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Ordoliberalism is the German variant of economic liberalism that emphasizes the need for government to ensure that the free market produces results close to its theoretical potential but does not advocate for a welfare state (and did not advocate against one either).[1]

Ordoliberal ideals became the foundation of the creation of the post-World War II German social market economy and its attendant Wirtschaftswunder. The term "ordoliberalism" (German: Ordoliberalismus) was coined in 1950 by Hero Moeller, and refers to the academic journal ORDO.[2]

Linguistic differentiation

Ordoliberals separate themselves from classical liberals. Notably Walter Eucken, with Franz Böhm, founder of ordoliberalism and the Freiburg School,[3] rejected neoliberalism.[4]

Ordoliberals promoted the concept of the social market economy, which calls for a strong role for the state with respect to the market and which is in many ways different from the ideas connected to the term neoliberalism. Ironically, the term neoliberalism was originally coined in 1938 at the Colloque Walter Lippmann by Alexander Rüstow, who is regarded as an ordoliberal today.[5]

Because of the connected history, ordoliberalism is also sometimes referred to as "German neoliberalism". This led to frequent confusion and mix-ups of terms and ideas in the discourse, debate and criticism of both economic schools. In 1991 political economist Michel Albert published Capitalisme Contre Capitalisme, and in 2001 Peter A. Hall and David Soskice published Varieties of Capitalism, and both separated the concepts and developed the new terms liberal market economy and coordinated market economy to distinguish neoliberalism and ordoliberalism.


The theory was developed from about 1930 to 1950 by German economists and legal scholars from the Freiburg School, such as Walter Eucken, Franz Böhm, Hans Grossmann-Doerth, and Leonhard Miksch.[6]

Ordoliberal ideals (with modifications) drove the creation of the post-World War II German social market economy. They were especially influential on forming a firm competition law in Germany. However the social market economy was implemented in economies where corporatism was already well established, so ordoliberal ideals were not as far reaching as the theory's economic founders had intended.[7]

Since the 1960s, ordoliberal influence on economics and jurisprudence has significantly diminished;[8] however, many German economists define themselves as Ordoliberals through the present day, the ORDO is still published, and the Faculty of Economics at the University of Freiburg is still teaching ordoliberalism. Additionally, some institutes and foundations such as the Walter Eucken Institut and the Stiftung Ordnungspolitik are engaged in the ordoliberal tradition.

Germany's Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a traditional and committed supporter of ordoliberalism,[9] the party having been influenced by the economic theories of Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow.[10] Historical FDP party grandee Otto Graf Lambsdorff, who served as Federal Minister of Economics, was a particular proponent of ordoliberalism.[11]


Ludwig Erhard with Konrad Adenauer in 1956, while Erhard was Minister of Economics

Ordoliberalism was a major influence on the economic model developed in post-war West Germany. Ordoliberalism in Germany became known as the social market economy.

The Ordoliberal model implemented in Germany was started under the government administration of Konrad Adenauer. His government's Minister of Economics, Ludwig Erhard, was a known Ordoliberal and adherent of the Freiburg School. Under Adenauer, some, but not all, price controls were lifted, and taxes on small businesses and corporations were lowered. Furthermore, social security and pensions were increased to provide a social base income. Ordoliberals have stated that these policies led to the Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle.[12]


Ordoliberal theory holds that the state must create a proper legal environment for the economy and maintain a healthy level of competition through measures that adhere to market principles. This is the foundation of its legitimacy.[13] The concern is that, if the state does not take active measures to foster competition, firms with monopoly (or oligopoly) power will emerge, which will not only subvert the advantages offered by the market economy, but also possibly undermine good government, since strong economic power can be transformed into political power.[14]

According to Stephen Padgett, "a central tenet of ordo-liberalism is a clearly defined division of labor in economic management, with specific responsibilities assigned to particular institutions. Monetary policy should be the responsibility of a central bank committed to monetary stability and low inflation, and insulated from political pressure by independent status. Fiscal policy—balancing tax revenue against government expenditure—is the domain of the government, whilst macro-economic policy is the preserve of employers and trade unions."[15] The state should form an economic order instead of directing economic processes, and three negative examples ordoliberals used to back their theories were Nazism, Keynesianism, and Soviet socialism.[16] It is also seen as a third way between collectivism and laissez-faire liberalism.[17]

