The Soviet Economy – Charting Failure

Many Communists, leftists, and even patriots (I’m sorry to say) have a pronounced tendency to make out the Soviet economy as not quite the resounding failure it really was – or even to paint it as a success story that was only brought down by perestroika and liberal reforms.

The above chart – based on historical GDP per capita (Geary-Khamis 1990 Int$) by Angus Maddison, compiled by liberal economist Illarionov, popularized online by Lopatnikov, and Starikov – purports to destroy two “myths”: That of (1) Prosperous Tsarism, and (2) The ineffectiveness of the Soviet economy. After all, the average Russian went from being 40% as rich as the average American in 1885, to only 23% by 1917; whereas during the Soviet period, despite the turmoil of two major wars, Russian incomes reaches a relative peak at 40% of American levels during Brezhnev’s “stagnation” period.

These is however a glaring hole in this logic, namely that (1) relatively slow growth under late Tsarism reflected a permanent state of affairs, as opposed to the heavy but temporary burden of a large rural, illiterate population; and (2) that a level of per capita GDP that is a mere 40% of what Americans enjoy was in any way a fulfillment of Russia’s potential during the 20th century. In fact, graphical comparison with other countries shows this to be almost certainly false.

I replicated the graph comparing Russia’s historical performance relative to the US, but adding in another reference – those south European countries that were broadly comparable to Tsarist Russia in terms of economic development at the turn of the century (i.e. both were backward), but were spared from the distortions of central planning. (I could only find figures for the Russian Empire/the USSR as a whole, not Russia specifically, hence the slight disparity from the first graph; but the trends would remain the same). You can click on the graph to view it in higher detail.

On examination, several things became clear:

(1) While it is true that Russia was losing ground relative to the US under late Tsarism, or at least until 1905 (see first graph) – the same was true for all other backward European economies. In fact, the Russian Empire tracked Portugal almost exactly. But bear in mind that Russia in 1870 was 90% rural and illiterate, a state of affairs utterly nonconductive to industrial development; and agriculture’s potential for productivity gains is extremely limited, especially in the context of the system at that time. In contrast, the US was almost universally literate and embarking on its great industrial boom. It is no wonder then that the relative gap between the US and Russia increased from 1870 to 1905 (why the gap existed in the first place can be traced back centuries and is far beyond the scope of this post). Notice that the same thing was happening in all the other similarly backward countries: Portugal, Spain, Ireland, to a lesser extent (but more developed) Italy also all lost ground to the US from 1870-1913.

(2) The Soviets inherited Tsarist infrastructure, hence the period until 1925 was simply one of restoration. It should also be noted that the literacy rate by 1916 was around 50%, i.e. in terms of human capital development, much of the legwork had already been done; that is, the country was ALREADY ripe for a faster rate of industrialization, that would have happened regardless under any political regime. Nonetheless growth began to flag by the late 1920’s, as Tsarist-era production levels were restored. It was only further turbocharged from 1930 on by forced savings via collectivization and consumption repression, and German and American investment. But even so note that the sharp rise in the early 1930’s was in large part an artifact of the Great Depression that wracked the US, and that in that period ALL countries rose upwards, and that the USSR failed to make substantial gains on the US standard of living following the mid-1930’s; indeed, Soviet GDP actually fell in 1940. Needless to say this growth was also achieved at much higher human cost than elsewhere.

(3) Everybody suffered from the wars and the collapse of trade during the 1940’s. The USSR did start recovering earlier, showing strong growth relative to the US during the 1950’s and to a lesser extent during the 1960’s; it also held its own against what were still the weakest West European economies, that is Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland – although Italy sprinted far ahead. The fast growth during this period was structurally similar to the US some fifty years prior: The large-scale shift from agriculture to industry, which is a one-off in historical terms.

(4) Once this process started exhausting itself by the 1970’s, relative growth flat-lined at a base only 35% of America’s (or slightly more than 40%, taking into account only the RSFSR). By 1990, it dipped below 30%. Note that it is a linear downslope from 1975, well before perestroika or “reforms”. From 1970 a sharp gap began to develop with Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland; by 1990, for instance, the weakest of this group, Portugal, was at 50% of US GDP per capita. European nations that a century ago were overwhelmingly rural, undeveloped and superstitious just like the Russian Empire had now pulled decisively ahead of Soviet Russia; during the 2000’s, Ireland briefly almost converged with the US! While as we all know, during the 1990’s, the Russian economy fell into a precipitous collapse…

(5) Yes, on the one hand, this collapse wouldn’t have happened had the USSR retained political authority and central planning. On the other hand, there does not appear to be any good reason that the USSR should have experienced a productivity spurt relative to the US; if anything the reverse as demographic prospects were deteriorating by the 1980’s (especially the pool of surplus rural labor was drying up) and resources for higher investment rates were hard to find (due to the demands of the MIC, and falling oil prices). Indeed, Goskomstat planners in the late 1980’s assumed growth to the end of the millennium would be around 1.5% per annum, i.e. even further decline relative to the US. In the big picture, Russia exchanged a very punishing transitional depression for the prospect of normal market growth, which has predominated since 1998, and the longterm possibility of real convergence.


Another interesting set of countries Russia can be compared to are Fennoscania, though with a word of caution – Sweden, Norway, and to a lesser extent Finland were in literacy (human capital) terms far ahead of the late Russian Empire. Note that Finland, relatively backward nonetheless, declines more relative to the US than its Nordic neighbors; again, presumably a function of its initial backwardness (highly rural, can’t grow fast). Its performance in the 1930’s is every bit as impressive as Russia’s, and unlike the USSR, it continues to rapidly converge with US living standards from the 1960’s onwards. Note that Finland was only a modestly richer subject of the Russian Empire in 1913 than the national average.


The final graph shows Russia’s historical performance relative to the US, Finland, Greece, and Portugal all in one. It is particularly telling that plotted against Finland, it is a story of almost inexorable decline during the Soviet period. While Russia did makes massive gains vis-a-vis Portugal and Greece under Stalinism, both the latter grew far more quickly during the 1950’s and 1960’s, with the result that they overtook the USSR in per capita terms at around 1970 and held a substantial lead by the 1980’s. This substantial gap became an awning abyss during the catastrophic nineties, however it is important to emphasize that the economy of the 1990’s was for the most part still a continuation of (well, the dissolution of) the stagnant Soviet command economy.

There are of course many caveats. Some might argue that what the USSR suffered from in inefficiency it made up for in more focus on developing human capital (which is the single most important factor for long-term productivity growth). I don’t see this as convincing. As mentioned above, literacy rates by the 1910’s were above 40%; the school enrollment figures of the mid-1910’s would only be reattained in 1925. It is simply wrong to say that the Tsarist regime neglected human capital, it was just developing it from a lower base and the Soviets merely took over that process.

The two biggest problems were that (1) the Soviet economy was seemingly unable to develop to more than 40% of the US per capita level, due to its inefficiency – that was its ceiling; and what’s worse, (2) it could not be dismantled without incurring a hyper-depression in the meantime. That second point is the reason why many Russian leftists continue to insist that the Soviet economy was a good thing, at least it held steady relative to the Americans under Brezhnev as opposed to collapsing in the 1990’s (which is in actuality the collapse of the Soviet economy), and being on the retreat throughout late Tsarism (for aforementioned structural reasons, but whose negative influence was weakened from the 1900’s); they also for some reason think that a GDP per capita at 40% of the US level is something to be proud of.

Addendum 6/22: I noticed Sergey Zhuravlev makes much the same arguments in his article Wily Lines

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Good post. A few notes:
    1) Clearly the worst deficiency in the Soviet model was agriculture, which was always ideologized and terrible. (I believe there’s an Econ graph to this effect.)
    2) There are some IMO extenuating circumstances: 20-25% of GDP going to the military-industrial complex, the wars (civil war, WW2), and the Soviet Union’s isolation/conflict with the entire advanced (capitalist world). 40% is not necessarily that bad in that context!
    3) In the area of counterfactual, I don’t think the 1990s collapse was necessary to convergence/reintegration into the world economy. The economic collapse was the consequence of the political/territorial disintegration of the Soviet Union, with planned exchanges between republics broken, and local apparatchik-cum-oligarchs seizing public assets. Putting politics aside, I think a smoother (say) Polish or Czech-style transition would have been economically possible.
    4) None of this detracts from what Tsarist Russia would have accomplished. I believe prominent Trotskyists even in the 1930s – attempting to discredit Stalinist claims of ultra-growth – argued that prewar Tsarist Russia was booming in some sectors through “expansive, one-off growth” very much like the BRICs today..
    5) What made you decided on the modern Russia flag? 😉

    • I totally agree on agriculture. Soviet mismanagement was catastrophic, The SU held some of the best soils on earth and the Russian Empire had long been a large grain exporter. To the contrary the SU became a net importer.
      I think the most staightforward way to discredit central planning and the soviet ideology is to dwell on this failure. Economists have suggested that Stalin could have much more efficiently funded the surge in industrialization simply by taxing the peasantry- while preserving the sector and assuredly limiting the human cost, instead of the delusional ideology of forced collectivization.

      On the subject of transition we can also see the Chinese model, even though their economy was different and had always taken more liberties with marxist dogmas…Removing communism from the picture politically was an important step but it’s difficult to know wether this could have been achieved more gradually, the chinese experience will provide an answer (didn’t we hear calls to switch to “confucianism”?)

    • Thanks, Craig.

      Re-1) You are right about agriculture, with the caveat that the system’s biggest failing was in distribution and not so much production.

      Re-2) From here I have to disagree. Despite the wars, it can be clearly seen that even as late as 1975, Soviet GDP /c was comparable to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland (though Italy and Finland had by then moved far ahead). It was during the last quarter of the 20th century that Soviet economic failure could no longer be denied. Isolation – but why? Apart from hydrocarbons, it has nothing competitive to export. The MIC did soak up a lot of resources obviously but they were mostly diverted from consumption, not investment, which was at a very respectable 32% of GDP even in 1989.

      Re-3) I agree it could have been better managed, but there were big differences between the RSFSR and Czech/Poland. First, the latter had already begun transitioning, second, they were never anywhere near as centrally planned as the Soviet economy.

      Re-5) The Black/Gold/White is too obscure to a foreign audience, and I do not wish to spend a lot of time countering the inevitable claims about being a neo-fascist (who have misappropriated it).

  2. My nitpick to this interesting article is that GDP per capita is not the same thing as income per capita. Americans were not rich urbanites in the 1920s. On top of this is the rather difficult task of comparing the GDP of two vastly different system. I am quite sure that western GDP numbers are fluffed up by things such as a the financial sector which has the distinct capacity to non-contribute to personal income. The GDP measures extra-territorial economic activity which US transnational corporations would contribute to significantly. The USSR was feeding a bunch of leeches via assorted welfare programs and not being the colonial taskmaster it was accused of during the cold war.

    The main problem is that It is not clear at all what methodology was being used to compare Soviet GDP to that of western states. I am not willing to give any western economist the benefit of the doubt on this. Although Americans and other westerners made more money than Russians per year they had and still have much higher expenses like rent and mortgages. One of the reasons that the 1990s depression was not as bad as it could have been is that Russians could stay in the Soviet housing and did not get evicted for being unable to pay rent. So there was no massive homelessness and the associated destitution that you would find in the USA during the Great Depression.

    So the 40% figure is not as bad as it looks and the real question is why Russia’s capitalist GDP per capita is still below this value. It is beginning to look to me that the GDP difference is a manifestation of the different expense levels. When Russians have to pay through the nose for everything and get into big time borrowing like in the west then they will have similarly “developed” economies. Industrial development is a non-issue since the west has shipped a huge chunk of its industry to China.

  3. Jennifer Hor says


    Any particular reason that you chose to compare the USSR with Portugal and Greece over the 1950s-1960s? Portugal was still heavily dependent on overseas colonies and was ruled by authoritarian governments until about 1975. Greece lost a lot of people through emigration after the civil war in the late 1940s and was under authoritarian government from then on to 1974; the country underwent an economic boom during that time, stimulated in part by the Marshall Plan. There is a small article on Wikipedia that refers to Greece’s economic development during this period as the Greek economic miracle: – it says the country was rapidly industrialising, posting annual growth rates of 10% and was second only to Japan in economic growth during those years. (Funny how no-one mentions this in talking about Greece these days – you’d think the country had always been riding on the back of tourism.)

    Maybe the comparison with Portugal is relevant if you treat central Asia as equivalent to Portuguese colonies in Africa and Asia but comparing the USSR with Greece maybe not so.

    • As stated in the article, because they had very similar starting bases (in economic terms) in 1913 before central planning intervened.

      Authoritarian governments by themselves seem to have little influence on economic development at the largest scales. Central planning however cripples it, limiting it to a ceiling that is only a fraction of the level of development possible with free markets.

      Yes, both Portugal and Greece had periods of instability and political shocks, and the former had colonies, but where is the evidence that this had a major effect on their overall 20th century economic trajectories? Or what about Finland, Ireland?

      • Jennifer Hor says

        I note that on the graph “Russia’s GDP/c as a % of others’ 1870-2008” that there was an upward tick for Russia’s GDP/c as a % of Portugal’s in the mid-1970s which would suggest that the loss of Portuguese colonies in 1975 had some effect on Portugal’s economic performance but by then Portugal was integrated in the western European economy so the upward trend didn’t last. There’s also an upward tick for Russia’s GDP/c as a % of Greece’s GDP/c during the early 1970s that coincides with the Greek military government’s rule but like Portugal Greece’s economy was integrated with western Europe.

        Portugal and Greece were also beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan aka European Recovery Program in the late 40s/early 50s and this would have boosted their economies, not right away, but over a period of several years to a decade as the money was being invested in construction and industrial development.

        Finland and the Soviet Union had a barter system from 1945 to the early 1990s which would rule Finland out as a comparison.

