Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

The Strive for Progress: Economic Development as the Task for Russian Economic Thought of the 19th – 20th centuries

Melnik Denis, National Research University Higher School of Economics

Historical reconstructions of the path made by economic thought in Russia not rarely chose for the reference point some features allegedly inherent to the “spirit” of Russian culture or to Russian national character (hence to Russian economists). Without entering the discussion on plausibility of such an approach, a we may indicate another reference point external to the realm of idealism. Since its inception, Russian economic science faced the problem of backwardness, of lagging behind the advanced economies of the world (or “the West”, as they still commonly referred to). That problem directly or indirectly affected the major part of the debates on economic theory and economic policy and posed the challenge before Russian economists of the past two centuries regardless their cultural or theoretical backgrounds or specific historical contexts. The paper is not intended to present a history of Russian economic thought. It is focused on some major debates that marked its course: the debates of the 1890s between Russian populists (Narodinks) and Marxists; the debates of the 1920s; the debates that preceded to and coincided with the crash of Soviet economy and the launch of market reforms. Their content as well as the approaches of the participants naturally differed. But, it seems, there is a general framework: the nature and outcomes of the debates were very much influenced by participants’ task to secure Russia’s road to progress by means of economic development. Outlining this framework allows not only for a better grasp of the history of economic ideas in Russia, but also for a comparison between the analysis of obstacles to economic development and ways to overcome them in different nations facing the same problem. The paper is submitted for consideration to participate at the session “Development of peripheral economies: the importance of ideas in historical perspective”.


Keywords: Economic development, history of Russian economic thought

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