Privatizing Russia offers an inside look at one of the most remarkable reforms in recent history. Having started on the back burner of Russian politics in the fall of 1991, mass privatization was completed on July 1, 1994, with two thirds of the Russian industry privately owned, a rapidly rising stock market, and 40 million Russians owning company shares. The authors, all key participants in the reform effort, describe the events and the ideas driving privatization. They argue that successful reformers must recognize privatization as a process of depoliticizing firms in the face of massive opposition: making the firm responsive to market rather than political influences.
The authors first review the economic theory of property rights, identifying the political influence on firms as the fundamental failure of property rights under socialism. They detail the process of coalition building and compromise that ultmately shaped privatization. The main elements of the Russian program —corporatization, voucher use, and voucher auctions—are described, as is the responsiveness of privatized firms to outside investors. Finally, the market values of privatized assets are assessed for indications of how much progress the country has made toward reforming its economy.
In many respects, privatization has been a great success. Market concepts of property ownership and corporate management are shaking up Russian firms at a breathtaking pace, creating powerful economic and political stimuli for continuation of market reforms. At the same time, the authors caution, the political landscape remains treacherous as old-line politicians reluctantly cede their property rights and authority over firms.
In their earlier report, Reform in Eastern Europe, the WIDER group assessed the main building blocks of a successful transition in Eastern Europe: stabilization, price liberalization, privatization, and restructuring. For the last three years this group of leading economists has been heavily involved in the reform process. In this new report, they take stock, returning to the original themes and assessing progress and prospects, particularly in Russia.Stabilization in the major Central European countries was done very much by the book. Russia, in contrast, is following a path of restructuring without stabilization. The authors discuss how far this alternative strategy is likely to get. Turning to privatization, they note that initial plans started from the assumption that the state owned the assets. As slow progress of those plans has painfully shown, this was the wrong assumption. They point out that assets have in fact many de facto claimants, from managers to workers to local authorities to ministries, and discuss how the current Russian privatization program starts and builds up from this more realistic assessment.In the face of a collapse of trade in Eastern Europe, triggered by reform in Central Europe and a similar collapse between republics following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the authors show how simple measures such as a payments union can be used to increase trade and output.Post-Communist Reform concludes with a look at restructuring in Poland. The authors focus on the behavior of the state, the growth of the private sector, the role of financial systems, and the coherence of overall government policy, ending on a note of cautious optimism.