        I’d have thought larger countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Canada, which have more varied physical environments, ethnically heterogeneous populations and cultures, and a similar history of playing catch-up industrialisation with some degree of central government planning, with no help of the kind western Europe received from the US after 1945, would be better points of comparison.

        • Both Portugal and Spain experienced an economic shock as a result of the collapse of their authoritarian old regimes, leading to temporary deconvergence from northwestern European GDP per capita. Cf central Europe post-1989.

  4. Why is it that Russia appoints all the economic shock therapists into positions of power that are directing Russia’s economic development given there disastrous record like Chubais leading Russia’s nano tech industry who also recently attended the Bilderburg meeting that Putin has poured billions into?

    For every step Russia seems to take forward it takes a step back.

    Putin has overstayed his welcome that is why Russia needs an independent power block in Siberia because when ever the Kremlin interferes they make things worse.

  5. Mark Sleboda says

    Christopher Doss beat me to the punch. Use of GDP alone is indicative of nothing more than a society’s ability to accumulate wealth – it says absolutely nothing about the distribution or use of that wealth or the quality of life of its people. In fact very high GDP often goes hand in hand with inequality as that wealth is concentrated in a few hands. GDP is particularly designed to highlight the very ‘strengths’ of capitalist and mercantilist economies and completely ignore the accomplishments and very purpose of socialist economies – ie universal health care, universal higher education, universal employment, eradication of hunger, universal housing, universal secure pensions etc. etc. Of course the Soviet Union doesn’t look good when looking solely at GDP – preventing capital accumulation was one of the goals of its economy.

    Essentially you are judging the Soviet Union on an economic benchmark specifically designed to ignore its accomplishments and purpose. Ie that the purpose of the economy is to benefit the people and society and not the other way around. The fact that it is lacking on this benchmark is probably more redeeming than not.

    I’ll grant you one statistic that the Romanov Tsardom was much higher in – inequality. It was all over and all about inequality with wealth accumulated in the hands of a tiny hereditary caste based elite.

    This article curiously seems to downplay one of the Soviet Union’s biggest accomplishments in what is supposedly one of your big schticks – turning a society with over 60% illiteracy (and I will be frank, I doubt your statistics and think it was much higher, but will grant you them for the sake of argument) to less than 2% illiteracy in less than three generations. This is a monumental accomplishment. But the Soviet Union in that time period also achieved the highest per capita higher education, and highest number per capita of doctors, academics, and engineers in the world. Etc.

    • (1) Healthcare accomplishments such as an infant mortality rate that remained stuck at 20/1,000 throughout the 70’s-80’s, far above OECD levels, a result so embarassing that Goskomstat stopped publishing statistics on it?

      (2) High numbers of “engineers” and “doctors” most of whom would be technicians and medical assistants in normal countries which didn’t have something to prove?

      (3) “with over 60% illiteracy” So you distrust the results of the 1920 Soviet literacy census, which put it at 44%? Off to the Gulag with you! 🙂 And, no, going to full literacy (after almost half the work was done anyway) is not an achievement. It was just one of the pretty few things the USSR didn’t fail at.

      PS. Don’t get me wrong, the USSR did do some good on the global scale. For instance had Russia industrialized and become a rich consumer society on the same approximate timeline as Finland or Greece, – and if Communism hadn’t spread to China and it developed like Korea or Taiwan – then global atm. CO2 levels today would be about 40ppm higher than otherwise according to my old calculations. That said I wrote that post at a time when I still thought large-scale AGW catastrophe could be avoided, now my mindset is enjoy the ride while it lasts… Likewise, Russia’s historical “sacrifice” in this respect is meaningless.

      • You really have not even tried to address his main point: the GDP per capita is not a measure of the standard of living of the individual.

        Going back to the 1920s and 1930s, the USA was nothing to boost as stellarly ahead of the USSR. Even today you can find 3rd world conditions in parts of the USA (e.g. Appalachia, Mississipi) that do not exist in underdeveloped Russia.

        Gosplan incompetence and rotting of trainloads of produce in train marshaling yards were serious issues but Portugal in the 1950-1980 was not something to look upon in awe by average resident of the USSR. Especially not the Azores.

        • But it is a good proxy for the standard of living. Especially since the specific units this GDP per capita is measured by Madisson was specifically designed to compare performance across both time and space.

          Are you really going to argue that the average Soviet consumer was anywhere near as well-off as the average American consumer even in the 1970’s?

          Yes, there are of course other factors to consider, some of which can be measured. But as I pointed out they’re not generally to the USSR’s favor either. Infant mortality rates are a good proxy for the overall quality of the healthcare system. Any explanations for why they were 2x-3x higher than the developed world’s in the 1980’s? Or why even the likes of Portugal and co. overtook Russia by 1980 at latest?

          Re-Portugal. 1950-1980? Sure. 1990? A different story.

          • Mark Sleboda says

            1.”Infant mortality rates are a good proxy for the overall quality of the healthcare system. Any explanations for why they were 2x-3x higher than the developed world’s in the 1980′s?”
            Here’s the problem with more cherrypicking of statistics in isolation, such as infant mortality rate that support you, and promoting it as defending your argument. By looking at infant mortality rate alone, it is clear, that for the last 40 years, the US economy has been a complete failure.

            2. “High numbers of “engineers” and “doctors” most of whom would be technicians and medical assistants in normal countries which didn’t have something to prove?”
            Wherein Anatoly proves that when when he feels like it, he too can descend to the street and talk shit with the best of em’..

            3. “Are you really going to argue that the average Soviet consumer was anywhere near as well-off as the average American consumer even in the 1970′s?”

            Well there you are falling for the same trap of comparing apples to oranges. Or Big Macs and blini. And ‘consumers’ to ‘citizens’. To refer to the citizens of the Soviet Union as ‘consumers’ and to try to judge the Soviet Union on an economic and social construct they completely rejected is missing the point and a disservice to say the least.

            An interesting antecdote (to me at least). At the Copenhagen Climate Conference a couple years back, which I attended as a delegate as part of the LSE adivisory delegation, I challenged a panel of top US government officials and business leaders on their ubiquitous referal to the American people as ‘consumers’, how this colored and distorted their personal and institutional thought process, and was indicative of the larger picture issues and problems of the Conference in general. They accepted this in good nature as a fair critique and accepted the challenge to not refer to the American people and citizens as ‘consumers’ for the rest of the panel. They all failed. Every one. Miserably. And started laughing at themselves, ironically and a little self-consciousally, I hope. They could simply not refer to an American without resorting to the collocation ‘American consumer’, popping out of their mouths like drool off Pavlov’s dog’s tongues.
            – So, are you really going to argue that the average American consumer has anywhere near the same level of universal social benefits and work-life balance as the average Soviet citizen had , even in the 1970’s?

            • Thanks, @MarkSleboda, you made all the points I wanted to make, but much more eloquently than I could have. That bit about “normal countries” especially rubbed me raw. Capitalist ideologues have always claimed (quite arrogantly) that theirs is the only “normal” system, and everything else an aberration. [Similarly, Russophobes have always claimed that Russia is not a “normal” society unlike Western Europe.]
              Nobody has the right to decree what is “normal” and what is not “normal”. Soviet Union was a “normal” system, within its own rules and within the parameters of 20th-century world. By the 1970’s Soviet economy was badly in need of reform, nobody disputes that. It needed to go the Chinese route, instead it took a wrong path that led to destruction and desolation for millions of people.
              Not much point in re-fighting historical battles, but I do point out that nowadays capitalism itself is the declining system (international finance capitalism crashing right before our eyes), badly in need of reform or change. The big question now is what comes next? Are we going to return to some kind of feudal system, where a handful of oligarchs basically own everybody and everything in the world? People who shit all over the legacy of the Soviet Union are promoting the idea that there is no other option except to give up on the idea of equality and simply accept oligarchy as the natural law of human existence.

              • Moscow Exile says

                In response to what Yalensis said below, namely: “in USSR all but the most destitute had plenty of cash in their pockets, more cash than they had things to spend on”, I should like to mention an incident that once hammered home to me the inadequacies of the Soviet command economy and the purchasing power of its citizens.

                It happened in1990 in Voronezh, where I was nearing the end of a year’s study there in what was then, unkown to even the most seemingly astute
                “Kremlinologist”, the final year of the existence of the USSR. (Of course, these “specialists” all knew of the impending collapse of the Soviet Union in hindsight.)

                In the very middle of the Voronezh main street, Prospekt Revoljutsija, was a
                toy shop. At the time, all the Voronezh shops were almost empty of goods.

                The quality of Soviet toys used to sadden me immensely: the very best resembled the very worst output from Hong Kong at that time, yet Soviet children were openly delighted by the few garishly bright and fragile plastic playthings that were on offer.

                One day as I was strolling along the Prospekt, I came to the end of a very long queue, something not uncommon in those days, but interestingly, this one
                eventually led up to the aforementioned toyshop, where, to my surprise, there was a mountain of children’s tricycles. The shop was not only bursting with them, they also spilled out into the street, littering the pavement and even the highway. They had only very recently been delivered as their frames were still
                clad in their cardboard packing.

                The main thing was that people were buying them – for cash. And they weren’t
                cheap. But word had got round about the delivery and money for their purchase clearly had been available, no doubt stashed away beneath matresses.

                At that time, very few Soviet citizens had more than one child. Many couples chose to remain childless, so many of these purchased bicycles, I am sure, were purchased as an investment for possible resale at a profit.

                For me, the question was who had decided at Gosplan in Moscow that it was the turn of Voronezh to receive this delivery of tricycles – and why? Had there been a sudden outcry about their deficit in that city? I think not. Yet its citizens clearly had the power to purchase them, whether they needed them or not.

                Within one year of my witnessing this event the Soviet command economy lay
                dead and buried.

          • I will take free health care as an example. The US GDP is higher because it has a complex health care industry with insurers, providers and their subcontractors. In a universal system there are no insurers so the GDP is lower since the system is “less developed” and there is a simpler path for the money flow. In addition the the money flow associated with a universal system is a tiny fraction of the US-style bloated private system. What costs $100,000 in the US costs $35,000 in Hong Kong which has a less convoluted private system. GDP is the accumulation of prices so the nominal US GDP is higher just because of its overpriced and inefficient health care system (the number of invoices is an order of magnitude higher in the US system).

            There really should be a PPP adjustment on the US itself. I want to know if the PPP GDP comparisons really have a comprehensive basket of goods and services that are compared. It is clear that even the PPP adjusted GDP is misleading since the system with free health care will lack a “developed” health care industry. This sort of apples and oranges comparison problem does not even get mentioned.

          • The average consumer in the USSR in the 1970s could buy a colour TV, a car and pretty much any other useful consumer item. All Soviet consumers could do this. Only part of the US consumers could. Since we are talking about consumption, the Soviet system was clearly inferior in that it did not have a credit system. Most US consumers buy shit on credit and then pay it off in increments over a sustained period. In the Soviet system you paid up front and could not pretend to be richer than you were. Clearly this was a big mistake. But people still bough cars and TVs.

            There were long waiting lists for apartments. But from what I have seen in St. Petersburg the wait was worth it. The derogatory label commie blocks is made by morons who never had to try to sleep in a US apartment complex with its paper thin walls made of drywall. A nice thick brick or concrete wall slab is light years ahead of the garbage they put up in the USA. It is much easier to build US style garbage so the Soviet housing shortage has to be put in context. Of course as in most of Europe they don’t build private houses in the major cities unlike North America with its sprawling suburbs. This may be another mistake on the part of the USSR/Russia. You can throw up these 2×4 stud boxes by the million and have 40% of your GDP depend on this housing market just like the USA and Canada.

            Anyway, they did not even have hot running water in most UK residential units in the 1960s. And the USSR was still recovering from the Great Patriotic war. So comparison with the US which was isolated from all the damage of the WWII and received a massive economic windfall during and after the war is misleading. As I said before, GDP measures extra-territorial economic activity. So US transnationals taking over the world from the British Empire would grow the US GDP well beyond its domestic component. The USSR was not a colonial power in any standard definition. It bled resources into holes such as Cuba. The US extracted profit out of Guatemala.

            • I’m really amazed by how desperate some people are to defend the USSR’s record in the face of all evidence and reason. Let’s just discuss cars.

              Many could afford cars? Well, let’s do the math. The average salary was around 170 rubles in the mid-80’s; a skilled worker got 300 rubles, a mid-level academic maybe something like 250 rubles. A lower-end car like the Moskvich cost around 5,000 rubles. That’s more than 2 years of the average salary.

              Then of course there were the wait times which you have totally ignored.

              Compared to today, you can easily find cars around $8,000-$10,000 that are new domestic or used foreign ones like Toyota. That is about 1 year of the median salary and unlike in the 80’s you can take part of the cost out on credit (which is actually a very useful thing contrary to the leftist propaganda flowering here as long as you are not an idiot).

              Alternatively, one can just look at automobile ownership in 1989. What was it? Something like 80/1000 IIRC. Today it is at 270/1000.

              I’m waiting for the inevitable rejoinders from Mark and yalensis about how the USSR had “different values” and “collective forms of life” including in the realm of transport are superior in all respects.

              • Mark Sleboda says

                Wouldn’t want to dissapoint ya, Tolya. You already know the answer – Public Transporation. Russia’s metro systems, in particular the Moscow metro – is a miracle of human engineering and a living monument to the USSR – far surpassing any such system in the US or pretty much anywhere in the world for that matter even today in nearly all aspects from size, to depth, to aesthetics, speed, frequency of cars, cleanliness, number of people transported etc. They are truly the Palace of the People – and not a single day goes by where I don’t give thanks to the Gods that were the Soviet engineers for bequeathing this to me so I don’t have to drive every day like I did in the US..
                This includes also extensive train, bus, and trolley networks that also outdo the US.
                And they are far more environmentally friendly (ie low carbon footprint to boot)
                A terrorist bomb goes off – and I swear to the Goddess – the whole damn network is running full speed and capacity again in 4 hours.

