Austerities and Aspirations

A Comparative History of Growth, Consumption, and Quality of Life in East Central Europe since 1945
$111.00 / €93.00 / £79.00
Publication date: 
456 pages

This monograph provides an analysis of the economic performance and living standard in Czechoslovakia and its successor states, Hungary, and Poland since 1945. The novelty of the book lies in its broad comparative perspective: it places East Central Europe in a wider European framework that underlines the themes of regional disparities and European commonalities. Going beyond the traditional growth paradigm, the author systematically studies the historical patterns of consumption, leisure, and quality of life—aspects that Tomka argues can best be considered in relation to one other. By adopting this “triple approach,” he undertakes a truly interdisciplinary research drawing from history, economics, sociology, and demography.

As a result of Tomka’s three-pillar comparative analysis, the book makes a major contribution to the debates on the dynamics of economic growth in communist and postcommunist East Central Europe, on the socialist consumer culture along with its transformation after 1990, and on how the accounts on East Central Europe can be integrated into the emerging field of historical quality of life research.  

1 Introduction: comparisons and the triple approach to well-being
2 Economic growth: catching up and falling behind
2.1 Measuring economic output
2.2 Trends and stages of growth in Western Europe
2.3 Trajectories of growth in East Central Europe
3 Consumption: structures, practices and policies
3.1 Changing consumption patterns in Western Europe
3.2 Consumption in communist East Central Europe
4 Quality of life: towards a more comprehensive understanding of well-being
4.1 Conceptual and methodological issues
4.2 Trajectories of well-being in Western Europe
4.3 The quality of life in East Central Europe
5 Determinants of change: growth accounting and beyond
5.1 Factors of economic growth
5.2 Determinants of quality of life
5.3 Causes of convergence and divergence
6 Passages to the new millennium: the evolving order of divisions
6.1 Economic growth in Western Europe at the turn of the millennium. Changes in the quality of life
6.2 East Central Europe after the regime change: economic transformation, consumer aspirations and the pursuit of well-being
7 Conlusions: lessons of the triple approach

List of tables and figures

"Austerities and Aspirations is an excellent compendium of comparative social and economic data on European societies in the second half of the twentieth century, proving a valuable addition to the libraries of all researchers of East- Central European societies and economies. It might not engage those who seek exciting stories and historical details. Nonetheless, it will undoubtedly provide historians, sociologists, and economists with a much--needed reliable data checkpoint for their qualitative research."
"The author’s main aim is to present the economic growth not only in terms of GDP growth, but also in terms of improvements in consumption and the quality of life, as opposed to previous research. His argument is convincing: GDP has a number of components that do not at all reflect the real living standards of a society. Béla Tomka’s book is indispensable for those looking for data on the history of the post-1945 era. One can argue with the narrative, but much less with the data."
"The prominent Hungarian social historian, Béla Tomka, has written an important book on socialist and post-socialist economies in Central Europe. His central tenet is that the traditional analysis of economic growth and living standards, which quantitative economic historians have undertaken, does not provide a complete picture of comparative economic development. Only by investigating what growth meant for ordinary consumers and households, can we understand the motives for modernisation and evaluate its societal impact. Austerities and Aspirations makes the ambitious attempt to assess the economic development of East Central Europe in a comparative perspective based on three dimensions of progress: growth, the standard of living, and consumption."
"The well-constructed book consists of five main chapters, with several sub- chapters leaving space for the elaboration of details. The introduction conceptualizes the triple approach to well-being: the concepts of economic growth, consumption, and quality of life. Tomka explains his approach by saying that it is meant to overcome the deficiencies of economic analysis focusing merely on GDP and economic output, while the available data on consumption practices and quality of life might facilitate a more complex understanding of economic and social history. While an overall analysis is given of thirteen Western and Northern countries considered to be 'Western Europe', the focus is on East Central Europe, which in this case is restricted to the V4 countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary)."
"For economists, economic growth is about models, tables, and charts; for an average citizen, it is primarily the thickness of the wallet which translates into the contents of a refrigerator and the quality of a place to live, a car, or a holiday. Béla Tomka combines both perspectives with extraordinary competence, showing the complex and ambiguous economic space of Central and Eastern Europe from the end of WWII to the first decade of the twenty-first century. His book, based on huge and varied material, explains why dreams prevailed over needs in this region, and why the driving force of the economy was (and still is) the pursuit of the escaping West. It allows for a better understanding of both the current fears and aspirations in the former socialist countries, and the still clear longing for the world before 1989."
"Austerities and Aspirations provides a 'triple approach' to economic development in East-Central Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia and its successor states, and Hungary). Aiming to go beyond the perspective of economic growth alone, Tomka considers economic growth along with consumption and quality of life. Taking a comparative perspective, he assesses convergences and divergences between East-Central Europe and Western Europe. In the reviewer’s opinion, the book is a useful comparative study of various economic developments in the region, but Tomka remains rather implicit about his value judgement behind choosing certain economic indicators and does not engage with more critical approaches to economic growth."
"Volumul lui Béla Tomka reprezintă, în mod indubitabil, un pas semnificativ în analiza comparativă a situaţiei între statele est-europene în ceea ce priveşte consumul, creşterea economică şi calitatea vieţii europene, raportat la statele din apusul continen- tului. Austerities and Aspirations, în ciuda limitărilor de ordin geografic şi statistic, contribuie la o mai bună înţelegere a modului în care economiile de comandă au răspuns provocărilor de ordin societal în perioada regimurilor socialiste. De asemenea, volumul lui Béla Tomka ne ajută să înţelegem mai bine limitările cu care se confruntă istoriografia central-est europeană (şi nu numai) în încercarea de a ilustra anumite situaţii comparative cu Europa de vest, pornind, fie şi doar de la diferenţa de calitate între produse, modul în care era calculat venitul naţional sau standardele de calitate a vieţii."
"Das Buch ist sowohl als Einführung als auch Nachschlagewerk für den Gegenstand – und das über Ostmitteleuropa hinaus – zu empfehlen."
"T.s dreifacher Zugang – Wachstum, Konsum, Lebensqualität – einen spannenden Beitrag zur Sozialgeschichte Europas bzw. Ostmitteleuropas leistet. Der Umfang der in die Analyse und zahlreichen Illustrationen einbezogenen Daten nötigt Respekt ab. Wer die Region in den vorhandenen Überblickswerken als stiefmütterlich behandelt ansieht, findet hier Genugtuung und ausreichend Daten für aussagekräftige Vergleiche und Schlussfolgerungen."