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New Left Review 55, January-February 2009


David Woodruff on Anders Åslund, How Capitalism Was Built. A vocal advocate of shock therapy casts a blinkered eye over its results in the former Eastern Bloc.

DAVID WOODRUFF

THE ECONOMIST’S BURDEN

For anyone studying the post-Communist economies, the writings of Anders Åslund are impossible to ignore—even when it might be best to do so. [1] Anders Åslund, How Capitalism Was Built: The Transformation of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2007, £15.99, paperback, 356 pp, 978 0 521 68382 1. To work on this part of the world is to encounter at every turn Åslund’s forceful, categorical, and often angry pronouncements, apparently rooted in an unshakeable conviction that he always knows both who to blame and what to do. Born in 1952, Åslund studied economics at Oxford and then joined the Swedish foreign service, spending three years in perestroika-era Moscow. Abandoning diplomacy for economics, in 1989 he published Gorbachev’s Struggle for Economic Reform, a detailed account of factional duelling over policy within the Politburo. From 1991 until 1994, Åslund was part of the team of Western economists, led by Jeffrey Sachs, that advised Russia’s government on macroeconomics. Funded by the Ford Foundation and the Swedish government, the Sachs team aggressively advocated shock therapy, backing free-market liberals in the Yeltsin administration such as Yegor Gaidar and the late Boris Fyodorov. When both left the government in early 1994, Sachs and Åslund resigned their posts.

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