Economic system

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Economic system describes the order of the totality of economic life in a country ( national economy ). The focus is on the coordination of the individual plans of the private and public economic entities , in particular which goods are produced in quantitative, qualitative, spatial and temporal relationship, which workers and means of production are used at which point in the economic process and how the results are distributed.

With regard to the development of economic systems, there are two contrary styles of thinking. On the one hand, it is traced back to historical regularities; by Walter Eucken this was called thinking in historical developments. The term economic system was originally introduced by Werner Sombart and was oriented towards economic history and economic sociological developments. On the other hand, the development of economic systems is viewed as the result of political decisions; Eucken called this thinking in order.

The term is used inconsistently, especially to differentiate it from the term economic system . These terms are often used synonymously. Some authors, following Walter Eucken, understand an economic system to be an ideal-type model construction , while the term economic order denotes a real economy or a real-type model construction.

According to the system-theoretical approach, the economic system forms the analytical generic term, which describes the economic process formed by people in their capacity as producers and consumers. The economic process, in turn, is shaped on the one hand by the economic order, i.e. the legally created economic constitution and the grown cultural and moral order, and on the other hand by the economic factors (the available resources, human capital, etc.). Any system can only be stable in the long term if the larger systems of which it is part are also stable. In this respect, the stability of economic systems depends above all on stable political conditions and intact ecosystems.


According to systems theory, the economic system is an analytical generic term for all those elements, structures that can be distinguished from other subsystems such as politics and culture through the common sense of need satisfaction in view of scarce goods as part of the social system.

The economic system firstly comprises the economic elements and actors, above all private and public households and companies, and their power of disposal over the means of production and consumption. Second, there are economic relationships, i.e. H. the production, distribution and consumption processes in and between the economic units. Thirdly, the economic order resulting from the interaction of the elements and actors is part of the economic system; it is based on the institutional rules regarding property, contract, market and exchange ( economic order , economic constitution ). The economic system is largely shaped by its interdependence with other social subsystems, especially with the political and legal system.

Function of economic systems

An economic system characterizes the availability of scarce goods in connection with the satisfaction of people's needs. The discrepancy between unsatisfied needs and scarce goods requires problem solving in every society and has led to the creation of a network that is complex in its interdependencies and can hardly be overlooked in work-sharing, highly specialized societies. The economic system includes the creation, distribution and consumption of goods under the principle of economic efficiency to meet private and public needs. In contrast, the political system characterizes the exercise of power on the basis of a potential, usually reserved for the state, to threaten and use force, as well as the formation of political will and its institutional differentiation.

An economic system has to fulfill the following tasks:

  • Assignment of economic decision-making powers (who decides - individual or authority / bottom up or top down?)
  • Control of the proper use of the means of production and punishment of bad planning (who controls and decides - market and competition as selection procedure or state and planning ?)
  • Information of economic subjects about the shortage of goods and other economically relevant facts (How are prices established - freely or state-set?)
  • Incentives of business subjects to efficient and innovative behavior (satisfaction of needs of consumers and competition as a discovery process or central planning and commendation?)
  • Coordination of the planning and actions of the economic entities in the economic process based on the division of labor (supply and demand form the price or central planning coordinated?)


Economic systems have a system-rational structure or a system-specific order. This depends on the economic principles of order, the mechanisms and regulations, which are linked to a macroeconomic control and coordination system and thus align the economic subjects in meeting their needs and reducing the scarcity of goods. Those control and coordination elements which, in their interaction, produce economic events are the objects of knowledge of economic system theory.

The following factors have a decisive influence on the character of the system-specific order:

  • Property (private or state property) and
  • Type of coordination (decentralized or centralized planning and control).
  • In addition, there is whether the price formation takes place freely on open markets or is influenced or fixed by state intervention and
  • the extent to which the economic system is open to other economies (international division of labor or autarky).

The economic policy practiced and the regulatory policy pursued change the economic system significantly.

The following are the basic forms:

These forms are of an ideal type. In reality, mixed economies occur almost exclusively. Interesting is the real-typical situation of trade , which (according to Schenk ), depending on the specific economic system, takes on or should take over a mixture of exclusively or predominantly system-relevant and system-indifferent functions.

In addition, there are socio-theoretical and socio-political attempts to realize a third way between capitalism and socialism. The longing for a reconciliation of these two forms is exemplified in the "humane economic democracy" ( Ota Šik ), the "socialist market economy" or "regulated market economy" ( Mikhail Gorbatschow ) and free economics ( Silvio Gesell ).

As a political term, the welfare state also characterizes the historical development of the German state and economic system. The welfare state is characterized by the tendency to subordinate the personal preference, initiative and responsibility of the individual citizen to the collective security and code of values ​​of the rulers.


The term economic system can be distinguished from the terms economic order (= totality of economic framework conditions / organization of the economy), economic constitution (= economically relevant articles of the constitution, laws and regulations as well as the self-created law of the economy), economic style (= classification of historical economic modes) and Economic form (= distinction between demand or commercial economies).

Historical manifestations

The following inconsistent terms can be assigned to the historical manifestations of German economic systems in modern times, which are primarily derived from the respective economic system:


  • Rainer Klump (ed.): Economic culture, economic style and economic order , Marburg 1996.
  • Niklas Luhmann: The economy of society , Frankfurt a. M. 1988.
  • Hans-Rudolf Peters: Economic system theory and general regulatory policy , 4th revised and expanded edition (Oldenbourg Verlag), Munich and Vienna 2002.
  • Michael von Prollius: The National Socialists' Economic System 1933-1939. Control by emergent organization and political processes (Schöningh Verlag), Paderborn 2003.
  • Hans-Otto Schenk: History and order theory of the trading functions , Berlin 1970.
  • Alfred Schüller and Hans-Günter Krüsselberg (eds.): Basic Concepts for Order Theory and Political Economy , 6th revised and expanded edition, Marburg 2004.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Economic system  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Willi Albers, Concise Dictionary of Economics , Volume 9, Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, 1982, ISBN 3-525-10260-7 , page 327
  2. ^ Willi Albers, Concise Dictionary of Economics , Volume 9, keyword "Economic Systems", Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, 1982, ISBN 3-525-10260-7 , page 327
  3. ^ A b Rainer Fischbach, Klaus Wollenberg, Economics 1: Introduction and Basics with Solutions, Volume 1, Edition 13, Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2007, ISBN 3-486-58307-7 , pages 63–65
  4. ^ Willi Albers, Concise Dictionary of Economics , Volume 9, keyword "Economic Systems", Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, 1982, ISBN 3-525-10260-7 , page 327
  5. Werner Lachmann, Economics 1: Fundamentals, Edition 5, Springer Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-540-30086-4 , page 22
  6. Bodo B. Gemper, Economic Policy: Ordnungspolitische Basis, Birkhäuser Verlag, 1993, ISBN 3-7908-0744-3 , pages 5-6
  7. ^ Gabler Verlag (editor), Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, keyword: economic system, online on the Internet: economic system
  8. Edward Goldsmith : The Way. An ecological manifesto. 1st edition, Bettendorf, Munich 1996, p. 162