Social Economics: Premises, Findings and Policies

By Edward J. O'Boyle | Go to book overview

12

ETHICAL POLICY MAKING IN THE TRANSITION ECONOMIES

Christine Rider

Since 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev first made it possible to consider serious alternatives to the Communist-dominated, bureaucratically planned economies in Eastern Europe, countless reams of paper and gallons of ink have been expended in analysis and advice. The outpouring speeded up after 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. But, remarkably, there has been very little attempt to visualize what these "remade" societies could achieve in terms of creating an environment humans could take pride in. Most of the advice and recommendations seem to be assuming that these "socialist economies in transition" are in transition to something already existing, i.e., to become like western market economies. Often, the goal is merely expressed in terms of becoming so-called free-market democracies. Few writers explicitly talk about achieving a civil society or a pluralist mixed economy, perhaps because as economists, they are unwilling to move too far away from the nice orderly framework of acceptable mainstream economic analysis into the untidy world of socioeconomic analysis.

Perhaps considerations of this nature do not influence more work on the transition economies, because maintenance of social cohesiveness is incompatible with the movement toward a free-market economy, and many economists are uncomfortable dealing with these implications. However, a carefully thought-out specification of what the components of a humane, civil society are would give a sense of direction to the policy recommendations. This is an area where social economists have distinct advantages because of their ability to move beyond the self-regulating market economy paradigm. It is only when one recognizes the complex interconnections in a modern society, especially its ethical connections, that it is possible to start making meaningful policy recommendations. The problem with using the mainstream paradigm and incorporating regulatory action designed to "protect the social interest" or to remedy market failures, is that the recommendations will always be less preferred because they can be demonstrated to be less efficient. 1 But to wish to achieve "free markets" is as unrealistic as it is socially undesirable.

If one instead goes back to the original tradition of economics, and

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