Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Why They Never Buried Us

 

“We will bury you,” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev told western diplomats in 1956, and as late as the nineteen-eighties even many Americans remained convinced that the Soviet economy was producing respectable levels of economic growth. “Those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic…collapse,” wrote Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in 1981, “are only kidding themselves.”

With this in mind as I was doing some Cold War reading just now, I came across a remarkable passage in A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia by Alexander Yakovlev. Himself a member of the politiburo, Yakovlev, who died in 2005, devoted his final years to investigating the crimes of the Communist Party. 

“[W]hile on an official trip to the Primorsky district [a district on the Black Sea],” Yakovlev writes,

I heard Nikita Khrushchev speak….He was on his way back from China….He flew into a rage, shouted, and threatened drastic action when the captains of some fishing vessels reported on the disgraceful state of the fishing industry. They’d fill their fishing nets four or five times but often weren’t able to offlaod their catch for lack of processing equipment on shore. So they’d throw the fish back in the sea. And this would be repeated season after season.

So there’s our planned economy for you, Khrushchev fumed. Spotting Mikoyan [Anastas Mikoyan, a member of the politburo who was close to Khrushchev] in the audience, he dressed him down on the spot, and he phoned Malenkov [Georgy Malenkov, another senior Soviet] in Moscow with orders to buy new processing equipment—special vessles, as I recall, from Denmark. He glowed with energy. The captains were ecstatic. Later, back in Moscow, I inquired into what had been done on his instructions. The answer: absolutely nothing.

Ronald Reagan, who held a degree from Eureka College, understood that the Soviet economy was doomed by its very nature. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who studied at Philips Exeter, Harvard, and Cambridge, did not.

Who was kidding whom?

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In management training we are taught that the best way to do a job is known by the people that do the job. We are always trying to get feedback from the people on the line. It seems to me that a command and control economy is the reverse of this.

    • #1
    • February 18, 2012, at 2:32 AM PST
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  2. Stuart Creque Member
    Stuart CrequeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    There is a difference between understanding theory and having practical experience.

    The theoretician takes the information presented, applies the theoretical constructs to his analysis, and comes to conclusions about what must have happened.

    The man with practical experience takes the information presented, applies what he knows about how human beings behave, and understands that the information presented is a pack of lies. He then looks deeper and finds out what really happened.

    A story from an acquaintance who had been a Jewish refusenik in the USSR. To get an exit visa as a refusenik, your application had to be signed by your employer and your apartment manager before being sent to the KGB for review. On asking for those signatures, you’d be fired and evicted. My friend put his form in a stack of other papers and got the signatures without his boss or landlord knowing what they’d signed. He knew the KGB would never check to verify that he’d been evicted and fired: they would assume he had.

    Krushchev’s underlings knew that saying they would act was sufficient because it would be a decade before Krushchev would check to see whether any doing occurred.

    • #2
    • February 18, 2012, at 2:38 AM PST
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  3. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson
    Stuart Creque: There is a difference between understanding theory and having practical experience.· 6 minutes ago

    One of President Reagan’s favorite quips:

    “An economist is a person who sees something that works in practice and wonders if it’ll work in theory.”

    • #3
    • February 18, 2012, at 2:46 AM PST
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  4. Crow's Nest Inactive

    Turns out that a nation of shop-keepers has more resolve than once thought.

    • #4
    • February 18, 2012, at 2:47 AM PST
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  5. starnescl Inactive

    The eternal question, no?

    I think it’s simply the way one views human nature. The modern mind hates constraints and limits, but it’s true to who we poor humans are – fallen creatures and all.

    That darn new popular book – Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, by Kahneman – has unexpectedly brought this question to mind recently. It’s sold so many copies I bet many here have read it. I can’t help but think moderns view his System 1 as “The One True God,” but the joke is on them. It’s really neat, but it’s horribly limited and is prone to delusions in not realizing it (Schlesinger).

    His System 2 is inseparable from what makes us human, but is rejected as if a bad transplant by the moderns. Problem is, can’t be done. Coming to terms with this is the most prudent path (Reagan).

    Oh well, sorry for the tangent. You can now return to reacting to another wonderful piece by Mr. Robinson.

