Today there is a growing consensus that the contemporary Soviet economy serves the consumer very poorly (e.g., see Goldman 1983), but this criticism is often accompanied by a concession that the Stalinist model is suitable for rapid development and fails today only because it lacks the flexibility to foster continued growth in a technologically advanced economy. We should recall, however, that a generation ago economists were apologizing for the low standard of living of the Soviet population by contending that the economy was building up productive capacity for the future. Now that the future has arrived and the standard of living remains embarrassingly low, we are told that the great gains of the Stalinist model were in the past. It seems that the only accomplishments that this model can boast about are statistics on certain investment goods such as steel production, which were achieved at the long-run expense, rather than for the presumed long-run benefit, of the Soviet citizen.

This is from Don Lavoie, Rivalry and Central Planning: The Socialist Calculation Debate Reconsidered. It’s one of the readings for the Liberty Fund Colloquium, “Markets, Socialism, and Liberty,” that I’m attending this weekend in Hermosa Beach.

When I taught a course in Prague in 1999, one of my students, the oldest man in the class, remembered Communism because he had gone through it as an adult. One day, during a break, he came up to me and said, “The basic problem with Communism is winter,” [I thought he would stop there because he hesitated, but he went on] “spring, summer, and fall.”