Transition and emerging economies

The transformation of economic systems from plan to market in transition and emerging economies has significant consequences not just for labor markets in those countries. The articles in this section offer summary lessons that can guide the development of institutions and labor reform policies in such countries, while also having wider relevance for other economies.

  • Worker displacement in transition economies and in China

    Knowing which workers are displaced in restructuring episodes helps governments devise the right equity- and efficiency-enhancing policies

    Hartmut Lehmann, May 2014
    Continuous enterprise restructuring is needed for the transition and emerging market economies to become and remain competitive. However, the beneficial effects of restructuring in the medium run are accompanied by large worker displacement. The costs of displacement can be large and long-lasting for some workers and for the economy. To devise the right policy interventions, governments need to fully understand which workers are displaced and what costs they bear.
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  • Wage coordination in new and old EU member states

    Stronger wage coordination and higher union density are associated with lower unemployment and higher inflation

    Riccardo Rovelli, January 2016
    Aside from employment protection laws, which have been converging, other labor market institutions in new and old EU member states, such as wage bargaining coordination and labor union density, still differ considerably. These labor market institutions also differ among the new EU member states, with the Baltic countries being much more liberal than the others. Research that pools data on old and new EU member states shows that wage coordination mechanisms can improve a country’s macroeconomic performance. Stronger wage coordination and higher union density reduce the response of inflation to the business cycle.
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  • Upgrading technology in Central and Eastern European economies

    Existing policies in Eastern Europe will not sufficiently promote technological innovation

    Slavo Radosevic, February 2017
    The future growth of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) depends on upgrading technology, exporting and coupling domestic technology efforts while improving their position in global value chains. Current policies in the region are not geared to these tasks, despite the availability of huge financial opportunities in the form of EU structural funds. Existing policies are overly focused on research and development (R&D) and neglect sources of productivity growth, such as management practices, skills, quality, and engineering. The challenge is how to design industrial and innovation policies so that they promote modernization and drive structural change.
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  • The mortality crisis in transition economies

    Social disruption, acute psychosocial stress, and excessive alcohol consumption raise mortality rates during transition to a market economy

    Giovanni Andrea Cornia, October 2016
    Large and sudden economic and political changes, even if potentially positive, often entail enormous social and health costs. Such transitory costs are generally underestimated or neglected by incumbent governments. The mortality crisis experienced by the former communist countries of Europe—which caused ten million excess deaths from 1990 to 2000—is a good example of how the transition from a low to a high socio-economic level can generate huge social costs if it is not actively, effectively, and equitably managed from a public policy perspective.
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  • The happiness gap between transition and non-transition countries

    Economic progress coupled with political and institutional stability is needed to reduce unhappiness

    Ekaterina Skoglund, May 2017
    Since 1989, post-communist countries have undergone profound changes in their political, economic, and social structures and institutions. Across a range of development outcomes—in terms of the speed and success of reforms—transition is an “unhappy process.” The “happiness gap,” i.e. the difference in average happiness levels between the populations of transition and non-transition economies, is closing, but at a slower pace than the process of economic convergence. Economic growth, as the determinant of a country’s collective well-being, has been superseded by measurements of institutional quality and social development.
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  • The effects of privatization on exports and jobs

    Can the privatization of state-owned enterprises generate a virtuous cycle between exports and employment?

    Yasuyuki Todo, November 2016
    The privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOE) in transition economies has often been found to improve employment and productivity of privatized SOEs, despite policymakers’ fears regarding possible job cuts. This positive effect can be enhanced if privatization also promotes firms’ exports. A recent firm-level analysis of China reveals that privatization has indeed a positive effect on export propensity, employment, and productivity in both the short and long term. The effect mostly stems from changes in firms’ attitudes about profits and risks due to competitive pressure.
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  • The changing nature of jobs in Central and Eastern Europe

    Restructuring and upskilling prevents job polarization but may leave countries vulnerable to routine-biased technical change

    Piotr Lewandowski, April 2017
    Job polarization can pose serious problems for emerging economies that rely on worker reallocation from low-skilled to middle-skilled jobs to converge toward advanced economies. Evidence from Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries shows that structural change and education expansion can prevent polarization, as they enable a shift from manual to cognitive work and prevent the “hollowing out” of middle-skilled jobs. However, in CEE countries they have also led to a high routine cognitive content of jobs, which makes such jobs susceptible to automation and computerization in the future.
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  • Skill mismatch and overeducation in transition economies

    Substantial skill shortages coexist with overeducation, affecting both young and old workers

    Olga Kupets, December 2015
    Large imbalances between the supply and demand for skills in transition economies are driven by rapid economic restructuring, misalignment of the education system with labor market needs, and underdeveloped adult education and training systems. The costs of mismatches can be large and long-lasting for workers, firms, and economies, with long periods of overeducation implying a loss of human capital for individuals and ineffective use of resources for the economy. To make informed decisions, policymakers need to understand how different types of workers and firms are affected by overeducation and skill shortages.
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  • Should agricultural employment in transition economies be encouraged?

    Encouraging agricultural employment might reduce rural–urban migration and reduce hidden rural unemployment

    Zvi Lerman, January 2017
    The increase in agricultural employment in Central Asia and Trans-Caucasus over the last two decades has had a detrimental effect on agricultural labor productivity and rural family incomes. Transition countries in the former USSR cannot, however, encourage exits from agriculture (as, for instance, in east Germany or the Czech Republic) due to the risk of mass rural–urban migration, which may exacerbate growing urban unemployment. With large rural populations, state budgets would be unable to deal with a new wave of unemployed in urban areas.
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  • Relative deprivation and individual well-being

    Low status and a feeling of relative deprivation are detrimental to health and happiness

    Xi Chen, April 2015
    People who are unable to maintain the same standard of living as others around them experience a sense of relative deprivation that has been shown to reduce feelings of 
well-being. Relative deprivation reflects conditions of worsening relative poverty despite striking reductions in absolute poverty. The effects of relative deprivation explain why average happiness has been stagnant over time despite sharp rises in income. Consumption taxes on status-seeking spending, along with official and traditional sanctions on excess consumption and redistributive policies may lessen the negative impact of relative deprivation on well-being.
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