From centrally planned development to human development

2010 Occasional Paper
Par Ivanov, Andrey; Peleah, Mihail

This paper examines the links between human development concept and the attempt to implement the communist project in the countries of the former socialist bloc. It argues that the human development performance of the socialist system, despite its beneficial outcome for the ‘working masses’, had little in common with actual human development. It met basic needs in education, health, and living standards. Under the socialist system development approaches were missing two major components of human development – freedom and agency. In this sense an emerging sense of agency in societies in the region is the major transformation outcome. The departure from centrally planned and state-dominated model of development was painful, expensive and took long time. In some countries it is still in process with uneven progress and moments of reverse. But the overall trend is clear and policies that encourage people someone to take responsibility, act and bring about change for improving their own welfare are the best longterm investment in human development opportunities. Still, major questions remain unanswered. The first is to what extent the current – market-based, consumer demand oriented – system is capable of going beyond those basic needs and combine economic growth with other human development dimensions? Has it already gone into the opposite extreme to that of the former communist utopia attempt – subordinating human development to consumer demand driven consumption? Answering these questions goes beyond the scope of the current paper but the socialist countries’ experience could perhaps provide some insights for the answers.

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