The book is about economic developments and policies in the first decade or so after the independence of the fifteen countries that emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In those years, the countries were beginning the transition from the Soviet central planning system towards market economies. The book focuses on the role of the IMF in this transition. It explains what the IMF was trying to do and why. It discusses the many controversial issues that involved the IMF, including the collapse in living standards, the speed of economic reforms, the introduction of new currencies, the economic crisis in Russia in 1998 and the widespread corruption. The author had an inside seat as head of the department in the IMF responsible for its work in these countries. He knew the leaders and economic policymakers in all the countries. The style is calm and reasoned, not polemical. Personal anecdotes provide context and color.
John Odling-Smee is a retired economist who taught economics at Oxford University, advised the governments of Ghana and the UK on economic policy and headed the department at the International Monetary Fund responsible for relations with the fifteen countries of the former Soviet Union.
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1: The Hammer and Sickle
Chapter 2: Fifteen New Flags
Chapter 3: Stop Doing Whatever You Were Doing Before
Chapter 4: Russia: It Turned Out as Always
Chapter 5: Ukraine: Someday We Will
Chapter 6: The Baltic States
Chapter 7: Other CIS Countries
Chapter 8: A Longer Perspective
About the Author
John Odling-Smee headed the IMF Department for the former Soviet Union from 1992-2003. In this easy and pleasant memoir with many insights and astute judgment, he guides us through truly historical events. More than any other writer, he tells us what the IMF actually did and the limitations of what it could do in the transition of the former Soviet Union. Rather than defending the IMF or himself, Odling-Smee contemplatively discusses what could possibly have been done differently. On the way, he offers many pertinent observations about how terrible the initial situation was, how few early decisionmakers understood market economics or the outside world, but he also has a good eye for the heroes.
The decade following the break-up of the Soviet Union into 15 new countries was critical in shaping our world. Many of the challenges we now face have their origins in that period. The IMF played a central role in the developments that followed and John Odling-Smee was the leading figure in the IMF. John is an outstanding economist and a person of calmness and authority, greatly respected by all who know him. I watched, and collaborated, in my role as Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development at that time. Learning from his experiences and assessments is of great importance to us all and he writes in a very thoughtful and instructive way. This is an important and fascinating book and offers deep understanding of both history and our times.
Not many people in the former Soviet Union countries know how complicated it was to build a market economy in the 1990s and what role the IMF played. Odling-Smee vividly describes how it all happened and notes unique subtleties and nuances that only he could explain. I do not doubt that the book will be an excellent guide for a wide range of readers, including professional economists, financiers, and historians.
As a senior IMF official, John Odling-Smee was intimately involved in the reform of the countries of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. In this fascinating book, he explains how macroeconomic stability was established, albeit with ups and downs along the way. But he also shows how deep political weaknesses - above all the pervasive corruption and cronyism - prevented the creation of thriving and competitive market economies in nearly all the successor states. This is ultimately a story of failures. We are living with the consequences of these failures today.
This book provides a clear and persuasive documentation of the role of the International Monetary Fund in the transformation of planned economies. But it is much more than that: it constitutes an essential guide to the big debates of the 1990s, including the question of “who lost Russia?”
In this engrossing book, Odling-Smee offers fascinating reflections on his work across the post-Soviet states as they – and he – wrestled with the dilemmas of economic reform in the 1990s. It has never been more important to understand the IMF’s role in Russia’s transition from a planned to market economy, and this book offers a unique account from one of the Fund’s leading officials at the time
Towards Market Economies: The IMF and the Economic Transition in Russia and Other Former Soviet Countries by John Odling-Smee named one of the best Economics books of 2022 in the Financial Times.