Study Of Comparative Economic Systems

The Study Of Comparative Economic Systems

The heart of the study of comparative economic systems is the analysis of the institutional structure of each type of economy and of the ways in which basic economic principles working through such a structure produce economic results. We seek to understand the reasons for the similarities and differences of institutional structures in general types of economic systems, the problems that arise out of each, and the attempts to create new institutions to solve these problems.

A word of warning should be inserted here. The current level of in­terest in the study of economic systems originated partially in certain cataclysmic events of the twentieth century, including the Russian Revolu­tion of 1917-1918, the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and the Cold War politics of the postwar era. Some people regard the study of economic systems as an opportunity for nationalistic propaganda and for instilling "right" viewpoints in the minds of supposedly impressionable students. This book seeks to avoid the excesses of sloganizing and moralizing while pursuing a more objective view of economic systems and their functioning. Value judgments implicit in words like good or bad, successful or unsuc­cessful should be reached after an attempt has been made to understand how a particular economic system actually operates. From time to time we will attempt to offer our own value judgments concerning aspects of modern economies, but the reader should remember that his or her own value judgments are equally justified and equally valid. Differing economic priorities and goals cause genuine differences concerning suggested public policy, for instance, although they may be based on evaluations of an agreed-upon set of facts.

Finally, we believe the comparative study of economic systems is both potentially fun and vitally important for a present and future under­standing of the real world. Enjoyable learning is not a contradiction of terms: In fact, we really learn only what we are curious enough and chal­lenged enough to want to know. In one sense, economic systems are intel­lectual puzzles in which the pieces "fit" together in a variety (but not an infinite variety) of interesting ways. The questions for class discussion at the end of each chapter are designed to stretch imaginations and expose value judgments of students who are willing to play intellectual games for the fun of it.

At the same time, most of us place a fairly high value on wanting to live in a world that is somewhat more humane and less hassled than the one in which we find ourselves. Many of the proposals that compel our attention deal with the creation or alteration of economic systems, Can communal organizations replace "selfishness" with concern for group wel­fare as a primary source of economic motivation? Should the government operate rail passenger service in the United States? Is health care just an­other economic commodity, or is it too vital to trust entirely to the market mechanisms? Can Russian economic "reforms" increase the quality and quantity of consumer goods? We view human comfort, security, peace, and happiness as worthwhile goals which, in some modest way, an under­standing of economic systems can help achieve.