While the ordoliberal idea of a social market is similar to that of the third-way social democracy advocated by the likes of the New Labour government (especially during the premiership of Tony Blair), there are a few key differences. Whilst they both adhere to the idea of providing a moderate stance between socialism and capitalism, the ordoliberal social market model often combines private enterprise with government regulation to establish fair competition (although German network industries are known to have been deregulated),[18] whereas advocates of the third-way social democracy model have been known to oversee multiple economic deregulations. The third way social democracy model has also foreseen a clash of ideas regarding the establishment of the welfare state, in comparison to the ordoliberal's idea of a social market model being open to the benefits of social welfare.[19]

Ordoliberals are also known for pursuing a minimum configuration of vital resources and progressive taxation.[20] The ordoliberal emphasis on the privatization of public services and other public firms such as telecommunication services;[18] wealth redistribution and minimum wage laws as regulative principles makes clear the links between this economic model and the social market economy.[21]

Wilhelm Röpke considered ordoliberalism to be "liberal conservatism", against capitalism in his work Civitas Humana ("A Humane Order of Society", 1944). Alexander Rüstow also criticized laissez-faire capitalism in his work Das Versagen des Wirtschaftsliberalismus ("The Failure of Economic Liberalism", 1950). The ordoliberals thus separated themselves from classical liberals[13][22] and valued the idea of social justice.[23] "Social security and social justice", wrote Eucken, "are the greatest concerns of our time".[24]

Michel Foucault also notes the similarity (beyond just historical contemporaneity) between the Ordo/Freiburg school and the Frankfurt School of critical theory, due to their inheritance from Max Weber. That is, both recognise the "irrational rationality" of the capitalist system, but not the "logic of contradiction" that Marx posited. Both groups took up the same problem, but in vastly different directions.[25] The political philosophy of Ordoliberals was influenced by Aristotle, de Tocqueville, Hegel, Spengler, Mannheim, Weber, and Husserl.[26]


