« Back to Results

Economic Knowledge in Socialism

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM

Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 405
Hosted By: History of Economics Society
  • Chair: Gerard Roland, University of California-Berkeley

Economic Knowledge in Socialism: Forms, Integration, Isolation

Ivan Boldyrev
University of Bochum
Till Düppe
University of Quebec-Montreal


In this introductory talk, we present an overview of the different forms of economic knowledge that emerged in Cold War socialist countries. Two partially conflicting epistemic hierarchies apply: the first is the hierarchy inherited from the pre-socialist era that favors formally driven sciences as a model for scientific practice; the second hierarchy is imposed by the imperative of Marxist-Leninist political economy, which was driven largely by ideas rather than techniques and was supposed to inform all scientific activities; it required next to an ideological commitment also that all scientific activities result in economic advances in building up a socialist society. In open and implicit debates several disciplines had to redefine their agenda, and renegotiate their disciplinary relationships. In this context, we can observe a mobilization of many disciplines in providing economically relevant knowledge (often summarized under the notion “economic cybernetics”), which even meant a certain methodological eclecticism; the risk to fall into disgrace by the Party system, however, pushed specialization as well as abstraction as a means of protection and thus disintegration of economic knowledge. In addition, a heavy jargon papered over this disintegration of knowledge, and reinforced the isolation of the epistemic sphere from the West. This mobilization, disintegration, and isolation of various forms of economic knowledge was reinforced by the creation of various institutions that brought this knowledge about, and created a fundamental in-transparency of economic knowledge in socialism.

Shestidesyatniki Economics, the Idea of Convergence, and Perestroika

Joachim Zweynert
University of Witten Herdecke


The paper analyses the reception of the idea of convergence in Soviet economics from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. It is predominantly concerned with convergence theory as a policy idea that inspired perestroika. The paper is related to the literature on ideas and institutional change as pioneered by Peter A. Hall and Mark Blyth. Its central question is: How could, under the conditions of an authoritarian regime, an imported policy idea that bluntly contradicted official ideology, reach a degree of dissemination and (among a specific stratum of the elite) popularity that would later turn it into a central pillar of reform policy? An important finding is that the idea of convergence united the Soviet “people of the sixties” and some Western “progressive” intellectuals who together formed a transregional epistemic community that only for a short period of time, at the end of the 1980s, gained some political influence.

The Growth and Marcescence of the ‘System of the Optimal Functioning of the Economy’

Richard Ericson
East Carolina University


This contribution discusses the hopes about the use of mathematical economics to improve the planning and functioning of the Soviet economy following the opening of the Economics-Mathematical Laboratory at MGU in 1962 and the founding of ЦЭМИ (Central Economic-Mathematical Institute) in the Academy of Sciences shortly thereafter. The opening of these institutions provided an incubator for dozens of monographs on 'improving' (совершенствование) planning and the functioning of the Socialist economy, and in the elaboration of a "System of the Optimal Functioning of the Economy (СОФЭ)" which, despite substantial state funding, never got traction in the planning or administrative organs managing the economy.

Economic Knowledge outside Cold War Boxes: Banking, Structural Adjustment, and Globalization as Socialist Projects

Johanna Bockman
George Mason University


This paper is an inquiry into the emergence of global or transnational banking through new Yugoslav and non-aligned banks opened in the 1970s. These banks were formed to realize non-aligned ideology and economic expertise developed in various international governmental organizations, such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and laid out in the New International Economic Order. These banks also developed new economic and financial knowledge over time. I specifically compare the banking practices and ideas of 1) the Yugoslav Bank for International Economic Cooperation, 2) Ljubljanska Banka with offices worldwide, and 3) the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), a non-aligned bank started in Pakistan (at its height, BCCI had 400 branches in 78 countries). I will talk about how they became uniquely global banks, how they realized socialist and non-aligned ideologies, how they functioned during the 1980s debt crisis, and what happened to them after 1989. After 1989, Ljubljanska Banka left behind its global or transnational structure and took non-Slovenian clients’ savings without compensation. The Yugoslav Bank for International Economic Cooperation was put on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations. The US and the UK shut down BCCI for corruption in 1991.
Gerard Roland
University of California-Berkeley
JEL Classifications
  • B2 - History of Economic Thought since 1925
  • B3 - History of Economic Thought: Individuals