The Politics of Entitlements

CAMBRIDGE: In elections last March, Estonia’s reform government was rudely toppled from power by a left-leaning coalition. In light of its accomplishments, dismissal of the reform government seems an ungrateful act by Estonian voters. For by 1994 Estonian inflation was down to an annual 20% (lowest in the FSU), and the economy was growing at a rate of 5% (highest in the FSU), with forecasts predicting even stronger growth.

Why were Estonia's reformers toppled? Why, indeed, have left-wing parties, the political heirs of the communists, succeeded in winning elections in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia? The simple answer, for many, is that market reforms have been too quick and too cruel. People yearn for the simplicity of the past.

Such glib explanations miss the point:

1. Surveys show that the public does not want to go back to the old regime, and that left-wing parties are not deemed instruments to undo market reforms.