A Typical East German Factory

The planned economies of the socialist bloc before the breach in the Berlin Wall in 1989 were a striking example of how rigid production norms were sustained only by informal arrangements wholly outside the official scheme. In one typical East German factory, the two most indispensable employees were not even part of the official organizational chart. One was a "jack-of-all trades" adept at devising short-term, jury-rigged solutions to keep machines running, to correct production flaws, and to make substitute spare parts. The second indispensable employee used factory funds to purchase and store desirable nonperishable goods (e.g., soap powder, quality paper, good wine, yarn, medicines, fashionable clothes) when they were available. Then, when the factory absolutely needed a machine, spare parts, or raw material not available through the plan to meet its quotas and earn its bonuses, this employee packed the hoarded goods in a Trabant and went seeking to barter them for the necessary factory supplies. Were it not for these informal arrangements, formal production would have ceased.