Cornel Ban

Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Boston University

Working paper on the diffusion of economic ideas under authoritarianism

The nexus between economists, state and society has emerged as one of the most fertile areas of research on how economic science is shaped by institutions and viceversa. One of the main insights of this literature is that the interaction between domestic economists and their counterparts in the Western epistemic core has become a driving force in shaping the boundaries of the domestic economic profession and of the policy sphere.The evidence for this argument is compelling but its ambit is limited to regional contexts where the ideas being imported served the economic policy agenda of powerful domestic actors. Latin America’s “Chicago Boys,” to take a familiar example, were encouraged and even bankrolled by powerful business and state actors from their home countries or from abroad. But such alignments between dominant interests and the new ideas did not exist elsewhere. Consider the case of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Here, the economic profession was so tightly regulated by an ideologically anticapitalist state elite that open advocacy for Western economic ideas hostile to the political economy of state socialism often entailed professional costs and, in some of the more repressive regimes, it even led to political persecution. How did diffusion take place this political context and what factors powered and respectively filtered diffusion dynamics? To address these questions, this paper examines the case of Romania, a country where the poverty of the neoclassical tradition before the war would lead one to expect a lot less diffusion of Western economics than in East-Central Europe. At the same time, the paper suggests that geopolitical openings facilitating East-West scientific exchanges enabled the emergence of practices of diffusion of Western economics among critically minded economists.

Past and Present 2012_March 6

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