September 26, 2004

Why the Commissar is a genius

And no, that's not a simple arse-kissing: let me explain.

We almost finished cleaning out the garage this weekend, which was truly a Heraculean task involving throwing out tons of stuff that had descended on our basement from my darling wife's pack rat father. In there too was some stuff that we had never unpacked when we moved in here six years ago, including a box of books of mine.

I found some stuff in there that made me laugh, and a lot of blogging material (let's just say I'm going to do a bit of self-mockery fisking of my clueless self by scanning and posting various letters and notes I received when I was in college. Rob: be very afraid).

Anyhoo, I came across this gem of a book:

commie textbook.jpg

Rob likes to joke that we attended college at the People's Collective Trotsky Academy #53, Middletown Ct. I, however, as part of my major (I was in this wacky Politics, Philosophy, and Economics program) had to take "The Economics of Planned Societies" aka "Commie-nomics" as I dubbed it. This was in the fall of 1987, mind you: I got a "C-" (about the lowest grade one could receive while still frosting a mirror) because of incessant fighting with the professor---I used to annoy the hell out of him sitting there with my dog-eared copy of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom in front of me. I wrote my final paper on the Yugoslavian Economy, with the thesis that it was basically held together with chewing gum, bailing wire, and tanks, and that it and the whole society could only but fly apart at the first prodding.

There are some things one would rather not be right about.

Needless to say, the paper got me an "F" and the instructor of course had tenure, but I'm left with this book sitting in my garage containing these beautful concluding words. Written in 1981, here's what the authors Paul R. Gregory (then of the University of Houston) and Robert C. Stuart (then of Rutgers) had to say on the subject of "Conclusions and Prospects: Prospects to the Year 2000":

Are there any bright spots for the Soviet leadership in these otherwise gloomy projections? The most important is the fact that the Western world enters the 1980s with significant troubles of its own. Productivity growth is declining, high rates of inflation coexist with high rates of unemployment, and real wages are actually declining in some countries. The Soviet Union has no monopoly on economic problems. Moreover, the Soviet population may have adjusted its expectations downward, so that slower rates of growth of consumption may be tolerated without open public strife. Finally, the Soviet economy continues to supply the Soviet leadership with military power that is at least equal to that of its major competitor, the United States.

The authors mention gulags for two paragraphs, and conclude with this zinger:

Moreover, the sense of alienation of former prisoners and their families (along with deteriorated health) would not render them enthusiastic "builders of socialism" after their release. Furthermore, it is likely that forced labor is less productive than free labor. The diversion of labor from the labor market into concentration camps more than likely caused a loss of output due to a general lowering of labor productivity.

It is likely that the authors were delusional at the time: it is a certainty that they were full of shit.

Anyhoo.........back to The Commissar.

The Commissar is probably the shrewdest marketeer in the blogosphere for a whole variety of reasons. To say he's the Elvis Presley of link-whoring would be absolutely wrong: when done by a true pro, it's entirely a different game played than that pursued by wankers of the likes of your humble LLamas, Rusty, or Bill.

Case in point: the Commissar's famous maps. Genius! Put together a funny map/picture thing which has a whole lot of blogs on it (but not everyone, so as to create a sense of an "in" crowd), paste it up and voila! Beaucoup linky-link, more trackbacks than on Keith Richards' arm, and next thing you know you are hob-knobbing with the other playful primates in the top 100.

Lots of people do that, only not as well as the commissar. But he takes it to the next level: slap the picture/map thing with all sort of blogs on it on a coffee mug. So of course, everyone is going to want to buy it!

I bow down to this new chapter in the 2004 edition of "Soviet Economic Structure and Performance."

And yes, I bought 3.

UPDATE: The Show Trials Return!

Posted by Steve at September 26, 2004 11:00 PM | TrackBack

Remember when the CIA was telling us about the robust Soviet economy in the 80's?

It is "likely" that forced labor is less productive than free labor? These guys are college professors, and after years of hard study, they come up with this? Of course, they may have been considering themselves when they wrote this; some free labor is highly unproductive.

Posted by: MD at September 27, 2004 11:34 AM

Ahhh, old textbooks. Mahhvelous.

The smallest book bill I ever had as a poli sci major was when I took a comparative class on the Soviet system... the spring of 1992.

Hmmph. The whole semester all the prof could do was hand out NY Times and WaPo articles and jabber on incoherently about what might happen.

There's nothing quite like a failed coup attempt to save you some money at the bookstore.

Posted by: Kathy at September 27, 2004 11:58 AM
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