The posts I've written about Soviet economic history, collected in one place. Best enjoyed if you listen to the Soviet anthem -best anthem ever- at the same time.

I haven't written a proper introduction, but Spufford's Red Plenty could serve as an accessible one. If you want a more advanced book, read Kornai's The Socialist System.

  1. The Soviet Union: GDP growth
  2. The Soviet Union: Healthcare
  3. The Soviet Union: Brief remarks on the transition
  4. The Soviet Union: Work and retirement
  5. The Soviet Union: The food consumption puzzle
  6. The Soviet Union: Military Spending
  7. The Soviet Union: Durable Goods
  8. The Soviet Union: Achieving full employment
  9. The Soviet Union: Productive efficiency
  10. The Soviet Union: From farm to factory. Stalin's industrial revolution.
  11. The Soviet Union: Poverty and inequality


I reply to a commenter here - who gathered some comments made previously in Reddit - regarding the validity of the time series used here.

Comments from WordPress

  • The Soviet Union: GDP growth | Nintil 2016-05-26T15:11:19Z

    […] to grow an economy oriented to produce T-72s and MiG-29s than consumer goods. As you can see in my other posts, healthcare, food consumption, and working conditions were not as good as this GDP comparison might […]

  • OtherAnon OtherAnon 2016-05-15T16:49:12Z

    Lately I've been arguing with a USSR apologist who, using the Maddison data, compares USSR gdp/c growth 1913-1990 against global and regional averages of the same metric. When I try to explain that you have to compare against those in similar starting positions, that most of the world didn't begin industrializing until 1940s-1960s, that nations at post-industrial frontier tend to have slower growth, etc etc... he just doubles-down on his broad GDP/c growth comparisons. Frustrating.

  • Artir Artir 2016-05-15T17:18:08Z

    I've also heard that. I remembered while I was making the charts for USSR growth, and I made that particular point explicit. Perhaps, a rebuttal could be this Fast growing economies there are either small or poor. On his logic, we would have to infer that Myanmar or Nauru have really strong economic models, and let's see if they want to defend that claim.

  • OtherAnon OtherAnon 2016-05-16T01:29:15Z

    You should check this out too: Basically, once you factor in the massive investment in military spending by the Soviets (another metric they led the world in...), the "growth" doesn't look so impressive. Also, the income growth in the USSR had basically the same slope as the late Russian Empire:

  • OtherAnon OtherAnon 2016-05-16T02:45:49Z

    Have you seen this? Basically, once you factor in the massive investment in military and defense (another metric the USSR led the world in...), the growth is even less impressive. Also, his point about the composition of capital stock is particularly devastating.

  • The Soviet Union: poverty and inequality | Nintil 2017-03-14T22:26:45Z

    […][this is part of the soviet series] […]

  • akarlin akarlin 2016-06-03T01:22:43Z

    I had a similar post (with similar conclusions) here.

    The early USSR grew quickly as a natural consequence of exiting the Malthusian trap (almost accomplished by the end of the Russian Empire), moving lots of people from the countryside into the cities, and partaking of the global trend of very high growth during 1950-1973 enabled in large part by general technological developments i.e. the electro-mechanical revolution. However, it never exceeded about 40% of US GDP per capita, and by the 1970s started slowly slipping, and when it also began to diverge cardinally even from the Mediterranean countries that had had a comparable level of socio-economic development to the Russian Empire c.1913 and with whom it had kept pace until then.

    Finland, the one major part of the Russian Empire that escaped Communism (despite ironically having been one of the major centers of Red agitation) leapt well ahead well before then (though in fairness the Finnish literacy rate had long been way above the Russian average).

  • The Soviet Union: Durable Goods | Nintil 2016-06-06T21:52:04Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • The Soviet Union: Military Spending | Nintil 2016-06-06T21:52:25Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • The Soviet Union: The Food consumption puzzle | Nintil 2016-06-06T21:53:32Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • The Soviet Union: Work and retirement | Nintil 2016-06-06T21:54:14Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • The Soviet Union: Healthcare | Nintil 2016-06-06T21:54:32Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • The Soviet Union: Brief remarks on the transition | Nintil 2016-06-06T21:54:34Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • Mikk Salu Mikk Salu 2016-06-09T10:18:55Z

    I grew up in Soviet Union, specifically in Estonia ( it is important to note, because different parts of SU, were very different). I´d like to add few notes to food consumption puzzle. My memories are from 80-s + what I heard from my parents.

