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SHORT INTRODUCTION TO MY BIO

 

I have been teaching for most of my life. Started to give some simple “lectures” already at the high school but became a serious teaching assistant when I studied at the Economic University in Prague from 1952 to 1957. After graduation I was appointed the assistant professor at the Economics Department of the Charles University in Prague and later promoted to associate professor (docent). After the Russian invasion (August 21, 1968) I emigrated from Czechoslovakia spent one month at London School of Economics and then went to USA. For the first three years I was a visiting professor at Berkeley, California and in 1971 I got a permanent position at the Economic Department of the Boston University, at first as an associate professor and later as full professor. I had been teaching there until my retirement in 2004.  During those years I have spent many summers and the three sabbatical years doing research and teaching some courses in several European and Asian countries. In addition to that I have given single lectures or short sequences of lectures at many universities in Europe, USA, Canada and Asia. At the Boston University we had especially in the PhD program, large numbers of foreign students. I am mentioning all that to point out that I have quite a long experience in teaching economics both on undergraduate and graduate level not only to American students but also to students from many other countries in the world. Because this fact was quite important for reaching my conclusions I am adding more details about it.

 

1) Czechoslovakia

 Obviously I myself studied in Czechoslovakia so I knew what to expect from my students there. It should be however mentioned that during my life there the school education was in some respects influenced by changes in the prevailing political systems.  Specifically:

a)

1939 – 1945 was time of the German occupation with dominating Nazi regime. Although at that time I was just in the primary school I realized one important aspect of the situation. It was quite clear that large majority of the Czech population hated to be subjected to foreign totalitarian power especially because the Czechoslovak political system before the occupation was truly democratic. Although teachers in the primary school could not be openly critical to the Nazi occupation, we nevertheless understood that implicitly they were.

 

b)

1945 – 1948 Czechoslovakia was under the Soviet influence but not yet under the complete control. Although not fully democratic, some features of democracy still remained. Czechs elected freely the coalition of Communists and Social Democrats to power and the majority of people accepted socialism as the social goal. The liberation by the red army resulted in the sympathy for the Soviet Union, which was supported by the fact that Russians are Slavic nation. Also low religiosity, tolerance of various unorthodox views and preference of equality helped. On the other hand Czechs lost some sympathy for Western nations, especially France and Britain which betrayed Czechoslovakia by signing the Munich agreement in 1937. The great depression of 1930’s that was extremely long and deep in Czechoslovakia undermined the trust of population to the market system.

 However, the type of central planning that was introduced before 1948 was more similar to the French “indicative planning” than to the Soviet “command planning” and the political system before 1948 had still elements of pluralism and democracy. So what most of Czechs supported before 1948 was not the socialism of the Soviet type.
For me this was the time of the first few years in the high school (“real-gymnasium”). I was just 10 -13 years old, so I could not fully comprehend all the implications of the political developments but I did become aware of some specific aspects of it.  During the First World War Masaryk organized the quite powerful army from Czech prisoners of war in Russia, which were for most of time fighting against Bolsheviks. My father was one of them so I heard plenty of the stories about Russia when I was very young. Here are two stories I experienced myself in the first days after liberation in May 1945. They made me personally careful about exaggerating the trust in Russians and their political system. There were four officers of the Red army staying in our house for a few days when the front was moving across our town. The attitudes of three of them toward the fourth were puzzling to me before I realized that the fourth one was a Jew. This made quite bad impression on me because according to my experience most of Czechs did not hate Jews at all. The other story was a shocking view of the platform carriage pulled by horses on the road in front of our house. There were five human bodies on it obviously killed just a short time before that. Soon I learned that this were citizens of our town, who were reported to the Soviet army as Nazi collaborators.  They were arrested and shot immediately without the trial.  Although we have not had any sympathy for Nazi collaborators it made me think that the social system that allows killing people on the bases of unfriendly report without the right for defense cannot be good.

 

c)

 

1948 to approximately 1962 was the communist period under direct rule of the Soviet Union. There was surprisingly weak opposition to the Communist takeover in 1948 and the following sovietization.  The trust, however, did not last long. The first major blow to the credibility of the Communist party appeared already at the very beginning of the 1950’s. Some top leaders of the Communist party and other politicians were accused to be “traitors” or “agents of imperialism”, they were arrested, tried, convicted, and then executed or at least imprisoned.  The leading name was the secretary of the Communist party Rudolf  Slansky. These trials were arranged by the most stalinist party officials under the pressure of the Soviet “advisors” and the whole thing was apparently initiated by Stalin himself. Most of the Czechs including many members of the Communist party were skeptical. The accusations and testimonies at the trials did not seem to be credible. One of the reason for disbelieves was the clear anti-Semitism contained in accusations. After the trials the dissent began to multiply. The first signs of dissent came from intellectuals. Writers, poets, journalists and social scientists began to publish critical stories, poems, articles and even some plays that appeared in theaters. At first the criticism was not very frequent, but with time the frequency was increasing fast. Also at first the criticism was not explicit, and here appeared the importance of the special Czech characteristic. It was the ability to understand the hidden meanings. The texts were written in such a way, that on the first glance it seemed to be in line with the official ideology and therefore the censors did not have reason to stop them. But most of the readers understood very well what the author had really in mind.

