Ed A Hewett Book Prize

2013 Citation Recipient

Gerald Easter

The Ed A Hewett Book Prize, established in 1994 and sponsored by the University of Michigan Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph on the political economy of Russia, Eurasia and/or Eastern Europe, published in the previous year.

Winner: Gerald Easter
Title: 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.