Facts on Google and facts in the minds
mark.jones at tiscali.co.uk
Fri Dec 14 16:10:14 MST 2001
At 14/12/2001 21:59, Néstor wrote:
> > What are the material underpinnings, rather than psychological
> characteristics, of > this defeat. Why _materially_ can't the Russian
> working class overcome their new > oppressors ? What are the objective,
> not subjective , barriers to revival ?
>A good question. Whoever can answer it will have the clue to revolution in
Mark Harrison has suggested that the Soviet economy never recovered from
WW2, unlike those of its past and future adversaries; growth never got back
to the trendline of the 1930s. One reason for this was the economic costs
resulting from the relocation of heavy industry to the Urals, to keep it
out of harm's way during the war. see below.
The USSR finally collapsed when decades of overstrain produced irreversible
breakdown in the industrial base and above all, the Soviet energy complex.
This produced crises in the eastern bloc countries which could only be
dealt with militarily. The Gorbachev leadership was not prepared to face
down the west and was afraid to eliminate dissident movements in Poland,
the GDR and elsewhere. Once Poland and the GDR were lost, the entire Soviet
geostrategic position swiftly unravelled. Once the collapse penetrated
inside Soviet borders (the Baltic states were the first to go) an
unstoppable avalanche of change swept thru Soviet industry and society.
Only the most severe and brutal repression, and the complete, forced
mobilisation of society, might have stopped this accelerating collapse,
butg there was no Stalin around to impose such harsh disciplines. The
Soviet leadership simply gave up and with two years the country was swept
by anarchy and crime, and the Soviet state itself ceased to exist in 1991.
After this, there was no way back. It was impossible to unscramble the
omelette, and everybody knew it. Soviet agriculture collapsed and the
economy was ruined. There was literally nothing left to defend. The
population became dependent on western food handouts and loans. The
socialist project was clearly and comprehensively defeated, and the
population had lost faith in it decades before anyhow.
To: <eh.eastbloc at eh.net> Subject: EH.EB Economists, Soviet Growth Slowdown,
and the Collapse Date: Wed, 1 Dec 1999 14:05:04 +0100
----------------- EH.EASTBLOC POSTING -----------------
May I offer a few thoughts on Soviet economic growth.
First, outside the Soviet official statistical apparatus there was much
less real disagreement over Soviet growth rates than is commonly
supposed. Thus the last CIA estimate for annual average growth in Soviet
real GDP from 1950 to 1987 was 3.8 per cent. The alternative figure
offered by Grigorii Khanin for material product growth over the same
period was also 3.8 per cent. Khanin's estimates of Soviet growth were
higher in earlier years and lower in later years (i.e. he suggested a more
dramatic deceleration). However, the basis of Khanin's figures remains
less transparent than that of the CIA's.
On CIA estimates and forecasts Kontorovich's new paper (which presumably
sparked the present discussion) is well worth reading. Other useful
reflections on the western record in evaluating Soviet economic growth,
with substantial bibliographies, include:
Becker, A.C. (1994), "Intelligence fiasco or reasoned accounting?: CIA
estimates of Soviet GNP", Post-Soviet Affairs, 10(4), 291-329
Schroeder, G.E. (1995), "Reflections on economic
Sovietology", Post-Soviet Affairs, 11(3), 197-234
A useful dataset in connection with this discussion is Angus Maddison,
Monitoring the world economy, 1820-1992 (OECD), supplemented by Maddison
(1998), "Measuring the performance of a communist command economy: an
assessment of the CIA estimates for the USSR", Review of Income and
Wealth, 44(3), 307-23.
Maddison's figures suggest that Soviet GDP per head was approximately 28%
of the United States in 1913 (this percentage would be far lower in 1917
if we had reliable figures for that year, but I do not believe that we
do), peaking at 36% in 1973, drifting down to 33% in 1987 before
collapsing to 22% in 1992.
Second, there was a sharp deceleration in Soviet growth in the mid- 1970s
which cannot be explained by the exhaustion of postwar recovery
possibilities, for example. Soviet underlying growth rates were much
slower after the mid-1970s than before -- but still not negative. They
remained positive in per capita and per worker terms through much of the
1980s. In fact, growth temporarily accelerated under the impact of
Andropov's disciplinary shock to the economy.
Third, personal consumption of goods and services per head continued to
rise, although more and more slowly, until the mid- 1980s. The idea that
the country "couldn't feed itself" at this time is simply untrue. (Sure,
they imported food, but so do many industrialised countries, and at this
time the Soviet economy did not have a serious external debt.)
Rising monetary overhang and so on are relevant in so far as the welfare
benefit of rising availability of consumer goods and services was offset
by the welfare cost of growing disequilibrium on the retail market
(repressed, not "hidden" inflation which is already discounted in the
unofficial estimates already mentioned).
What is acceptable for us to count as the truth in this regard should be
decided on the basis of statistical research, not belief, plausibility, or
personal observation. Thousands of observations are better than one. Nor
should they be decided on the basis that a lower estimate is always better
than a higher one. In the Soviet case it can be demonstrated that, while
official growth estimates were almost always too high, unofficial growth
estimates were sometimes too low.
Fourth, the impact of the war losses between 1913 and 1973 can be looked
at in different ways. The capital losses to the Soviet economy were
certainly enormous. On the other hand these were not necessarily losses
which could never be made up. Other economies such as the German and
Japanese showed that after a devastating war it was possible to recover
and exceed the prewar growth trend of income per head. The Soviet economy
performed much less well. To be sure it was unable to benefit
from globalisation as did Germany and Japan. On the other hand, as
the postwar decades went by the obstacles to Soviet partication in world
trade became more and more domestic rather than foreign.
Detailed estimates of the scale of war losses in World War II and their
impact on different economies, including that of the Soviet Union, can be
found in Harrison, M., ed. (1998), The economics of World War II
(Cambridge University Press).
Recent research on underlying growth and slowdown in the Soviet Union and
eastern Europe, with some consistency of outcomes, includes:
Harrison, M. (1998), "Trends in Soviet labour productivity, 1928- 1985:
war, postwar recovery, and slowdown", European Review of Economic History,
Good, D.F., and Ma, T. (1999), "The economic growth of Central and Eastern
Europe in comparative perspective, 1870-1989", European Review of Economic
History, 3(2), 103-38.
Best wishes .
Professor Mark Harrison Department of Economics University of Warwick
Coventry, England CV4 7AL +44 (0)1203 523030 (office) +44 (0)1203 523032 (fax)
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