    • #5
    • February 18, 2012, at 2:49 AM PST
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  6. Bill Walsh Member
    Bill WalshJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In a past life, I looked very seriously into the deformations of the just-barely-post-Soviet economy, and it was layer upon layer of jaw-dropping madness. You kept thinking, “There’s no way this ever gets fixed,” and yet, it’s more or less worked out to the degree they’ve liberalized (generating real prices, etc.).

    The really surprising thing to me—having read Mises’ 1919 Socialism which demonstrated that socialist economies were doomed to (and possibly by) these sort of inefficiencies—is just how long they were able to keep the damned thing going with their combination of idealistic rhetoric for abroad, inescapable poverty at home, and blunt, brutal violence.

    Good freaking riddance.

    • #6
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:04 AM PST
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  7. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    About fifteen years ago or so, I was in Mykop, a city in southern Russia, near the Caucasus. I was invited by my host to attend a day of business seminars at the technical college there. 

    On the drive over to the school, my host asked me if I could take about 15 minutes to talk to the students about my experience running a non-profit. He warned me that I had to be basic. The idea of a person having excess and desiring to do good with it was unfamiliar to Russian students, since, in the Soviet era such charity was unknown.

    I began by asking for a show of hands by those who were familiar with the Western idea of charity. Not a student in the room, about 300 of them, raised their hand.

    When I had finished giving an outline of charity 101, I asked for questions. The first question; “Why would a person want to help a stranger?” A student, who identified herself as a Christian, responded with the Biblical concept of charity. 

    It was clear from the looks on the students faces that the strangeness of the concept was deep.

    • #7
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:07 AM PST
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  8. Hang On Member
    Hang OnJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    All you needed to do to understand why they didn’t bury us was to travel there. The reason they couldn’t bury us is they could never make a shovel that worked.

    • #8
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:09 AM PST
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  9. kesbar Inactive

    Forget the War on Drugs. We need the War on Central Planning. Talk about ROI from your tax dollars.

    • #9
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:09 AM PST
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  10. Fredösphere Member
    FredösphereJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Peter, thanks to the recommendation of a Ricochet member, I’ve started reading Viktor Suvorov. It’s comedy of the very blackest kind, and all true.

    As a Soviet soldier he endured insanely arbitrary and harsh punishments. As a farmer, he participated in a record-breaking, award-winning distribution of fertilizer (manure, really) that was dumped into the Volga river and killed all the fish because there were not enough trucks to distribute it any farther . . . and on and on: party bosses and military officers resorting to the most petty kinds of selfishness and cruelty–the precise opposite of the Marxist promise. It’s a peasant’s-eye-view of what Yakovlev is describing. You’ll definitely want to read it if you haven’t.

    • #10
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:13 AM PST
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  11. Stuart Creque Member
    Stuart CrequeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    kesbar: Forget the War on Drugs. We need the War on Central Planning. Talk about ROI from your tax dollars. · 5 minutes ago

    It will take us five years and $1.5 trillion to build a headquarters from which the War on Central Planning can be run.

    • #11
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:15 AM PST
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  12. Leigh Member
    raycon:

    I began by asking for a show of hands by those who were familiar with the Western idea of charity. Not a student in the room, about 300 of them, raised their hand.

    When I had finished giving an outline of charity 101, I asked for questions. The first question; “Why would a person want to help a stranger?” A student, who identified herself as a Christian, responded with the Biblical concept of charity. 

    It was clear from the looks on the students faces that the strangeness of the concept was deep. · 2 minut

    That is fascinating.

    • #12
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:21 AM PST
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  13. David Foster Member
    David FosterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Fredösphere: Peter, thanks to the recommendation of a Ricochet member, I’ve started reading Viktor Suvorov. It’s comedy of the very blackest kind, and all true.

    As a Soviet soldier he endured insanely arbitrary and harsh punishments. As a farmer, he participated in a record-breaking, award-winning distribution of fertilizer (manure, really) that was dumped into the Volga river and killed all the fish because there were not enough trucks to distribute it any farther . . . and on and on: party bosses and military officers resorting to the most petty kinds of selfishness and cruelty–the precise opposite of the Marxist promise. It’s a peasant’s-eye-view of what Yakovlev is describing. You’ll definitely want to read it if you haven’t. · 14 minutes ago

    I wrote about the fertilizer incident here: stupidity: Communist-style and Capitalist-style.

