Advancing a Free Society

Reform of the West: Lessons from the East

Monday, August 8, 2011

Writing about web page http://keithhennessey.com/2011/07/30/risk-and-the-governments-credit-rating/

Twenty years ago, the idea of post-communist "transition" looked straightforward. There were 30 or so economies that qualified as "transitional." The starting point (communism) and the end point (a democratic market economy) would be roughly the same for all of them, with a short one-way street in between.

Looking back, what impresses is the astonishing variety of routes out of communism, more and less marketized and more and less democratic. Compare Poland with Russia, China, Belarus, and Uzbekistan, for example. Explaining that diversity is a vast and worthy undertaking.

I'm reading Timothy Frye's new book, Building States and Markets after Communism: The Perils of Polarized Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2010). Using lots of quantitative and narrative data from the former Soviet bloc, Frye argues that post-communist reforms were faster and more consistent, with more social transfers, when the political system was democratic. He shows, however, that the benign influence of democracy was conditional on low political and socio-economic polarization. Polarized democracies pursued reforms at a slower pace, with less perseverance and more wavering, and less generous assistance for the losers. The outcomes of polarized democracy were scarcely better than those of autocracy.

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