                Hell- even dirty old air travel in the USSR was essentially free for almost everyone – included in their vacation packages (which were also state subsized by the way, not to mention at least one month and up to three or four months depending on your job (particularly those in the Arctic and Siberia).

                As you said – and I couldn’t say it better – different societal values, predicated on and producing a collective way of life. Those frakking cars in Moscow – traffic, noise, pollution, insurance, accidents and deaths, testerone and materialist ‘status symbols’ of personal worth (lmfao),eating up space that was sidewalks and grass and trees – more everyday – the damnable things are a blight on the city. There are even considering banning them from large portions of downtown Moscow. I wish they would ban them in Tsaritsino…

              • Moscow Exile says

                There are, of course, some people who have never felt the necessity to drive and own a car. I never have – neither in my native country nor in my adopted one, Russia.

                Using public transport – trams, buses and the metro – I travel extensively around Moscow during the working week. I travel free now, as I am a senior citizen, but the metro has a single price ticket system. The present price of a metro ticket is about 33 RUR, I think. Considerable savings can also be made by buying monthly tickets. The first metro train arrives at my local station at 05:40 every day of the week; the last service is at 00:35 – again, every day. One seldom has to wait more than 4 minutes for a train, the average time between the departure of one train and the arrival of the next being about 3 minutes. There has, to the best of my knowledge, never been a serious running accident throughout the whole history of the Moscow metro.

                My wife and our three children have just spent the past three weeks at a sanatorium situated on the banks of the Oka river in Tula province some 160 kms southwest of Moscow. I visited them twice over two of the weekends during their stay there. I travelled by bus to the sanatorium, and the return journey cost me about 500 RUR.

                We have a dacha situated 84 kms west of Moscow. In the summer months my family lives there. I travel to the dacha during the working week by “elektrichka” – a suburban commuter electric train service that is very frequent and extremely reliable. (I have never ever during almost 20 years of residence in Russia experienced lengthy delays or extensive cancellations of train services – even in the depths of winter.) A return ticket to my dacha from the Belorussky terminus in Moscow costs 280 RUR and takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. The first train is at 05:00 and the last at 00:05. When we all move out to the dacha, we hire a van to transport ourselves and all the goods and necessities that my wife thinks will be indispensible to us during our summer country residence. When we do this, it usually takes us up to an an hour to reach “the third ring” – the Moscow outer ring road that marks Moscow city limits.

                Six years ago my family and I holidayed in Anapa on the Russian Black Sea
                coast. We travelled there by train in a 4-berth compartment. (We had two
                chldren then.) The 1,500-kilometre journey lasted 36 hours: we slept two nights on the train. I forget how much the tickets cost, but a single adult fare to Anapa now costs about 4,000 RUR.

                I frequently used to travel to Estonia and St.Petersburg by trains that had restaurant carriages where the food and drink were both of good quality and very reasonably priced. The food was prepared in a galley – just like it was over 50 years ago in my native country: no microwaved, pre-cooked airline-style abominations in those restaurant cars where I once dined. Most Russians, however, when travellng long distance by train, prefer to bring their own food – and drink – along. And at every train stop, large or small, across this vast land, you wil always find people on the platforms selling local produce – pies, smoked fish, crayfish, fruit etc.

                I am sure that there are many Russian citizens who, like me, travel solely by public transport; not because of their impoverishment or that Russia is a third world state, but because they feel no need to drive around everywhere by car.

              • Well, I’ll leave it to the others to praise Soviet system of public transportation. (Which Russia inherited.) And there is much to praise. I too have fond memories of travelling by Russian train (partying with friends, being served tea by a kindly old babushka from a fresh samovar, etc.), but, honestly, I also enjoy the freedom of owning a private car. It comes in especially useful when going on fun ski adventures with my girl.
                And, by the way, Anatoly, you may not realize, but in USSR all but the most destitute had plenty of cash in their pockets, more cash than they had things to spend on; everybody would have bought a private car if enough cars had been produced; it was a glitch in the system that not enough consumer goods were produced to soak up the excess cash; you wouldn’t be able to know that from reading dry statistics on wages, because people had other sources of $$$ besides their official wages.
                But never mind about that, let’s talk about entertainment and culture. In the Soviet Union, even in the provinces, any average worker could attend the highest quality opera, ballet, or concert (involving world-class musicians and dancers) without spending more than 10 rubles per head, and that included not only the performance itself, but also snacks during the intermission, up to and including, caviar and champagne at the buffet. I’m not saying this was anything better necessarily than what the capitalists could offer, just that it was a damned good thing. Soviet Union was actually a pretty great country in many ways – wake up and try to be fair!

              • Moscow has probably the best subway system in the world, although many Muscovites who can afford not to use it, often don’t anymore. Ex-pats seem to like it more than many natives, who often prefer sitting in trafic in their own private room than in the subway crowds. An while a car in Moscow isn’t necessary, life would be a lot easier and more convenient with a car for each adult out in the oblast or in smaller cities even if those places have better public transportation than do similar ones in the West.

                I have trouble believing that people here favorably comparing Soviet life – from a material perspective – to contemporary Western life or modern Russian life are sincere. Consider housing. The only American housing comparable to Khrushchovky are the projects; many Russians lived in Khrushchovky but very few Americans live in the projects. How many Americans lived in komunalky? How many Americans lived together for years after a divorce because there was no housing? How many married people lived together with their inlaws, and kids, in three room apartments in small cities? Russia is hardly a small crowded place but even in provincial towns Russians had to be crowded in as if they were all Manhattanites. You have to go back to 19th century tenements to compare American housing to Soviet housing of the 1970’s.

                So, in the 1970’s, you and your wife would share a room in your parents’ flat, the kids might have their own bedroom or sleep with their grandparents, a grandmother might live with you too. You might be on a long waiting list for a very bad quality car. Fruits would only be available when in season (though they would be natural and organic, before organic was fashionable, and thus very tasty – backwardnes certainly has some advantages). Consumer goods would be laughable – I think there were exactly four types of furniture and everyone had one of those four styles in their apartments (this is what made the confusion Ironiy Sudby possible; snmeone could be in a different city, go into someone else’s apartment and find the exact same furniture there as he had at home). If you have relatives abroad, even in communist Poland, who send you more decent clothes you look like a movie star. But you’d get the consolation prize of a subsidised trip to a sub-Western resort on the Black Sea where, at least, the nature isn’t sub-Western even though the services will be.

                The only real advantage to the 1970’s Soviet lifestyle was that because everyone was poor nobody felt deprived. There was no one to really envy, unlike today, so perhaps people were more satisfied even though materially they lived much worse.

              • A voice of reason ascends on the comments in the form of AP.

    • I agree with AK (and congratulate him on the excellent article). About tsarism’s inequality – it was not as severe as communists have portrayed it. For example, Stolypin’s reforms helped to increasee the number of wealthy rural entrepreneur-peasants, a number which was growing (in 1903 11% of peasants owned 8 acres per male member; this had risen to 16% by 1912). While inequality was great and Tsarist Russia sort of resembled Latin America, before the first world war Russia was probably more comparable to 21st century Brazil than to early 19th century plantation-lands.

      Here’s an interesting article about literacy in Russia during the late tsarist period:

      Supporting AK’s observation that it was increasing rapidly prior to the Revolution.

      • Thanks for that link.

        I’ve read similar stats in Russian, that primary enrollment was approximately 80% by the eve of the war (90% boys, 70% girls) but I couldn’t find them.

        And agreed with the observations on equality. For that matter the USSR under Stalin wasn’t that equal either.

  6. I’d “buy” the critique about using GDP/capita figures only if the author was trying to make an argument about the standard of living of the people–which doesn’t seem to be the case. Much of the individual-level considerations (things like literacy rates) aren’t simply used as some sort of reflection of the standard of living, but rather as structural impediments to the growth of the economy as a whole. So, for what Anatoly purports to do–position the overall Soviet economy in both historical and comparative context–I think that the GDP/capita figures are appropriate for what is a very interesting blog post. Thanks for it!

  7. Anatoly, what do you think of the gap that has opened up between Maddisons numbers and the more recent World Bank figures. If we project Maddisons figures from 2008 to 2010 then it is seen that the per capita income of Russia was 29% of American levels without the 25% revision made by the World Bank. If we take into account the revision then Maddisons figures would give Russian per capita income at 36% of American levels but even this is lower then the 42% observed in 2010, $19,800 vs $47,000. What figures do you think are more reliable, the 36% or the 42%.

    • I don’t know. Measuring GDP (PPP) is a very imprecise thing. As such I don’t even think there is a meaningful difference between 36% and 42%.

      One important thing to note is that Madisson’s figures are in 1990 international Geary-Khamis dollars, i.e. based on US prices in 1990. But the pre-revised WB figures were doubtless made on the basis of some other year, e.g. sometime in the early 2000’s? Maybe that is the source of the discrepancy.

      Regardless, I’d sooner trust the most recent estimates.

      • I was thinking along the same lines considering that the recent revision was made based on 2008 prices but an interesting point to note is whether the revision was due to overestimated prices in 2000 or underestimated growth under Putin. It may well be that the collapse of the 1990s was not so terrible if GDP value is revised 25% upwards from 1999. There is also the chance that price inflation under Putin may have been overestimated meaning that the economic catch up under Putin was even more impressive then
        previously thought, i.e instead of Russian per capita income going from 22% of American levels in 2000, $7,600 vs $34,000 to 33% by 2010, it rises to
        42% under the new revised calculations.

  8. I probably won’t comment here anymore, but I have set up a blog in the spirit of the Kremlin Stooge:

    Peace out.

  9. The importance of whether Russian per capita income is at 36% or 42%(44% in 2011 most likely) of American is that Russia has never succeeded in getting its GDP per capita much past 40% and every time it gets close some disaster strikes, the allocation of resources towards the Military Industrial Complex(MIC) from the mid 1960s or the reforms of Gorbachev which brought down the entire system. So in that context it is important to note whether Russia has finally broken the “40%” curse or whether Russia is still trying to break it.

    • Okay, fair point – though I would venture that a more symbolic milestone would be 50%! 🙂

      I agree with your comment above. I would also note that even a +25% revision need not imply prior mistakes. Part of it is surely has something to do with the fact that energy prices have skyrocketed in the past decade. As energy industries account for a larger percentage of Russia’s GDP than in the US, an increase in their price will surely automatically increase Russia’s GDP (PPP) position relative to the US?

      • In terms of symbolism the big one might be when Vladimir’s prediction for Russia overtaking Portugal comes true. According to my calculations the per capita income of Russia will be around $22,000-$22,500 in 2012 whereas Portugal’s will be $22,900 according to the IMF and so Russia will overtake Portuguese per capita income next year assuming nothing goes wrong. The Kremlin should get the PR machine up and running to portray this as not only an achievement of Putin, but the United Russia Party as well which needs some good PR to regain some of the popularity that it has lost.

        However something that will set off fireworks in the Kremlin will be when the Russian economy becomes the largest in Europe at the end of next year or possibly even this year if the economy accelerates.

        • Yeah, Russia being the greatest and most populated country in Europe, its economy becoming the largest is all the more reason why its lackluster performance at the Euro stands out as I was saying in the other topic. Because what are prosperity and development good for absent success in football? I say to the gulag nonchalant Arshavin and his footballistic smallness! Comrade Stalin, he would have known what to do & led the national team from victory to victory!

          But seriously, people will more readily admit Russia’s preeminence once it can be measured in nominal terms, I guess, not before
          It’s fair because only then its clout on the global markets can be considered superior, since that’s what we’re comparing here.

          • It is indeed a big problem getting average people to understand the difference between nominal and real GDP, take a look at the GDP of China in the 1980s, in nominal terms it fell back relative to the rest of the world due to the devaluing of the currency. It does not help that the vast majority of the media also use nominal figures. Perhaps an alternative national accounting system could be used to supplement GDP which would focus on the production of actual physical goods, a bit like the Soviet system but more refined. Of course China would utterly dominate this national accounting figure which would cause panic in western capitals.

  10. I disagree that it was necessarily impossible to de-socialize without incurring a hyper-depression in the meantime. It is true no de-socializing country escaped a crisis of this sort, but then they all de-socialized in the same way — by seizing the factories for a tiny state-privileged strata in a violent and tumultous process, rather than simply recognizing that under Lockean principles of homesteading these already had their rightful private owners, namely the workers who worked in them.

  11. Somebody mentioned above that USSR should have followed the “China model” of reform, and indeed I’ve heard many Russians say that.

    However, the China model as I understand it means turning your country into an extremely low-wage platform for foreign corporations to manufacture goods, with few or no protections for workers toiling long hours in dangerous conditions. Basically, 19th century capitalism, but this time with the Communist Party firmly in charge. How was that supposed to work in the USSR?

    • What’s more the most industrialized / centrally planned part of China, urban Manchuria, actually did undergo a deep recession during the transition.

      The entire USSR was one big Manchuria.

  12. Voice of reason, eh? This voice of reason pulls a straw man in the form of Khrushovky and tries to paint all Soviet housing as equivalent. These Khrushovky are better than the American uber-apartments that I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One brand spanking new one that cost $2000 per month about 12 years ago had walls made of drywall where you would hear your neighbour playing music even if it was not cranked up. Might as well move in with your neighbour since he controls your sleep. So the voice of reason’s claim that only ghetto apartments in the US are crap is full of BS. The second rate apartment I lived in Arlington was simply a hell hole. It did not have concrete slab floors so you would hear your neurotic upstairs neighbour run around for most of the night. The footfalls weren’t just some small noise, they were loud enough to wake you up. Yet again, this was not some ghetto dive but a common small US wood frame apartment. Basically to have some peace and quiet in the US and Canada you need to live in a private house.

