Hard Budget Constraints

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In market economies, firms face hard budget constraints. This means that they must cover their costs of production using revenues generated either from the sales of their product or from other financial sources. In the short term, firms facing hard budget constraints may borrow to cover their operating costs. In the long term, however, if firms cannot cover their costs from their revenues, they fail, which means they must declare that the company is bankrupt or they must sell their assets to another firm. Hard budget constraints coincide with a situation where government authorities do not bail out or subsidize poorly performing or loss-making firms.

Soviet industrial enterprises did not face hard budget constraints. Unlike their counterparts in market economies, Soviet firms' primary objective was to produce output, not to make a profit. In many respects, planners controlled the financial performance of firms, because planners set the prices of labor, energy, and other material inputs used by the firm and also set the prices on products sold by the firm. Centrally determined prices in the Soviet economy did not facilitate an accurate calculation of costs, because they were not based on considerations of scarcity or efficient resource utilization. Nor did prices reflect demand conditions. Consequently, Soviet firms were not able to accurately calculate their financial condition in terms that would be appropriate in a market economy. More importantly, however, Soviet planners rewarded the fulfillment of output targets with large monetary bonuses and continually pressured Soviet industrial enterprises to produce more. With quantity targets given highest priority, managers of Soviet firms were not concerned with costs, nor were they faced with bankruptcy if they engaged in ongoing loss-making activities. Without the constraint to minimize or reduce costs, and given the emphasis on fulfilling or expanding output targets, Soviet firms were encouraged to continually demand additional resources in order to increase their production. In contrast to hard budget constraints faced by profit-maximizing firms in market economies, Soviet industrial enterprises faced soft budget constraints.

See also: new economic policy; value subtraction; virtual economy


Kornai, Janos. (1986). Contradictions and Dilemmas: Studies on the Socialist Economy and Society, tr. Ilona Lukacs, et al. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kornai, Janos. (1992). The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Susan J. Linz