Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime
BOOK FORUM
About This Event

In November 1906, Russia’s tsarist regime launched a land reform under which peasants, who had held most of their land communally and in multiple scattered plots, obtained rights to convert to exclusive ownership and to consolidate their tracts. In Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime, 1906–1915: The Creation of Private Listen to Audio


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Property in Russia (Hoover Institution Press, 2006), Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit examines the measure as a case study of “reform from above.” Can a reform undertaken by an autocracy—not in response to pressure from a formerly disenfranchised group, but as a voluntary decision aimed at economic and social transformations—advance a country toward liberal democracy and prosperity? Or can such reforms actually retard progress because they aggravate social tensions and because they are designed without the political participation of those who will be directly affected?

At this luncheon seminar held on the hundredth anniversary of the Russian reforms, Judge Williams will present the main arguments and conclusions of his book. His presentation will be followed by commentary from the eminent Russian economist Yegor Gaidar, the acting prime minister during the first government of President Boris Yeltsin and the architect of the free-market revolution in post-Soviet Russia.

Agenda
11:45 a.m.
Registration
Noon
Luncheon
12:30 p.m.
Introduction:
Christopher DeMuth, AEI
12:45
Lecture:
Judge Stephen F. Williams, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
1:10
Discussant:
Yegor Gaidar, Institute for the Economy in Transition
2:00
Adjournment
Event Summary

November 2006

Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime

In November 1906, Russia’s tsarist regime launched a land reform under which peasants, who had held most of their land communally and in multiple scattered plots, obtained rights to convert to exclusive ownership and to consolidate their tracts. In Liberal Reform in an Illiberal Regime, 1906-1915: The Creation of Private Property in Russia (Hoover Institution Press, 2006), Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit examines the measure as a case study of “reform from above.” Can a reform undertaken by an autocracy--not in response to pressure from a formerly disenfranchised group, but as a voluntary decision aimed at economic and social transformations--advance a country toward liberal democracy and prosperity? Or can such reforms actually retard progress because they aggravate social tensions and because they are designed without the political participation of those who will be directly affected?

At a luncheon seminar held on November 13, the hundredth anniversary of the Russian reforms, Judge Williams presented the main arguments and conclusions of his book. His presentation was followed by commentary from the eminent Russian economist Yegor Gaidar, the acting prime minister during the first government of President Boris Yeltsin and the architect of the free-market revolution in post-Soviet Russia.

The Honorable Stephen F. Williams
U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit

How effective are top-down reforms likely to be, considering as an example the Stolypin agricultural reforms? Top-down reforms occur because of the influence of liberals in society but are not influenced by social pressures. Liberal democracy is a broad concept that involves both private property and civil society. Economically, private property is essential for investment and for preventing the alternative--hierarchical regimes which do not represent the consumer. Politically, private property is the diffusion of power. Civil society drives the protection of private property. Prior to the reforms in rural Russia, there were periodic reallocations of each household’s land interests, aiming to match each household’s land resources to its working capability. These were followed by collective, centralized management of all newly allocated plots within the village. The commune itself was a patriarchal hierarchal society in microcosm. Oliver North identifies three obstacles to reform: the resistance of privileged elites,mindsets, and economies of scale

The Stolypin reforms are simply described. Villages were able to vote to end the repartition system which demanded collective control of the farming process. Individual households were also allowed to do the same. The progress in both of these areas was slow. These reforms were somewhat illiberal in that reform administrators were not peasants. There were other, even greater problems, such as the incompleteness of the reforms and the government-supported cooperatives. Thus, reforms of this sort can only be successful if the ruling elites cannot completely control the way they’re conducted.

Yegor Gaidar
Institute for the Economy in Transition

Russia does not have a history of liberal democracy supporting private property. The problem with the land system before the Stolypin reforms was redistribution. Redistribution stimulated families to have more children and keep them in the countryside, leaving no way to stop the increasing population. That was the trap of the Russian agricultural society. Regions without land redistribution had lower population growth rates than those with redistribution. Because of this, there was no support in the countryside for changing the system. This is the problem Stolypin faced. His reforms failed because he could not prevent the World War I or the Russian revolution, but he did his best to save Russia from its problems.

AEI intern Kara Flook prepared this summary.

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AEI Participants

 

Christopher
DeMuth
  • Christopher DeMuth was president of AEI from December 1986 through December 2008. Previously, he was administrator for information and regulatory affairs in the Office of Management and Budget and executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief in the Reagan administration; taught economics, law, and regulatory policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; practiced regulatory, antitrust, and general corporate law; and worked on urban and environmental policy in the Nixon White House.

     

  • Phone: 2028625895
    Email: cdemuth@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Keriann Hopkins
    Phone: 2028625897
    Email: keriann.hopkins@aei.org
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