After the breakup of the USSR, it briefly appeared as though Russia's emerging commercial banks might act as engines of growth for a new capitalist economy. However, despite more than a decade of "reforms," Russia's financial system collapsed in 1998. Why had ambitious efforts to decentralize and liberalize the banking industry failed? In A Fistful of Rubles, Juliet Johnson offers the first comprehensive look at how Russia's banks, once expected to revitalize the nation's economy, instead became one of the largest obstacles to its recovery.
Drawing on interviews with Russian bankers, policymakers, and entrepreneurs, Johnson traces the evolution of the banking system from 1987 through the aftermath of the 1998 crash. She describes how dysfunctional institutional procedures left over from the Soviet period hindered the subsequent development of sound financial practices. Johnson argues that these legacies, along with misguided, Western-inspired liberalization policies, led to the creation of parasitic banks for which success depended on political connections rather than on investment strategies.
Johnson demonstrates that banking reform efforts ultimately did more harm than good, because Russian officials and their international advisers failed to build the corresponding economic, legal, and political institutions upon which modern market behavior depends.
"Juliet Johnson presents a compelling account of how institutional legacies combined with misguided state policies to bring the Russian banking system to ruins. A Fistful of Rubles provides a compelling example of how careful empirical research and original analytic insights can be elegantly combined with the best writer's craft. A bold argument, beautifully composed."
David Stark, Columbia University
"Beautifully and even artistically written, A Fistful of Rubles demonstrates painstaking research on a crucial, yet neglected, topic. Pathbreaking, highly topical, and filled with original insight, there is nothing like it in the current literature."
Stephen E. Hanson, University of Washington
"One of the most puzzling conundrums of Russia's post-Soviet transition for many Westerners has been how policies tried and found true elsewhere should produce such unexpectedly hapless outcomes. Juliet Johnson's A Fistful of Rubles finds an answer in a concise and telling exploration of the aberrant interaction among misdirected Western-inspired economic policy, Soviet-era institutional legacies, parasitic banks, and sordid politicians. A must read for anyone trying to understand how Russia turned out the way that it did."
Blair A. Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center
"A Fistful of Rubles is a first-rate book and a much-needed look at a sector that, more than any other, defined the Russian 1990s. It is also a rollicking tale, vividly told.... One can only hope that Juliet Johnson ill continue to chronicle the evolution of post-Soviet Russia and that see will give us more books as excellent as her first one."
Thane Gustafson, Georgetown University
"Drawing on interviews with Russian bankers, policy-makers, and entrepreneurs, the author traces the evolution of the 'reformed' Russian banking system from 1987 through the aftermath of the 1998 crash."
"Juliet Johnson's A Fistful of Rubles is an impressive example of empirical research and graceful writing on a subject of central importance to postcommunist studies.... This work is essential reading for scholars and policy makers concerned with the transformation of postcommunist political economies. Any future studies of the Russian financial system will have to begin with this book."
Andrew Barnes, Kent State University
Comparative Political Studies
"The great strength of this book is in giving precise detail on how the diverse parts of the banking sector developed."
Martin Myant, University of Paisley
"Juliet Johnson's excellent study examines Russian banking in the ten years from Gorbachev's first steps toward liberalization to the Russian financial collapse of 1998.... A particularly interesting aspect of Johnson's account is her discussion of the relation between markets, economic development, and democracy.... A Fistful of Rubles will be welcomed by students of Russia, transition economics, and banking and finance, and should be compulsory reading for central bankers."
Mark Harrison, University of Warwick
Harvard Business School, Business History Review
"This book provides an insightful and comprehensive account of the evolution of the Russian banking industry.... Johnson makes an important contribution to understanding the political economy of post-Communist transformations, and I recommend that anyone interested in these issues read her insightful work."
Andrew Spicer, University of Californa at Riverside
The Russian Review