Hilary Appel Book Presentation "From Triumph to Crisis: Neoliberal Economic Reforms in Postcommunist Countries" (Cambirdge University Press, 2018).
The surprising strength and endurance of neoliberal capitalist reforms remain the great unexplained mystery of post-Communist transition. Liberal economic reforms survived leftist returns to power, persisted across multiple governments, took place in successive reform pushes and, in their extent and endurance, defied scholars’ expectations. Newfound political freedoms were seldom used to reverse capitalist reforms and cultural norms did not force governments to abandon them. Instead, neoliberal reforms prevailed in these nascent polities for nearly two decades. This book presentation will argue that post-Communist transition was driven by a process of "competitive signaling," motivated by these countries’ desperate need for capital, their sudden opening up to the global economy, and the ideological dominance of neoliberal ideas. These factors set off a competition between post-Communist countries to signal their attractiveness to investors by quickly adopting attention-grabbing neoliberal capitalist reforms. After the global financial crisis hit and capital flows to the region suddenly stopped, governments began to retreat from the neoliberal agenda, with numerous reversals of the most avant-garde programs like flat taxes and pension privatization. Moreover, economic nationalism and populism began to take hold, and support for alternative models of economic development by opposition parties and mass groups began to gain traction in post-Communist European polities.