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GOOD HAPPENS

  • 2000-05-18
The Baltic states still have visible problems in their transition to a market economy as evidenced by current macro-indicators. Still, many will agree that remarkable progress has been made in a decade of transition. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have not yet gone the distance from A to Z, from managed, planned economies to fully developed market economies and structural reforms without difficulties, but they share achievements to be applauded. They have shown strong recovery following the crash of their contrived former Soviet economies and left behind subsequent problems in the past three to five years. Progress has caused benefactors like philanthropist George Soros and the U. S. Peace Corps to cut back money and services to push them out of the nest. Soros declared Estonia an "open society" and an example of a successful transitional economy. Both organizations said that progress has rendered their services obsolete, and they are right.

For the most part, the experiences in transition have allowed the Baltics to take firmer control of their destinies.

Latvia overcame a banking crisis in 1995, as did Lithuania a bit later and Estonia early in the decade. All three emerged to achieve much stronger, safer banking systems

The Baltics rolled with the Russian crisis and have gained credibility from market reforms and new export destinations.

Measuring sticks in standards of living show that while wages are low, they have increased consistently since 1992. Life expectancy has increased.

Consolidated assets of banks have steadily increased. Bank privatizations and consolidations are approaching completion and weakly capitalized banks have been weeded out. Foreign strategic bank investors have been attracted to Estonia and Latvia where they have majority shares while Lithuania is preparing to advance privatization of its banks. Although pegged and fixed currency exchanges have required adjustments in various areas of the economies - most notably, Lithuania's selling its oil refinery to avoid devaluing its currency, the litas - tighter exchange rates have led to tighter fiscal prudence and a demand for stricter budget controls.

While there are Euroskeptics in each country, EU membership as a target has helped the Baltics get their acts together and even identify some common goals. The Baltics have worked hard to achieve financial and fiscal credibility and are getting there.

Good is happening in the Baltics and will continue. This good needs to happen next and manifest itself in the implementation of wisely and well-funded social policies.