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Through the Back Door

The Black Market in Poland 1944–1989

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Jerzy Kochanowski

This book analyzes the history of the black market in Poland before the 1940s and the development of black-market phenomena in post-war Poland. The author evaluates the interrelation between black-market phenomena and historical and geographical conditions. At first, the black market stabilized the system by making it more flexible and creating a margin of freedom, albeit in the short term. In the long run, the informal economic activities of the people ran counter to and undermined the official ideology of the state. The author concludes that in post-war Poland, owing to a singular coincidence of historical, political, economic and social factors, the second economy had its own unique character and an endemic presence that loomed large in the Soviet Bloc.

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2. Shortage, Greed, Protest: A Short Course in the History of the Black Market in the First Half of the 20th Century

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2.  Shortage, Greed, Protest: A Short Course in the History of the Black Market in the First Half of the 20th Century

2.1  The Beginnings

As soon as man began to engage in the exchange of goods with the participation of money, attempts appeared to limit, ration, and control the process. These could be triggered by anything: a war, a natural disaster, an empty treasury, or the fear of rioting. The Code of Hammurabi introduced control over prices and earnings. In the 11th century BC, Chinese clerks supervised the harvest and set the acceptable range of prices. Seven hundred years later, the Athenians were setting maximum prices for grain. Emperor Diocletian went much further in 301 CE by setting the maximum price for 900 products and a maximum wage for 160 types of work. Both merchants and artisans tried to by-pass the constraints, whereas state officials tried to find and punish the offenders.50 Interference in markets took place also in the Middle Ages; for instance, in 13th century England, the size of a loaf of bread was standardized and its price was set according to the price of grain. It was also in England, in 1351, that wage regulation was first introduced.51 Attempts were made to restrict trade, for example by licensing the markets, or by applying the jus stapulae, the obligation on travelling salesmen passing by to offer their goods for sale for a period, which offered a privileged position to...

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