Ludwig Erhard (4 February 1897–5 May 1977) was a German politician (CDU) and Chancellor of West Germany from 1963 until 1966. He is notable for his leading role in German postwar economic reform and economic recovery, particularly in his role as Minister of Economics under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer after 1949.
He joined the German forces during World War I 1916 as an artilleryman, fought in Romania and was seriously injured near Ypres in 1918. Erhard could no longer work as a draper and began to study economics, first in Nuremberg, later in Frankfurt am Main. He received his PhD from Franz Oppenheimer in 1925.
During his time in Frankfurt he married Luise Schuster. After his graduation they moved to Fürth and he became executive in his parents' company in 1925. After three years he became assistant at the Institut für Wirtschaftsbeobachtung der deutschen Fertigware, a marketing research institute. Later, he became deputy director of the institute.
Due to his injuries, Erhard did not have to join the German military forces during World War II. Instead, he worked on concepts for a postwar peace; however, such studies were forbidden by the Nazis, who had declared Total war. As a result, Erhard lost his job in 1942 but continued to work on the subject privately. In 1944 he wrote War Finances and Debt Consolidation (orig: Kriegsfinanzierung und Schuldenkonsolidierung). In this study he assumed that Germany had already lost the war. He sent his thoughts to Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, a central figure in the German resistance against the Nazi government, who recommended Erhard to his comrades.
After the war Erhard became economic consultant for the American military administration of Bavaria who made him Minister of Economics in the Bavarian cabinet of Wilhelm Hoegner. After the American and British administration had created the Bizone, Erhard became chairman of the Sonderstelle Geld und Kredit in 1947, an expert commission preparing the currency reform.
In 1948 he was elected Director of Economics by the Bizonal Economic Council. On 20 June 1948, the Deutsche Mark was introduced. Erhard abolished the price-fixing and production controls that had been enacted by the military administration. This exceeded his authority, but he succeeded with this courageous step. Former U.S. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank Alan Greenspan gives much credit to Erhard's contributions to freeing of product and financial markets in Europe in 1948. Greenspan states in The Age of Turbulence that Ernhard's economic policy contributions were far more valuable to postwar Western Europe recovery than the Marshall Plan.
In 1949 he stood for election in a constituency in Baden-Württemberg for the first West German parliament after the war and gained a direct mandate. Later in the year he is alleged to have joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), though this fact cannot be established by any of Erhard's biographers. In September, Erhard was appointed Minister of Economics in the first cabinet of Konrad Adenauer. His party made his concept of social market economy part of the party platform.
After the resignation of Adenauer in 1963, Erhard was elected Chancellor with 279 against 180 votes on 16 October. In 1965 he was re-elected. From 1965 to 1967, he also headed the Christian Democratic Union.
On 26 October 1966, Minister Walter Scheel (FDP) resigned, protesting against the budget released the day before. The other ministers who were members of the FDP followed his example — the coalition was broken. On 1 December, Erhard resigned. His successor was Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU), who led a grand coalition.
Erhard continued his political work by becoming a member of the West German parliament up to his death in Bonn on 5 May 1977. He is buried in Gmund, near the Tegernsee. The Ludwig Erhard-Berufsschule (professional college) in Paderborn and Münster are named in his honour.