Citations for Past Winners of the Ed A Hewett Book Prize


Sergei Antonov for Bankrupts and Usurers of Imperial Russia: Debt, Property, and the Law in the Age of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Harvard University Press)

In this book, Sergei Antonov offers an extraordinarily thorough account of the operation of credit relations in pre-revolutionary Russia. Debt permeates modern societies, and Antonov’s layered approach to exploring it calls attention to such overlooked aspects of the phenomenon as informal networks, kinship ties, women’s participation, and small-scale lending, as well as the formal evolution of the legal system surrounding property and debt. Making use of a trove of court cases and other documents, and using social, cultural, and legal lenses of analysis, Antonov shows how the acts of lending and borrowing in nineteenth-century Russia worked in practice. They were not crude, underdeveloped, or the sole purview of banks and wealthy individuals, but instead were complex, extensive, and central to the lives of people of relatively modest means. His book therefore both corrects our understanding of the past and opens our eyes to better ways of understanding the present.

Juliet Johnson for Priests of Prosperity: How Central Bankers Transformed the Postcommunist World (Cornell University Press)

Priests of Prosperity is motivated by a puzzle from the post-communist experience with empirical and theoretical implications for regions around the world: in countries with reform trajectories otherwise so different, why did central banks converge so quickly on a single ideational and institutional model? Drawing on documents and interviews gathered over 14 years from five countries spanning the former Soviet empire, Juliet Johnson shows how a transnational community of central bankers was able to spread a gospel of central bank independence and tight monetary policy, even as the IMF and others were unable to produce similar homogeneity in industrial privatization, agrarian reform, pension restructuring, or any other policy area. Johnson also demonstrates that the failure of this externally- advocated reform to be embedded in local political structures left it open to attack in later years. The book thus shines a light on a crucial but understudied aspect of post-communist political economies and makes a major advance in our understanding of institutional change.


Douglas Rogers for The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism (Cornell University Press)

Douglas Rogers’s masterful account of the oil industry in Perm’ region provides insights into the nature of governments and corporations, the connections between big business and cultural production, and the evolution of the Soviet and post-Soviet oil sector.  Based on close ethnographic field work and archival research, Rogers shows “the material lives of oil.” He traces the evolution of the Soviet oil industry through the eyes of planners, managers, and even environmental protesters who saw the smog hanging over Perm’.  Rogers is also able to explore the lives of surrogate currencies both before and after the end of the Soviet system.  

In Parts II and III, Rogers takes the reader inside the relationships among the state, foreign NGOs, and LUKoil in their efforts to develop a regional civic identity.  He shows, first, that it was the corporation, rather than the other organizations, that came to lead this project over time, often in an attempt to counter negative impressions of its industry.  Second, he demonstrates the crucial role played by the notion of “depth” in these efforts.  Just as oil is extracted from the depths of the earth, LUKoil’s support for Perm city’s campaign to be a European cultural center focused on the deep cultural roots of the region and its inhabitants, seeking to link the company and the community in the minds of residents.  

In tracing these processes, Rogers uncovers new links among corporations, the material nature of their businesses, and the communities in which they are located.  Those findings illuminate the course of the Russian political economy in the last two and a half decades, and they suggest paths for future research on state-business-society relations in other settings around the world.

Honorable Mention

Susanne A. Wengle for Post-Soviet Power: State-Led Development and Russia’s Marketization (Cambridge University Press)

Post-Soviet Power, a history of the reform of the Russian electricity sector from 1992 to 2008, the largest electricity liberalization anywhere, is a study of how political rivalries and compromises shaped market institutions in the post-Soviet economy. Wengle shows the role of interests, legacies, ideas, geography, and political and economic actors in this major development reform. Her insights on the political economy of Russia during privatization go well beyond a particular sector in a particular time and place.  

