Creating Market Economy in Eastern Europe
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The background of economic reform in Eastern Europe is not unlike that
in the Soviet Union, even though, as I have emphasized, the setting is
rather different. The brief political thaw following the death of Stalin in
the early 1950s did permit a freer discussion of ideas, which, along with
growing problems of economic performance, led to limited attempts to
develop and implement economic reform. Initially, these changes were modest
in scope, and they typically followed the Soviet reform pattern: Try to
improve decision making while preserving socialist objectives and the
essence of the planning system. This was the focus of the New Economic
System in the GDR and of the New Economic Mechanism introduced in Hungary in 1968. The potential for genuine economic reform was certainly limited by
Soviet influence. Indeed in some cases (such as Czechoslovakia in 1968), reform was abruptly forestalled by Soviet intervention. In other cases, such as Hungary, reform attempts dating from the late 1960s were sustained on a limited basis, to become the background for more serious reform in the present era. There were, then, numerous attempts at reform in Eastern
Europe. What were the major forces promoting these efforts?
First, as was the case in the Soviet Union, rates of economic growth in Eastern Europe have undergone a long-term secular decline. The magnitude of this decline (see Table 1) has varied from case to case, but overall it has been pervasive. Moreover, these countries had taken pride in being high- growth economies, even if the costs, such as little growth of consumer well- being, were also high. At the same time, growth in productivity slackened, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s. And inflation quickened, though it was most serious in Poland and Yugoslavia. Repressed inflation, though difficult to measure, grew in importance in the 1980s.
Second, East European countries relied heavily on foreign trade as a
means of stimulating economic growth in the 1970s. Their strategy was to
promote exports in Western markets so that the imports required both to
stimulate technological change in industry and to enhance consumer well-
being could be obtained without the growth of hard-currency debt.
Unfortunately, this strategy was not successful. The energy crisis led to a significant slackening of Western markets at the very time when East
European nations were becoming more aggressive in these markets. East
European imports were sustained, but largely by means of building a substantial hard-currency debt. The magnitude of debt repayment subsequently led to considerable internal belt-tightening for these countries in the 1980s — precisely the opposite of what had been intended.
Third, one could argue that in Eastern Europe, the possibilities for
economic growth through extensive means had initially been less promising
than in the Soviet case and had been exhausted more quickly. In light of
the level of economic development in Eastern Europe compared to that in the
Soviet Union, it is not surprising that the imperative for reform was strong and that developments of the Gorbachev era quickly spilled over into
Eastern Europe. In the absence of Soviet backing, interest in the administrative command model faded fast.
Table 1. Economic Growth and Performance in Eastern Europe:
The Background to Reform
| |1961-70 |1971-80 |1981-85 |1985 |1986 |
|Eastern |3.4 |2.4 |1.0 |.2 |2.2 |
|Europe | | | | | |
|Bulgaria|5.0 |2.3 |.1 |-3.2 |4.7 |
|Czechosl|2.4 |2.3 |1.0 |.4 |1.9 |
|ovakia | | | | | |
|East |3.2 |3.5 |1.7 |3.3 |1.6 |
|Germany | | | | | |
|Hungary |3.1 |2.5 |.6 |-2.3 |2.4 |
|Poland |3.3 |3.0 |1.0 |.2 |2.1 |
|Romania |4.2 |3.5 |-.6 |-1.4 |3.1 |
East European Reform Programs: Similarities and Differences
In this chapter we pay special attention to Poland and Hungary. We do so because these countries are both examples of aggressive reform but have employed different strategies. However, before we consider these cases in greater detail, it is useful to summarize the East European reform experience, noting important similarities and differences among the various cases. To do so will entail some repetition of basic themes.
First, economic reform in Eastern Europe (at least in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia) is generally described as a transition in that these countries seek to replace the planned economy with a market economy rather than attempting merely to modify the former.
Second, transition programs have varied in speed and intensity. Some
countries have pursued reform on a "gradual" basis, whereas others, like
Poland, have pursued what is often termed a "big bang," or rapid, approach to reform. However, we must remember that even in those countries not pursuing a "big bang" or "shock therapy" approach, the process of transition in Eastern Europe has been relatively rapid, especially when compared to reforms of the past - and notably so when compared to the recent Soviet record. It is important, therefore, to be aware of the basic issues associated with transition and of the extent to which the attempted speed of transition alters the overall reform experience.
Third, although it is possible to examine and understand the basic elements of economic reform and even of transition from one system to another, we really do not have a general theory of change in economic systems. In some cases — for example, during such a period of rapid change as the 1990s — it is difficult even to develop a way to classify the issues involved in transition.
