A Crisis of Self-employment in Germany in the 1970s? German Entrepreneurship in International Comparison




The level of self-employment became an ever more important indicator of a society’s capitalist ability during the past decades. It is perceived as a scale for risk-taking behaviour in a society, which would lead to innovation and economic growth. In contrast, self-employment appears predominantly as a special issue of labour-market statistic in economic history that was used to show the decline of the agricultural sector in the advanced economies as well as the transformation to a society of dependent employees working in industries and services. The paper aims at bringing together this two interpretations: The “entrepreneurial” interpretation of self-employment statistics may help understanding its meaning besides the “sectoral change”-approach as the labour-market interpretation of the 1970s may adjust the huge expectations of recent “entrepreneurship”-narrations. The paper goes back to a debate in the German public on the shrinking “entrepreneurial spirit” in Germany in the late 1960s. The occupational transformation of German agriculture then was paralleled by publically debated proliferation of the take-overs of German firms by foreign investors, especially in consumer products and consumer electronics. After the description and analysis of this development and its comparison with other O ECD-countries the paper will elaborate on the role which the discourse of academics and pressure groups had for the revival of the entrepreneur as a public figure in Germany in the 1980s.

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The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication.
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Marten Boon