Archives: 1991 Edition

Excerpts from Reason's vaults


30 years ago

February 1991

"As Hungarian economist János Kornai and Polish economist Jan Winiecki argue, the nations of Eastern Europe need flesh and blood entrepreneurs more than anything else. Their point is simple: You can't have capitalism without capitalists. The countries of Eastern Europe must cultivate true capitalists—both domestic and foreign—on their own, through a functioning convertible currency, viable legal accounting systems, modest levels of taxation and regulation, and full, constitutionally-guaranteed property rights.

The World Bank's record throughout the developing world and in Eastern Europe demonstrates that it cannot be a catalyst for radical economic -liberalization. Following in its path, the new East European Development Bank is fundamentally a socialist undertaking….With the verdict on socialism so clear, the United States and other Western governments should abandon the oxymoronic idea of planning for capitalism."
Melanie S. Tammen
"Planning for Capitalism" 

March 1991

"Last year Hungarians were transfixed by drawn-out battles in the press over the dismantling of dictatorship. Even the new wave of porn publishers dignified their trade with titles like 'Independent and Democratic Sexy Magazine.' This year the buzzword is privatization. The coded language of post-Stalinist socialism is being replaced by a trendy vocabulary of commerce, although words like profit and investment still sound risqué to the Hungarian ear."
Steven Carlson
"Managing the Managers"

June 1991

"Sinyavsky is right to say that, just as a pyramid cannot be 'restructured' into a Greek temple, the Soviet system cannot be restructured into a democracy; it can only crumble and clear the space for a new society to be built. Perhaps the massive blocks of stone were held in place by beams of rotting wood. It is only to be hoped that, in collapsing, they do not crush too many victims under their dead weight….

Now that the first and last stronghold of communism appears to be falling apart, there are still those who maintain that it didn't work because it was never tried properly. But what other way is there to judge a political ideology except by what happened when people set out to build a society on its principles?"
Cathy Young
"…And Its Discontents"

July 1991

"What's the first thing a people freed from oppression do? Build a casino. In the last couple of years, casinos have opened throughout the former Eastern Bloc from Yugoslavia to Hungary. But Poland is leading the pack. A dozen casinos have opened in hotels and nightclubs throughout the country. Even Warsaw's Palace of Culture supports a casino on the ground floor. Each night the gaming floors are packed with proletarians trying to beat the odds."
Charles Oliver

"On a Moscow street last year, walking behind a couple in their early 30s, I overheard the man say, 'Why start a business when I don't know if six months from now it's still going to be my business or not?' Overnight, a new decree can make your business illegal, triple your taxes, cut you off from vital supplies. Often, the restrictions represent barely disguised extortion: A 1989 package of legislation severely limited the scope of activities in which private businesses or 'cooperatives' could legally engage unless they were 'affiliated' with state enterprises, i.e., unless state enterprises were cut in on the profits."
Cathy Young
"Searching the Soviet Soul" 

"Economically, a process similar to the enclosures, which created private property and exchange rights out of European feudalism, is under way. The feudal lords of the manor controlled property they did not own—that was not, in fact, owned by anyone. They were therefore able to make land private simply by claiming the right to sell it and forcibly evicting the peasants who occupied it. A similarly rough process of making unowned resources private is taking place in the Soviet Union."
Paul Craig Roberts
"Privileged Privatization"


"Some still claim that history is the product of impersonal forces. But in August 1991 it was made by great men and women—many of them nameless. There was greatness on the streets of Moscow and in the halls of the Russian Parliament. It resounded in Yeltsin's address from atop the tank and in Gorbachev's 'The hell with you' response to coup plotters. History spoke in the voices, and the deeds, of individuals. The lamps are going on all over Europe, all over the world. We walk into the light. The 20th century is over."
Virginia I. Postrel
"Fin De Siècle"