Walter Eucken

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Walter Eucken
Walter Eucken2.jpg
Born (1891-01-17)17 January 1891
Jena, Saxe-Weimar
Died 20 March 1950(1950-03-20) (aged 59)
London, UK
Nationality German
Institution University of Freiburg
Field Macroeconomics
School or tradition
Freiburg school
Alma mater University of Kiel, University of Bonn, University of Jena
Influences Edmund Husserl
Contributions Social market economy

Walter Eucken (German: [ˈɔʏkn̩]; 17 January 1891 – 20 March 1950) was a German economist of the Freiburg school and father of ordoliberalism. His name is closely linked with the development of the concept of "social market economy".

Early life[edit]

Walter Eucken was born on 17 January 1891 in Jena in present-day Thuringia, as son of the philosopher Rudolf Eucken (1846-1926), who won the 1908 Nobel Prize in Literature and his wife, Irene (1863-1941, née Passow), a painter. Walter had one sister and one brother, the chemist/physicist Arnold Eucken.[1][2]

Walter grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. His father was one of the most influential philosophers of the German Empire and read Aristotle with his sons in the original. Visitors to the family villa included Stefan George, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Edward Munch and Ferdinand Hodler.[3]

Walter Eucken studied Nationalökonomie (economics) at Kiel, Bonn and Jena and was awarded his doctorate at Bonn in 1914 (thesis: Verbandsbildung in der Seeschifffahrt).[4] He served as an officer in World War I on both the western and eastern fronts.[1]

Weimar Republic[edit]

After the war ended, Eucken went to Berlin University where he became a full professor in 1921 (thesis: Die Stickstoffversorgung der Welt). Eucken married the writer Edith Erdsieck (b. 1896) at Berlin in 1920. They had one son and two daughters.[1]

Like most in his family, he was a conservative nationalist and mistrusted the new republic. His mother and sister were active in the German National People's Party (DNVP). Eucken joined the party, but left after one year, though he stayed close to it. He also associated with the movement later known as Conservative Revolutionary movement. Eventually, Eucken came to distance itself from the conservative movement, in particular because its economic program was not to his liking: protectionism, client politics favouring Agrarier (de) and large industry, völkische social partnership between workers and employers and a positive view of cartels.[3]

In 1925, he moved to Tübingen and in 1927 to the University of Freiburg where he remained for the rest of his life.[1]

Nazi Germany[edit]

During the Nazi period, Martin Heidegger became rector (head of Freiburg University) and imposed the regime's policies. Eucken was vocal in opposing these in the university's Senat. Some of his lectures in the 1930s resulted in protests from the local Nazi student association.[3]

After the pogrom of Reichskristallnacht in 1938, Eucken was one of several Freiburg academics who banded together with several local priests in a so-called Konzil, where they debated the obligation of Christians to fight against tyranny. This Freiburger Kreis (de) had links to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, key figures of the resistance against Hitler. Bonhoeffer asked Eucken, Adolf Lampe (de) and Constantin von Dietze to write an appendix to a secret memorandum, in which they worked out a post-war economic and social order. The central planning system of the Nazis was to be replaced with a liberal competitive system. If the attack of 20 July 1944 had succeeded, these plans would have been the basis of a new economic order. After the coup failed, Lampe and von Dietze were arrested and tortured by the Gestapo. Eucken, too, was arrested and interrogated twice but released. Two of his friends were executed.[3]

Post war[edit]

Post-war, Eucken's theories influenced the reforms that set the stage for the Wirtschaftswunder. He was a member of the advisory council to Ludwig Erhard who, as economic director of the American-British zone of occupation, was charged with rebuilding the economic system in western Germany. One of Eucken's students, Leonhard Miksch (de) was the author of the law that abruptly abolished price controls (Leitsätzegesetz) in June 1948.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Eucken died of a heart attack on 20 March 1950 during a lecture series at the London School of Economics, UK.[3][1]

The Walter Eucken Institut was founded four years after his death.

By way of his friend Franz Böhm, Eucken's ideas found their way into the Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen (de) of 1957, the foundation of West-German competition policy.[3]

His papers were cared for by the Walter Eucken Archiv in Frankfurt. They have now been handed over to the Thüringer Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek Jena.[3]


Eucken's ordoliberalism, which is a special German variant of neoliberalism in its traditional definition, argues that the state has the task to provide the political framework for economic freedom to flourish. In contrast to laissez-faire, which by the 1930s had been observed to give rise to cartels and an undue concentration of power, ordoliberalism aims to put limits on the economic power of individuals, companies and associations. This is achieved through a legal and institutional framework, including maintenance of private property, enforcement of private contracts, liability, free entry to markets, and monetary stabilization. In this, the state should refrain from directing or intervening in the economic processes of daily practices, as in a centrally planned economy, but rather provide a well-functioning competitive Ordnung (order) in which private agents can act without frequent discretionary influence from the state.[5][3]

The idea of ordoliberalism was introduced for the first time in 1937 in Ordnung der Wirtschaft, a periodical published by Walter Eucken, Franz Böhm and Hans Großmann-Doerth (de). From 1948 on it was further developed in the journal ORDO.


  • Kritische Betrachtungen zum deutschen Geldproblem, 1923
  • Nationalökonomie wozu?, in: Wissenschaft und Zeitgeist 10, 1938/1949
  • Die Grundlagen der Nationalökonomie, 1939/1950
  • Wettbewerb als Grundprinzip der Wirtschaftsverfassung, in: Wettbewerb, 1942
  • Die Soziale Frage, in: Synopsis, Festgabe für A. Weber, 1949
  • Die Wettbewerbsordnung und ihre Verwirklichung, in: Ordo 2, 1949
  • Technik. Konzentration und Ordnung der Wirtschaft, in: Ordo 3, 1950
  • Unser Zeitalter der Mißerfolge, 1951
  • Kapitaltheoretische Untersuchungen, 1934/1954 (as editor)


  1. ^ a b c d e "Biografie Walter Eucken (German)". Bayerische Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "Biografie Rudolf Christoph Eucken (German)". Bayerische Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Plickert, Philip (2 August 2015). "Der Ökonom des Widerstands". Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (in German). p. 29. 
  4. ^ Kuhnert, Stephen (2006). "The Man Who Heated Up Economic Discussion with a Stove: Walter Eucken's Challenge to the Social Sciences" (PDF). p. 2 (p. 112).  in Sproule-Jones, Mark; Allen, Barbara and Sabettis, Filippo, ed. (2008). The Struggle to Constitute and Sustain Productive Orders: Vincent Ostrom's quest to understand human affairs. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. pp. 111–124. ISBN 978-0-7391-2627-1. 
  5. ^ Josef Molsberger, 2008[1987]. "Eucken, Walter (1891–1950)," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Ed.

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