- The Economic History of the Soviet Union Reconsidered
The monument to Soviet central planning was supposed to have been a heap of surplus left boots without any right ones to match them. The great bull market of the past quarter century is commemorated by millions of empty houses without anyone to buy them. Gosplan drafted workers into grim factories even if their talents would have been better suited elsewhere. Finance beguiled the bright and ambitious and put them to work in the trading rooms of Wall Street and the City of London. Much of their effort was wasted. You can only guess what else they might have achieved.—The Economist, 24 January 2009
Research into the economy and economic history of the Soviet Union has a distinguished pedigree. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the émigré research group Kabinet prof. Prokopovicha, located first in Berlin and then in Prague, produced a regular Biulleten′ until it dispersed in the spring of 1939 at the time of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. The tradition was continued after the war by one of its research workers, Alexander Baykov, who published a Bulletin on Soviet Economic Development at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. These publications, then surveys of contemporary events, have now become contributions to economic history. They retain their freshness and importance as an indispensable source.
During and after the second world war, the U.S. government was anxious to find out as much as possible about the economy of the USSR—at first its ally and then its antagonist. It therefore financed an elaborate series of studies of the Soviet economy. Partly through this program, and partly independently, a number of young scholars in the United States and Europe embarked on dissertations on special aspects of the economy which were later published as monographs. The work of Abram Bergson and his team on the Soviet national income, completed in the early 1960s, Warren Nutter's study of industrial production, and Eugène Zaleski's two volumes on Soviet economic growth together provide a firm statistical foundation for our current research.1 Monographs on particular sectors of the economy which are foundation stones of our knowledge include Gardner Clark on steel, Holland Hunter on railways, the veteran émigré Naum Jasny on agriculture, Norton [End Page 146] Dodge on tractors, and J. M. Cooper on machine tools (Dodge and Cooper, alas, not published—someone should put them online).2 These are all primarily studies of economic development, though they also shed light on how the economy worked. Other economists sought to understand the economic system as such, including Joseph Berliner and David Granick, who from somewhat different angles examined the modus operandi of the Soviet industrial firm.3 Granick followed this by a controversial case study of Soviet metalworking, which embodies what is in my opinion still the...