NAccording to an old anecdote, the invention of the term “social market economy” goes back to an idea by the economist Alfred Müller-Armack, when his research center, which was actually located at the University of Münster, moved to the Herz-Jesu-Kloster on the border with the Netherlands during the Second World War had been moved to Vreden-Ellewick. Whether true or well invented: references to Christianity can be found in abundance in the writings of the pioneers of the social market economy and ordoliberalism. “But I could neither exist nor work if I didn’t know that God existed,” Walter Eucken once wrote.
Müller-Armack, who did research not only as an economist but also as a sociologist of religion, aimed for a “social irenics”, i.e. a social peace doctrine, for the period after the Second World War. As a merit of Christian teaching, Wilhelm Röpke noted that, in contrast to the conception of society in pagan antiquity, it focuses on the individual human being with his immortal soul striving for salvation. The extent to which the social market economy is compatible with Christian convictions, such as those expressed in Catholic social teaching, was discussed controversially at the time, but also very seriously. Götz Briefs rather explored the connecting factor, while Oswald von Nell-Breuning remained more skeptical.