Red Plenty is Francis Spufford’s semi-fictional book about the efforts to apply economic planning in the Soviet Union during the 50s and 60s. It is a great book and has been already extensively discussed elsewhere. (Don’t miss Cosma Shalizi’s post in particular). Here is what I learned from ‘Red Plenty’:
1. Linear programming has been developed in the Soviet Union as a technique to optimize centralized economic planning. It has been later re-discovered in the US.
2. During the 50s Soviet scientists have been developing a successful independent line of computer technology, later to be dropped at the expense of copying the West.
3. In a centralized economy, consumers always face the greatest shortages because they are the end of the supply line.
4. Nikita Khrushchev has expressed doubt and remorse for the violence of the Soviet regime during the 30s and 40s in his memoirs.
5. The Soviets built in the midst of Siberia Akademgorodok – an entire city for scientists from all sorts of academic disciplines. With an artificial sea next to it.
6. A Clockwork Orange is inspired by a violent Soviet youth subculture.
7. Women in the Soviet Union have been forbidden to experience pain during birth. In a softer form, the Soviet programs for ‘natural’ birth have been later revamped in Western Europe.
8. The Americans have charmed Soviet citizens in their first exhibition in Moscow by showing shiny plastic consumer goods and appliances and a dazzling video display.
9. In the Soviet planned economy being able to buy staff requires similar skills (and middlemen) as being able to sell staff in a market economy.
10. It is impossible to avoid prices in coordinating an economy.