According to Sebastian Dullien and Ulrike Guérot, ordoliberalism is central to the German approach to the European sovereign-debt crisis, which has often led to conflicts with other European countries.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Ptak, Ralf (2009). "Neoliberalism in Germany: Revisiting the Ordoliberal Foundations of the Social Market Economy". In Mirowski, Philip; Plehwe, Dieter (eds.). The Road From Mont Pèlerin: The Making of The Neoliberal Thought Collective. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. pp. 124–25. ISBN 978-0-674-03318-4.
  2. ^ Ptak, Ralf (2004). Vom Ordoliberalismus zur Sozialen Marktwirtschaft: Stationen des Neoliberalismus in Deutschland (in German). VS Verlag. p. 23. ISBN 978-3-8100-4111-1.
  3. ^ Goldschmidt, Nils (2005). Wirtschaft, Politik und Freiheit: Freiburger Wirtschaftswissenschaftler und der Widerstand [Economy, politics and freedom: Freiburg economists and the resistance] (in German). Mohr Siebeck. p. 315. ISBN 978-3-16-148520-6. Retrieved 21 July 2013 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Gerken, Lüder (2000). Walter Eucken und sein Werk: Rückblick auf den Vordenker der sozialen Marktwirtschaft [Walter Eucken and his work: looking back at the mastermind of the social market economy] (in German). Mohr Siebeck. p. 37. ISBN 978-3-16-147503-0. Retrieved 21 July 2013 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Boas, Taylor C.; Gans-Morse, Jordan (2009). "Neoliberalism: From New Liberal Philosophy to Anti-Liberal Slogan". Studies in Comparative International Development. 44 (2): 137–61. doi:10.1007/s12116-009-9040-5. ISSN 0039-3606.
  6. ^ Fèvre, Raphaël (2021). A Political Economy of Power: Ordoliberalism in Context, 1932-1950. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-760780-0.
  7. ^ Abelshauser, Werner (2005). The Dynamics of German Industry: Germany's Path toward the New Economy and the American Challenge. Berghahn Books. pp. 146–148. ISBN 9781782387992. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  8. ^ Gabler Verlag (ed.), Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, Stichwort: Freiburger Schule (online Archived 2012-10-25 at the Wayback Machine)
  9. ^ Charlotte Galpin (2017). The Euro Crisis and European Identities: Political and Media Discourse in Germany, Ireland and Poland. Springer. p. 83. ISBN 978-33-1951611-0.
  10. ^ William Callison (2022). "The Historical Context of Ordoliberalism's Theoretical Development". In Thomas Biebricher; Werner Bonefeld; Peter Nedergaard (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Ordoliberalism. Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-01-9260543-6.
  11. ^ Aurélie Dianara Andry (2022). Social Europe, the Road Not Taken: The Left and European Integration in the Long 1970s. Oxford University Press. p. 223. ISBN 9780192867094.
  12. ^ "Ordoliberals". Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy. PBS. 2002. Archived from the original on 2018-07-28. Retrieved 2017-09-07.
  13. ^ a b Megay, Edward N. (1970). "Anti-Pluralist Liberalism: The German Neoliberals". Political Science Quarterly. 85 (3): 422–42. doi:10.2307/2147878. JSTOR 2147878.
  14. ^ Massimiliano, Vatiero (2010). "The Ordoliberal notion of market power: an institutionalist reassessment". European Competition Journal. 6 (3): 689–707. doi:10.5235/ecj.v6n3.689. S2CID 154973650.
  15. ^ Padgett, Stephen (2003). "Political Economy: The German Model under Stress". In Padgett, Stephen; Paterson, William E.; Smith, Gordon (eds.). Developments in German Politics 3. Duke University Press. pp. 126–27. ISBN 978-0822332664 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Foucault, Michel (2010). Senellart, Michael (ed.). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France (1978–9). Translated by Burchell, Graham (1st Picador Paperback ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 107–10.
  17. ^ Bonefeld, Werner (2012). "Freedom and the Strong State: On German Ordoliberalism". New Political Economy. 17 (5): 633–656. doi:10.1080/13563467.2012.656082. ISSN 1469-9923. S2CID 154374055. Archived from the original on 2022-12-15. Retrieved 2022-12-15.
  18. ^ a b Siebert, Horst (28 May 2003), "Germany's Social Market Economy: How Sustainable is the Welfare State?" (PDF), Paper presented at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University, archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2013, retrieved 9 November 2012
  19. ^ "Soziale Marktwirtschaft" [Social market economy]. Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon (in German). Archived from the original on 2018-03-16. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  20. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2012-11-09.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ Kingston, Suzanne (27 October 2011). Greening EU Competition Law and Policy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139502788. Retrieved 1 August 2013 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ Friedrich, Carl J. (1955). "The Political Thought of Neo-Liberalism". American Political Science Review. 49 (2): 509–25. doi:10.2307/1951819. JSTOR 1951819. S2CID 145643424.
  23. ^ Oswalt, Walter (2008). "Zur Einführung: Walter Eucken (1891–1950)" [Introduction: Walter Eucken (1891–1950)]. In Goldschmidt, Nils; Wohlgemuth, Michael (eds.). Grundtexte zur Freiburger Tradition der Ordnungsökonomik [Basic texts on the Freiburg tradition of order economics] (in German). Mohr Siebeck. p. 128. ISBN 978-3-16-148297-7.
  24. ^ OSO (1999-02-22). Ordoliberalism: A New Intellectual Framework for Competition Law. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199244010.001.0001. ISBN 9780199244010.
  25. ^ Foucault, Michel (2010). Senellart, Michael (ed.). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France (1978–9). Translated by Burchell, Graham (1st Picador Paperback ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 105.
  26. ^ Foucault, Michel (2010). Senellart, Michael (ed.). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France (1978–9). Translated by Burchell, Graham (1st Picador Paperback ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 103–105.
  27. ^ Dullien, Sebastian; Guérot, Ulrike (2012). The Long Shadow of Ordoliberalism: Germany's Approach to the Euro Crisis (PDF). London: European Council on Foreign Relations. ISBN 978-1-906538-49-1. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2012-04-10.

Further reading

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