By comparing the changes across three supra-regional areas in Russia and across more than a decade and a half, she incorporates industrial geography, economics, and political science, including game theory, to show the political processes that were employed to create three separate price regimes, which were suited to the diversity of regional production. She moves us beyond various unidimensional understandings of change—whether focused on rent-seeking, state capture, or bureaucratic corruption—to show a dynamic, mutually constitutive relationship between politics and economics.  Her constructivist interpretation of political economy is able to account for governors’ ability to block change in the 1990s but their impotence under Putin, the undeniable prevalence of graft but also the consistent drive toward building supra-regional markets for electricity, and the ability of some oligarchs to shape reforms but the failure of others to do so.  She does this by showing that economic development is the result of shifting political pacts among major players, while transformation of the economic system affects who those major players are.  

This well-written book thus offers empirical detail and theoretical challenges that help us understand the past two decades and will shape any future efforts to study these questions. 


Yanni Kotsonis for States of Obligation: Taxes and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet Republic (University of Toronto Press)

Yanni Kotsonis’ States of Obligation is an exhaustively documented history of taxation and citizenship in imperial Russia and the early Soviet Republic. Kotsonis combines narrative and comparative analyses of Russian and European fiscal policy debates, and the impact of fiscal reform on the peasantry. Based on the mid-nineteenth century debates over civil rights, surveillance and individual autonomy, he traces the evolution of the Russian state into a “membership organization” by the late nineteenth century. He then shows how under the Bolsheviks the state absorbed the autonomies of both the state and the person, while European states continued to grapple with “the dualities and tensions” of modern polity. Drawing on Russian and European perspectives in economic and political thought Kotsonis illuminates the decision-making and the stakeholders in the processes of reforms in the imperial and early Soviet periods. The book provides an excellent assessment of the level and incidence of taxation, rooted in the social sciences, along with a solid foundation of Russian historiography. This is an outstanding study of some of the most controversial issues in Russian economic and political development, including the weight of industrialization and taxation on the peasants.

Honorable Mention

Kelly McMann for Corruption as a Last Resort: Adapting To the Market in Central Asia (Cornell University Press)

In Corruption as a Last Resort, Kelly McMann addresses the issue of low-level corruption from the opposite direction of most scholars. Many analysts have explored why and how bureaucrats and other government officials use their public office for private gain. What is less investigated are the conditions under which citizens, who almost universally express disdain for corruption, are willing to pay the bribes at all.

Using case studies of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, a comparison with Uzbekistan, and a large-n statistical analysis, McMann shows that citizens bribe officials for crucial services when other potential suppliers—in particular, formal markets, charities, and families—cannot provide them. Furthermore, she demonstrates that market reforms, as typically designed, tend to undermine exactly those institutions, thereby increasing demand from below for corruption. Corruption as a Last Resort combines intensive fieldwork, qualitative data, and statistical analysis into a well-written book to answer an important question in the political economy of Central Asia and beyond.


Dinissa Duvanova for Building Business in Post-Communist Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia (Cambridge University Press)

Dinissa Duvanova’s Building Business in Post-Communist Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia explains the development of business associations in post-communist countries. Using a combination of cross-national statistical data from 26 former communist countries and four carefully researched case studies based on extensive field research in Russian, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Croatia, Duvanova argues that post-communist business associations were promoted neither by the desire to lobby politicians nor by the existence of abusive regulatory regimes. Instead, she shows that such associations tend to thrive in contexts where poor regulatory enforcement allows the associations to act as regulatory substitutes and provide their members with important assistance in navigating the vicissitudes of arbitrary state regulation. Duvanova’s book makes an outstanding contribution to a better understanding of the important but understudied role of business associations in the post-communist transition and more broadly to the development of civil society in former Leninist regimes.

