A policy of mass destruction [physorg]

A new analysis showing how the radical policies advocated by western economists helped to bankrupt Russia and other former Soviet countries after the Cold War has been released by researchers.

The study, led by academics at the University of Cambridge, is the first to trace a direct link between the mass privatisation programmes adopted by several former Soviet states, and the economic failure and corruption that followed.

Devised principally by western economists, mass privatisation was a radical policy to privatise rapidly large parts of the economies of countries such as Russia during the early 1990s. the policy was pushed heavily by the, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Its aim was to guarantee a swift transition to capitalism, before Soviet sympathisers could seize back the reins of power.

Instead of the predicted economic boom, what followed in many ex-Communist countries was a severe recession, on a par with the  of the United States and Europe in the 1930s. The reasons for and skyrocketing poverty in Eastern Europe, however, have never been fully understood. Nor have researchers been able to explain why this happened in some countries, like Russia, but not in others, such as Estonia.

Some economists argue that mass privatisation would have worked if it had been implemented even more rapidly and extensively. Conversely, others argue that although mass privatisation was the right policy, the initial conditions were not met to make it work well. Further still, some scholars suggest that the real problem had more to do with political reform.

Writing in the new, April issue of the , Lawrence King and David Stuckler from the University of Cambridge and Patrick Hamm, from Harvard University, test for the first time the idea that implementing mass privatisation was linked to worsening , both for individual firms, and entire economies. The more faithfully countries adopted the policy, the more they endured economic crime, corruption and economic failure. This happened, the study argues, because the policy itself undermined the state’s functioning and exposed swathes of the economy to corruption.

The report also carries a warning for the modern age: “Rapid and extensive privatisation is being promoted by some economists to resolve the current debt crises in the West and to help achieve reform in Middle Eastern and North African economies,” said King. “This paper shows that the most radical privatisation programme in history failed the countries it was meant to help. The lessons of unintended consequences in Russia suggest we should proceed with great caution when implementing untested economic reforms.”

Mass privatisation was adopted in about half of former Communist countries after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Sometimes known as “coupon privatisation”, it involved distributing vouchers to ordinary citizens which could then be redeemed as shares in national enterprises. In practice, few people understood the policy and most were desperately poor, so they sold their vouchers as quickly as possible. In countries like Russia, this enabled profiteers to buy up shares and take over large parts of the new private sector.

The researchers argue that mass privatization failed for two main reasons. First, it undermined the state by removing its revenue base – the profits from state-owned enterprises that had existed under Soviet rule – and its ability to regulate the emerging market economy. Second, mass privatization created enterprises devoid of strategic ownership and guidance by opening them up to corrupt owners who stripped assets and failed to develop their firms. “The result was a vicious cycle of a failing state and economy,” King said.

To test this hypothesis, King, Stuckler and Hamm compared the fortunes between 1990 and 2000 of 25 former Communist countries, among them states that mass-privatised and others that did not. World Bank survey data of managers from more than 3,500 firms in 24 post-communist countries was also examined.

The results show a direct and consistent link between mass privatisation, declining state fiscal revenues, and worse economic growth. Between 1990 and 2000, government spending was about 20% lower in mass privatising countries than in those which underwent a steadier form of change. This was the case even after the researchers adjusted for political reforms, other economic reforms, the presence of oil, and other initial transition conditions.

Similarly, mass privatising states experienced an average dip in GDP per capita more than 16% above that of non mass-privatising countries after the programme was implemented.

The analysis of individual firms revealed that among mass-privatising countries, firms privatised to domestic owners had greater risks of economic corruption. Private domestic companies in these  were 78% more likely than state-owned companies to resort to barter rather than monetary transactions. This was revealed to be the case after the researchers had corrected the data for firm, market and sector characteristics, as well as the possibility that the worst performing firms were the ones privatised.

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Antal Fekete Responds To Ben Bernanke On The Gold Standard

Tyler Durden's picture
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 03/21/2012 12:04 -0400

Yesterday, Ben Bernanke dedicated his entire first propaganda lecture to college student to the bashing of the gold standard. Of course, he has his prerogatives: he has to validate a crumbling monetary system and the legitimacy of the Fed, first to schoolchildrden and then to soon to be college grads encumbered in massive amounts of non-dischargeable student loans. While it is decidedly arguable that the gold standard may or may not have led to the first Great Depression, there is no debate at all that it was sheer modern monetary insanity and bubble blowing (by the very same professor!) that brought us to the verge of collapse in the Second Great Depression in 2008, which had nothing to do with the gold standard. And as usual there is always an other side to the story. Presenting that here today, is Antal Fekete with “The Gold Problem Revisited.”


Antal E. Fekete

The article The Gold Problem of Ludwig von Mises, published 47 years ago in 1965, just six years before he died (the gold standard died with him in the same year) has some breath-taking thoughts, for example, “the gold standard alone can make the determination of money’s purchasing power independent of the ambitions and machinations of governments, of dictators, of political parties, and of pressure groups”, or: “the gold standard did not fail: governments deliberately sabotaged it, and still go on sabotaging it.” But for all our admiration we would be amiss if we did not point out certain errors in his article. These are all errors of omission, and correcting them would hopefully make the Mises article even more helpful to the discriminating reader.

Mises fails to answer his own question why gold is the best choice to serve as money. Indeed, why not another commodity, or a basket of commodities? The reason is that the marginal utility of gold is unique in that it declines at a rate slower than that of any other substance on Earth. Various assets have various marginal utilities which determine their value. All of them decline, albeit at various rates. In other words, economic actors accumulate assets increasingly reluctantly, up to their satiation point that will be reached sooner or later. For gold, this point is removed farther, so far indeed that for all practical purposes it is beyond reach.

Therefore if you substituted another commodity, or basket of commodities for gold, then you would end up with a unit of value the marginal utility of which was inferior. It would decline at a rate faster than that of gold. It would be akin to substituting a yardstick made of rubber for one made of metal.

1. The futility of inflationary policies

Mises ignores the fact that newly created money can be spent not only on goods and services, but also on financial assets. This is the proverbial fly in the ointment of the inflationary argument. It is also a subtle one, so much so that the government as the would-be perpetrator of inflation often falls victim to it. It may think that it is promoting inflation while, in fact, it acts as quartermaster for deflation.

By restricting the circulation of gold money or by other means, the government can make financial speculation more attractive. In doing so it wants to reduce the amount of money available for buying goods and services. This strategy of the government and its pseudo-economists consists precisely in channeling enough of the newly created money into speculative ventures so that the untoward consequences of price and wage rises will not occur, or they will occur later, so that the causality relation is obscured.

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