    The St. Petersburg commie block I stayed at in the last few years was built in the 1980s and cannot be fobbed off as some 3rd world dump no matter how much the voice reason wishes for it. I see similar commie blocks dominating large tracts of St. Petersburg real estate. This apartment had a foyer, two very large rooms, a private bath and a kitchen. You could not hear any neighbour because it was built like a concrete bunker. The ventilation was something to behold in this unit. You could not tell there was ventilation but you could not tell that a smoker lived there either. I am reminded of this “inferior” Soviet housing every time I have to smell someone from a stall whose flatulence permeates the whole of the washroom in even posh public toilets in the west. Clearly they don’t have a clue how to ventilate enclosed spaces in the western paradise.

    As for being deprived of apartments, my relatives in Saratov were receiving apartments for each offspring of the family and did not have to share across generations. Since I see the party appartchick accusation coming, no they had no party cards and were not connected to the elite.

    There is lots of distortion about the facts of the USSR. Be they WWII or life in the 1970s, the same tropes from the same people with the same agenda. I’ll hold the west to my standard and so far it is not what it is made out to be. BTW, I am fully ware of the failures of Soviet communism so I don’t need lies and distortions fed to me about it. If you have a case then argue with the truth.

    • “This voice of reason pulls a straw man in the form of Khrushovky and tries to paint all Soviet housing as equivalent.”

      No, not all Soviet housng was equivalent. But nearly every Soviet has lived in a Khrushchovka or knows someone who has. Khrushchovky even exist in small towns and villages! Indeed, 10% of Soviet housing was Khrushchovky. In contrast, I’ll bet very few Americans have lived in a project or knows someone who has. While in the 1960’s Americans were moving into their own identical-looking suburban houses, their Soviet counterparts were moving into their own identical-looking project-like Khrushchovky. But Khrushchovky were not the worst. Many people lived in kommunalky – pre-Revolutionary apartments divided, such that entire families occupied a single bedroom while sharing the corridor, kitchen, and bathroom with other families. This arrangement was quite common in St.Petersburg or older cores in other cities. In the 1950’s, before moving into a Khrushchovka, my wife’s grandparents literally lived in barracks.

      In 1972, the average Russian city-dweller had 7.6 square meters of living space – one third of that of the average American city-dweller. By the end of the 80’s this had increased to 9.4 square meters.

      I couldn’t google average waiting times for flats in the 1970’s but in the late 1980’s it was 8 years for the USSR and up to 20 years in certain cities. These were averages, of course. My in-laws got a flat in central Moscow right after my father-in-law was hired by the central committee (How did the Soviet top 1% live in the 80’s? A little bit worse than the average American doctor or dentist). We know of one person who applied for an apartment in the 1980’s. The Soviet Union fell apart. Life moved on. The application was forgotten. Two years ago it was built and they had a new apartment somewhere on the outskirts of Moscow – like winning a lottery.

      As a college student I’ve lived in many cheap American apartments, and have known others who have done the same, I have never seen or even heard of the stuff that Kirill describes. Here, btw, is an example of a $2000 per month 2 bedroom apartment in Cambridge:–4tnfsdantqt3q#lat=42.3701121&lon=-71.0909945&zoom=20&previewId=4tnfsdantqt3q&previewType=listing&detailsOpen=true&dupeGrouping=building&listingTypes=rental,sublet,room,corporate&loan=30,0.04,0&resultsPerQuad=24

      Tell me that it is worse than 1970’s Soviet housing, as Kirill implies a $2000 apartment in Cambridge is !

      • “So, in the 1970′s, you and your wife would share a room in your parents’ flat, the kids might have their own bedroom or sleep with their grandparents, a grandmother might live with you too.”

        In the 1970 My granpdarents had a 3 bedroom flat in Ufa where my father was brought up – they didn’t live with any in-laws because they were the 1st generation that moved from villages to the city (the in-laws were left in the villages). The flat was very decent sized to bring up two kids, also had two balconies. Because the housing situations of their brother/sisters was similar I was genuinely shocked when I discovered that Soviet Union on average had horrible housing conditions. Maybe Ufa was a bit different….

        • My wife spent her childhood in the capital of another Urals oblast. For a time she lived with her parents, grandmother,great-grandmother and brother in a 2 room (i bedroom) Khrushchovka. The parents had the bedroom, the kids, grandmother and great-grandmother the other room. After dad’s promotion these people all moved into their own large 5 room (4 bedroom) Stalin building on the central square of that city. Of course, the lower floors of this building had kommunalky and it was not uncommon to have to step over drunks, urine and vomit, etc. Another promotion led to a four room (3 bedroom) in central Moscow with 1.5 bathrooms, two balconies, one overlooking the Moscow river (the old people were gone by then). The Kremlin was a short walk away. This place was probably one of the best in the country by Soviet early 1980’s standards (previous resident had been a minister in the Soviet government). But it is quite *humble* by the standards of post-Soviet Russia, where the elite expects much laerger places with feature such as underground parking, fitness center or indoor pool, in the building, etc. etc. I also imagine that flat was quite humble by American elite standards of the 1970’s. Elite Americans did not have four room apartments, they had penthouse apartments.

      • What is your link supposed to prove? Nothing. First of all it is not even a multi-story complex, it looks like a private house. I said private houses are the way to go in the US and Canada. Also, you can’t tell the living conditions (i.e. noise) from some web photos. So all your huffing and puffing about the perfection of American apartment buildings is yet more BS.

        I live in a private house in a quiet neighbourhood now so I am no longer exposed to the utter crud that is the apartment life. I have friends who live in different large apartment complexes. Some are like the Soviet commie blocks and made out of concrete, others are the crap I described earlier. You can’t claim that all North American apartment blocks are good, while all Soviet apartment blocks are 3rd world hovels. This simply infantile drivel.

        Even though I said private houses are the way to go, you have to be careful not to buy a semi-detached. They even had a TV program where they retrofitted a brand new semi with specialized drywall (with a viscoelastic layer) and special sound dampening insulation. The semi, built according to code, had the main wall separating the units transparent to noise and the neighbours were obviously not happy about it.

        I suspect that apartment blocks in Europe are built to a higher standard than in North America since that is dominant mode of housing. In North America everyone strives for a house and it used to be the case that they could afford it.

        AK: I appreciate your input but please be nice and courteous about it (“huffing and puffing”, “infantile drivel”, etc). You may not agree with much of what AP is saying but he makes his points in a civilized manner. Please attempt to do likewise.

        • Kirill,

          The link states that it’s a first floor condo for rent, not a private house. I posted the link to demonstrate that your claims about $2000 apartments in Cambridge being awful places woerse even than Soviet apartments are not very realistic. But you make a good point: the way to go is a private house. And in addition to poor quality apartments, Soviet-era Russians had few private houses.

          I did not claim “all Soviet apartments are third world hovels.” So-called Stalin buildings were very nice, with enormously thick walls and high ceilings. But a shockingly large number of even middle-class Russians lived in buildings such as Khrushchovky that were similar to American projects for poor people; many even lived in “kommunalky” subdivided apartments where entire families lived in a single bedroom and shared a kitchen and bathroom with other families in other bedrooms. As I noted, the average living space per person for urban Russians in the 1970’s, 7.6 square meters, was only 1/3 of that for American city-dwellers.

    • Leon Lentz says

      I lived in Kruschovka apartment as a kid in Moscow. The view out of the window was magnificent, forest, roses in Spring and Summer and snow capped pines in Winter, frozen lake for skating. I could just put a ski in my apartment and go out cross country for hours. There is nothing comparable in US which is just a shithole. I have read that a person in Florida, was mistakenly identified as somebody who did not pay a traffic ticket and was put in jail for a week and was body cavity searched every day. This is a lot worse than USSR, they imprisoned a couple of dozens of political prisoners, but the rest of the people were left alone. US fascist system oppresses and dehumanizes everyone. I think US today can be compared to Nazi Germany and Americans to brainwashed Hitler worshippers.

  13. Moscow Exile says

    Yes, a kryshchevka is cramped. I lived in one from 1997, the year that I married, until 2002, by which time my wife and I had a two-year old son and a one-year-old daughter. It was my wife’s flat and she had lived there since her childhood with her mother, father and one grandfather. I think the kitchens in a kryshchevka were so tiny beause the idea was that peope would generally eat in state canteens – the ubiquitous “stolovye” that have long since vanished along with the Soviet Union.

    We moved to a much bigger twenty-year-old, three-room flat in 2002. It is situated in an adjacent street to that in which our kryshchevka is situated. That tiny flat is still my wife’s property.

    Former Moscow mayor Luzhkov made a big show a few years ago of promising that the following year the last kryshchevka standing in Moscow would be demolished. He made this promise during a photo-shoot, where he was shown in control of wrecking-ball crane demolishing an old kryshchevka. Luzhkov’s promises notwithstanding, however, the kryshchevka are still here in Moscow, though there still continues a steady, if not slow programme to demolish them.

    I never felt in any way uncomfortable when living in my wife’s old kryshchevka. In fact, I miss living there sometimes. It had the advantage of being on the ground floor, for one thing. It was just cosy there, and living in my wife’s old flat was like living on a small boat: everything, in particular beds and bedding, was stowed in its right place at the right time and brought out at the right time and assembled in its right place all ship-shape and Bristol fashion. I should add, however, that I should not really like to live there now, not least because we now have three children.

    I should think that a major reason for my not being overly distressed at living in a kryshchevka was because I was brought up in an old “two-up-two-down” (two rooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs) terraced house in the north of England. This terraced house was my home for the first fifteen years of my life and before that it was where my father was brought up with his two brothers and three sisters. Unlike the kryshchevka where I once lived, my old slum dwelling in England, had no bathroom where one could take a hot shower any time, no indoors lavatory, no central heating, no hot running water. The terrace was built by a coal company in the 1850s. We did our ablutions in a tin bath. Our hot water came from large kettles placed on the coal-fire, black cast-iron range that had ovens at its side. The lavatories were outside in the back yard. Before the First World War, these lavatories were “earth closets”: every month the midden-men would arrive to shovel out the lime-covered ordure into horse drawn carts. This was typical of the classic slums of Merry England where I was brought up and where infantile mortality and the incidence of such diseases and ailments as tubercolosis and rickets, was unacceptably high. That terrace where I used to live in England was demolished in 1967.

    Perhaps this is why I did not suffer any strong reaction to living for 5 years in the cramped quarters of a kryshchevka.

    In a similar vein, perhaps this is also why I do not lament the quality of restaurants in Moscow: I never visit them. This is probably because I was never in the habit of visiting restaurants in the UK. My parents never did: my father never came home from his shift down the local pit, which was across the field beyond the yard where the lavatories were, wondering where he and my mother should eat out that evening. I should think that they more than likely would have considered “eating out” to mean eating in the street fish and chips that had been wrapped in an old newspaper and bought in the local “chip shop”.

    Of course, if one looks at everything in Russia from a western bourgoise perspective, then I should quite imagine that one may be somewhat shocked by the cramped living quarters where some Russians still dwell, as well as by the quality of food that they eat, which food one would not exactly describe as “cordon bleau” but which is, in my opinion, no worse and often quite better than fish and chips wrapped in newspaper.


  14. Finland lost the Winter War in 1939 and had to cede most of their industrial base to the Soviets. This explains their corresponding economic slump.

    • Leon Lentz says

      They did not lose their industrial base. Helsinki, Tampere, all bigger cities remained in Finland. Vyborg did not have much.

      • The statistic is 50 percent of American GDP in 1980, so he already put some bias in there. Additionally, GDP measurement is very misleading. Both the UK and USA were in free fall in terms of production, but consumption, fuelled by credit and finanical machinations caused decent GDP ‘growth’.

  15. I take a more sympathetic view of the Soviet period. I do so with the detachment of a non Russian and as someone who believes in the continuity of Russia’s economic history.

    Any starting point to a discussion of Russia’s economic history should start with a recognition of the very particular problems Russia faces. I am not going to discuss those because Anatoly has already done so in a quite exceptional post he wrote on this blog some years ago. Suffice to say that in developing its economy Russia has had to overcome a structural problem of extreme capital and resource scarcity such as no other industrialising economy has had to face. This is crucial since it is the rate of investment (which depends on the availability of capital and of other resources) that determines the level of economic growth.

    When the tsarist government in the 1880s decided to make economic development its priority it sought to overcome the problem of capital scarcity by importing capital and technology from western Europe. This achieved a lot of success as Anatoly rightly says but came at a price of very heavy foreign borrowing and continuous budget and trade deficit problems, which created a volatile economic environment. It also forced the government into policies (such as putting the rouble prematurely onto the gold standard) that it might otherwise have avoided.

    The political turmoil of the period is in fact directly related this economic instability with the severe downswing caused by the decision to put the rouble on the gold standard leading directly to the Revolution of 1905, the political stabilisation post 1906 being the result of an economic recovery largely underwritten by a very large French loan, and by renewed signs of political tension after 1912 (eg. the Lena goldfields strike in that year and the general strike in St. Petersburg in July 1914) caused by a gradual deterioration of economic conditions as the effect of the loan wore off. One of the reasons the Russian working became so politicised and developed such an acute awareness of the international nature of capital was precisely because Russia’s economic development during this period depended so heavily on foreign capital. Factories in Russia during this period were often foreign owned with the result that factory owners were too often callously indifferent to the conditions of their workers in a way that would have been impossible in western Europe or the United States but which is quite often the case in foreign owned factories in the developing world today.

    Russia’s dependence on foreign capital also forced Russia into political alignments with its main foreign creditors, Britain and France, which it would have been wiser to avoid. This led directly to the First World War, a catastrophe for Russia as was predicted before the outbreak of the war by the tsar’s former interior minister Durnovo in a memorandum he sent to the tsar at the start of 1914. Even on the most favourable view the tsar’s government (unlike the Russian army) proved unequal to the challenge of total war and overall it is not unreasonable to see the war, the eventual collapse in 1917 and the Revolution in that year as caused by the crisis of the tsar’s model of economic modernisation.

    The Soviet government that replaced the tsar found itself faced with the same problem of capital and resource shortage that the tsar had faced with the added problem, not faced by the tsar, that it was denied access to foreign capital, a fact that persisted until the very end of its existence. Any discussion of Soviet economic development needs to confront the fact that it was undertaken, uniquely for any industrialising country, entirely on the strength of the country’s own capital base, which was already very limited.

