Government and Economies in the Postwar World: Economic Policies and Comparative Performance, 1945-85

By Andrew Graham; Anthony Seldon | Go to book overview

Chapter ten

The Soviet Union

Philip Hanson

Introduction

In a book on economic performance and policy in the developed world, chapters on the Soviet Union and eastern Europe might be said to deal with a world apart. This is most strikingly the case for the Soviet Union. Politically the USSR is a one-party state with (even now) an official doctrine, censorship, and a large internal security force. The economy is centrally administered, so that direct central control takes the place of market-forces-plus-central-intervention. (To call the Soviet economy centrally planned begs too many questions about the meaning of planning. To call it a command economy 'implies a more top-down, military style and more obedience than there has in fact been, at any rate since Stalin.)

If the record of Soviet economic performance and policy carries any lessons at all for western policy-makers, they can only be of a very general kind. The lesson that seems to emerge is this: for all their formal powers, Soviet policy-makers have often been unable to steer their country's economy in the direction they wanted. In arriving at that conclusion, this chapter pursues a course that is slightly different from that of most of the other chapters. This Introduction therefore covers three topics: the special political overtones of Soviet economic performance, the problem of Soviet statistics, and the traditional Soviet growth model and its recent decline.

The remainder of the chapter describes the objectives and instruments of Soviet policy (both are quite different from those of the west) and then reviews alternative analyses of the central policy problem now faced in the USSR: the long-term slowdown in growth. Finally there is a consideration of the major policy shifts since Stalin and of the connection of these with the economy's performance.


The politics of Soviet economic performance

The Soviet Communist Party long ago set the Soviet nation the task of 'catching up and overtaking' the economies of the west. This historic

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