Bartlett argues that the process of building democracy in failed socialist societies need not jeopardize the other equally prized aspiration of turning these encrusted socialist monstrosities into modern market -oriented economies. Bartlett situates himself among the fashionable theories contending that institutions, understood broadly enough, are not simply vessels or residues but creative forces. He shows how the emerging infrastructure of democracy in Hungary has eased the path of economic reform by defending state agencies against the importuning of aggrieved special interests and by forcing the "losers" of reform to pursue their case in a basically uncongenial electoral arena.
His case study of Hungary after the fall of communism, matched by an equally elaborate exploration of political-economic failure in the ten years before, counters what he takes to be conventional wisdom: alas, say many, democracy, which is essential in legitimizing the new economic order, lets those who will pay its price obstruct its construction. While a thought-provoking rejoinder to those who draw the lesson that the East Asian model of reform through authoritarianism works better, Bartlett's argument fails to explain why the synergy between democracy-building and economic reform has been so much less productive in the states south and east of Hungary.