    This was not a question of choice. Throughout the 1920s and thereafter the Soviet leaders (including Lenin, Molotov and Stalin) sought repeatedly to attract foreign capital and to reintegrate the Soviet economy into the world economy. Thus the policies of “peaceful cohabitation” with the capitalist world and of “socialism in one country”. When it became clear this would not happen and as by the late 1920s the economy began to run into growing problems caused by the capital and resource shortage (the “scissors crisis”) the government instead launched a dramatic policy of extreme economic mobilisation with forced capital accumulation and highly centralised direction of investment, capital flows and resources (“central planning”). Though this had been partly prefigured in economic debates that had taken place in the 1920s such as those between Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, it is now clear that this policy was not the result of any pre arranged plan on the part of Stalin or Molotov (the two men who bore the greatest responsibility for carrying out) but was an emergency response to what was a crisis situation.

    The system of extreme economic mobilisation that emerged out of this crisis successfully industrialised the country maintaining high levels of economic growth for around fifty years. An economic system that is able to maintain high levels of economic growth for fifty years cannot by the way be simply written off as a failure. Along the way the Soviet leaders killed hundreds of thousands of people, imprisoned millions more, fed, clothed and housed the remainder, persecuted the Church, defeated Hitler, achieved universal literacy (a great achievement even if it might have been achieved by the tsar, which is doubtful), established an impressive scientific and educational base, sustained the arms race with the United States, provided economic and military support to a variety of other countries, pioneered the exploration of space and despite occasional bans and persecutions maintained the country’s cultural level at the already impossibly high level it had achieved under the tsar. All this was only possible because of the intellectual and industrial legacy bequeathed to the USSR by the tsar (Aelita, the first important Soviet silent film, is a call to the tsarist engineering elite to rally to the cause of the country’s economic reconstruction under the leadership of the new Soviet government).

    It was also only made possible by the promise of an idealistic vision of a future free of all exploitation and material want (“communism”), which the Soviet leaders could only convincingly promise by believing in themselves. Since this was an ideal based on an analysis of the world economic system (“capitalism”) that contained a large measure of truth, it had the effect of greatly expanding political consciousness and human understanding around the world, provoking a revolution in China, national liberation movements in the west’s overseas colonies, the consolidation of social democratic welfare states in the capitalist societies of western Europe and the rise of anti racist movements in the United States, South Africa and elsewhere.

    It also provoked a powerful response in the west. Speaking as a non Russian I think Russians consistently underestimate the extent to which the west became “the West” in response to the Soviet challenge. The emergence of a specific democratic free market ideology in the west (“the free world”) and the development of the west’s great supranational institutions: NATO, the European Union, GATT/WTO, the IMF, the OECD, the post war Bretton Woods system etc. were all provoked by the need to respond to the Soviet challenge. If despite an industrial system that was already by the late 1960s experiencing increasing stress the US was able to maintain a significantly higher standard of living than the USSR (which it did) then this was in large measure because as the “defender of the free world” it was able especially after 1971 to import foreign and human capital and goods to an extent that for the USSR was quite simply impossible. Similarly if countries like Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal experienced very sharp increases in their standards of living this was also in large part due to the perceived need to provide them with access to foreign capital and markets (for example by admitting them to NATO and the European Union and by providing them with aid through the Marshall Plan) to avert the threat of Soviet style revolutions in these countries. This threat was not imaginary. Such revolutions had appeared to be close to happening in each of these countries for example in Italy in 1920 and 1944, in Greece in 1944, in Spain in 1936 and in Portugal in 1975. (Finland by the way was in the happy (and unique) position of having the best of both worlds, being closely integrated with the USSR which was its biggest economic partner until the 1980s whilst being free to trade internationally and to attract foreign (ie western) capital into its economy through the links the USSR allowed it to maintain with the west).

    Even then comparisons of living standards in such very different economies and societiesare always fraught and I for one do not know the extent to which any statistics can ever be relied up or can ever capture the whole picture. For example I have met many Greeks who emigrated from Russia to Greece in the 1990s. Without exception they have all told me that their standard of living was much higher in the (pre crisis) USSR than it was in (pre crisis) Greece.

    It is important to say however, and it is a fact that persons nostalgic for the Soviet economic system really do need to understand, that whatever the advantages of the kind of system of extreme economic mobilisation that the USSR developed might once have been, by the mid 1970s these had become exhausted as Soviet society and its economy had evolved past the point where such a system was necessary or made sense. It is now clear that this fact was fully understood within the Soviet political and economic leadership and that Soviet policies starting from the late 1960s were increasingly shaped with view to converting the USSR to a more conventional economic system. This was by the way understood by some people in the west with a considerable amount of debate in economic circles about “converge” between the two economic systems. The 1970s process known as “detente”, with its objective of reintegrating the USSR in the world economy by joining such institutions as GATT and by seeking “most favoured nation” trading status with the United States, was part of this process as were plans I can remember from that time for example for the establishment of a factory to build Lockheed Tristars in Voronezh. The various plans for economic reform that were being developed in the USSR by the economic ministries and planning agencies after the mid 1970s were of course also part of this process and it is now clear that they would have been introduced over the course of the 1980s whether Gorbachev had come to power or not. To argue that the USSR could have significantly improved its economic productivity and standard of living with the same system of economic mobilisation it had had since the 1920s not only flies in the face of the facts. It is also contrary to the belief held by the Soviet political and economic leadership of the time.

    Unfortunately the process of reform and reintegration with the world economy was derailed, first by a turn in the 1970s by the United States towards greater confrontation (eg. the Jackson Vanik amendment) and secondly by the hijacking of the reform process within Russia by a small group of ideological extremists who intentionally created an atmosphere of panic and crisis in order to put their own Randian fantasies into effect. This led to an extraordinary period of political and economic chaos that lasted for about a decade, but which by 1998 had thankfully run its course, allowing the process of incremental economic change and reform that began in the late 1970s to resume.

    I would finish by saying that if the economic reform proposals of the 1970s had been implemented Russia would have eventually emerged with an economic system fairly similar to the one it has now and that the achievements of the post 1998 period draw as much on the legacy of the Soviet period as the achievements of the Soviet period drew on the legacy of the tsar.

    Apologies to everybody, Peter especially, for an impossibly long comment. I hope it is not too convoluted. This is however an impossible and prodigiously complex and controversial subject: in effect a quick run through modern Russian history in a few quick stages and a few (long) paragraphs! I appreciate that much I have said here is controversial and many will not agree with it. I would finish by urging people to read Anatoly’s quite exceptional post on the inherent difficulties Russia has faced in its economic development though I am actually more optimistic than him that these can and indeed to a great extent have been overcome. Indeed I expect to see Russia in my lifetime have one of the highest standards of living on the planet.

    I would also urge Anatoly to discover Durnovo, a man of genius and a reactionary hero fully up to the level of Pobedonostsev (though far less of an intellectual and much more of a cynic), who saved the monarchy in 1905 and who prevented the country’s disintegration in that year and who might, just might, had he lived and been fully trusted by the tsar, have given the country the leadership it would have needed if it was to avoid revolution.

    As to a final assessment of the Soviet period, perhaps we should borrow a comment attributed to Zhou Enlai about the French Revolution (but never actually said by him), which is that it is too early to say.

    • I agree completely with your point about the west making itself over in response to the threat of the ideals of communism. Godless communism put the fear of God in the western elites. After the 1930s disaster they responded by allowing welfare state policies to be adopted: universal health care and education in Canada and most of western Europe. The US and its peculiarities do not contradict this fact.

      To be more specific, here in Ontario, after the Great Depression when many municipalities went bankrupt trying to support the jobless and homeless, the province took over many of these functions allowing the benefit of pooled resources. New social assistance policies were established as well. But as soon as the USSR collapsed in 1991 we had a major reversal. The neocon Mike Harris government returned the arrangement between the province and municipalities that existed in the 1920s. So many services were like welfare were downloaded back onto cities and towns and local ratepayers. Clearly this is nonsense since it means that wealthier municipalities can have higher levels of social support.

      The erosion of the welfare state has been ongoing since the 1980s. Every year the system is pulled back into the past. Education fees are jacked up, user fees and quasi-private health care keep growing. The extremely annoying thing is that the vaunted tax cuts are token. For some reason many people think that saving $300 per year or less is some sort of big deal. If I am not going to get the services I paid for in the past with my taxes then I want much lower taxes. Right now these reactionary governments are finding ways to spend the money on their private sector pals. And there is never enough.

      • Good points, @kirill. I would add: The demise of the Soviet Union also spelled the deathknell of the “welfare state” and socialistic artifacts like trade unions, as well as the whole concept of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, and so on. To be replaced by a new “intellectual” paradigm consisting of economic/racial/caste superiority and dominance. For example, In America, the political elite are busy tearing down the final remants of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and replacing with the fascist (literally) notion that “corporations are people”.
        The capitalists only ever allowed any economic sharing out of primal fear of proletarian revolution. (Marx’s “spectre of communism haunting Europe”.) Which is funny, because in most of those countries there never really was any danger of proletarian revolution anyhow. But I suppose the capitalists were paranoid and worried it might happen, so they were willing to sacrifice a sliver of their pie to the workers. Allude to Marx’s writings on the “Corn Laws” in Volume I.

    • (1) I’m aware of Durnovo’s memorandum, I wrote about it here. 🙂

      (2) This is an excellent run through of Russo/Soviet economic history, but with all due respect – regardless of the “high levels of economic growth”, that growth was not of a scale to break past 40% of US GDP per capita even in its heyday during the mid-1970’s.

      Yes, the Russia Empire faced particular challenges, to do with capital scarcity, borrowing, etc. But so did most of the other countries covered in this survey. Almost uniformly, their relative positions even by 1985 were both better relative to the US, and themselves in 1913.

      Let’s look at it from another perspective – what was the only “Europeanized” country to fail to become an advanced economy in the past century? Argentina. The USSR was about as successful as Argentina.

      (3) I am frankly amazed that about your assertion that it is “doubtful” that universal literacy could have been achieved under the Tsar. There is not a single example to my knowledge where a country with Russia’s level of development in 1913 failed to have universal literacy by the late 20th century. The idea becomes incredible once one accesses AP’s link and learns that by 1914 primary enrollment was already at 80%, and that the literacy rate among recruits in 1914 was at least 65%-70% (i.e. who had attended school in 1904-1907. By 1917 primary enrollment was almost universal.

      (4) That the Soviet challenge helped spur the West into making some nice changes to capitalism I do not dispute, of course, however I would note that those changes didn’t benefit Russians themselves.

      • Dear Anatoly,

        My purpose obviously is not to “defend” the USSR, a pointless exercise in my opinion, but to try to explain it.

        To take your points in turn:

        1. Excellent. Do also read what Anatole Lieven has to say about Durnovo in his biography of Nicholas II. I do think he was a quite remarkable man in a government full of clever men (eg. Stolypin, Witte, Krivoshein, Kokovtsev etc).

        2. Even if the USSR did only achieve 40% of US GDP per capita by the mid 1970s could it have done better with a different economic system? Possibly. How can we know? How can we know if the US’s GDP would have been as high as it was in the mid 1970s if it had not been spurred on (and able to attract an enormous of financial and human capital) because of its competition with the USSR? I think it is also reasonable to point out (as I think Christopher Doss has done on your Facebook page) that given the extraordinarily high level of wealth the US achieved by the mid 1970s using a comparison of Soviet and US GDP per capita as the test of Soviet economic achievement is to set the bar exceptionally high.

        One thing we can say is that other countries of similar or greater continental dimensions to Russia and the US (eg. China, India, Brazil, Indonesia), some of which had had in comparatively recent historical time much bigger economies and higher standards of living than Russia (eg. China and India) did worse overall during the twentieth century than Russia. Does that prove that the USSR had an inherently good economic system? Of course not. What it does tend to show is that the quality of economic decision making and administration tended to be higher in Russia during the twentieth century than in those countries and that Russia as a society was better at achieving economic growth than those societies.

        As for the question of capital shortage, it is important to remember that other countries that have had the same problem have been able to draw in resources from outside. This was certainly true of Britain and the United States and it has also been true of China. Off the top of my head I cannot think of a single other important economy that industrialised on its own resources and whilst isolated from world trade as Russia did. Could things have been different? Possibly. Perhaps cleverer policies could have avoided the First World War or attracted foreign investment in the 1920s and the 1970s or avoided the Cold War of the 1940s (another disaster for Russia by the way). However Russia has never been the only party to make the decisions that concern itself. On this as on other questions that might have affected its overall economic performance it is always possible to imagine other happier realities than the ones Russia actually had to face.

        3. I am not definite about this issue. Actually I am open to persuasion. It is certainly possible that by 1914 the level of literacy had achieved the degree of critical mass that might have resulted in universal literacy being achieved whether the Revolution happened or not. The thing that makes me cautious is the nature of educational policy in the late tsarist period. Most schooling was provided by schools set up in the countryside by local zemtsva or in the cities by charitable bodies or individuals and by local councils. Such general schooling policy as there was was coordinated from the centre by various ministries of which the most important was arguably the ministry of agriculture. There seems to have been no overarching educational policy. Whilst the quality of schooling that was provided was often very high one does not get the sense of schooling being given by the tsar’s government the sort of overriding and urgent priority it was given by the Soviet regime in the 1920s. In the absence of such priority (which it should not be forgotten went hand in hand with quite a lot of coercion) one cannot be sure about whether or how quickly universal literacy would have been achieved given the residual resistance that inevitably exists to such a thing in a peasant society. Bear in mind that what I am talking about is universal 100% literacy. As comparisons with other peasant societies such as India (or the Greece of my childhood) show achieving 80% literacy is an impressive achievement but it is often the remaining 20% which proves the most resistant and the most intractable.

