WHY in the 1980s did environmental problems get so out of hand in
the USSR, Eastern Europe, and other countries where
centrally-controlled economic systems prevailed? At first glance,
this failure seems strange. Social and economic systems based on
centralized planning and management possess in principle a number of
tools to achieve environmental protection goals efficiently, to
identify priorities, and to manage the quality of the environment.
Eastern-bloc political leaders and scholars long persuaded
themselves that their environment was no worse than that in
market-economy countries. It could not be worse, they reckoned,
since the main purpose of the market economy is to maximize private
profit, even if that means overexploitation of natural resources.
However, the actual state of environmental affairs in the Soviet
Union raised doubts about the Soviet economic model.
For decades, Soviet policy on use of natural resources was
dominated by the simple approach: "The more we take from nature, the
better." During various periods in their history, other
industrialized countries were typified by this postulate as well. It
was an inherent feature of economic development. However, starting
from the 1960s, an important shifting of accents in the treatment of
the environment became apparent in some industrialized countries,
*-Introduction of innovative and more socially efficient methods
of economic management;
*-Substantial heightening of environmental quality in the range
of popular values.
In the Soviet Union, however, despite worthy declarations and
even several practical steps, neither of these changes occurred.
The solution to environmental problems requires institutional
mechanisms for control and pressure, encouraging environmental
protection or rewarding reductions in eventual damage. It also
depends on a legally-enforced determination of responsibility or
liability for environmental harm.
When political power and authority are tightly controlled,
however, there is little basis for checks and balances among
different interests in the decisionmaking process. The situation in
the Eastern bloc was even more severe because of state ownership of
the means of production, land, and resources. Under such conditions,
the state becomes responsible both for the promotion and expansion
of the country's economic activity and for the control of spillover
BUT it was absurd to expect the state to control itself. That is
why the 1988 decree establishing a State Committee for Environmental
Protection of the USSR, which raised high hopes for radical reforms
in ecological policies and practices, in fact led to practically no
positive change. The newly created committee depended in its
operation on the existing system of governmental agencies. These
agencies inflict considerable harm to the environment in seeking to
achieve maximum production regardless of this harm. …