I finished the high school in 1952 and applied for admission to the School of Philosophy at Charles University. In spite of the very good results of my final examination I was not accepted because I was supposedly of the “petty-bourgeois origin”. Both my farther and my mother had small businesses with about 10 employees each. Later I was accepted to the Prague School of Economics (VSE – Vysoka Skola Ekonomicka) where I studied until 1957. To study economics during 1950s meant to study very dogmatic Marxian economics from the Soviet textbooks.  When we reached Lenin and Stalin it became clearly ridiculous. Fortunately one of the courses taught was “Critique of the Bourgeois Economics” where we learnt at least something about real economics.  
In the middle fifties, the people’s dissatisfaction with the Soviet-type Communist system that was imposed on Czechoslovakia began to be more and more apparent. Then came the Khruschev’s revelations, Hungarian uprising and developments in Poland. But situation in Czechoslovakia was not far enough as yet. Czechs responded differently. There were some student protests, but generally no fighting but more and more discussions at beer in pubs, but also in schools, workplaces and even in families.   At one of the student’s protest meetings in 1956 I went to the podium and gave a short speech about the need for the return to democracy. This was noted by some party members and caused me later serious difficulties. At the time of graduation the students’ party cell gave me a very bad political evaluation (kadrovy posudek). Consequently I could not find a job for several months after graduation. Fortunately one of my former professors was the chairman of the Economics Department at the Faculty (School) of Law of the Charles University. He wanted to hire me for the Department, but he had a hard time to get from the Communist Party Central Committee permission to do that. Finally he was allowed to hire me, but I was not permitted to teach because at that time for teaching economics one had to be the party member. So for the whole year I did the job of the administrator and librarian. As a curious evidence of the process of internal decomposition of the Communist system was that one of my colleagues who was at the Ministry of Education appointed me to the committee that was determining the content of the economic courses for the universities in the whole Czechoslovakia. So I was not permitted to teach, but was deciding what should be taught.
After one year I was sent temporarily to Jawa motorcycle factory to get “working class” experience. I started as a lathe operator but was promised that after few months I will get some managerial job to learn about management under socialism before I would return to teach at the University. Only later I also learned that the condition for my return to teach at the University was to be admitted to the Communist Party. But as it happened to me many times before I made the party “apparatchiki” my enemies so that they not only blocked my promotion to some managerial job in Jawa factory but also were prepared to block my admission to the Communist party. I certainly never wanted to be the member of that party, but my “working class” colleagues told me, that they have the power to admit me even against the will of party comities and that teaching economics to university students is much more important for getting rid of the terrible political system than producing motorcycles for the rest of my life. They were right. According to one clause in the party rules the members of the higher committees of the party could be admitted to the meetings of the local party organizations only with the approval by local party members. So when the meeting actually took place, a group of local members were at the door and did not let the higher committee members in. As a result I returned to the Charles University, started teaching and also publishing.  I should add that already in the last years of my studies at the VSE and also afterwards I have studied intensively western economics by myself. Before the war The Faculty of Law at Charles University Department of Economics, used to be the main academic center of economics in Czechoslovakia.  It had a quite large library of excellent economic books both domestic and foreign.  Strangely enough from the second half of 1950s some western economic books were translated to Polish and of course Poland had itself several important economists. These books was possible to buy in Prague so that I could read Oskar Lange, Kalecki, Schumpeter,  Hayek, von Mises and many others in Polish language. Similarly it was possible to buy in Prague Russian translations of some western economic – especially mathematical economics – books, as well as books of such Russians as Kantorovich, Nemchinov and many others. One of the most useful books for me that I read in Russian, was the Mathematical Economics by R.G.D. Allen.
At the beginning of 1960s the changes in views and attitudes began to shift more rapidly.  I started to write and publish papers in which I used my knowledge of non-Marxian economics and also began to criticize the existing economic system. Soon I joined some research and discussion groups at the Economic Institute of the Academy of Sciences and other universities. I was also asked to give outside lectures and participate at various seminars and conferences. My critical non-orthodox views began to be well known.

 

d)

In 1962 – 1968 period government was still in the hands of the communist party, but  the internal criticism lead to stepwise liberalization that evolved into the so called Prague Spring of 1968.  As mentioned above the signs of dissatisfaction with the system began to appear already during the early 1950s. In 1960s the dissent and critical views of the Soviet-type political and economic systems started to dominate. Surprisingly it was deeper and went further than the similar tendencies in many other East European countries. The dogmatic Marxist theory was under attack elements of non-Marxist theories were adopted, economic reform that would abolish the centralized hierarchical system of central planning and returned to the decentralized market economy was designed and began to be implemented. The Communist party was falling apart and the return to the democratic political system became the new goal.