Honorable Mention

Lawrence P. Markowitz for State Erosion: Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia (Cornell University Press)

Lawrence Markowitz’s State Erosion: Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia explores state-building in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. He uses the latter’s “descent into violence,” which began and grew from the periphery, to illustrate the competitive predation that emerges from a state without a strong nexus of regional authorities, security forces, and central government officials. By contrast, in Uzbekistan, where cash crops, such as cotton and cereals, had created in the Soviet era a much stronger nexus of security forces and local elites, the security forces and central authorities were able more effectively to hold together a weakened state. This is a major work on the political economy of the post-Soviet era. It exhaustively documents the cooptation of political elites in one case, and, elsewhere, their fragmentation, and brings this evidence to bear on a question of considerable current interest, state failure.


Gerald Easter for Capital, Coercion, and Postcommunist States (Cornell University Press)

In a tour de force of interpretive political economy, Gerald Easter struggles with the question of why states have developed differently in the various countries that threw off communist orders after 1989. Treading in the footsteps of Joseph Schumpeter and Rudolf Goldscheid, he approaches this with the techniques of fiscal sociology, reading the political battles of the transition into the balance sheets of taxation and expenditure. At the heart of the book is a comparison of the budgetary systems and bureaucratic architecture in postcommunist Poland and Russia. Easter sees Poland as an example of the “contractual state,” in which coercion is “tamed by the rule of law” and capital is protected by a well-functioning private property regime. By contrast, Russia is presented as the archetypal “predatory state,” in which law is an instrument of state coercion and capital is “vulnerable to political power.” He traces the development of systems of tax collection in the two countries, from the fiscal crisis of the communist state to the global financial crisis of 2008, and argues that the different outcomes reflect three key variables: the extent of postcommunist elite turnover; whether the main fiscal bargain was between the state and labor (as in Poland) or the state and regional and economic elites (as in Russia); and, finally, whether the tax regime was based on “legalistic consent” or “bureaucratic coercion.” With two main cases and so many differences between them, claims about why the two diverged must rely on the persuasive power of the narrative. Easter’s book offers such an account, with a compelling synthesis of historical and economic argument that future scholars will find impossible to ignore.


Carol Leonard for Agrarian Reform in Russia: The Road from Serfdom (Cambridge University Press)

Carol Leonard’s ambitious monograph explores the political economy of agrarian reform in Russia over the 150-year period bracketed by the emancipation of the serfs and the recent era of market liberalization. Both broad and deep in coverage, it is the sort of effort that could only have been undertaken by a scholar fully comfortable with archival texts and modern economic theory. Leonard gives equal attention to three periods: the era of imperial reforms from emancipation to Stolypin, the years of Soviet rule from the NEP experiment through collectivization to Gorbachev, and the two most recent post-Soviet decades. In so doing, she identifies common patterns in the motivation for and response to changes in agrarian policy. Across the generations, officials concerned with the country’s relatively poor agricultural performance pushed through reforms whose scale and impact was often limited by the opposition of vested interests. The effects of reforms have thus often not been immediate but have only become apparent over longer periods of time. Leonard’s book will stand for generations to come as an important reference for scholars of Russia’s historical trajectory.

Honorable Mention

Yoshiko Herrera, Mirrors of the Economy: National Accounts and International Norms in Russia and Beyond (Cornell University Press)

Herrera sets out to explain the speed and comprehensiveness of Russia’s adoption of GDP accounting in the 1990s, a change that was critical for economic measurement and policy evaluation. It is argued that the rapid transition of Russia’s national accounts should be a surprise, given that most other Russian reforms were incomplete, contested, or compromised. Her book proposes an innovative explanation in terms of conditional norms. In the belief system of Soviet statisticians, a socialist economy was best evaluated by material product accounting, and market economies by GDP. When Russia became a market economy, this conditional norm enabled them rapidly to adjust beliefs to new conditions. A textured narrative of rapid organizational reform carried out by insiders, Mirrors of the Economy is thoroughly grounded in the contemporary and historical literatures, complemented by many interviews with Russian principals.


