Professor writes on Georgia’s “failed experiment.”

Stephen Jones, professor of Russian studies. Photo by Ben Barnhart
In an essay for openDemocracy, Stephen Jones writes about the long-term impact of Kakha Bendukidze, the force behind sweeping economic changes from 2004 to 2009 in the country of Georgia. Jones is a professor of Russian studies at Mount Holyoke College and an expert in the Caucasus region.
 
Bendukidze, a Georgian entrepreneur, government minister, and libertarian who died last year, “famously declared he would sell everything but Georgia’s conscience,” Jones writes. “His goal, he said, was to close down his own ministry [the Ministry of the Economy], and to demolish all economic regulation by the state.” 
 
Jones gives an overview of the whirlwind of economic reforms Bendukidze championed, including privatization of state holdings and major tax reforms. He “opened up the Georgian economy to global markets and unhindered foreign investment. For Bendukidze and his Western fans, Georgia was a laboratory of economic reform,” Jones writes. 
 
An economic surge boosted private-sector employment and drew “fabulous GDP growth and ecstatic praise” from the World Bank. But, Jones argues, “All this activity was more of a social transformation than an economic one, and the 'mental revolution,' which was to accompany it, has still not come to Georgia.” 
 
Bendukidze’s legacy, was “based more on utopian aspirations than realistic calculations.” Jones says. “Bendukidze’s policies ultimately failed … and this contributed to the Georgian government’s authoritarian cover-up. Political guile is almost always a short-term remedy for long-term needs.”