Problems of System Transformation: Lessons from the Past

As I have argued in Wolchik and Curry (2015), ten problems of system transformation have hindered a smoother and more stable transition of former post-communist countries to democracy (see also Schmitter 2010):

The first problem of system transformation implied the assumption that the transition from communism to democracy would have automatically led to more social welfare and to an increasing citizens’ support for the national government and the new democratic system. No backslide towards authoritarian rule was, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, meant to be possible.

The second problem of system transformation concerned the belief that economic restructuring would have systematically led to increasing well-being and that social problems would have suddenly disappeared.

The third problem of system transformation involved the conjecture that drastic austerity and neoliberal policies would have, by design, led to increasing fiscal stability and growth and that the associated social costs would have been limited.

The fourth problem of system transformation implied the improbable hope that former communist citizens would have immediately abandoned old mentalities and patterns of behavior. They would have easily adapted to the new social order, rejecting, once and for all, the old one.

The fifth problem of system transformation was based on the assumption that citizens would have enjoyed, by default, the democratic liberties associated with the transition from communism to democracy (e.g. freedom of speech, plural elections, etc.) and that the old lifestyle would have been easily forgotten.

The sixth problem of system transformation was based on the belief that, in presence of continuous economic growth, no anger and resentment among the citizens would have arisen or, at least, the reasons for protest and resentment would have been limited.

The seventh problem of system transformation concerned the notion that new political economies and social policies could have been easily implemented and put in line with the new economic order.

The eighth problem of system transformation involved the supposition that new ideas, interests and institutions could have been easily implemented, replacing overnight the old ones.

The ninth problem of system transformation involved the expectation that poverty and inequality would have immediately diminished with the fall of the Iron Curtain, leading to a paradisiacal inclusive society.

The tenth and final problem of system transformation concerned the postulation that the presence of a unique ‘communist’ model of political economy and of welfare capitalism would have soon disappeared from the scene and that former communist countries would have rapidly converged to the western models of welfare capitalism and of political economy (see Esping-Andersen 1990).

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