Saturday, October 06, 2012

Realism needed: including about the history of the Soviet Union

For a lot of Americans the Cold War is more-or-less still going on and knee-jerk reactionary thinking seems to get more common every year.

But here in the real world, scholars do actual research on the entity once known as the Soviet Union. And their results don't always fit neatly into Cold War boxes.

Like this one from economist Elizabeth Brainerd of Brandeis University, "Reassessing the Standard of Living in the Soviet Union: An Analysis Using Archival and Anthropometric Data" The Journal of Economic History 70/1 (Mar 2010). Her conclusion:

Did the standard of living rise or fall in the Soviet Union over the twentieth century? The conventional measures of GNP growth and household consumption indicate a long, uninterrupted upward climb in the Soviet standard of living from 1928 to 1985; even Western estimates of these measures support this view, albeit at a slower rate of growth than the Soviet measures. The alternative measures of well-being examined in this article largely support the evidence of improving population welfare throughout much of the twentieth century, despite the many cataclysmic events that marked this period. Three different measures of population health show a consistent and large improvement between approximately 1945 and 1969: child height, adult height, and infant mortality all improved significantly during this period. These three biological measures of the standard of living also corroborate the evidence of some deterioration in living conditions beginning around 1970, when infant and adult mortality were rising and child and adult, height stopped increasing and in some regions began to decline. The gains in height in the postwar period occurred across many regions of the Soviet Union, although growth was most impressive for men in the Russian Republic. The significant improvements in population well-being before 1970 may in part be related to the expansion of the national health care system, public education, and improved caloric and protein supply during this period. While the Soviet experiment of the twentieth century clearly failed and in countless ways harmed the lives of Soviet citizens, the record of Soviet health achievement prior to 1970 remains impressive. [my emphasis]
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