I had a discussion yesterday and was reminded about how awful the Soviet Union was and what a nightmare it would have been to live there. I replied as I often do. Compared to the US, the richest country in the world, a lot of places are awful. But just as life was tough in Soviet satellite states, things were pretty tough in nearby US satellites, like Guatemala, Haiti, and Brazil. For them Socialism was ended violently and Capitalism was enforced. I'd have preferred Poland to Haiti. Don't compare Poland and the US. Compare Poland and Haiti.
But there's another question worth considering. How often do you hear about the consequences of Capitalism in the former Soviet states? Not often. What happened? Well, I'm not sure. It wasn't good. I know that. But how bad was it?
It's been difficult for me to discover, but I have a couple of sources that are worth checking out. This one is called "Life After Communism: The Facts". This is an interesting and brief overview. According to this summary of a UN Development Program report 9.6 million men that would otherwise be alive had the Soviet Union not fallen are gone. That's men only. Women apparently did not die at quite as high a rate. I think men suffer more from joblessness and failure to provide then women, more readily turning to alcoholism and suicide. But one would assume many women died as well, meaning the death toll just in less than 10 years would be over 10 million. That's the same order of magnitude as died under Stalin (see here).
The progression can be visualized by going to Gapminder. Click any of the Soviet states and scroll through the fall. By default it plots life expectancy and per capita income. A lot of people are dying through this time period.
Here's another idea worth pursuing. Most people know that Mao instituted polices that killed millions of people. This is another one of those statements frequently offered by free market advocates. How do we know about this? I heard Chomsky discuss this and he made a very interesting point. The claim is based on the detailed work of a highly respected scholar. This scholar produced a report that explained what happened. That same report offers additional information. While Mao did institute polices that led directly to the death of millions of people he also instituted policies that in fact saved an equal or greater number of people from starvation.
Chomsky is not defending what Mao did but only pointing out that while you hear a lot about the death you hear nothing about the millions saved. Why is that?
Well, we know why. It's the same reason everyone knows that Stalin killed millions but few know that free market reforms in the Soviet Union also killed millions. In fact the reason I'm writing this post is because when I claimed that market reforms killed millions my critic didn't believe it and wanted evidence. Which is fine. He should want evidence. He's never heard of this stuff. And that's not surprising.
On Socialism workers enjoy the fruits of their labor and on Capitalism non-working owners get the fruits of the labor and the workers get a lesser amount. Who likes that arrangement? The non-working owners. Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010. This is not him living off the surplus value he created in the past. He actually gets the value that is created by workers in 2010. That's what dividends are. People work for a company and make profits. They send the money to Mitt Romney. It takes a lot of work. It's not work that Mitt Romney does. The workers do it. He gets it.
So who likes that arrangement? Mitt Romney and others that are the richest people in the world. These are the same people that own the media. And they own the companies that advertise in the media. Any system that deprives them of collecting the majority of money while doing none of the work is a system they will fear. Obviously. They want to continue to get most of the money while doing none of the work.
The Soviet Union wasn't Socialist and neither was Mao's China. But they did not allow the Capitalist to make money doing nothing. So that which they did that was good is ignored. That which they did that was evil (and they did a lot of evil) is trumpeted from the rooftops.
We need to not forget that. Let's criticize Mao and Stalin. But let's also admit that yes, their non-Capitalists systems produced some successes as well. For instance the Soviet Union put a rover on Venus. That's pretty impressive. China and the Soviet Union have (had) major problems. But that doesn't mean that workers sending what they earn off to non-working owners is the only alternative.