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Sobell, Vladimir
The Red Market: Industrial Co-Operation and Specialization in Comecon
BookID 113134508
ISBN 0566006472
(see LibraryThing.com card)
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Description (from Amazon)---
My review: 3.5/5As part of my knowledge update, sometimes I routinely dig up something seemingly unrelated to what I am thinking about or observing.

This book was a pleasant surprise- I found it in a local library, and assumed that it was focused on discussing the nuts-and-bolts of cooperation and specialization in Comecon: it is, but it is something more.

First, it should be considered more a collection of short "pointers" to different issues related to the title subject, discussed by industry.

Second, each chapter provides both historical data and an outline of the decision-making and reform process adopted in each industry, within the general framework of the Comecon (including resistance to change and motivation).

Third, the first introductory chapter is more a comparative study of Comecon with other forms of international cooperation and specialization (e.g. the EU, at the time EEC)- and, in organizational evolutionary terms, it pinpoints issues that are still relevant today.

Which issues? From the "democratic deficit" and "monopolistic/oligopolistic" roles of some members (as this is a better description than the old "hegemony"), to mutualization of costs, debts, and return on investment, e.g. within industries that require either joint long-term developments (see the chapter on Energy), long-term commitment to delivering a market for a resource (Nuclear), or multi-party coordination (automotive, standardization), as well as managing the evolution of agreements (the concept of specialization within a cooperative environment implies more than a "compartmentalization" of roles).

I found this book interesting also thinking about the evolution of the EU (with its constant inclination toward "one size fits all", expressed by the hundreds of thousands of pages that each new Member State has to "absorb" within its own legislative framework to be accepted), and supra-national organizations that actually have, by treaty, power to coherce the behavior of its members- including on rules that weren't in place when they entered (on the economic side: WTO, IMF, etc; on a more limited extent, also others such as NATO or the UN could be said to have a significant "democratic deficit").

In the end, Comecon did not turn into something similar to the EEC, but many of its members joined the latter, at first expecting a distribution of subsidies as the one that was de facto delivered by the USSR within the Comecon (I remember reading an interesting article on an English newspaper in Prague in the early 1990s on the mutual misunderstandings in terms e.g. of contractual law, and what implied having "lost" the Cold War).

Personally, this book can be useful as a source of examples both in my "change" activities, while I would suggest to read it also when setting up other "joint activities", e.g. in the public sector the "metropolitan areas" in Italy, and joint R&D facilities or infrastructure in both the private and public sector.

If you are curious, the focus of each chapter is:
1. Comecon as an IPS (International Protection Scheme)
2. Energy
3. Metallurgy
4. Chemical
5. Nuclear
6. Computer and Automation
7. Automotive
8. Machine-building IEOs (International Economic Organizations) and other agreements
9. Co-operation in Research&Development
10. Co-operation in Standardization
11. Assessment of Specialization Policy
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