Magazine

Western Economic Thinking Got Lost In Translation


Shock therapy was the principal reason for the catastrophic course of the transition of post-socialist countries to the market economy ("Poland and the EU," European Edition Cover Story, May 10). Western economists have actually never understood what was going on in so-called socialist countries and in their economies. That necessary knowledge of the internal workings of the past socialist system should have been the only possible basis for any attempt to reform it.

Direct application of Western economic thinking to disrupted and disabled societies controlled by yesterday's men was an ill-considered business. Nationalized industry was not the main problem, but rather the destroyed natural professional hierarchy in companies and in the whole society; misappropriation; corruption; lack of discipline and morals; etc. A necessary period of political, social, and moral cure was skipped over for the sake of such insane ideas as "shock therapy" and fast privatizations.

Poland had an outdated economy unaccustomed to a market environment, bad management, and lack of money, not to mention a network of the Communist party still in place. How could something go well or even fast without careful, in-depth preparation? The privatization of coal mines in Great Britain took more than 10 years of preparation -- and that was in a market economy. A quick launch of the market system is only half of the story. The other is to convince citizens that it has been done in their own interest, and that won't be easy.

Jaroslav Teply

Voorburg, Netherlands

You refer to Nicolaus Copernicus as Polish. He was born in the town of Thorn in West Prussia, founded in 1231 by Hermann Balk of the Teutonic Order. Copernicus' parents came from Silesia. All his books are written in German and Latin, not in Polish. West Prussia and part of East Prussia, together with Silesia -- German territory for more than 700 years -- were taken from Germany and given to Poland in 1945 by Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill.

Thorwald Dextra

Hanover, Germany While there is no doubt at all that Alan M. Turing greatly influenced the development of his "universal machine," your assertion that he was the first to make the conceptual jump of placing instructions in the input data, thus making the machine multipurpose, is quite inaccurate ("Thinking up computers," The Great Innovators, May 10). Charles Babbage, briefly mentioned in your article, did in fact make this same conceptual jump nearly a century before Turing mentioned it in his paper. Most famous for an ingenious adding machine -- the Difference Engine -- Babbage also thought of and designed a machine called the Analytical Engine. Babbage's solution for inputting the instructions and data was borrowed from a French entrepreneur of the same era famous for his automated looms, Monsieur Jacquard, and from player pianos (cards with holes punched into them). This is something that later designers used, as anyone dealing with computing in the '50s and '60s can attest.

Joshua Newport

Champaign, Ill.

You cite the British contribution to deciphering World War II German military messages without mentioning the work of Polish mathematicians. Before the German invasion, the Poles broke the Enigma code and began work on a prototype computer to speed up the pace of deciphering messages. This work proved to the allies that the Enigma was indeed breakable and gave them mathematical formulas and methods that formed the basis for the work at Bletchley Park.

Andy Kozlowski

Lebanon Township, N.J. The PlayStation 2 is the oldest and least powerful of the three main systems, while the Xbox is the most powerful ("Microsoft plays video leapfrog," News: The United States, May 10). And yet the PlayStation 2 continues to outsell the Xbox. If Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) rushes its console to market, it will be competing with itself. Gamers have already decided they do not need the most powerful system, and the potential of the Xbox has not yet been realized. Why lay out $299 for a new system to play games your current one could have handled?

Henri Clinch

New York Hardy Green reviews The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz in a succinct and entertaining manner ("Clobbered by the cornucopia," Books, Apr. 26). The challenges associated with an abundance of choice pale to insignificance when contrasted with the realities highlighted in "Vaccinating the world's poor" (Science & Technology, Apr. 26).

GlaxoSmithKline PLC's (GSK) Dr. Jean Stephenne, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and public-health agencies appear to be making fundamental changes for the better. Schwartz suggests an "attitude of gratitude" as one cure for the negative effects of too many choices. My gratitude extends wholeheartedly to Stephenne and his partners.

Dennis J. Crane

Covington, Ky.


Later, Baby
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