Kazakhstan is a new state, established as an independent country in 1991 as a result of the breakup of the USSR. In the first decade of national independence, the Kazakh government demonstrated a commitment to establishing the foundation for an open, market-based economy. As a legacy of decades of Soviet-style centralized economic planning, Kazakhstan inherited a physical infrastructure designed to serve the Soviet economy by providing primary commodities , particularly energy and minerals, to industrial markets in the north, particularly in the Ural and central Siberian industrial regions of Russia. Kazakhstan's population of roughly 16.5 million makes it a relatively small country compared to international standards, but it is the world's ninth largest coun- try. Kazakhstan is rightly considered to be the world's "largest small country."
The transition from a communist system of government and economy to a market-based system has been difficult for Kazakhstan. The transition began in 1991, but the economy contracted sharply in the first years, with 1994 a particularly difficult year. Kazakhstan was shaken by the economic instability that hit Asian financial markets in 1997 and swept across Russia in 1998. After recovering from the setbacks caused by the 1998 financial market crash, Kazakhstan began to make significant progress in 1999. Economic growth surged ahead in 2000, reaching a level of 8 percent. The government pursued prudent fiscal policies , avoiding overspending despite the fact that government revenues—taxes and other forms of income—exceeded original expectations. The economic recovery was led by strong growth in exports, particularly gas and oil, and was helped by high prices for fuel products in international markets.
Many areas of macro-economic reform have been highly successful, even providing a model for other post-communist countries to follow. The government established a legal foundation and regulatory system for a private economy. It moved quickly to establish sound and fiscal monetary policies and actively encouraged international trade and foreign investment. The government adopted sound taxation and spending policies. The government introduced a national currency, the tenge, which has been quite stable. The government established a regulatory structure for the private banking and financial sector and privatized major enterprises, including the majority of power generation facilities and coal mines. The government passed environmentally sound oil and gas legislation that meets international standards.
Yet Kazakhstan's reform has made less headway in other areas. Kazakhstan's agriculture remains without adequate investment in infrastructure such as roads, processing equipment, and farm inputs. Moreover, the banking system has virtually ignored agriculture, failing to provide much needed credit for farm expansion. Kazakhstan adopted a private pension system, moving ahead of other former communist countries, but the social safety net has worn thin in many areas. With a per capita income of US$1,300, most citizens of Kazakhstan have yet to see the benefits of macro-economic reform and the resurgence of world prices for the country's significant oil, gas, and gold deposits. The social safety net has been weakened with declines in health status, benefits for senior citizens, and education opportunities. Dramatic increases in infectious diseases, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, pose serious social threats.