During this period I have not only continued lecturing at the university in Prague, but also participated in many domestic and foreign conferences and seminars, published papers, articles and books, some of which were translated to foreign languages.

My first trip abroad was for a three months (January – March 1964) research stay at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta and the Planning Unit of ISI in Delhi.  I met there several important economists, namely  P.C. Mahalanobis, M. Mukherjee,  N. S. Iynegar, Ashok Rudra, B. Minhas, A. k. Chakravarti and  x.x. Rao.  The stay at ISI gave me additional opportunity to read and learn non-Marxian economic theory and  also to see on my own eyes the working of the Indian economy that was a mix of capitalism and socialism and of market and planning. I saw that this kind of mixed economy was not very successful.

1964 was also the time when the first serious suggestions for the radical economic reform appeared. In this case the reform would try not just improve the existing economic system, but replace the Soviet-type central planning with a kind of market socialism.  At that point most of academic economist were so disgusted with the performance of the Soviet-type Command Economy, that majority of them  supported the reform proposal.  Various meetings, discussion groups and committees were created to explore possibility and conditions for such a radical reform.  Ota Sik asked me to look at the problem of what to do with prices.

The process of the move away from the dogmatic Marxism to modern economics accelerated. For example Vaclav Klaus, who joined the Economic Institute of the Academy of Sciences in September1964 saw the situation as follows: 

“Under the leadership of the Ota Sik the Economic Institute placed itself into the center of the reform activities…it was unusually liberal and only because of that I began to sense what is economics all about…. There were regular seminars there, where the contemporary economics were discussed and where instead of doing what we were paid for, that is to criticize the non-Marxian economics, we were doing just the opposite. We studied non-Marxian economics and criticized the Marxian one. (I would like to mention the names of those who at that time were my one generation older colleagues and teachers, and from whom I learned a lot – J. Janis, M. Rumler, O. Kyn, V. Mueller, J. Chlumsky, L. Smetana and also in November 1989 very popular Rita Budinova – Klimova, our future ambassador to the USA.)” (V. Klaus p.342)

In December 1964 I presented the paper at the International conference about the Economic Development in Eastern Europe, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. This conference was organized by the International Economic Association and was attended by some famous economists from both East and West. My paper was about the Role of Prices in the Socialist Economy. It was quite critical of the existing Soviet-type Centrally Planned economy and pointed to the use of markets. It was accepted very positively by Western economist (Gregory Grossman, Roy Harrod, Evsey Domar, Michael Kaser,  Luc Fauvel,  E. A. G. Robinson and several others) but negatively by some but not all economists from the East. For example  Oelsner  argued against  automaticity of the market mechanism and said that the price control could only be abandoned if central planning were to be dismantled .  Ostrovitianov in the discussion said: 

“Dr. Kyn had frequently reiterated a belief in the value of an automatic market mechanism, but had failed to describe his ideal. Did he reject the planning of prices and of the equilibrium between personal income and expenditure? Would he abandon the guarantee of income by commodities to the spontaneous forces of a free market ?” 

There were several Czech participants at the Plovdiv conference. One of them was a lady from VSE that used to be my teacher when I studied there. Apparently she was still an orthodox Marxist and sent to the Central Committee of the party the complaint about my behavior at the conference. I was called to the Ideology Department of the Central Committee to respond to her complaint. The party official first read to me the complaint and immediately commented “Isn’t she foolish?”  I was not punished in any way, rather the official asked me to give a series of lectures around the country, to promote the views I presented at the Plovdiv Conference. This confirmed to me, that it was not only the intellectuals, who were trying to move away from the Soviet-type economic and political system, but that those views were penetrating also the party apparatus. Clearly in the 60s there was a tremendous ideological shift and the Soviet-type economic and political systems began to be dismantled. This was not brought from outside. It was a result of internal evolution. As an outcome of my presentation at the Plovdiv conference, I was invited and attended several other conferences in Italy (Venice, Florence, Rapallo), London, Belgrade, Warsawand Moscow. At these conferences I met many economists, as for example Milton Friedman, Joe Berliner, Frank Holzman, Jean Marczewski, Hans Raupach, Alec Nove, Ljubo Sirc, Richard Portes, Frances Seton, Alfred Zauberman, Peter Wiles, Sylos Labini, Alexander Bajt, Branco Horvat,  Edward Lipinski, Thad Alton, Andrzei Brzeski, Warren Nutter, Bella Csikos-Nagy, Wassily Leontief, Leonid Kantorovich, …and many others. 

I was also invited to give lectures at several foreign universities, as for example Oxford, Glasgow, York, LSE, Amsterdam, Milano, Florence, Rome, Venice,  Zagreb, Belgrade, …etc.  Most importantly I  became one of the top members of the reform committee that prepared the blueprint for the transition to market economy.  That committee was headed by Ota Sik and for some time I was the head of the Price subcommittee.

 

 

 

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