Timothy Frye for Building States and Markets after Communism: The Perils of Polarized Democracy (Cambridge University Press)

Frye uses both quantitative and narrative data from the former Soviet bloc to throw new light on the pace and consistency of post-communist reforms. He shows that reforms were faster and more consistent when the political system was democratic. He shows, however, that the benign influence of democracy was conditional on low political and socio-economic polarization. In less polarized democracies, governments built state capacity and competitive markets at the same time. With more polarization, governments faced shorter time horizons and responded to strong incentives to weaken the state and undermine competition in order to reward supporters. Polarized democracies pursued reforms at a slower pace, with less perseverance and more wavering, less generous assistance for losers, and worse economic outcomes. The outcomes of polarized democracy were better than those of autocracy, but worse than those of democracies that were less divided.

Building States and Markets works on many levels. Elegant modelling is blended with sophisticated econometrics. Cross-country data are filled out with detailed case studies; micro-level data from business surveys complement the macro-level inferences. It considers explicitly the potential endogeneity of polarization on reforms and makes a compelling argument about the socialist-era roots of reform-era polarization. Building States and Markets is highly original and will undoubtedly influence the literature on economic reform and state building for many years.


Keith A. Darden for Economic Liberalism and its Rivals: The Formation of International Institutions Among the Post-Soviet States (Cambridge University Press)

Darden sets out to explain the policy choices that the post-Soviet states made in the international economic arena in the 1990s. He identifies three mutually exclusive paths that led respectively to WTO membership, reintegration into the CIS region, and unilateralism or autarky. The book provides a comprehensive narrative of these policy choices for each country, based on official documentation and statistics, memoirs, and more than two hundred first-hand interviews with officials. This alone is a major contribution.

At the book’s core is a substantial theoretical innovation. How important are ideas and ideologies in international policy choices? Social scientists have debated the importance of ideas relative to the influence of economic structures and interests, and national identities and feelings. Darden rejects an either/or approach. Instead, he argues that national elites cannot establish their identities or identify their material interests, except through the medium of “causal ideas” or models of the world that link alternative policies causally with possible social and economic outcomes.

Because the state of the world is intrinsically uncertain, Darden argues, our knowledge of past and present causation is always imperfect. As a result, causal ideas are not systematically selected for validity. Instead they are selected by historical factors, including sometimes by accident. In his book, Darden goes on to identify the national policy making circles in each country. He develops usable measures of the variation in their causal ideas. He successfully tests the contingent selection of ideas and their systematic influence on their international policy choices.

Economic Liberalism and its Rivals is an excellent and incisively written contribution to our subject. The panel was hugely impressed by the broad scope of its topic and the high quality of the investigation, which has clear significance for history and social science beyond the limits of our region.

Honorable Mentions

Sean McMeekinHistory’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks (Yale University Press)

The economic history of Russia’s revolution and civil war tends to take for granted the Bolshevik nationalization of the “commanding heights” of industry and banking. Less attention has been paid to the expropriation of Russia’s upper and middle classes. Sean McMeekin fills this gap with a powerful narrative of bank robbery and burglary, and an account of the economic and social consequences of these actions. History’s Greatest Heist uncovers a wealth of previously unknown information on how the Bolsheviks financed their operations. This well-researched book provides an object lesson in the ruination of economic and social values that results from confiscation: the loss to Russian society was far greater than the gain to the Bolsheviks.

Grigore Pop-ElechesFrom Economic Crisis to Reform: IMF Programs in Latin America and Eastern Europe (Princeton University Press)

From Economic Crisis to Reform is a fascinating contribution to the political economy of crisis adjustment in emerging economies. It compares the impact and implementation of IMF crisis adjustment programs in Latin America in the Cold War and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Grigore Pop-Eleches has combined theory with econometrics and case studies to produce a work of unusual breadth and depth. Among the findings are that economic crisis tended to sharpen domestic partisanship in Latin America in the Cold War, while softening it in Eastern Europe in the post- Soviet transition; debtor interests were less important in East European crisis adjustment than they were previously in Latin America. A substantive work of political economy, From Economic Crisis to Reform deftly utilizes the contrasting experiences of Latin America and Eastern Europe to illuminate broader lessons of IMF engagement applicable to all regions.


