Creating Market Economy in Eastern Europe
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The 1970s was a difficult decade for many countries, especially those that rely on imported oil. The Polish strategy in the 1970s and later was to stimulate the domestic economy through the importation of foreign technology. This was not an unreasonable strategy in theory, but Western economies were themselves in the midst of the energy crisis and the recession it caused. Poland's effort to expand exports failed, hard- currency debt accumulated, and the projected impact of Western technology on the Polish economy was minimal. As the 1970s came to an end, it was evident that domestic retrenchment would be essential — a difficult path in light of the continuing unrest among Polish workers. The 1980s began with roughly three years of martial law and an attempt to achieve economic stabilization.
After half-hearted economic reforms in the early 1980s, the rise of
Solidarity (which had been outlawed in 1982) proved that major systemic and structural reform was necessary. Even so, and despite the fact that Polish economic performance was deteriorating badly, serious economic reform did not begin until the late 1980s.
3) The Polish Transition: The "Big Bang" in Practice
The Polish transition from plan to market has been watched closely by a variety of interested observers. Although many of the policy and systemic changes introduced in Poland are familiar hallmarks of the general reform scene, the speed of implementation in the Polish case is unique.
There had been attempts to decentralize decision making in large state-
owned Polish enterprises in the 1980s, but these reforms failed to change
outcomes (a possible exception is their contribution to the wage explosion
that took place toward the end of the decade). Moreover, on the eve of
reform in Poland (the reform program began officially on January 1, 1990), macroeco-nomic conditions there were in a state of severe disequilibrium.
Although the exact nature of monetary overhang in Poland (as elsewhere) has been the subject of debate, there was a significant budget deficit, wage increases were out of control, and hyperinflation had resulted. Poland's hard-currency debt position was better than that of Hungary, but the debt that had been accumulated did little to stimulate the Polish economy, the zioty was overvalued, and no debt relief from external sources was in sight.
In the fall of 1989, most price controls were lifted (on both producer and consumer goods), public spending was reduced, and the zioty was devalued. In the second stage of major reform, begun in 1990, the budget deficit was sharply cut, largely through a reduction of subsidies to state enterprises. A positive real rate of interest was to be implemented, and the market was to be used to signal changes in the value of the zloty. The latter was a critical measure, because foreign trade and the impact of this trade on the Polish industrial structure was to be a key component of the overall reform strategy. In January of 1990, the government set the exchange rate of the zloty at 9500 to the dollar (this represented a devaluation from 1989), a rate roughly approximating its value on the black market, and it established convertibility of the zloty for international trade. Many trade restrictions were eliminated, and internal exchanges were set up to handle the buying and selling of hard currencies. Although these changes resulted in domestic inflation, the initial increases proved to be short-term and the exchange rate of the zloty has proved to be realistic.
Finally, wage increases were to be controlled partly through wage indexation and partly through a new tax on wage increases that exceeded established guidelines.
Privatization is a major element of the Polish strategy of transition.
In 1990 the Polish government passed a law creating a Ministry of Ownership
Change, a mechanism to supervise the process of privatization.
Privatization has proceeded rapidly, though it has been achieved mainly for small enterprises in the trade and service sectors. Industrial output in the private sector grew by 8.5 percent in 1990 and is reported to represent roughly 17 percent of total Polish industrial output
Though privatization has been very successful for small-scale enterprises, the picture for large state enterprises is quite different. For reasons we noted earlier, privatization of these enterprises has proceeded very slowly. In addition, the economic position of these enterprises worsened as the state took decisive measures to introduce a hard-budget constraint. In addition to price changes and wage limitations, subsidies have been ended and protection from foreign competition has been sharply reduced. This new setting has encouraged enterprise managers to reduce costs by restricting unnecessary output and reducing the labor force. However, the strong commitment to rapid privatization was reinforced in June of 1991, when it was announced that a major portion of state industry would be privatized through creation of stock funds, with the population receiving vouchers.
Beyond these changes in the state sector, new guidelines have been
introduced to monitor enterprise performance. Furthermore, a new Industrial
Restructuring Agency will consider how remaining state enterprises should be handled, to what extent privatization is possible, and what restructuring should take place for those enterprises that are not viable in the new setting. These new arrangements are designed to ensure a rapid transformation of the Polish industrial structure, to make it similar to and competitive with market economic systems, and to achieve this result quickly and as openly as possible.
Note that these comprehensive reforms in Poland cover all the critical areas discussed in Chapter 4 and earlier in this chapter. Moreover, beginning from very precarious economic circumstance in 1989, these changes were introduced simultaneously and rapidly. We will now do our best to assess the early results.
