Since its inception in 1923, Turkey has operated a mixed economy, in which both state and private enterprise contribute to economic development. The economy has been transformed from predominantly agricultural to one in which industry and services are the most productive and rapidly expanding sectors. A decade into the 21st century, the services sector engaged about one-half of the workforce, while agriculture and industry each occupied about one-fourth.
Until about 1950 the state played the leading role in industrialization, providing most of the capital for structural improvement in railways, ports, and shipping facilities and for the establishment of such basic industries as mining, metallurgy, and chemicals; it also invested in manufacturing, notably in the food-processing, textile, and building-material sectors. Emerging industries were protected by tariff barriers, and foreign investment was discouraged; the economy remained self-contained and somewhat isolated, with foreign trade playing only a minor role.
Major political developments of the early postwar period—such as the institution of a multiparty democracy and Turkey’s adherence to the Western alliance—had a profound effect on the economy, which became more open to foreign influences. Foreign aid, chiefly from the United States, arrived in large quantities and was used in part to finance agricultural expansion and to import agricultural and industrial machinery and transportation equipment. Growth accelerated, with the private sector playing an increasing role. State intervention—mainly in the form of government loans to private firms—remained strong, and economic development was guided by a series of five-year plans. By the late 1970s, however, the economy was plagued by high inflation, large-scale unemployment, and a chronic foreign trade deficit.
Consequently, during the 1980s there were further shifts in economic policy, including the encouragement of foreign investment, the establishment of joint enterprises, a reduction in the relative importance of the state sector, and a vigorous export drive. By the 1990s, inflation remained a serious problem, and Turkey’s per capita gross domestic product remained well below those of most Middle Eastern and European countries. Facing inflation that had reached almost 100 percent by 1997, an 18-month economic monitoring program was initiated with the International Monetary Fund, which succeeded in significantly decreasing the rate of inflation in the following two years. A financial crisis in 2000–01 forced Turkey to accept another round of IMF-supported reforms. Economic growth was strong in the first decade of the 21st century until 2009, when the global economic crisis pushed the country into a brief recession that was followed by a recovery.