Saturday, August 28, 2004

Ota Sik Dies

LA Times

Ota Sik, the architect of economic liberalization during Czechoslovakia's ill-fated 1968 Prague Spring, died Sunday at a hospital in St. Gallen, Switzerland, after a long illness. He was 84.

Czechoslovakia's communist government adopted Sik's economic ideas in 1965 to restart stagnant industrial growth. His new economic model called for limited reforms in the Soviet system, including less central planning and a more liberalized market economy. His plan was described as a third way between communism and capitalism.

Sik, who was head of the economics institute at the country's Academy of Science, was appointed vice premier and economics minister in April 1968 as part of Premier Alexander Dubcek's reform campaign to create "socialism with a human face."

Dubcek's campaign was crushed when Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia on Aug. 20, 1968.

When the country's communist regime collapsed in 1989, new President Vaclav Havel invited Sik to join an advisory board of prominent citizens. Sik retained his left-wing views and criticized the country's economic plan, saying the elimination of state subsidies would wreck many large enterprises that had flourished under the communist government.

"I cannot share a view which anticipates a quick rise in unemployment to hundreds of thousands or millions of people," he said in 1990.

He estimated in 1989, with some accuracy, that it would take at least 12 to 14 years for Czechoslovakia's economy to catch up with the more prosperous Western nations.

The Independent (UK)

Sik was the most politically aware of Czech economists; and the best economist among politicians. It was these qualities that made him the chief spokesman for the economic reform lobby; and which helped him form a successful alliance with political reformers in the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (CPCz) as well as with the disgruntled Slovak political establishment.

After the crushing of the Prague Spring, Sik wrote an interesting and accessible economics book, The Third Way, proposing an alternative to Western capitalism and Soviet-style command economy. The title was later "stolen" to describe a very different political economic agenda advanced by Tony Blair, et al.

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