        Having said this and putting these points to one side, the most important point to understand is that universal literacy was achieved by the Soviets and not under the tsar because the tsarist system collapsed as it was overwhelmed by a crisis its own policies had in part created. Again it is possible to imagine other happier realities where such a crisis did not happen but those were not the realities that Russia actually faced.

        Before leaving this subject I do want again to emphasise one veryy point, which is always missed. This is that the reason the Soviet regime was able to achieve universal literacy was because it was able to draw on what had already been achieved under the tsar. Specifically the reason the Soviet regime had educated people it could send into the countryside and into the factories to teach literacy to peasants and workers was because of the abundance of such people that had become educated under the tsar. Similarly the Soviet regime was able to modernise the economy and administer the country because it was able to draw on the enormous pool of highly trained and educated scientists, engineers, statisticians and administrators who had been trained and educated under the tsar. It is important always to keep in mind continuity between periods, tsarist, Soviet and post Soviet, when discussing Russia. It is not a different country from one period to another whatever some people might say.

        4. This is absolutely true. I have no argument with it. It is why at the beginning of my comment I was careful to say that I wrote with the detachment of a non Russian.

    • Thanks, @alexander, that was an amazing comment. You help put everything in perspective.

    • I’m not goinmg to argue economics; it’s not something I am qualified to argue about. A couple of quibbles:

      “Soviet leaders killed hundreds of thousands of people”

      The artificial famines killed about 5-6 million throughout the USSR. Taking into account the children and grandchildren these millions did not have, the result is those lands probably have at least 30 million fewer people than they would have had otherwise.

      “despite occasional bans and persecutions maintained the country’s cultural level at the already impossibly high level it had achieved under the tsar”

      Not exacfly. The Revolution seems to have basically killed off the Silver Age of Russian culture. The best writers were either persecuted and censored (Bulgakov) or fled West (Nabakov). Culture did not collapse but it was signifcintly hampered.

      You made some excellent points. about the Soviet Union spurring the West to do better. Of course, Nazism probably wouldn’t have come to power without the threat of Bolshevism, so the influence on the West wasn’t entirely positive.

      • I would have thought Nazis were more spurred on by Western “democracies”, the way they treated Germany post WWI, the reparations, and so on. Hence, I personally believe Nazism can be blamed to actions of capitalist “democracies”, not so much Bolsheviks.
        In any case, these historical “what-ifs” are kind of pointless. Unless and until some scientist invents a machine to rewind history and try out alternative historical scenarios à la James Stewart “It’s a wonderful life” (“Okay, push that button over there, and let’s see what happens if there was no Bolshevik Revolution in 1917”), then this is all just pointless. Some say, “Things would have been just awful,” and others say, “No, things would have been just great,” but neither side could prove anything. Lke that old Russian proverb: “If my aunt had had a penis, then she’d be my uncle.”

        • From what I understand, the threat and fear of Bolshevism led much of the German elite to view Nazism as a necessary lesser evil or savior and to throw their support behind it, thinking (mistakenly) that they could control it. The threat of communism (particularly during the Great Depression) made Nazi rule palatable for many Germans, who feared Germany’s own large and well-organized Communist Party. We will never know, but itis quite possible that without a powerful Communist state nearby, the histroy of the Revolution, etc., the Nazis would have never come to power in Germany.

        • AP is historically correct.

          The Nazis only came to power via very small margins. It is in fact quite probable that without the Communist factor – one that at the time was undergoing collectivization, to boot – they would not have have cleared the hurdle. Even if they did, they might well have more closely resembled the largely non-genocidal fascists like those in Italy or Spain than the Nazis we know and hate.

          Of course, the Nazis coming to power isn’t Communism’s or the USSR’s “fault”, as some crazy people have tried to argue. That’s not the same however that arguing that it without it Nazism wouldn’t have come to power or at least have been as virulent.

          • Dear AP,

            I am afraid I missed the famine of 1933. A big omission I know but given the speed of my dash through modern Russian history I suppose it was inevitable that I would miss something.

            By the way though I know there are many in the Ukraine who passionately believe otherwise the weight of academic scholarship has been moving strongly against the famine having been artificial for some time. See for example the following article by Tauger from 1991.


            As to your comments about Russian culture, this is precisely the sort of area where there is going to be a difference in perception between a Russian and a non Russian. To a non Russian like me it appears that for all the difficulties the general level of culture was maintained at an extremely high level throughout the period.

            • Tauger’s view of the famine is a minority one, and later research seems to support that it was artifical (see Snyder’s work). The death toll, however, has been revised downward significantly from earlier claims of 7 or even 10 million and is now in the 2.5 -3 million range within Ukraine.

              The USSR did indeed maintain a very high level of culture – but not as high as it had been in the Tsarist period, during which Russia was a center of culture in Europe. Modern theater – the Stanislavsky method – was born in Tsarist Russia; Tsarist Russia produced more of the greatest novels than any other country during the 19th century; by the late 19th/.early 20th century it was equal to all countries in its production to classicial music, etc. In terms of art – Kandinsky and Malevich aren’t my thing (there was also Chagal) but post-Revolution nobody of that stature emerged from the USSR. Compare the masterpieces in the old Tretyakov gallery with Soviet-era works. The USSR had great theater and ballet companies but was never on the Tsarist level.

              • Dear AP,

                Just one brief, final comment. One area about which I do speak with some authority is ballet, which has been an obsession in my family ever since my grandfather saw the Ballet Russe in Paris just after the First World War. Here I have to take strong issue with your comment that ballet in the USSR was below the standard it achieved in the tsar’s time. On the contrary the Soviets took the tsarist ballet and pushed it far beyond anything that had been achieved or was even thought possibe under the tsar. They also of course popularised it in a way that the tsarist regime, for whom it was essentially a court entertainment, would never have done. In the process the Soviets transformed completely the whole conception of ballet as an art. By the way there are films of tsarist era dancers and of every succeeding generation of Russian and Soviet dancers thereafter so it is fully possible to make comparisons between what was achieved then and later. Even what we think of as tsarist ballet classics like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake were thoroughly reworked and rechoreographed by the Soviets and it is in that form that we know them today even in the west.

                The one point I would make is that after a frightful wobble during the 1990s Russian ballet has completely recovered and is today arguably better than it has ever been at least in the standard of performance though there are still fewer new ballets being made than was the case before. That shows that Russian ballet does not depend on the Soviet system. However that the Soviets in the field of ballet greatly improved on what the tsar did is not I think arguable.

            • Again, I have to say that I mostly agree with AP.

              (1) The death toll is indeed around 2.5mn because that is the excess mortality one can calculate just by looking at annual mortality statistics.

              (2) It was an artificial famine, though I do not buy nationalist arguments that it had genocidal intentions; after all, it was just as bad in the Volga regions.

              (3) Soviet culture remained in a kind of stasis, preserving Silver Age classics but doing little to extend them. There was still a flame of creativity in the 1920’s but then it petered out. Socialist realism just doesn’t compare.

              That said, there are valid questions as to what extent it was just a Russia / Communist as opposed to global thing. After all, the vague but commonplace feeling is that Great Art of all kinds has been on the decline in the past few generations, and a more formal investigation conducted by Murray seems to support this view:

              Q. You found that per capita levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Would you care to speculate on post-1950 trends?

              A. I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive — and then ask, “Seriously?” Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the “Seriously?” question.

              • Dear AP,

                I don’t think Tauger’s view is a minority one in academic scholarship but let’s agree to disagree on the subject. Just to clarify, when Tauger says that the famine was not “artificial” he does not mean that government policies were not responsible for it. What he and those who agree with him mean is that the famine was not planned or genocidal.

                I have to say I couldn’t help but chuckle at your comment that nineteenth century Russia “produced more of the greatest novels than any other European country”. There are English and French scholars by the myriad who would certainly take issue with that!

              • Dear AK and AP,

                Just thinking about it, viz the comment that Russian culture was preserved at its level of the Silver Age, is that really fair? Without getting bogged down into details, weren’t there great achievements in film and music etc? I understand there’s recently been a reassessment of Soviet architecture with the architecture of the Stalinist period rated today as a creative adaptation of art deco. Also no one can deny that the standard of the performing arts (including theatre) was maintained at a very high level, probably higher than elsewhere in Europe. As for socialist realism in painting and sculpture, at least it represented an alternative to modernism, whose grip in the west has become increasingly oppressive since it achieved its current dominance in the 1940s. That might explain by the way why I understand that genuine Soviet socialist realist paintings now fetch very high prices on the London art market.

              • Alex:

                A random assessent of great literature:


                Four out of ten of the greatest books in the 19th century were written by Russians. No other country had as many. In the 20th century only two of the best books were by a Russian author – and he was non-Soviet.

                That is just one list of course…

              • Dear AP,

                One list of many as you say. For example it omits Les Miserables, Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair, the Idiot, all of Balzac and Turgenev, the Mill on the Floss, Bleak House and the Picture of Dorian Gray amongst nineteenth century novels and puts Lolita first amongst twentieth century novels and Pale Fire tenth.

                I cannot possibly agree with the last two. I personally think Nabokov clever but overrated. I didn’t like Lolita at all. As for Pale Fire by a strange coincidence one of my best friends who is an English Literature lecturer was recently teaching it, which is how I came across it. I thought it very clever but ridiculously affected. No way amongst twentieth century literature would I ever put those two novels amongst the top ten. Why not amongst Russians St. Petersburg by Bely (I am currently reading it) and the works of Bulgakov, Sholokhov and Bunin? Then again there’s D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Wolf, Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, Celine and Sartre and Camus and heaps of others.

              • Alexander – The list I posted wasn’t a personal list but one compiled by 125 leading authors. Of course everyone has their own taste, but speaking generally during the latter time of the Tsars, Russian literature is generally regarded as second to none, after the Revolution it largely disappears (also Bulgakov counts as Tsarist-era literature; this is when he began writing and he was a censored dissidant under the Bolshevik regime). If Turgenmev was added, this would add to Russia’s 19th century total. Many of the writers you list are from the 20th century; if they were added to the list or Nabakov removed this would further show the disappearance of Russia from the literature scene in the 20th century, following the Revolution.

              • Dear AP,

                Of course I realise it was not a personal list. In fact I was being ever so slightly mischievous in my reply. Please forgive me.

                There actually is no very great difference between us. I would hesitate to call Bulgakov a “tsarist” writer but when you say that nineteenth Russian literature was second to none I of course agree. Let’s leave it at that.

          • True. And if that doddering old lady in Fort Lauderdale had managed to push the chad all the way thru the punched card when she voted, then maybe Al Gore would have been Prez of the USA, and maybe he would have done something to stop climate change. But she didn’t, and he didn’t, so I guess we’re screwed. I blame it all on Stalin.

            • P.S. Sorry for any confusion, @Alexander, the above was not a reply to you, but to these various alt-historical scenarios, like, would Hitler have come to power if German industrialists didn’t fear commies so much, that sort of thing.
              Remember that you and I have a pact, Once time machines are invented, we will go back in time to meet your lady actress friend, Orlova in Moscow in the 1930’s. While there, the 3 of us might as well swing over to Berlin to assassinate Hitler.

      • The number of people killed by the Soviet state (whether purposefully, through callousness, or through mismanagement) within its borders adds up to about 12.5 million for the Stalin years. The 6 million in the Requisition Famine of 1932/33 (of which 3 million in Ukraine), 1-1.5 million in the famine 1946-57, 2 million dead in the GULag, 0.5 million dead in the repression of the kulaks, 0.5 million dead in the nationality-based deportations, about 1 million executed in the Great Purge, to name the most deadly events.

        • leon lentz says

          This is a typical propaganda. I would estimate the number of killed as 700k and most of them were Russian Orthodox priests, White forces sympathizers, etc. One should not count the Civil War casualties, they were provoked by all sides, especially since Stalin wasn’t in power. I would agree that Stalin was an incredible scum, but so were Roosevelt and Churchill (and Obama&Bush)

        • The famines of the early 1930s were a combination of forced collectivization and the brutal resistance to it. For example, in Ukraine many kurkuls (not kulaks) would burn their fields and kill the livestock rather than giving it all up to the state. The story about all the grain being seized including the seed grain is a fairy tale. Obviously it would have been better if there was no forced collectivization, but that does not excuse the guerrilla tactics of the kurkuls. They contributed to the famine in a primary manner.

          • Your explanation is inadequate. The famine of 1932/33 occurred after the Collectivization had been completed. If slaughtering livestock instead of surrendering it to the Soviet state, etc were a primary cause of the famine it should have happened earlier, much closer to the time when the collectivization drive and the resistance to it were at their most intense and not a few years later.

            Inordinate quantities of grain were definitely sucked out from the collective farms. This was the whole purpose of collectivization in the first place. To enable the state to rob the peasants blind in order to finance its many megalomaniac plans with the so acquired ‘surpluses’.

            The explanation you give is close to the official Stalinist line of the time, that the crisis was the fault of idling peasants. Of either would-be slackers and parasites who aimed to live at the expense of others (rather ironic when you consider it was an accusation thrown by party bureaucrats at rural agriculturalists), or of politically motivated peasant saboteurs and wreckers. This shows the extrema paranoia and insecurity of the Soviet regime at the time, but has no connection to the real causes of the famine. The peasants were neither so lazy, nor so anti-Soviet that they would rather starve to death than to comply.

            In reality the famine was caused by the fact exorbitant quantities of grain were extracted from the farmers based on idiotic, overly-optimistic prognosis of the yield in a year when there was a real and inescapable drop in actual production. The drop in production itself was caused by a variety of factors including Communist mismanagement; their obsession with the area sown which ultimately led to exhaustion of the land; their inordinate demands on grain which left ever less fodder for the farm animals making cultivation ever more difficult as the number of horses and oxen steadily declined. It had further to do with the demoralization of the much-victimized farmers, and with poor weather. Other factors, like failing to apply for international aid or even acknowledging there was a famine contributed to the depth of the crisis. This is according to the excellent The Years of Hunger by historians RW Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft.

