On 4 June 1989 I was in China, perhaps the only place in the world where the Polish election was the news headline. In most places the Tiananmen massacre was top of the news on that day, in Iran the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini – but the Chinese newscasters may have got it right. The June elections, the first open elections in eastern Europe for 40 years, showed the total lack of support for the Communist regime and set in motion an amazing 30-month period in which Communism disappeared from central and eastern Europe, and then the USSR was replaced by 15 new non-Communist countries (Table 1.1). The map was also changed by the reunification of Germany in 1990, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, which began in 1991, and the velvet divorce in Czechoslovakia in 1993. The abandonment of central planning was the economic counterpart of the momentous political changes of 1989–91. Experiments with reform had taken place in eastern Europe and the USSR before 1989, but they were minor tinkering compared to the wholesale change envisaged by the new governments. The goal everywhere was to replace central planning by a market-based economy, although it quickly became apparent that the goal had many variants. The systemic change became known as ‘transition’, although this inherently comparative static term had no firm time horizon.1 The largely unanticipated and almost simultaneous introduction of a market economy in some two dozen countries provides the closest approximation we are ever likely to see of a...
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