Fourth, important differences exist from one country to another. Our
view of the socialist transition process is heavily influenced by our image
of the best-known and most advanced reforms, such as those of Poland,
Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. We know much less about, and tend to pay less attention to developments where reforms are proceeding at a slower pace, as in Romania and Bulgaria. Figure 1 offers a simple, stylized view of contemporary political and economic reform (transition) in Eastern Europe.
Figure 1. Reform in Eastern Europe
POLAND: FROM PLAN TO MARKET VIA SHOCK THERAPY
Until Solidarity won the parliamentary elections in Poland in the summer of 1989, the Polish economy had been, since the end of World War II, a rather typical planned socialist economic system. State ownership predominated, and though economic reform was attempted in varying degrees at different times, little real systemic change had taken place. Moreover, as Table 1 shows, the rate of economic growth continued to decline, and the period saw recurring shortages, increasing inflation, and an understandably declining work ethic.
Beginning in 1990, Poland took decisive steps toward a market economy.
This "shock therapy" approach was to be sudden, and in this it differed significantly from the gradualist approach being discussed in other socialist systems. In addition to treeing prices, Poland implemented monetary controls, the zloty was made convertible into hard currencies, and steps were taken to control wage increases.
As we shall see, the "shock therapy" approach has not been without critics. Moreover, although the Polish case quickly attracted the interest of those who study the problems of socialist transition, it was viewed as unique. Thus it was argued that. for a variety of reasons that were discussed earlier, reform was much more likely to succeed in Poland than in a case like the Soviet Union. But before we examine the Polish reform experience in greater detail, we must review what brought the Polish economy to the reform phase and how, at that point, it might be different from other socialist countries.
I begin our discussion of Poland with a brief examination of the
setting. Then I discuss the Polish command system, considering the extent
to which this system led to distortions in the Polish economic structure.
Finally, I turn to the issue of transition and examine the mechanisms utilized and the results achieved thus far.
1) Poland: The Setting
By European standards, Poland is a relatively large country. With a
land area of just over 300,000 square kilometers, it is just over half the
size of France. Moreover, with a population that approached 38 million in
1990, Poland is some 68 percent of the size of France in terms of population.
Poland is frequently viewed as having a homogeneous society, a factor
that facilitates economic reform. Although social homogeneity is difficult
to measure and may well be overstated in the Polish case and in other cases
(for example, there are regional differentials, urban-rural differentials, and the like), the basic statistical evidence is strong. In terms of religion, 95 percent of the Polish population is Roman Catholic. From a stannic standpoint, 98.7 percent of the population is Polish, and only a few minority groups occur.
Urbanization and industrialization have changed the nature of Polish life and customs, but the church, family, and folk ties that have sustained
Poland for a long time remain strong. Thus, although Poland must deal with problems of modernization, it also has valued traditions and a clear identity. These qualities make implementing change more manageable here than in many other countries.
In terms of natural resources, Poland is a country of considerable regional diversity, though major portions of the land area are not especially fertile.
Poland's main energy resource is coal; basic minerals and some deposits of oil and natural gas also exist. Both basic data and methods of computing economic aggregates of socialist systems are currently under scrutiny. New evidence that will make it possible to do different kinds of computations may well lead to important adjustments. With these reservations in mind, however, we note that Poland was reported to have a per capita gross national product of approximately $4500 measured in 1989 U.S. dollars. This figure places it between the high-income countries of the region (Hungary and Czechoslovakia) and the low-income countries (Bulgaria, Romania,
Yugoslavia) and at one-quarter that of the United States. Prior to the onset of major economic reform, the bulk of Polish industry was state-owned and planned. Agriculture (representing roughly one-fifth of total Polish output) was a mixed system wherein the private sector produced about three- quarters of the total agricultural product. Foreign trade turnover — that is, exports plus imports — represents roughly one-third of Polish product, again using U.S. dollar measures.
2) Poland: The Command Economy
The organizational arrangements of the Polish command economy were established immediately after World War II and closely resembled those prevailing in the Soviet Union. There was widespread nationalization of property, central planning mechanisms were established, and agriculture was socialized. In addition to organizational arrangements, Polish economic policies of the era, such as those on investment, sectoral development, and the like, closely mirrored the Soviet model.
Although Poland attempted modification of the command system as early as 1956 when collectivization was abandoned, little actually changed. Over time, private agriculture was neglected by the state, and continuing political protests, especially in the early 1970s, signaled both political and economic difficulties.
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