Monday, December 10, 2012

Going Russkial

The second half of a 58-0 NFL blowout has its compensations, when you have good reads sitting on your coffee table. Such as Bitter Waters: Life and Work in Stalin's Russia.

Also, it provides a refreshing corrective to mindless comments that are all too common in the 'business & tech' columns of Seattle newspapers.  Say, entirely empty things like;
If we want a prosperous future that is compatible with basic standards of human morality, we have to design a new low-carbon economy. (We're headed for a 4 degree future - incompatible with civilization.) That means creating a new culture of smart and compassionate people who can make Seattle into something the rest of the world would want to emulate. 
Which pretty much describes the nightmare scenario that Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov found himself in in the mid 1930s, when Russia tried to 'design a new...economy', as the review from History Net makes clear;

In addition to providing ample evidence of the inadequacies of central planning, Andreev-Khomiakov describes how planners and bookkeepers tried to compensate. He and his coworkers frequently violated the Plan by manipulating accounts and forging vouchers to meet the factory-laborer needs overlooked by the Plan and the trade unions. For instance, Andreev-Khomiakov falsified an account entry that allowed the day-care center at the sawmill to style itself as a "representative." This fiction enabled it to obtain desperately needed provisions under the legitimate rubric of "costs for representation" (p. 91). In Andreev-Khomiakov's words, the myriad problems with the planned economy required that most people operate "not according to the Plan, but according to a freakish 'dialectical combination' of the planned and unplanned, in essence by constant violation of the Plan" (p. 72). Despite recognizing the functional and material benefits of these strategies, he forces the reader to simultaneously confront the possibility that the constant scheming and manipulation of the planned economy led to debilitating effects on people's morale, visibly manifested in outbursts, melancholia, and drunken episodes.
Aka, the unintended consequences of the best intentions inadequately thought through. Thankfully, even when you can be shot for 'economic crimes' people find ways to survive; 
Andreev-Khomiakov's observations about planning are mirrored in his remarks about domestic trade. Although he notes a relative improvement in the material conditions of the country from approximately 1935 to 1938, the author emphasizes the existence and importance of the unofficial domestic trade sector. For example, when he and his boss were in danger of running out of fuel, they resorted to buying gas from an unofficial seller--a labor-camp inmate who drove a fuel truck for the NKVD. His memoir also highlights the regional inconsistency of material conditions. Food products and manufactured goods were more plentiful in the cities than in the towns and villages.
This unevenness ironically meant that "pushy wives went to Moscow, bought clothes and shoes there, and sold them in [Andreev'-Khomiakovs] town at speculators' prices" (p. 43). And yet, despite his resentment and frustration with the situation, Andreev-Khomiakov admires the "enterprising women," for they turned a profit and performed an essential service (p. 43). 
It's the ages old human story of, ordinary people...find[ing] elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their 'betters'. 

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