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The politics of economic transition : 'shock therapy' in Poland 1990-1991

Spiro, Nicholas (1998) The politics of economic transition : 'shock therapy' in Poland 1990-1991. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85980) (KAR id:85980)


In the context of the profound transformative developments in Eastern Europe since 1989. this study examines the political conception and evolution of 'shock therapy' in Poland. As the region's pioneer of neo-liberal engineering, Poland embarked on its post-communist reforms with a singular determination to eliminate hyperinflation and transfer the bulk of its state enterprises into private hands. Emboldened by a unique window of opportunity in the secondhalf of 1989 and driven by a philosophical attraction to Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's actions epitomised the 'transition' perspective. Emphasising political imperatives in moments of accelerated change, conventional models, and a technocratic agenda, the 'transition' school chose Poland as its exemplary pupil. The 'adaptation' perspective. by contrast, defended by social democrats such as Ryszard Bugaj, recognised the constraints Polish reformers faced in departing from central planning, notably in their efforts to rid state firms of their self-managed status. Stressing the legacies of the past, indigenous structures, and a negotiated framework, the 'adaptation' school eschews sharp historical demarcations and uniform blueprints. Focusing on the endogenous aspects of the Polish transformation. this research demonstrates the need for a multifaceted evolutionary approach in which the 'transition' perspective offers insights on the foundations of 'shock therapy' while the 'adaptation' perspective underscores the significance of the self-management inheritance: the former, it is argued, helps explain the success of macroeconomic stabilisation while the latter reveals the impediments to large-scale privatisation. Four political variants of Polish neo-liberalism are presented in the context of a well-defined policy regime which became entrenched during the 1990-1991 years. The spurious 'shock therapy versus gradualism' debate is then explored in order to illustrate the importance of initial conditions - the Hungarian route being of particular relevance. Finally, the views of the standard bearers of both schools, Jeffrey Sachs and John Gray, are discussed, if only to emphasise the need for clarity and specificity in the reform debates.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85980
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Political science, Poland
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:23 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:27 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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