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23-10-2019 | Issue 1-2/2021

Public Choice 1-2/2021

Kornai’s Overcentralization and naïve empiricism

Journal:
Public Choice > Issue 1-2/2021
Author:
Paul R. Gregory
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Abstract

This paper addresses Janos Kornai’s early work on the socialist economy as summarized in his first book, Overcentralization in Economic Administration. In this context, I discuss the parallel research of the 1950s by American scholars, such as Joseph Berliner, David Granick, Gregory Grossman and Eugene Zaleski, who used similar methods and arrived at similar conclusions. Kornai found little evidence of comprehensive planning. Instead, he determined that the planning system consisted of quarterly gross output orders that could readily be manipulated by managers and had to be fulfilled at any price. Kornai’s Overcentralization already contained the seeds of Kornai’s later key findings of the dysfunctionalities of socialist planning; namely, soft budget constraints and the shortage economy. Kornai’s most important finding was largely overlooked throughout the socialist world—that the planned economy could not be reformed by partial measures.

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