    Extremely dumb things happen in business organizations also, but the logic of a market economy puts limits on how much harm they can do.

    • #13
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:30 AM PST
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  14. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson
    Fredösphere: Peter, thanks to the recommendation of a Ricochet member, I’ve started reading Viktor Suvorov. It’s comedy of the very blackest kind, and all true.

     · 30 minutes ago

    Victor Suvorov? I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the name’s a new one on me. Is there one book with which I should start?

    • #14
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:45 AM PST
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  15. Robert Lux Member

    “There seems no inherent obstacle to the gradual advance of socialism in the United States through a series of New Deals.”

    “We have a good chance to test the possibilities of a peaceful transition into a not undemocratic socialism.”

    –Schlesinger, quoted in Voegeli, Never Enough

    Schlesinger spoke at my Middlebury graduation (’94). I thought he was a real drip. I won’t say anything about his son, Rob, who was one of my classmates . . . oh, heck, why not. Father and son both exude a certain contempt for ordinary Americans’ rational piety of limited government. 

    Here’s a preeminent Yale graduate, who, after guest lecturing a couple years ago at Cal State San Bernardino said he never felt so “at home,” in stark contrast to all his years teaching at Claremont McKenna:

    “When Ronald Reagan pronounced the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’ he needed not many counselors to say so. Nor did it require a Harvard education to understand what he meant. In point of fact, a Harvard education might have been the only thing that could have prevented someone from understanding it.”

    –Jaffa, “The Decline and Fall of the American Idea: Reflections on the Failure of American Conservatism” (1996).

    • #15
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:46 AM PST
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  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Central planning is loved by politicians. It creates a satisfying level of activity which is easily mistaken for accompolishment.

    • #16
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:49 AM PST
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  17. doc molloy Inactive

    Joke.. After the collapse of the Soviet system Marx and Hegel turn back up and take a tour through Soviet Russia.. After travelling on bad roads in junk cars seeing broken down infrastructure and poverty eveywhere Marx turns toHegel and opines ‘it was just an idea..’

    • #17
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:53 AM PST
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  18. Severely Ltd. Inactive

    To mix in Susan Sontag’s (regretful) observation, better to have been reading The Reader’s Digest at Eureka than The Nation at Harvard.

    • #18
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:53 AM PST
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  19. barbara lydick Inactive

    “I, Pencil” written by Leonard E. Read Founder, Foundation for Economic Education, should be required reading for every citizen. It invites “Wonder at the countless bits of human know-how and natural materials spontaneously organized by our global market economy into the making of a simple wooden pencil. Wonder at what one individual can achieve for millions of his fellow men through a lifetime of dedication to principle.

    “And wonder, most of all, at the everyday miracles made possible by a political and economic system that dares to have faith in free men.”

    • #19
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:54 AM PST
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  20. Fredösphere Member
    FredösphereJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Peter Robinson
    Fredösphere: Peter, thanks to the recommendation of a Ricochet member, I’ve started reading Viktor Suvorov. It’s comedy of the very blackest kind, and all true.

     · 30 minutes ago

    Victor Suvorov? I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the name’s a new one on me. Is there one book with which I should start? · 5 minutes ago

    The Liberators contains the fertilizer incident that David Foster mentioned, so start there. (Or better, start immediately by reading the links David included above.)

    I also have two other Suvorov titles coming to me via inter-library loan (but I cannot vouch for them): Spetsnaz: the Inside Story of the Soviet Special Forces and also The chief culprit : Stalin’s grand design to start World War II.

    • #20
    • February 18, 2012, at 3:56 AM PST
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  21. David Foster Member
    David FosterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Linked at Chicago Boyz and Photon Courier, along with some apposite thoughts from George Eliot.

    • #21
    • February 18, 2012, at 4:14 AM PST
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  22. Anon Member

    What’s troubling your perspective, Peter, is that you lack the ability to see what is not there and, conversely, to not see what is there – in social and economic situations.

    But don’t despair, once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. Ask any liberal.

