The Populist Reformation

Europe underwent a profound transformation in the 16th century with the Protestant reformation. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their co-religionists attacked the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and its corrupt practices. They also advocated a different, more direct relationship between the individual and God. They were aided by the new technology of the printing press, which churned out...
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Coup Fever

It’s chaos these days in Libya. Rival militias have carved up the country and the major cities. The security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that legislators in Tripoli recently had to abandon their parliament building for a former royal palace. There they managed to elect a new prime minister—a 42-year-old businessman, the fifth such leader since the ouster of Muammar Gadaffi in...
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On Red Mud and Other Messes

It was one of the worst environmental disasters in Europe. In October 2010, near the town of Ajka in northern Hungary, a reservoir wall containing the industrial sludge pond of an alumina plant collapsed and more than a million cubic meters of toxic red mud swept across the countryside, through several villages, and into the rivers feeding the Danube. Ten people died, and more than 120 were...
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The Misrule of Law

The success of the free market reforms that took place in East-Central Europe after 1989 was predicated to a large degree on the rule of law. The privatization of state assets, for instance, required a high degree of transparency and a strong set of regulations. Otherwise corrupt individuals and groups could easily vacuum up the assets at low prices and make a killing. Two decades after these...
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Hungary’s Economic Leap

In the late 1980s, Hungary was widely considered to be the economic trendsetter in Eastern Europe. The “goulash Communism” of Janos Kadar, introduced at the end of the 1960s, had gradually morphed into a hybrid form of market socialism. I spent a month in Budapest in 1985 and was startled by the profusion of goods in the stores. It wasn’t exactly Vienna, but it was a far cry from Warsaw or...
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