The Limits of Discipline. Ownership and Hard Budget Constraints in the Transition Economies

Roman Frydman
Cheryl W. Gray
Marek P. Hessel
Andrzej Rapaczynski, Columbia Law School


The existing literature on soft budget constraints suggests that firms may be subsidized for political reasons or because of the creditors' desire to recover a part of the sunk cost invested in an earlier period. In all these models hard budget constraints are viewed as being, in principle, capable of inducing the necessary restructuring behaviour on the level of the firm. This paper argues that the imposition of financial discipline is not sufficient to remedy ownership and governance-related deficiencies of corporate performance. Using evidence from the post-communist transition economies, the paper shows that a policy of hard budget constraints cannot induce successful revenue restructuring, which requires entrepreneurial incentives inherent in certain ownership types (most notably, outside investors). The paper also shows that the policy of hard budget constraints falters when state firms, because of inferior revenue performance and less willingness to meet payment obligations, continue to pose a higher credit risk than privatized firms. The brunt of state firms' lower creditworthiness falls on state creditors. But the 'softness' of these creditors, while harmful in many ways, is not necessarily irrational, if it prevents the demise of firms that are in principle capable of successful restructuring through ownership changes.