The political economy of financial repression in transition economies
Financial systems in developing countries tend to be"restricted"or"repressed"through burdensome reserve requirements, interest-rate ceilings, foreign-exchange regulations, rules about the composition of bank balance sheets, or heavy taxation of the financial sector. Why are governments drawn to regulate financial markets to the point of financial repression? To address this question, the authors explore preliminary evidence from the post-Communist economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where financial regulations have rarely been examined systematically. They find that public-finance framework has limited ability to explain financial repression in the transition economies, given the peculiar financial lineage of the socialist state. The weak distinction between"public"and"private"spheres of finance in transition economies means that the deficit often conveys little information about the governments'real fiscal activities. It is more fruitful to examine how political institutions, by shaping the incentives politicians face, affect financial policy. Their findings suggest that post-Communist governments may adopt repressive financial controls - not to finance deficits more cheaply than would be the caseunder financial liberalization, but to maintain the authority and ensure the survival of those in power. In countries where pre-reform elites are plentiful in legislative bodies, where interparty competition is low, and where government parties are well-represented in parliaments, elites have been able to perpetuate a system of implicit subsidies by"softening up"the financial sector - especially commercial banks - to ensure the continued flow of cheap credit to specific borrowers. The main beneficiaries of these policies - large formerly state-owned industries with tight financial links to the largest commercial banks - are thus able to convert their well-established claims on public resources into preferential access to credit lines. In other words, financial repression in transition economies may simply serve to solidify main-bank, main-firm relations. These results would lend support to the claim of smaller, cash-starved Eastern European entrepreneurs that the commercial banks have"taken over the role of the old planning ministries."
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