As communism seems to have gotten a bit more popular lately (despite communism-lite failing spectacularly in Venezuela), I thought I would republish this article I wrote for SwiftEconomics.com.
I know, communism and the Soviet Union are respectively discredited and long gone. Still, I think a reflection upon them can give some insight into the absurd and disastrous policies central planning allows for; a warning if you will. The first was how many communist countries treated their own environments.
For all those that think giant bureaucracies can help save the environment, one might want to look at how the Soviet Union treated the Aral Sea. According to Orexca.com:
"In the early 1960’s, the Soviet central government decided to make the Soviet Union self-sufficient in cotton and increase rice production. Government officials ordered the additional amount of needed water to be taken from the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea.
"Large dams were built across both rivers, and an 850-mile central canal with a far-reaching system of 'feeder' canals was created. When the irrigation system was completed, millions of acres along both sides of the main canal were flooded.
"Over the next 30 years, the Aral Sea experienced a severe drop in water level, its shoreline receded, and its salt content increased.
"…Today, Muynak is a desert town more than a hundred kilometers from the sea. The only reminders of the once thriving fishing activity are the rusting hulks of ships and an ancient fish plant. The sea has shrunk to two-fifths of its original size and now ranks about 10th in the world. The water level has dropped by 16 metres and the volume has been reduced by 75 percent, a loss equivalent to the water in both Lakes Erie and Huron. The ecological effect has been disastrous and the economic, social and medical problems for people in the region catastrophic. All 20 known fish species in the Aral Sea are now extinct, unable to survive the toxic, salty sludge."
Pictures of rusted ships in the middle of the desert, such as the one below, are quite eerie indeed. It’s almost from one of those post-apocalyptic movies. If they ever release a fourth Mad Max, having some of these in the background is a must.
Ahh the comedy of communist-induced tragedies. How about food distribution? Well, it’s needless to say that Soviet agriculture was just a long series of disasters (intentional, such as Holodomor and unintentional). While I can’t verify this story, Russian born and former Gorbachev aid, Yuri Maltsev (who is currently an economist living in the United States) tells of his experience with the Soviet government:
"They [the Soviet Union] would have official statistics which would be kind of an arrogant communist party slogans, nothing else. All the time people would starve, but production was going up like that. That statistics were only believed in Harvard University, but no one in Russia.
"Then they produced statistics that were classified statistics, which were also propaganda, but more believable. Moreover people would kind of steal this… but it’s kind of like rumors that life is not as good as they tell us, but still pretty good.
"And then there would be top secret statistics for the few had access, which were also phony because they wouldn’t have something called primary reporting… these top secret statistics were kind of estimates produced by Soviet government bureaucrats… about agriculture and everything else.
"In 1978, I’m not making this up [Leonid] Brezhnev looked at these top secret and found out that there were no vegetables in the Soviet Union. He was shocked, as you can imagine… And so what the socialists would do… is immediately create a Ministry for Vegetables… They appointed comrade Povloski, whom I happen to know, as a minister. And this comrade Povloski could not sleep at night. He thought ‘well how will I come up with vegetables.[And if not] I will be shot or demoted or thrown out of the party…’ Then in 1988, Gorbachev cut off funds and shut down the Ministry for Vegetables. This is a joke, we don’t have vegetables."
Gee, I could certainly go for a Ministry of Pizza right now. Unfortunately as Yuri points out, the Ministry of Vegetables didn’t actually produce any vegetables. So such a ministry would leave my desire for pizza unrealized. Now I’m sure there were some vegetables floating around in the Soviet Union at the time. But regardless, like the fictional Ministry of Truth in 1984, as Yuri puts it “you need a ministry to ruin something.”
While I have plenty of issues with Ronald Reagan, I think I will close with some of his stand-up-worthy jabs at the Soviet Union and communism in general. Enjoy:
"Every day is a new life to the wise man."
The Righteous Mind
Star Slate Codex
Consulting by RPM