Small Correction

Matt Yglesias writes about the Soviet economy:

On the other hand, Russia in 1917 was a totally undeveloped country. Their performance since then has been dismal compared to real success stories like South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, but looks pretty good compared during the relevant period to places like Mexico, India, and Brazil, to say nothing of Argentina which actually managed to move backwards. This is to say that for all the decrepitude I witnessed in Nizhny Novgorod in 1998, I was clearly in what was at least a reasonable approximation of a "modern," urban, industrial society. Unlike in Costa Rica or the Bahamas, you didn't have people living in shacks, eking out subsistence living. Part of the story is that autarky produced some very weird results, where you had widespread ownership of incredibly low-quality versions of normal western consumer goods. The planned economy has also produced a public transportation system of astoundingly high quality compared to what we've got in, say, the United States. On the other hand, the extremely cramped housing in what is, objectively, a nearly empty country seemed totally absurd. And of course millions of people got themselves killed in Stalin's various schemes.

The millions did not "[get] themselves killed". Stalin murdered them.

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That Stalin, and his wacky

That Stalin, and his wacky schemes!

Knowing absolutely nothing about it, I wonder what he means by "better public transportation."

Better, or just more? Is it easy to get around without a car in the former USSR?

Just wondering.

Josh from NYC - where public transportation can take you just about anywhere, yet rides a bike anyway

Russia was not "a totally

Russia was not "a totally undeveloped country" in 1917. It was an industrial nation spanned by railroads with an emerging capitalist class, labor unrest, factory strikes and all the other attributes of a developed nation of the time. However, it had avoided the "French Plague" and retained its aristocracy. It was backward in that sense. Still, it had freed its slaves (serfs) before the US did and even gave them land though they had to pay for it in future installments.

Better, or just more? Is it

Better, or just more? Is it easy to get around without a car in the former USSR?

I can't speak for the USSR specifically, but having been to Bulgaria a couple of times, I would say that public transportation there isn't any better than in the U.S. Sure you can get around Sofia without a car relatively easily, but, then again, you can do the same in pretty much any good-sized American city. And the Sofia metro has undergone a pretty substantial upgrade since the fall of the USSR, so it was presumably worse in those days.

"More extensive" is

"More extensive" is certainly right. "Better"-- well, in what sense? The buses (and in the larger cities the trams and subways) run more-or-less everywhere you want to go, but the people I know who actually lived in the Communist bloc pre-1990 say they did not run reliably. A Hungarian professor of mine once introduced a lecture on random processes by talking about the unpredictable wait times for Hungarian buses in the Communist era.

The closest to that experience I ever got was Krasnodar, Russia, in '93; the buses there were falling apart and ran slowly and infrequently, but they got you around. I've since visited several Eastern European cities, all of which had good public transit, but none of which were head-and-shoulders above the systems in Boston, NYC, Chicago, or DC. "Astoundingly high quality compared to the US" is a gross exaggeration.

A big part of the reason for extensive public transport in that part of the world is higher demand: the percentage of people who are too poor to afford a car was and is much, much higher than it is here. Back when cars were playthings of the gadget-inclined rich, we too had more extensive transit systems.

Also, my favorite Eastern European city, Budapest, has completely sold off its system to a private company, BKV, which runs it extremely well and apparently quite profitably; the commuter bus lines that serve nearby towns are run by another excellent private company, Volanbusz. I don't know how common such privatizations have been in Russia, but since Matt Y. was there in 1998, well after the collapse of Communism, the system he was seeing might well have been privatized.

The US never had serfs.

The US never had serfs. Minor detail.

Those commie apologies just

Those commie apologies just can't bring themselves to say that their heroes are the worst murderers in history. What incredible cowardice.

- Josh

I don't think it's

I don't think it's cowardice. I think it's a combination of

1. being skeptical of the severity of atrocities

2. believing Communism to be a correlation, not causation, of the atrocities that in their mind did happen.

In my late teens/early 20's, I was in the "what's REALLY so bad about Communism, anyway?" mentality. It's an appealing philosophy, especially to genuinely good people who want to do what is right. It's so easy to view Capitalism as a slimy, greedy means of living life, favored only by old rich white men. Criticsm of Communism, because it's results are so cartoonishly bad, can look like exagerations meant to make Capitalism look good.

- Other Josh

"back40" makes an important

"back40" makes an important point.

The USSR was not approaching the status of ?a totally undeveloped country? until about the mid-30's.

Russia was NOT a totally

Russia was NOT a totally underdeveloped country in 1917
It was the world's 4th largest induistrial economy
They had a huge rail network, many factories etc
They were doing well generally -- including slowly growing democracy. If the Tsar had not bothered his head about the Serbs (shades of Clinton!) Russia would be an advanced moderrn country today