The Place of the Central European Transition, Elizabeth De Boer-Ashworth, The

Global Political Economy and Post-1989 Change: The Place of the Central European Transition, Elizabeth De Boer-Ashworth, The

Elizabeth De Boer-Ashworth is associated with the University of Limerick, where she lectures in governance and public management. In The Global Political Economy and Post-1989 Change: The Place of the Central European Transition she examines the changes since 1989 in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, following the demise of Soviet communism. The first three chapters outline the nature of the global political economy, Western developmental approaches toward Central Europe before and after 1989, and the basis for using these three countries for study. A chapter is devoted to each, and the penultimate chapter covers the relationship between the European Union and Central Europe as well as EU enlargement to the East. A brief summary concludes the text.

There is much here that will interest a nonspecialist. The first three chapters are noteworthy because they combine historical analysis with a discussion of the dominant Western economic view of development, an unusual approach in contemporary economics. These chapters and those following on individual countries elaborate the theme of reintegration of Central Europe into the West at the latter’s insistence, chiefly through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), based on policies tied to financial assistance. This meant, in De Boer-Ashworth’s view, that financial liberalization, the freeing of prices and international capital flows, and privatization were forced on countries desperate for resources: “Central Europe was not given the opportunity to choose a model other than one that was strictly liberal and economically neo-classical” (51). The cost was vast economic dislocation, falling production and employment, sharply rising prices, and widespread human suffering. In turn, those conditions proved to be politically destabilizing, and leaders supporting them were soon voted out of office by an increasingly restive population. The return to economic growth in the mid-1990s is attributed less to the policies than to the growing association between the economies of Central Europe and the European Union. Today, it is pointed out, policies of the World Bank and the IMF are being examined with a view toward mitigating some of the negative aspects of old-style structural adjustment and policy conditionality.

This book is basically a descriptive sketch of one side of the argument that the Western approach to Central Europe was fundamentally flawed, and a different approach should have been followed that recognized a more prominent role for government and that placed greater emphasis on social and political institutions as foundations for free markets. De Boer-Ashworth states without developing the point that alternative approaches were available (for example, the suggestions of the French and Germans).

The extensive bibliography (including Web sites and e-mail addresses of sources) will be helpful to students of this subject. Unfortunately, the text is littered with grammatical and typographical errors, some merely annoying and others requiring deciphering. There are bits of jargon scattered about (for example, the “Enlightenment project” is repeated in various forms and sometimes not capitalized). Commas are often misplaced. The appearance of so many technical production errors is surprising in a commercial press.

Copyright HELDREF PUBLICATIONS Spring 2002

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