    • Queuing started in 1970-s. Though, my impression is that queuing was not so much for food, but other stuff. For instance there was queuing for new books. Queuing was not everywhere and not all the time, queuing happened when smth new or rarity came to sale. For instance when oranges arrived (usually in December), then there was queuing. Some meat products, ham or smoked meat, what were considered better quality, caused sometimes queuing.
    • Overall, shops had food, but there was very little variety. I am not talking about the lack of brands, but the lack of variety in general. Fruits were rarity, especially exotic fruits. Like I said, oranges were sold rarely, bananas you were able to see once in five years. Mangos, avocados - never. Apples and pears were common. Only 2-3 types of bread were sold. Two types of sausages. There was a lack of different meat products. people spent a lot of time to make different meat products, they made minced /ground meat in their homes, made different sausages themselves etc.
    • I am not sure how well statistics captures one important part of food consumption. As you know there was not much to do during leisure time in SU, so people had a lot of free time and this free time was spent for food preparation. There was a legal private market. There was less urbanization, most townspeople had relatives who lived in the countryside. And they had right to grow their own food and animals (there were legal limits, like two cows and 2 pigs for household or smth like that). So, people who lived in the countryside had their day jobs, but also had little households where they grew everything from pigs to chicken, from potatoes to cabbages. And spent lot of time to prepare different food products: marinated pickles, pressed their own fruit, made sausages, smoked fish etc. And supplied their relatives who lived in towns.
    • In June people went to nature to pick strawberries, in July they picked chanterelles and so on.
    • These activities were not just necessity (They produced variety) but became social events, lifestyle.
  • Artir Artir 2016-06-09T12:57:39Z

    Thank you for your comments.

    I should write an introduction at some point to stress the fact that 'Soviet Union' was not an homogeneous entity, there were substantial differences between the individual republics. In particular, Latvia, Estonia (top 1 in GDP) and Lithuania were among the richest Soviet territories (and also the countries that experienced a faster recovery after the fall of the USSR).

    See for example here

  • Mikk Salu Mikk Salu 2016-06-09T10:56:30Z

    Another note about healthcare. Again, I am talking about Estonia. Different parts of Su were different. There were huge number hospitals, hospital beds and doctors.(Too much actually, when SU collapsed, lot of hospitals in Estonia had to be closed). No queuing. I do not know is it true, but one military person once explained me, that the reason why Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Leningrad and overall western parts of Su, had a lot of hospitals, came from military demands. Su prepared for worldwide revolution, for WWIII. Western part of SU were considered frontline, so if WWIII starts in Germany, then hospitals in Estonia, Latvia, Leningrad etc were designated for injured soldiers.

    Healthcare did not deal with prevention. Tobacco and alcohol were big problems. Life expectancy was definitely low. Qualifications of doctors were ok, I would say, but they lacked supplies, new equipment. When SU collapsed, infant mortality rapidly declined in Estonia, not because new doctors (doctors were still same), but because doctors had now better access to new equipment, new drugs.

  • George George 2016-06-09T19:44:46Z

    Wonderful series of posts on the USSR. My family is Russian but I mostly grew up in the West. I see the Soviet years both as an insider, through my family's eyes and experience, and as an outsider, a person raised in the West. So hearing and watching the anthem video brings lots of emotions/memories. My thoughts go to my grandparents who lived through the revolution years, famine, WWII, Stalinism, etc. Thoughts like, where did they get the strength to endure all those years? Sadness for the millions that were killed by the Soviet meat grinder. Sadness for the Russians that are still there and have to live under yet another totalitarian regime. Wonderful people, may they find freedom, peace, and prosperity one day.

  • On criticising communism | Nintil 2016-06-15T10:55:26Z

    […] think that communism is a bad system in theory and in practise. But why […]

  • Do communists know about communism? | Nintil 2016-08-21T14:46:15Z

    […] a list of experts on communism. This list includes people that I’ve referenced before in my Soviet series, and on the basis of reading their names over and over I’ve come to identify them as key […]

  • The Soviet Union: Achieving full employment | Nintil 2016-07-30T16:32:31Z

    […][part of the soviet union series] […]

  • On the living standards of animals in the United Kingdom | Nintil 2016-12-17T19:13:23Z

    […] am the one who wrote in this blog that the Soviet Union promised one thing in their Constitution, and delivered another. Is it the case that farms do comply with the regulations above? I will present some evidence to […]

  • The Soviet Union: Productive Efficiency | Nintil 2016-11-08T17:15:37Z

    […][part of the soviet series] […]

  • The Soviet Union: From farm to factory. Stalin’s Industrial Revolution | Nintil 2017-02-04T19:39:09Z

    […][this post is part of the soviet series] […]

  • Proletario contra proletario: Round 2 – Argo 2017-12-12T20:36:54Z

    […] de la Madre Patria. Aún con datos más fiables de épocas posteriores, con colecciones como The Soviet Union series o el reciente Back in the USSR descubrimos que, pese a la alienación y el sistemático saqueo del […]