The Road to Socialism and Back: An Economic History of Poland, 1939-2019


The Road to Socialism and Back: An Economic History of Poland, 1939-2019 documents the results of this experiment. We show that there was a wide chasm between the lofty goals of socialist ideology and the realities of socialism as experienced by the Polish people. We also show that while the transition back from a socialist to a mixed economy was not without its own pain, it did unleash the extraordinary productive power of the Polish people, allowing their standard of living to rise at more than twice the rate of growth that prevailed during the socialist era.


Chapter 1: The Political Economy of Socialism

This chapter focuses on the three great challenges of socialist planning—the control problem, the knowledge problem, and the incentive problem.

Chapter 2: Socialism in Poland

This chapter documents how the communist government took control and attempted to centrally plan the Polish economy.

Chapter 3: Poland’s Transition from Socialism to the Market System

This chapter discussed the transition from socialism to a mixed economy, including the so-called Washington Consensus and shock-therapy as well as the main components of Leszek Balcerowicz’s transition plan.

Chapter 4: Assessing the Transition

This chapter assesses the transition, both the good—hyperinflation was tamed, shortages disappeared, growth resumed, and living standards rose—and the bad—unemployment soared and remained high for decades.

Chapter 5: The New Polish Economy

This chapter reviews the ways in which the transition has reoriented the new, mixed Polish economy, including changes in industry, agriculture, and technology.

Chapter 6: Contemporary Economic and Regulatory Policy in Poland

This chapter looks into current economic conditions and explores the extent to which Poland has continued to advance market reforms, to deregulate the economy, and to move away from the command-and-control institutions of the socialist period.

Chapter 7: Publicly Provided Resources Before and After the Transition

This chapter discusses three services that are typically provided in both socialist and mixed regimes—social safety nets, health care, and education—contrasting their provision under the socialist and mixed-economy regimes.

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About the Authors

Peter Boettke is a professor of economics and philosophy at George Mason University, the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, and the director of the FA Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Boettke’s work has earned him numerous awards, including a doctorate honoris causa in social sciences from Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala and an honorary doctorate from Alexandru Iona Cuza in Romania. Boettke received his PhD in economics from George Mason University.

Konstantin Zhukov is a PhD student in the department of economics at George Mason University. He earned his MA in economics at Troy University, and his BBA in business and accounting at Northwood University. His research interests include Austrian economics and economic sociology.

Matthew D. Mitchell is a senior fellow in the Centre for Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute. Prior to joining the Institute Mitchell was a long-serving senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he remains an affiliated senior scholar. He is also a senior research fellow at the Knee Center at West Virginia University. Mitchell received his PhD and MA in economics from George Mason University. His writing and research focus on economic freedom, public choice economics, and the economics of government favouritism.

Realities of Socialism

The Realities of Socialism is a multimedia project—a collaboration between organizations in Canada, Australia, the United States and United Kingdom—to educate people about the experiences of socialism that was imposed on tens of millions of people across the world throughout the 20th century. Here you will find data-driven videos, infographics, short videos and informative studies about socialism’s history in Poland and Estonia, Sweden and Denmark’s short experiment with socialism, and Singapore’s unique approach.

Find out more here.