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The Political Economy of Gunnar Myrdal: An Institutional Basis for the Transformation Problem (review)
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History of Political Economy 32.1 (2000) 176-177

Book Review

The Political Economy of Gunnar Myrdal:
An Institutional Basis for the Transformation Problem

The Political Economy of Gunnar Myrdal: An Institutional Basis for the Transformation Problem. By James Angresano. Cheltenham, United Kingdom: Edward Elgar, 1997. xiii, 197 pp. £49.95.

James Angresano's previous publications include articles about transition problems in the former socialist countries as well as studies on Myrdal. His knowledge of both areas forms the basis of this book.

The introductory chapter deals with transition problems in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and China. Although Angresano sometimes explicitly tries to adopt "a Myrdalian view," the link to Myrdal is usually weak or absent. The chapter can be characterized as an institutional economist's analysis of the evolution of CEE and China.

The main message is that shock therapy, promoted by mainstream economists, has been a bad policy. It has resulted in larger problems than its advocates ever imagined, such as crime, unemployment, and extreme income inequality. Ten years after the political upheavals we can also see that the time required to achieve anything approaching a normal Western economy was seriously underestimated.

Angresano compares the course of events in CEE with the evolution in China. In China, the transformation has been more gradual and, according to Angresano, has been guided more by pragmatic considerations and less by ideology than has the transformation in CEE. Therefore, the performance of China surpasses that of the CEE countries "from a Myrdalian view." One may, however, add that when it comes to political democracy, China evidently lags behind.

Chapters 2 through 4 deal with Myrdal and are defined in terms of his thinking and his practical work. "Gunnar Myrdal I" refers to Myrdal during the period 1915-33, "The Years of 'High Theory.'" Here we find Myrdal's doctoral thesis, but also the first Swedish edition of The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory (1930). This book can be regarded as the prelude to Myrdal's recurrent reflections on objectivity and values in economics. The first period also includes Myrdal's first, disappointing contact with American institutionalism.

"Gunnar Myrdal II" appears in 1929-38 as a "political and social economist." (The first two periods overlap.) During this period he published a number of socio-political studies, which was one of the reasons he ended up as "Gunnar Myrdal III," the institutional economist active from 1938 to 1987. This last period was occupied by political missions and his grand studies, An American Dilemma (1944) and Asian Drama (1968).

In the last chapter Angresano goes back to the transformation problems of the CEE countries. He explains not only what Myrdal did and wrote about the subject but also what Myrdal would have done, according to Angresano, if he had been present in the 1990s. "Myrdal would agree . . . ," "Myrdal would argue . . . ," and similar expressions are frequent. Such an approach is not very convincing.

Dealing with transformation problems in CEE countries and Myrdal's thought within a single monograph requires some peculiarity in the way the material is organized. However, if readers accept the heterogenous nature of the book, they will find enlightening reflections on both issues.

Bo Sandelin
University of Gothenburg