Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Social Market Economy – Economic Miracle

The Founding Myths of the Bonn Republic from the Point of View of History of Law

Dr. Cordula Scholz-Löhnig


The Social Market Economy and the Economic Miracle after the “Zero Hour” are the founding myths of the Bonn Republic. “Safe old-age pension”, full employment, stable Deutschmark, the VW-Beetle, travelling, married wives who don’t have to work anymore, these are the conceptions of wealth which we associate with the Social Market Economy and the Economic Miracle. The success story of the German economy in the fifties contributed to building a myth around the Social Market Economy and created the myth of the Economic Miracle with the iconic figure of Ludwig Erhard.

Thanks to the economic success, the Social Market Economy became a decisive factor of integration for the newly-founded Federal Republic of Germany. The Social Market Economy realized the integration of millions of expellees and millions of former followers of Hitler. Large circles of the population got enthusiastic about the Social Market Economy. The mobilization of social energies could be thereby facilitated. Furthermore, the Social Market Economy allowed a clear separation from communism and its economic system.
Each mystification involves simultaneously a concealment, an obfuscation, a glorification which are parts of the essential functions of a myth. In the case of the myth of the Social Market Economy and Economic Miracle, the problems related to that period were almost forgotten: Restauration, prudery, despised minorities or a deliberate negligence by the prosecution of NS-crimes.
Nevertheless, the Social Market Economy and the Economic Miracle of the “Long Fifties” are still today criteria for the quality of the German Economic Policy. Helmut Kohl’s promise of “flourishing landscapes” following the reunification brought him an electoral victory and the approval for the adhesion of the GDR to the Federal Republic. Even during the election campaign in 2005, Angela Merkel invoked the spirit of the fifties and referred to the founding years of the German Federal Republic.

The objective of this research project is to question the myth from an legal-historical angle. Continuities in a personal perspective were present within the political, economical and juridical elites. Economic-political continuities can’t be denied based on the decision for the Social Market Economy. However, not only the further demystification of the founding myths of the Bonn Republic should be pursued, but the intended analysis also provides the answer to the question of the specific share of law, science of law and application of law in the emergence of the founding myths.

The basis for the legal-historical approach is the mere observation of continuity. The discovery of the continued applicability of norms allows of course no statement. The question is rather: Which signification and consequences the continued applicability of these laws had on the economic evolution of the Federal Republic?