Postcommunist Welfare States

Postcommunist Welfare States: Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe

Linda J. Cook
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Postcommunist Welfare States
    Book Description:

    In the early 1990s, the countries of the former Soviet Bloc faced an urgent need to reform the systems by which they delivered broad, basic social welfare to their citizens. Inherited systems were inefficient and financially unsustainable. Linda J. Cook here explores the politics and policy of social welfare from 1990 to 2004 in the Russian Federation, Poland, Hungary, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

    Most of these countries, she shows, tried to institute reforms based on a liberal paradigm of reduced entitlements and subsidies, means-testing, and privatization. But these proposals provoked opposition from pro-welfare interests, and the politics of negotiating change varied substantially from one political arena to another. In Russia, for example, liberalizing reform was blocked for a decade. Only as Vladimir Putin rose to power did the country change its inherited welfare system.

    Cook finds that the impact of economic pressures on welfare was strongly mediated by domestic political factors, including the level of democratization and balance of pro- and anti-reform political forces. Postcommunist welfare politics throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, she shows, are marked by the large role played by bureaucratic welfare stakeholders who were left over from the communist period and, in weak states, by the development of informal processes in social sectors.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6009-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Welfare States and Postcommunist Transitions
    (pp. 1-30)

    The postcommunist transitions that altered the political and economic systems of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had dramatic effects on their welfare states. As these countries moved into market transformation and deep recession in the early 1990s, their inherited systems of broad, basic social provision became financially unsustainable and ineffective. Governments were caught between preexisting commitments to provide welfare for their populations and intense pressures to restructure their economies, cut social expenditures, and adopt more market-conforming welfare models. This book looks at how governments in Russia and four other postcommunist states responded to these conflicting pressures as their centrally...

  6. 1 Old Welfare State Structures and Reform Strategies
    (pp. 31-54)

    Communist-era welfare states were part of a distinctive developmental model that gave them unique features. Communist state bureaucracies controlled and planned their economies, allocating most material and human resources. The model entailed much more comprehensive and intrusive employment and income policies than are found in Western Europe, Latin America, and other regions. It maintained full employment and kept wages low and income differentials narrow. Planning authorities set prices according to state priorities rather than costs, privileging heavy industry and defense while subsidizing and cross-subsidizing both production and consumption. Legal private markets and private productive assets were largely prohibited, and the...

  7. 2 Non-negotiated Liberalization: Decentralizing Russia’s Welfare State and Moving It Off-Budget
    (pp. 55-98)

    As the Soviet Union collapsed in the last half of 1991, a radically reformist leadership established itself at the head of the new Russia state. In the aftermath of his strong victory in the June 1991 Russian presidential election, Boris Yeltsin was granted extensive decree powers by the holdover legislature, the Supreme Soviet. He appointed a reform team headed by Deputy Prime Minister Egor Gaidar, an economist who committed the government to policies of liberalization, privatization, and fiscal stabilization that were designed to deal with the economic crisis and transform the old command system into a market economy. As part...

  8. 3 Contested Liberalization: Russia’s Politics of Polarization and Informalization
    (pp. 99-144)

    In December 1993, Russian citizens elected a new legislature and narrowly approved a new constitution. The 1993 Russian constitution privileged the executive, giving him strong appointment, decree, and veto powers. But the new legislature, especially its lower house, the Duma, did provide some representation for societal interests, and it exercised stronger political constraint on the president than had its predecessor. A broad spectrum of political parties, including moderate-reformist and hard-left, produced programs, ran candidates, and sought electoral support. These first competitive legislative elections produced a backlash against the broader market transition and transformed the politics of welfare. The political constellation...

  9. 4 Welfare Reform in Putin’s Russia: Negotiating Liberalization within the Elite
    (pp. 145-192)

    Under the Putin presidency, Russia experienced something of a breakthrough in welfare state liberalization. In spring 2000, a high-profile government commission (the Gref Team) articulated a comprehensive liberalizing program that incorporated many elements of the failed Yeltsinera efforts. The program acknowledged the significant breakdown of the welfare state and the need to regulate the spontaneous privatization that had taken place in Russia’s social sector during the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2003, the legislature passed major parts of this program, including reforms of the pension system and Labor and Housing Codes. Initiatives were taken to reorganize the education and health sectors...

  10. 5 Comparing Postcommunist Welfare State Politics: Poland, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and Belarus
    (pp. 193-238)

    I now add a comparative dimension to the book and ask who influenced decisions to cut, preserve, or reshape welfare provision in four additional postcommunist cases: Poland, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. As explained in the introduction, these two pairs of cases were chosen because their political systems stand at opposite ends of the postcommunist spectrum in both representativeness and concentration of power. Poland and Hungary are competitive multiparty democracies with effective legislative institutions and active trade union movements. Kazakhstan and Belarus are electoral authoritarian regimes dominated by strong executives that have marginalized political parties and legislatures and repressed unions. In...

  11. Conclusion: Negotiating Welfare in Democratic and Authoritarian Transitions
    (pp. 239-256)

    The five cases of welfare state reform reviewed in this book show three distinct trajectories and outcomes during the postcommunist decade.

    In Poland and Hungary a gradual process of liberalization produced contracted but still relatively extensive and effective welfare states that are characterized by

    moderate welfare effort,

    a preponderance of public over private expenditure in the social sector,

    significant reliance on social security markets (i.e., for pensions and health care),

    limited corruption in the provision of social services, and

    broad, although not universal, access of the population to basic services and coverage by social insurance and state social assistance.


  12. Index
    (pp. 257-268)