    • #22
    • February 18, 2012, at 4:29 AM PST
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  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Some years ago, I sat next to Schlesinger at a dinner at a conference where we were both speakers — he, a headliner; and I, a proletarian. I have never met a man with a higher opinion of himself.

    • #23
    • February 18, 2012, at 4:29 AM PST
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  24. Ken Burns Inactive

    I had an econ professor in the mid-1970s who assured us that the Soviet Union was simply too inefficient to continue. The class, myself included, just laughed and figured he was just a crank.

    • #24
    • February 18, 2012, at 4:29 AM PST
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  25. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama ToadJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    barbara lydick: “I, Pencil” written by Leonard E. Read Founder, Foundation for Economic Education, should be required reading for every citizen. It invites “Wonder at the countless bits of human know-how and natural materials spontaneously organized by our global market economy into the making of a simple wooden pencil. Wonder at what one individual can achieve for millions of his fellow men through a lifetime of dedication to principle.

    “And wonder, most of all, at the everyday miracles made possible by a political and economic system that dares to have faith in free men.” · 38 minutes ago

    Here’s a link to that essay (ignore the “lead” pencil in the beginning and insert “graphite” if you must).

    • #25
    • February 18, 2012, at 4:33 AM PST
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  26. Robert Lux Member
    Paul A. Rahe: Some years ago, I sat next to Schlesinger at a dinner at a conference where we were both speakers — he, a headliner; and I, a proletarian. I have never met a man with a higher opinion of himself. · 33 minutes ago

    Indeed. Supercilious and smug. 

    • #26
    • February 18, 2012, at 5:51 AM PST
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  27. flownover Member

    Sure like Severely Ltd comment.As I recall a frisson of panic upon hearing Kruschev ‘s threat, at the tender age of five. And the shoe on the desk. Now I wonder how was in charge of scaring me, lying to me, and creating an atmosphere of doubt about the USA. Scheslinger doesn’t surprise, and the rest have become usual suspects.That was a short era then, from the wonderful snesation when the Berlin wall came down to today. The day we hear the present leader is ready to demilitarize to a level when Russia railed at us without parity.uh- oh

    • #27
    • February 18, 2012, at 6:13 AM PST
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  28. Profile Photo Member
    Peter Robinson“Ronald Reagan, who held a degree from Eureka College, understood that the Soviet economy was doomed by its very nature. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who studied at Philips Exeter, Harvard, and Cambridge, did not.”

    Could it be the difference between being taught HOW to think vs. WHAT to think? I, too, went to a small, private, Midwestern liberal arts college. I learned long ago that the most valuable thing I learned there was critical thinking; something I now realize to be a rare commodity.

    • #28
    • February 18, 2012, at 6:16 AM PST
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  29. Raymond Siller Inactive

    Yesterday Tim Geithner appeared before Paul Ryan’s House committee on the 2013 budget and admitted he doesn’t have a definitive solution to the long-term deficit problem. The surprise was that he testified in Greek. Like one of Khrushchev’s rants, can you see our severely socialist POTUS banging his Bruno Magli loafer over at Treasury? Geithner may get photo-shopped out of the annual Cabinet group pic. What’s past is prologue.

    • #29
    • February 18, 2012, at 7:31 AM PST
    • 1 like
  30. barbara lydick Inactive
    Mama Toad
    barbara lydick: “I, Pencil” written by Leonard E. Read Founder, Foundation for Economic Education, should be required reading for every citizen. It invites “Wonder at the countless bits of human know-how and natural materials spontaneously organized by our global market economy into the making of a simple wooden pencil. Wonder at what one individual can achieve for millions of his fellow men through a lifetime of dedication to principle.

    “And wonder, most of all, at the everyday miracles made possible by a political and economic system that dares to have faith in free men.” · 38 minutes ago

    Here’s a link to that essay (ignore the “lead” pencil in the beginning and insert “graphite” if you must). · 4 hours ago

    Mama Toad – thank you much for supplying a link. Another is http://www.fee.org/library/books/i-pencil-2/ with an afterword by Milton Friedman. And, of course, there’s Hillsdale College (Imprimus Issue)

    http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=1983&month=12

    I figured the Ricochet community already knew the work. Just wanted to pass along those beautiful words.

    • #30
    • February 18, 2012, at 8:52 AM PST
    • 1 like

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