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Slovenia’s Transition from Labor Managed Economy to Privately Owned Capitalism

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In 1991 following a ten day military resistance to the Yugoslav National Army, Slovenia achieved its independence. Since then the country has established itself through economic prosperity and stability that is not always the case for countries transforming from a communist dominated system. During the period that Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia the government consisted of a socialist system dominated by the communist party with most aspects of political power centered at regional levels. As a part of Yugoslavia Slovenia made up one fifth of its GDP and since its independence it has maintained a consistent GDP growth rate of 4% and has been successful in its transformation to a market dominated system by taking a policy of diversification of trade and an advocate of bilateral and regional free trade agreements.

Slovenia is a small country in central Europe. It borders the Adriatic Sea and lies between Austria and Croatia. Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and has a population of just over two million people. Its strong historical ties to Western Europe along with many other factors such as a literacy rate of 99.7% have resulted in Slovenia enjoying a much higher per capita GDP than other transitioning economies in Central Europe.

The policy change that Slovenia experienced upon its independence involved a change from labor managed enterprises to a privately owned capitalist system. This task involves the privatization of the entire market from a socially owned and planned system. The changes to the labor market that took place were the transformation from wage controls to a competitive labor market. This was not as big of an issue in Slovenia due to the negative influence that labor-managed enterprises had on wage and price controls. The attempts to distance itself from central planning and the ideal of a functioning labor market is one of the primary reasons that Slovenia has made the transition to a capitalist economy with relative ease.

Towards the late 1980s the Yugoslav government recognized the need for economic change in order to prevent stagflation from occurring and to spur production. Actions taken included “liberalizing prices, wages, imports, and personal foreign currency accounts, which together would bring about equilibrium of relative prices.” These stabilization policies allowed corporations to act more autonomously and set the stage for the eventual transition to a capitalist economy by Slovenia after its independence.

Prior to the Slovene independence in 1991, the Yugoslav economy was based on labor-managed enterprises and basic price and wage controls. In many cases this involved the workers in a corporation electing one third to one half of the members of the board of directors. This introduces a democratic element to the operation of socialist corporations. The problem with this system is that to maintain socialist economic principles there cannot be an individual owner of the corporation. This presents the problem of ownership and in many cases the government maintains ownership creating soft budget constraints. There is also the problem of defining a socially owned firm. Labor-managed enterprises can somewhat mitigate the lack of motivation associated with pure communist regulate firms because the workers feel like they are working for themselves. The inefficiencies associated with this system come from the lack of free entry for firms which is due to the economic planning system and prevents the market from achieving long run equilibrium.

Although the political system in Yugoslavia was dominated by the Communist Party, certain traditional communist practices such as censorship and emigration restrictions were comparatively mild. The Yugoslavia was faced with rising unemployment in the 1980s and a sense of national crisis created the need for economic reforms during that period. Many firms practiced a self management system by aligning themselves with political parties, giving them an influence in policy-making and negatively affecting price and wage controls that were in effect. During the late 1980s all of the political delegations in Yugoslavia supported a strong central government except Slovenia. This shows the reluctance to comply with the economic controls that restricted the market from functioning efficiently.

The government of Yugoslavia made different attempts to spur the economy throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. These included restrictive measures such as “wage and price controls, limits on public energy usages, and controls on investment.” This created a stop and go policy that based prices and wages on government controls instead of the market equilibrium. Many of these controls, if not reduced later in the decade, could have impeded the transition by Slovenia to a market economy.

Before Slovenia gained its independence in 1991 the labor

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