4) The Polish Economy in the 1990s
It is clear that economic reform in Poland has been radical and has moved sharply and swiftly away from the plan toward the market. In addition to the expanded influence of market mechanisms, decision making has been decentralized, private property introduced, and incentive arrangements changed. By most standards, the initial results have been encouraging.
First, stabilization measures cut the rate of inflation sharply from a reported 40-50 percent per month at the end of 1989 to roughly 4-5 percent per month in 1990. At the same time output fell, though supplies of consumer goods in stores increased. Employment in industry declined by 20 percent during 1989 and 1990, although it is reported that only a relatively small portion of this reduction in the labor force was caused by forced layoffs. The unemployment rate was reported to be 6.5 percent at the end of 1990.
Another major positive facet of the Polish reform experience has been
the foreign trade sector. There has been a significant expansion of
exports, especially to hard-currency markets. This expansion resulted in
part from the devaluation of the zloty to market-clearing levels and in
part from the reorientation of trade away from the Soviet Union and other
East European trading partners. At the same time, as a result of restrictive policy measures and the higher domestic cost of these imports, import demand declined.
A third qualified success has been privatization. Although the initial
pace of privatization was rapid, this early privatization was largely that
of small-scale enterprises in the area of trade and services. Although
Polish reformers take seriously the need to pursue privatization of major state enterprises, bringing this about will remain a critical task for the next several years.
Can these achievements be sustained in the coming years? We discuss
this issue more generally in the next section, but the Polish case deserves
specific comment. Quite clearly, the continued success of the Polish
transition will depend on the continuing implementation of appropriate
stabilization measures. Although this may seem relatively straightforward, it requires cohesion and commitment among policy makers and willingness
among the populace to pay the costs of the transition. Pressures for wage
increases must be resisted, and the process of privatization must proceed.
To the extent that the latter can be achieved, the contours of new market arrangements can be defined. Finally, although uncertainty in foreign markets remains, relief of hard-currency debt will unquestionably add a measure of flexibility.
Another issue is the extent to which the Polish "success" (if we can call it that) was promoted by Western assistance. In light of the Polish leadership's commitment to rapid transition, the West has provided considerable assistance in the form of exchange-rate stabilization funds, debt restructuring, and government guarantees.
HUNGARY: THE NEW ECONOMIC MECHANISM AND PRIVATIZATION
Early works in comparative economic systems devoted little attention to the Hungarian economy. Over the last twenty years, however. Western economists have begun to pay more attention to Hungary.
As one prominent observer of Hungary and other East European systems
has noted, "The Hungarian reform experience says as much about central
planning as it does about Hungary, and therefore an understanding of that
experience is important for those interested in the prospects for reform in
all of Eastern Europe, and indeed, in the Soviet Union. In other words,
Hungary is a prototype of economic reform for the former planned socialist economic systems of Eastern Europe, and presumably elsewhere. These thoughts, expressed some ten years ago, remain relevant in the 1990s as
Hungary, like other socialist systems, pursues a transition to the market.
However, the background of reform in Hungary is important to a proper analysis of contemporary problems and prospects.
Prior to 1968, Hungary applied the Soviet model of centrally planned
socialism in a typical fashion. But then, in 1968, Hungary began to
introduce by far the most radical economic reform attempted in Eastern
Europe (with the exception of Yugoslavia). In the words of one early observer of this reform, it clearly represents the most radical postwar change, in the economic system of any Comecon country, which has been maintained over a period of years and gives promise of continuity.
Although the reform program in Hungary met with only partial success, the problems that have arisen (conflicts of objectives, for example, and difficulty in persuading participants to change their ways) are fundamental to the reform experience of planned socialist systems.
Hungary shares many features with other Eastern and Southeastern
European countries, such as Yugoslavia. It provides a refreshing contrast to the Soviet Union, which in some important respects is atypical. Hungary is a small country heavily dependent on foreign trade. The Hungarian experience with reforming foreign trade, and in particular its efforts to become integrated into the world economy both East and West, is prototypical. The difficulties of reforming the foreign trade mechanism arc crucial to the Hungarian economy as well as to the economies of many other systems of Eastern Europe.
1) Hungary: The Setting
Hungary is located in central Europe. Its land area of approximately
36,000 square miles makes it roughly the same size as the state of Indiana.
Its population of about 11 million is comparable to that of the population of Illinois. Although Hungary is not self-sufficient in energy, it docs have supplies of coat, oil, and a number of minerals, including important bauxite deposits.
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