke's more humane approach to political economy.

Gregg offers technically sophisticated yet accessible discussions of Röpke's analysis of the interwar economic crisis; booms, recessions, and business cycles; his via media between Keynes and Hayek on full employment, inflation, and the welfare state; and his vision for a neoliberal international economy. Perhaps most interesting is Gregg's discussion of Röpke's efforts to reform the discipline of economics and political economy, striking a position "between humanism and social science. …

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