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A transition economy or transitional economy is an economy which is changing from a centrally planned economy to a free market. Transition economies undergo economic liberalization, where market forces set prices rather than a central planning organization. In addition to this trade barriers are removed, there is a push to privatize state-owned businesses and resources, and a financial sector is created to facilitate macroeconomic stabilization and the movement of private capital. The process has been applied in China, the former Soviet Union and Communist bloc countries of Europe, and many third world countries and detailed work has been undertaken on its economic and social effects.
The transition process is usually characterized by the changing and creating of institutions, particularly private enterprises; changes in the role of the state, thereby, the creation of fundamentally different governmental institutions and the promotion of private-owned enterprises, markets and independent financial institutions. In essence, one transition mode is the functional restructuring of state institutions from being a provider of growth to an enabler, with the private sector its engine. Another transition mode is change the way that economy grows and practice mode. The relationships between these two transition modes are micro and macro, partial and whole. The truly transition economics should include both the micro transition and macro transition. Due to the different initial conditions during the emerging process of the transition from planned economics to market economics, countries uses different transition model. Countries like P.R.China and Vietnam adopted a gradual transition mode, however Russia and some other East-European countries, such as the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, used a more aggressive and quicker paced model of transition.
The existence of private property rights may be the most basic element of a market economy, and therefore implementation of these rights is the key indicator of the transition process.
The main ingredients of the transition process are:
- Liberalization – the process of allowing most prices to be determined in free markets and lowering trade barriers that had shut off contact with the price structure of the world's market economies.
- Macroeconomic stabilization – bringing inflation under control and lowering it over time, after the initial burst of high inflation that follows from liberalization and the release of pent-up demand. This process requires discipline over the government budget and the growth of money and credit (that is, discipline in fiscal and monetary policy) and progress toward sustainable balance of payments.
- Restructuring and privatization – creating a viable financial sector and reforming the enterprises in these economies to render them capable of producing goods that could be sold in free markets and transferring their ownership into private hands.
- Legal and institutional reforms – redefining the role of the state in these economies, establishing the rule of law, and introducing appropriate competition policies.
- liberalizing economic activity, prices, and market operations, along with reallocating resources to their most efficient use;
- developing indirect, market-oriented instruments for macroeconomic stabilization;
- achieving effective enterprise management and economic efficiency, usually through privatization;
- imposing hard budget constraints, which provide incentives to improve efficiency; and
- establishing an institutional and legal framework to secure property rights, the rule of law, and transparent market-entry regulations.
Edgar Feige, cognizant of the trade-off between efficiency and equity, suggests that the social and political costs of transition adjustments can be reduced by adopting privatization methods that are egalitarian in nature, thereby providing a social safety net to cushion the disruptive effects of the transition process.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) developed a set of indicators to measure the progress in transition. The classification system was originally created in the EBRD's 1994 Transition Report, but has been refined and amended in subsequent Reports. The EBRD's overall transition indicators are:
- Large-scale privatization
- Small-scale privatization
- Governance and enterprise restructuring
- Price liberalization
- Trade and foreign exchange system
- Competition policy
- Banking reform and interest rate liberalization
- Securities markets and non-bank financial institutions
- Infrastructure reform
Transition trajectories can be idiosyncratic. Some nations have been experimenting with market reform for several decades, while others are relatively recent adopters (e.g., Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro). In some cases reforms have been accompanied with political upheaval, such as the overthrow of a dictator (Romania), the collapse of a government (the Soviet Union), a declaration of independence (Croatia), or integration with another country (East Germany). In other cases economic reforms have been adopted by incumbent governments with little interest in political change (China, Laos, Vietnam). Transition trajectories also differ in terms of the extent of central planning being relinquished (e.g., high centralized coordination among the CIS states) as well as the scope of liberalization efforts being undertaken (e.g., relatively limited in Romania).
According to the World Bank's "10 Years of Transition" report "... the wide dispersion in the productivity of labour and capital across types of enterprises at the onset of transition and the erosion of those differences between old and new sectors during the reform provide a natural definition of the end of transition." Mr. Vito Tanzi, Director of the IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department, gave definition that the transformation to a market economy is not complete until functioning fiscal institutions and reasonable and affordable expenditure programs, including basic social safety nets for the unemployed, the sick, and the elderly, are in place. Mr Tanzi stated that these spending programs must be financed from public revenues generated—through taxation—without imposing excessive burdens on the private sector.
Countries in transition
Although the term "transition economies" usually covers the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, this term may have a wider context. There are countries outside of Europe, emerging from a socialist-type command economy towards a market-based economy (e.g., China). Moreover, in a wider sense the definition of transition economy refers to all countries which attempt to change their basic constitutional elements towards market-style fundamentals. Their origin could be also in a post-colonial situation, in a heavily regulated Asian-style economy, in a Latin American post-dictatorship or even in a somehow economically underdeveloped country in Africa.
In 2000, the IMF listed the following countries with transition economies:
In addition, in 2002 the World Bank defined Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later Serbia and Montenegro) as transition economies. In 2009, World Bank included Kosovo in the list of transition economies. Some World Bank studies also include Mongolia. According to the IMF, Iran is in transition to a market economy, demonstrating early stages of a transition economy.
The eight first-wave accession countries, which joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) and the two second-wave accession countries that joined in 1 January 2007 (Romania and Bulgaria) have completed the transition process. According to the World Bank, "the transition is over" for the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. It can be also understood as all countries of the Eastern Bloc. 
Branch of economics
Transition economics is a special branch of economics dealing with the transformation of a planned economy to a market economy. It has become especially important after the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Transition economics investigates how an economy should reform itself to endorse capitalism and democracy. There are usually two sides: one which argues for a rapid transformation and one which argues for a gradual approach. Gérard Roland's book Transition and Economics. Politics, Markets and Firms (MIT Press 2000) gives a good overview of the field. A more recent overview is provided in Transition Economies: Political Economy in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia by Martin Myant and Jan Drahokoupil.
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