            Also I would note your use of language. You characterize resistance of the peasants as ‘brutal’ but have no adjective of your own for the forced collectivization. I would rather say it was collectivization drive that was brutal, and also criminal, colonialist, supremacist, filthy, bullheaded and nasty. Resistance to it was on the other hand was heroic, inspiring and tragic. And yes, the behaviour of the Party and the state definitely do ‘excuse’, or rather justify resistance to it. The state behaved as a mafia, or a foreign conqueror and the populace rightfully and legitimately resisted, the only thing we should be sorry for is that they were not able to prevail. One tidbit of information I will leave you with, the Communists were extremely weary of resorting to using the military against the peasants and preferred to not call it out from its barracks, until some time into the famine when they begun to transport units out of affected areas — for fear the soldiers would side with the peasants, against the authorities.

  16. leon lentz says

    The way US’ GDP is computed is a sham, so no serious comparison at the present state of computation is possible. Rosstat has declared that it will take a year to upward adjust Russian income per capita to use European standards for GDP calculations, and it is presently not clear whether it will happen at all, due to the fact that an increased figures for GDP on paper only will make Russian yearly GDP increase lower percentage-wise and, thus, make Russia less attractive to foreign investors. Russia is better off looking as an emerging market while it is actually an advanced and rich economy. In US, a housewife’s labor, cleaning her own house, is added to GDP and in Europe they would add to your GDP a mortgage one would pay if they were renting, not owning in case you actually are owning the real estate and not renting. If one would make these adjustments to Russian GDP, it will be pretty close to that of US per capita, however, the beautiful nature, culture, ability to walk, political freedom in Russia, vs. oppressive fascist regime in US, make the former a better place to live.

    I would like to make certain corrections to the analysis of the paper: the WWII was a burden borne primarily by Russia, US actually has become richer, selling and speculating on the needs of other countries, both during and after the war. They contributed almost nothing to the war effort, distinguishing themselves by raping all French women and children in Normandy and cowardly performance in the Ardennes. The British, continued German anti Jewish efforts sinking the ships sailing to Palestine, detaining Jewish prisoners in Nazi camps longer than necessary, and attacking Israel in 1948 as a part of Arab Armies staffed with British officers and armed with British weapons and tanks. This certainly skews the picture of comparative US/Russia economies. US simply has not been destroyed economically as the USSR but gained great benefits as a result of WWII.

    Analyzing Czarist economy is not very fruitul here, I will just mention that the February 1917 Revolution was a late coming prerequisite for a meaningful economic development, but the October Revolution and WWI has changed all possibilities fundamentally.

    The most glaring error in the early USSR development was the abolishment of Lenin’s NEP by Stalin and the organization of collective farms. Brezhnev should have gone the way of liberalization similar to 1980-today’s China, instead, stagnation and State sponsored anti Semitism drained the country of its science cadre and created instability and international tension. Reagan did not win the Cold War, it was lost by the foolishness and naivete of Gorbachev, treason of Yeltsin, but the foundation was laid by Brezhnev’s Politburo unthinking conservatism and irrational State anti Semitism.

    • I agree with many of the points you raise. Lend-lease accounted for 4% of the Soviet war materiel. From the way you have it described in the west you would think that the USSR could not have fought Hitler without lend-lease. The forced collectivization imposed by Stalin was an epically pointless exercise. The USSR was urbanizing so some sort of peasant hierarchy in the rural areas was irrelevant. They could have imposed labour relations standards instead of eradicating kulaks and kurkuls as if they were some sort of robber baron elite and not small time farmers that they actually were.

      Shenanigans with the GDP are a real issue when evaluating the economy of the USA. The inflation rate that goes into the GDP deflator has been distorted out of all reason. Even using the methodology from 1991 gives a CPI in the USA of about 6% and not the current 2% that is simply absurd if you look at food price increases (food is 1/3 of the CPI basket). The current measure of CPI has inane “hedonics” adjustments which reduce the price of consumer goods based on feature enhancement. This is a moving goal post problem since a TV is still a TV even if has game ports. So the USA has basically not had any GDP growth for over 15 years out of the past 20 or so and the $15 trillion value is quite easily an overestimation by $4 trillion. This is aside from the house wife example you gave and if you normalize for what is counted and what is not then the difference is even smaller.

    • …In US, a housewife’s labor, cleaning her own house

      This, is simply not true.

      in Europe they would add to your GDP a mortgage one would pay if they were renting, not owning in case you actually are owning the real estate and not renting

      This is correct and Rosstat has in fact recently made the same adjustment to Russia’s GDP. The increase was of the order of 5%. Appreciable, but not a radical change.

      • leon lentz says

        TO AK. The average person pays somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 50% of their salary when they rent. Just think how ridiculos 5% figure looks. Russia has one of the highest real estate prices in the world and is highly urbanized, i.e. a larger percentage of people live in a large to medium size cities with very high rent. More than 90% own their dwelling. To suggest that the renters pay 5% of their salary which is on average 700$ and less for renters, (less than 35$ rent a month) is ludicrous. Also, you are confused about what Rosstat has added. Rosstat has not added these rental expenses to their calculations, they added the payment for resident services for everybody. Most people in big cities in Russia get much greater income from renting their dachas and apartments than their salaries.
        If you can back up your statement about Rosstat with links, it would be more credible.

        Concerning US: a large number of Americans claim their home as a place for business, they count expenses for cleaning, car mileage, telephone, etc. as a part of business expense which they take off their taxes. This bogus is counted in GDP.

      • leon lentz says

        to AK. I believe you are not correct. There is no indication that Rosstat made the adjustment to Russia’s GDP to align it with the EU hypothetical rent calculation practice. GDP is calculated quarterly and I see no indication that it has been adjusted, moreover, Rosstat has stated explicitly that the adjustment will take at least until 2013 to be introduced. Your statement contradicts to Rosstat itself and some sort of a link is necessary to support the claim that Rosstat somehow did something in a glaring contradiction to its own recent statements. It sounds completely incredible, it is not true, it is not on Rosstat website and to say there has been an adjustment, it has to be on that site.

        • Okay, you’re right on 2013; I didn’t correctly remember another article I read.

          Still, I’d note that even at best, the adjustment wouldn’t take Russia past the EU or the US; it will only converge with Greece and Portugal.

          That is also assuming that the big upwards OECD adjustment to GDP (PPP) of 2008 didn’t take Russia’s low housing costs into account, which I think is quite unlikely.

          • leon lentz says

            To AK:
            I have read the article to which you provided the link. The author made statements like:
            “прикинуть стоимость жилого фонда находящегося в собственности населения – 2.65 млрд. м2 по среднероссийской цене вторичного рынка 60 т.р. за м2). “. What does it mean? How can 1 square meter cost 60 trillion rubles? If this is the figure counting cost of 1 sq. m. increase for the total population, it will come to the number of 14 dollars a sq. m. which is also ludicrous. The author, whose name isn’t immediately clear from the article, is confused about math in general and logic in particular, very typical of journalists.

            Most of his statements which are statistical in nature make no sense at all. Also, if GDP increases on paper, then the same yearly increase in absolute terms will be a smaller percentage of the total, and the author says it won’t change the growth rates, which is a total nonsense.

            The author states that this adjustment in US resulted in 9% GDP increase, but in US most people either pay rent or mortgage, so hypothetical cost of rent adjustments affect a very small part of the population which has paid their mortgage off. In Russia, the owners who do not pay mortgage or rent constitute well over 90%. This means this adjustment will result in much higher than in US percentage change and significant slowing down of growth percentage-wise.

            Also, the Russian shadow economy is estimated 30% of the total, so, it will be 43% increase when taking this into account. I believe that counting this and the hypothetical rent will double the Russian GDP per capita.

            A conservative estimate, including the renting cost of dachas, will be on the order of 330$ a month per person, a less conservative estimate, will be about 400$ a month, which will translate in a yearly $4-5k increase in the nominal GDP per capita. This is roughly 560-700 billion dollars a year, which is 30%-39% increase in total nominal Russian GDP (of about 1.82 trillion dollars for 2011). If we consider 1.39*1.43 we get roughly 1.99, i.e. almost double increase in nominal GDP and a similar increase in PPP GDP. Considering a more conservative figure, 1.3*1.43 will give about 1.86 GDP increase, which is still almost double. I am not at all sure Rosstat will make these adjustments, certainly not the one with the shadow economy part.

            The point being it will make Russia less attractive to foreign investors, at least on paper. With the crisis which is taking place in Greece and Portugal, the GDP per capita without these adjustments is already higher in Russia, no need to catch up. The 2011 figures did not take this crisis into the account, but the next year ones will.

            • leon lentz says

              One more remark: the typical cost of 1 square meter of apartment in Moscow ranges 5000-1000$, and it is similar in St.Petersburg. The rent varies and is typically 1000-3000$ per month for 1-2 bedroom very modest apartment, and it can be ten times that for a 2-3 bedroom apartment in a good location.. It is cheaper in many other cities but is quite high relative to the income. I would estimate the average being as the one in the post above.

              • leon lentz says

                correction: One more remark: the typical cost of 1 square meter of apartment in Moscow ranges 5000-10000$, and it is similar in St.Petersburg. The rent varies and is typically 1000-3000$ per month for 1-2 bedroom very modest apartment, and it can be ten times that for a 2-3 bedroom apartment in a good location.. It is cheaper in many other cities but is quite high relative to the income. I would estimate the average being as the one in the post above.

              • leon lentz says

                An alternative calculation: the cost of real estate in Russia is about 2.5 $ trillion, the mortgage rate varies between the nominal of 12.5% and the actual of 20% and above. Lets take a low estimate of 12.5% and obtain a yearly figure of 312$ bln. The high figure is then 500$ bln. Assuming that rents are 50% higher than mortgages, we come to 465$ bln-750$ bln range which is not that different from calculations we presented above. This gives us 26%-43% range. Multiplying this by the shadow economy estimate coefficient of 1.43, we will get 1.8-2.04 range. This means that the PPP GDP per capita in Russia, assuming the base figure of 21.4$k in the article linked to by AK above, is 38.52$k-43.656$k. The US PPP GDP per capita is listed as 48$k, but I doubt the actual figure is even 80% as high. Also, the Ginnie index in US, at 50, being barbarically close to that of African jungle countries, means that most people in US are poor and a few are rich, providing an abysmal picture for this totalitarian fascist decaying entity.

            • (1) “60 т.р. за м2” obviously means 60,000 rubles. Not trillion LOL.

              (2) If GDP increases by, say, 10% due to this adjustment; then the same year’s growth relative to the whole will increase by only 10% less. So the argument is not illogical.

              (3) At this point, I would also like to mention that 67% of Americans own their own house.

              (4) As I may have pointed out previously, doubling the Russian GDP will practically bring it level with America’s. I can’t believe that one could plausibly argue that the average Russian is as well-off as the average American. For a start just look at the consumption basket. How frequently do Russians visit restaurants? How frequently do they travel abroad?

              (5) While this adjustment will of course increase nominal GDP, I do not know why it would necessarily increase PPP GDP. I think it quite likely that this would have already been taken into account in the 2008 OECD/WB revision that raised Russia’s PPP GDP per capita to about $20,000.

              • Leon Lentz says

                1. I thought he was counting total market.
                2. GDP, as I have shown will almost double, so the rates will halve and this is significant. If the GDP goes up by 50%, the rate will go down by 2/3, signiicant change.
                3.67% Americans owning their house doesn’t mean they paid off their mortgage. The bank still holds the title. 67% is the figure which includes the ones paying the mortgage, so the adjustment will not touch them.
                4. Russians go abroad more frequently, only wealthy Americans can afford it.
                Concerning restaurants: in US, they call everything restaurant, in Russia it will be called “столовая”. Russians have dachas, no Americans, except 1-2% rich ones have a separate summer residence.
                5. In has not been adjusted in PPP calculations. Rosstat has stated so. This will be included in the basket and adjusted in the same percentile increase as nominal GDP.
                Now that I understand what he meant by his figures, the total cost can be calculated as 5.3 trillion US dollars for the Russian real estate. This will double all adjustments and Russian economy without even considering shadow economy, will double its GDP, both nominal and PPP. I think American GDP is inflated and they live a lot worse than the Russians.

            • The author, whose name isn’t immediately clear from the article…

              Hint: click the word “Эксперт” on the right edge of the page under the author’s photo.

              … the same yearly increase in absolute terms will be a smaller percentage of the total…

              Yes, but why would the “yearly increase in absolute terms” stay the same? Try again.

              • Leon Lentz says

                Yearly increase in absolute terms will stay the same, because the yearly increase in production doesn’t depend on whatever paper shenanigans you do. The number of cars produced doesn’t depend on whether you add hypothetical rent to GDP or not. It is obvious, I wonder why would you question this and what in the world goes through yuor head. Explain why isn’t it obvious to anybody?

              • I hate to support the Peter troll, but the argument is logical. Rent prices vary year to year, and generally in line with the overall economy; hence, so will the imputed value of owning one’s own home.

                And as mentioned, carrying over these adjustments from nominal to PPP so cavalierly is dangerous: “Тут конечно возникает вопрос, можно ли распространять этот высокий ППС рубля для жилищной сферы на нее после дооценки. Ведь возможно, ОЭСР как раз и делал поправку здесь на недооцененность российского хаузинга.”

              • … the yearly increase in production doesn’t depend on whatever paper shenanigans you do.

                Yes, but we’re not talking about the increase in production, we’re talking about the increase in the entire GDP. Please concentrate and try again.

  17. leon lentz says

    One of my cousins was a Professor specializing in Nabokov. Nabokov is very intelligent, definitely Russian, but he and Bunin are on the side diametrically opposite to the 19th century Russian authors, as well as to Bulgakov and Dovlatov. They are stylistically and intellectually perfect, but you are left with a feeling that you went through a hard work when you are done. Dostoyevsky is a bit this way, but he is definitely worth it. I guess, it is a matter of Sofocles-like existentialism of the latter, vs intellectual mosaic of the former two, they can be compared to a rather inferior example of Hermann Hesse.

