Hungarian economist János Kornai first used the metaphor of a single path to postsocialist transition in his earlier book, The Road to a Free Economy. The new metaphor that frames this collection of recent studies reflects a broader perspective and understanding of the complexities of transition: every highway and byway leads eventually to capitalism, Kornai observes, but to what kind, how fast, and at what cost? Who wins and who loses?
Kornai draws from his experiences of Hungarian reform as well as from countries of the former Soviet Union to make several major points. The first three studies describe what went wrong in countries that tried to mix elements of planned and market economies. Efforts made by communist countries to introduce market socialism (the "middle road") contained an inherent contradiction between the logic of socialism and the logic of a free enterprise system, and were doomed to failure.
In the studies that follow, Kornai analyzes the ongoing dilemmas. The transition from communism to free enterprise is filled with daunting hurdles; it requires no less than redefining ownership, changing values concerning the distribution of wealth, transferring the control of political power, creating financial institutions and enforcing financial discipline, and making deep economic sacrifice. Kornai closes with an overall survey of postsocialist transition, describing the stages that countries tend to go through, that will be particuarly useful to scholars of comparative economic systems.