Asymmetries of Wealth: Reading the Global Economy in Socialist Romania (1967-1989)

The notion of wealth became central for the socialist states of Eastern Europe during the late 1960s. After two postwar decades of domestically-generated growth in circumstances of semi-autarky, these states decided to open their economies to global markets and engage in trade across the globe. Doing so required a constant assessment of the opportunities and constraints of the global economy, as well as a concerted effort on the part of economists and trade officials in understanding the logics of capitalism. This paper explores the history of the Institute for the Study of the International Economic Conjuncture in socialist Romania – a policy institute tasked to provide expertise on the global economy and advise the country’s ruling socialist elite on trade relations with capitalist countries. Drawing on a large body of archival sources, I will show how the semantics of the notion of wealth changed during the global crisis of the 1970s. More specifically, I will argue that the crisis pushed socialist economists to interpret asymmetries of wealth in the global economy no longer as a product of history to be gradually leveled out through trade but rather as an inherent feature of capitalism reproduced through power politics and unequal exchange.