  18. Leon Lentz says
  19. Leon Lentz says

    MY prediction: Rosstat will be reluctant to make any adjustments at all, and if it does, the adjustment for the hypothetical rent will be a lot lower than it should be and it will be just 33% for both PPP and nominal GDP. This will significantly reduce the growth rate, it will decreased by 25%. An adjustment by 25% will reduce the growth rate by 20%.

  20. Leon Lentz says
    This shows that the number of Russians travelling abroad is more than 5mln in half a year, i.e. more than 10 million. In US, less than 13 mln a year travel,, so the percentage of Russian vs percentage of Americans travelling to Europe is 7.3% in Russia, vs.4.3% in US. This the result of lower standards of living in US. Reminding that US population is 310 mln and Russian population is 143 mln.

    • Dude, you’re just being dishonest now. Why are you citing a source which only counts American travels to Europe? I am certain that at least as many Americans as travel to Europe, travel to Mexico (over the border, or the beaches of Cancun); and plus neighboring Canada, as well as other popular destination spots like Thailand and the Caribbean.

      • Leon Lentz says

        I cite European travel, because millions of Russians cross over to Kazakhstan and Ukraine and millions of Americans cross over to Mexico and it doesn’t cost a penny. We are discussing what could be a measure of one’s wealth, a travel which requires money, to expensive faraway countries. A vacation in Mexico costs a lot less and can be compared to a vacation in one’s dacha. Canada is the same way, a lot of border state residents go there on weekends and it’s not a proof of wealth.
        What you call dishonest is just simply a bit of intelligent thinking. Try it sometime.

        • Are you pretending not to notice this on purpose?

          Your link about Russian vacations is NOT to Europe specifically. The two most popular destinations are Egypt and Turkey (equivalent to Cancun for the US), the third and fourth is China and Finland (equivalent to Canada for the US), and fifth is Thailand.

          In total, those five countries account for 3.163 million Russian tourists. Even if we (unrealistically, of course) assume that ALL the remaining 2 million went to Europe – or 4 million annually – that’s still considerably less than the 13 million American visits back in 2006 even after accounting for population differences.

          • Leon Lentz says

            There is a different dynamics in traveling to Canada than to Finland. Russians do not just cross over. Turkey is partly in Europe and should be considered as such, at least European organizations count it in every instance part of Europe. However, I have to say that Egypt, since 2011, has fallen out of favor now due to a political situation there and Israel is in. I agree that my stats need to be refined more, for example, some countries like Japan and Israel are first world and should be considered as prestigious places to visit. It is a hot summer day in Moscow and my brains are not willing to search the Internet for more points to make. One should exclude border states from FSU and include Finland and Turkey on the Russian side and exclude all countries bordering US or in the near Caribbean and include Asia and Europe. I don’t have the stats now, but I agree to make a point, one has to do more research.

        • Leon Lentz says

          I realize that to state that Russians live better than Americans in every way and have wealthier country is a bit of a stretch. Americans used to a certain lifestyle and they don’t know what they are missing. Russians who come to US, see no available next door nature, oppressive heat, police state, low culture and low intelligence, inferior educational level, propaganda lies, lies, lies. Americans when they come to Russia, see fewer affordable grease joints, corruption, absence of American style elections, gloomy Russians, prettier women. Russia is bureaucratic and harder to deal with on that level many times over. Additionally, the University professors and medical doctors are the most underpaid professions. It is a mistake to think Russian professors live poorly now. Putin is going to double their salaries next year, but they get enough perks to give them a decent lifestyle, but nothing like the US faculty. On the other hand, many professions, like sales people, do better in Russia. To summarize, what is important for Russians is really bad in US and in whatever ways Russia is better, is almost irrelevant to Americans.

  21. Leon Lentz says

    To Peter and AK:
    What I meant to say is if GDP is X without the hypothetical rent and R is that rent and the yearly increase is Y, then Y/(X+R) is less than Y/X. The rest of the discussion is irrelevant to what I said and you (Peter) may as well talk to yourself about it. Peter must buy a frozen orange juice if he wants concentrate, after staring at it for a while he will get my point. Although, I don’t know if it is even possible if one is Anglo Saxon. The PPP is designed to be proportional to the nominal (N) and reflect the real living quality. The coefficient adjusting the parity between the two, i.e. N/PPP may vary from year to year. So if the nominal has increased, we might expect an increase in PPP. And no, hypothetical rent was not taken into the account in earlier PPP calculations.

    • … GDP is X without the hypothetical rent and R is that rent and the yearly increase is Y…

      The increase of what exactly? Of X? Or of X+R? Please try to be less sloppy.

      • Leon Lentz says

        Peter, I would say you are not capable of understanding anything. Go salute your flag, that’s all you guys are good for. BTW, screw the Queen, in case you are British.

        • Слив защитан.

          • Leon Lentz says

            I like your spelling. You must be a self proclaimed spelling bee champion. Good schooling! Apparently they use good Pavlovian reflex training at the Zoos nowadays.

            • Your retarded.

              • Leon Lentz says

                Is it your signature? Like yours truly? You are actually very advanced, I admire that. You are the only person who can function exclusively with butt thinking.

              • Leon Lentz says

                “Your retarded”? You mean “my retarded opponent on this blog”? Peter, don’t feel bad, you are not really seriously retarded, you are just “special”.

              • Is it your signature? Like yours truly?


                You mean “my retarded opponent on this blog”?

                Wrong again. Okay, I’ll help you out.

              • Here is the direct link… and here is what it says…

                Что ни делает дурак, всё он делает не так. You picked the wrong definition, try the second one.

              • You mean that the the comment “your retarded” coming from you does not mean the commenter himself is retarded after all?

                Good, you’re finally starting to get it. The comment “your retarded” was indeed a joke of sorts meant to point out that crying misspell in “слив защитан” was a bit, well, retarded on your part.

                See MODERATION NOTE.

      • Leon Lentz says

        To Peter,
        Why should you read my comments? Just relax and do something you are good at. Eat some fish.

        • Just for laughs, of course. Self-proclaimed math geniuses are a dime a dozen on the interwebs, but you must be the phoniest of them all.

          • yalensis says

            Has broken out a tragic epidemic of troll-on-troll verbal violence….


          • Leon Lentz says

            I am not a math genius. However, you need a teacher who is retarded to deal with your mental disability on your level.

            • Leon Lentz says

              The comment above is meant for Peter, not Yalensis. Peter is not a troll. He is a patriotic, hard working, flag saluting American, I respect that. My advice to him: Just avoid stressful mental exercises like posting on websites, seeing formulas, using sentences longer than 4-6 words, and you will live to be at least 94, Ronald Reagan followed this advice and did OK, so did Prince Charles, the Queen, the Queen’ mother and a host of other challenged, but beautiful people.

        • Leon Lentz says

          Reply to Peter’s post made by him on July 10 at 5:41p.m.(above this one) When you use the link provided by Peter himself you get to the Google search on words “your retarded”, which is what Peter has posted on July 10 at 7:55 a.m. above,.and the first item of this search says:

          “Oh, the irony. “Your retarded” is incorrect. It should be “You’re retarded”. Saying ” your retarded” is just making yourself retarded by not knowing…””

          So to make it perectly clear (see posts above):
          1.Peter posts on July 10 at 7:55 a.m. words “your retarded”.
          2. To that post I answer at 9:45 and 10 a.m. saying it sounds like a signature or “your retarded opponent”.
          3. Then Peter at 5:41p.m. on July 10 (post above) posts a reply denying my proposed guesses on what his illiterate post means providing a link to the Google search, the first item of which says that whoever writes “your retarded” is actually retarded himself by not knowing [the grammar].

          Here is the direct link:

          and here is what it says:

          “your retarded 107 up, 31 down
          Oh, the irony. “Your retarded” is incorrect. It should be “You’re retarded”. Saying “your retarded” is just making yourself retarded by not knowing the correct grammar.
          Billy Bob: your retarded
          Sally: Look who’s talking. Get some grammar lessons, retard.”

          So Peter (above post) provides a link to the site which calls himself “retarded”. What an incredible self flagellation! I think that it has not dawned on him yet the meaning of all this. Poor Peter, poor British/ American people. Poor Barak Obama, poor American/British imperialism, the Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, the Big Mac!.

          • Reply to Peter’s post made by him on July 10 at 5:41p.m.

            I appreciate you’re not a math genius, but you could at least try to learn how to put comments in the right thread. Continued here

            See MODERATION NOTE.

            • Leon Lentz says

              To Peter: Ты голова! Если бы в ней были мозги, тебе бы цены не было!
              Среди всех голубых дебилов, которых я встречал, ты, Петя самый лучший
              знаток грамматики, только одна ошибка на каждое слово.

            • Leon Lentz says

              Was your mother a bad speller too when she named you Peter instead of Pidor?

            • Leon Lentz says

              Поменяй ник Петр на Пидор. Тебе это больше подходит.

              See MODERATION NOTE.

          • Wrong again, Einstein! peter was linking your comment on a previous blog where you claimed to have solved a genius-level math problem by the age of 19. (I can’t believe I am taking peter’s side in this Troll-war, but there you have it.) Anyhow, Leon, why don’t you educate all of us by explaining:
            (1) what was that genius math problem you solved at the age of 19,
            (2) what was the title of your dissertation, and
            (3) at which American institution did you become a tenured professor? (another claim you made).

            I am just curious to google the above to verify your claims, because I cannot find any mention of your name in the lists of tenuerd American math professors.

            • Leon Lentz says

              To Yalensis:
              1. The reference Peter provided in his other post to google “your retarded” is the reference that says the person who writes that, is himself retarded. This is as stupid a self abasement as I have seen.
              2. “Leon Lentz” is not at all close to my real name.
              3. By identiying the problems I solved, I would give out a clue. I prefer to remain anonymous. I have nothing to gain in proving to you or anybody else that I am a Professor or a good mathematician. My points were that there was an anti- Semitism as an institution in the USSR.
              4. I never referred to myself or the problems I solved by the word “genius”. It applies to people like Grigoriy Perelman, not me. However, I am referred to as a good mathematician by external reviewers, whatever that means (probably not much).

            • I realize that I shouldn’t wade into this troll battle, but from what I’ve seen Peter was obviously being ironic, and this irony went totally over Leon’s head, even after it was explained to him by Peter (the link to how to google was quite funny, actually). Leon then essentially responded – unironically, it seems – by calling Peter a faggot.

              Peter wins this exchange vs. Leon.

        • Leon Lentz says

          To Peter: You mean that the the comment “your retarded” coming from you does not mean the commenter himself is retarded after all? No, no. What the problem is, is that you provided the Google link to labeling you retarded yourself. I am just here to console you. You are not retarded. Just slow. Very slow. Try more Pavlovian training at the Zoo.

          See MODERATION NOTE.

  22. Leon Lentz says

    To AK: I don’t think I disagree with your statement, although I should say that actual renters in Russia spend higher percentage of their income on rent, so the increase in PPP percentage wise will be greater than that in nominal. This means that Russian PPP will increase even greater than nominal percentage-wise. In fact, very few people in US can rent out their apartment and live on it, while practically everybody in big cities in Russia can do that.

  23. Leon Lentz says

    To AK: assume that K=PPP/N, then if one owns a house and it can bring him an additional income R, that hypothetical income is added to N, one can get real value for that money which is KR. So within the same year, an increase in N will result in proportional increase in PPP with coefficient K. I agree that the coefficient K and R will vary from year to year, but it is normally a system with much greater hystheresis, so the change is very slow. The hypothetical rent value would not only be greater because it is relatively more expensive in Russia but also because much greater number of Russians actually own the real estate, without paying mortgage.

  24. MODERATION NOTE: The troll fight was fun while it lasted, but it’s now getting out of hand. Cease and desist on both sides. Any further flame-like responses will be deleted.

  25. Leon Lentz says


    • Leon Lentz says

      My last 3 posts were complimentary of Peter and refuted the accusations by AP that I used an “F” word. Therefore, they should not be deleted as inflamatory. They were conciliatory and laudatory..

      AK: No, they were not. And don’t bother arguing, as this is not up for debate. To repeat the moderation note: Cease and desist. I do not wish to resort to firmer measures.

  26. Good, now we can return to the discussion at hand.

    What I meant to say is if GDP is X without the hypothetical rent and R is that rent and the yearly increase is Y, then Y/(X+R) is less than Y/X.

    That’s nonsense however you slice it, the correct argument goes as follows: if X is GDP without imputed rent, R is that rent, and ∆X and ∆R are their respective increases, then the unadjusted and adjusted growth rates are ∆X/X and (∆X+∆R)/(X+R)… Are you still with me?

    • I think even I kind of get this now, and I never studied math. Delta X would be the change in X (=GDP) over the past year. So the rate of change would be Delta-X divided by X. If the result is a positive number, that would be growth in GDP, otherwise decline. Similar Delta-R divided by R would be the growth (or decline) rate of rent. I still don’t understand what “rent” means, though, and why it relates to GDP. Are you talking about, like, when I pay rent on my flat to my landlord?

      • It’s complicated. The rent you pay to your landlord is always included in GDP, but it becomes tricky when you and landlord are the same dude. You don’t pay rent to yourself… or do you? Economists say some virtual money does still kinda move from one of your pockets to another, so they call it “imputed rent” and insist it should too be included in GDP.

  27. I think we will never get accurate data about Soviet GDP.
    Data was falsified both during collection – by local authorities who would be judged by the central authorities based on whether their figures reflected the central economy prescriptions – and by internal propaganda, with its goal to portray the Soviet state in most positive light to its very citizens.
    Anyway, your graphic seems to show numbers higher than Maddison estimates. I checked his data and the values were by at least 5 percentage points lower on average. It never reached 40% of US GDP per capita. It was 32% in 1985 and 27% in 1991. I think this chart is based on Maddison’s work:

    Finally, the production of consumer goods was much lower than the GDP.