Lewis H. Siegelbaum for Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (Cornell University Press)

The motor car was a central innovation of the twentieth century, transforming consumption, production, and the organization of businesses and households worlwide. In Cars for Comrades, Lewis Siegelbaum tells how Soviet socialism struggled with the motor car, trying to balance freedom and private property with state planning and Soviet rule. The prospect of widespread car production and ownership put huge demands on resources and regulation in the fields of Soviet production and technology, transportation networks, urban planning, and distribution. The centrality of the motor car to the twentieth century makes for an original investigation that yields new insights into the Soviet Union’s modernization processes and development choices.

Cars for Comrades is classic historical research, based on both archives and field work. It is supported by a wealth of official documents and statistics, combined with personal narratives, anecdotes, imagery, and literary allusion. For ordinary citizens the automobile was, in Siegelbaum’s words, “an object of individual desire … a mobile private space.” “The desire for car ownership knew no bounds”; the result was an inescapable “tension with the collectivist ideology of the Communist Party.” Soviet private car ownership remained a bittersweet experience to the end, since the personal freedom offered by the automobile in richer market economies rested on a supportive web of laws, licenses, and markets in spare parts, services, fuels, and second hand motors to which the Soviet authorities could not fully commit. Siegelbaum cites an observer’s remark: “In Russia … owning a car brings joy twice in an owner’s life—when it is bought and when it is sold. In between there is only torture.” Collective-ownership solutions were available in socialist theory, from public transport to state rental agencies, but in practice these also missed the mark.

Consumption is part of the Soviet automobile story, but there is more. Power and politics are also there, in various ways. The party Politburo made the key decisions that selected projects and models for mass production, and allocated the first vehicles to privileged institutional and private users. Forced labour built the early capital projects. Vast new factory towns arose to serve standardized mass production complexes. New highways tried to overcome Russia’s roadlessness. Motor transport became essential to the fabric of government administration and the management of the economy. When the needs of the government and the economy were satisfied, private households took what was left. After Stalin’s time, what was left increased rapidly. There were many reasons for this, including the regime’s need to substantiate its claim to be building a new and superior way of life.

In Stalin’s time, “building socialism” was not a figure of speech. Socialism was erected with structural steel, cement, and machinery in hundreds of construction projects for new towns, factories, railways, and highways. Siegelbaum’s story of GAZ, the Gorkii Automobile Factory, is a metaphor for the Soviet system: “At some imperceptible point, it seems, interest at the top in encouraging new designs withered, indifference became habit forming, and pretending became a way of life.”

Cars for Comrades forces economists and political scientists to think about the experience of Soviet society as the mass of citizens lived it every day. This experience intersected with the spread and limitation of privilege. Until the 1950s, access to cars was a marker for membership of the Soviet high elite. In the 1960s the regime dangled the prospect of wider car ownership before the Soviet middle class and the more highly paid skilled workers (who often earned more than supervisory staff). Thus, the historical record of access to cars helps to calibrate Soviet-era inequality. The same is true of access to roads. A settlement that was connected by roads gained access to supplies and income opportunities far beyond those that remained lost in the deep countryside.

Sometimes, it is said, it is better to travel than to arrive. This does not seem to apply to Moscow today, where commuters must live with semi-permanent gridlock on roads never designed for mass motorized mobility. There is a worldwide struggle to reconcile personal freedom with a sustainable environment in which Russia’s citizens are playing their part, for better or for worse. At this time, Cars for Comrades reminds us how much time and effort people were willing to put into getting and running a car when money alone was not enough.