I recently got a review copy of Francis Spufford’s new book Red Plenty, and, like Brad DeLong, immediately dropped everything to read it. It’s a fictionalised account, or a non-fiction novel, about the project in the early 1960s to use computers to plan the Soviet economy. A key figure is the genius Kantorovich, who invented the mathematical technique of linear programming in 1938. (We follow his mind as the idea dawns on him, on a tram.) He and other real characters such as Kosygin and Khrushchev mingle with fictious characters - some based on real people, some not, but all convincing.
Includes a link to a very positive review of this novel by Paul Cockshott, co-author of “Towards a New Socialism” (remember: available as a free PDF), which is well-worth reading:
"It is clear what lesson orthodox economists will draw:
"It’s a timely exploration, now so many people have gone off the idea of markets, of why the alternative is worse."
But such conclusions betray an unjustified and callous smugness. It is a smugness not justified by the elegaic last paragraph of the book. The restoration of the market mechanism in Russia was a vast controlled experiment. Nation, national character and culture, natural resources and productive potential remained the same, only the economic mechanism changed. If Western economists were right, then we should have expected economic growth and living standards to have leapt forward after the Yeltsin shock therapy. Instead the country became an economic basket-case. Industrial production collapsed, technically advanced industries atrophied, and living standards fell so much that the death rate shot up by over a third leading to some 7.7 million extra deaths.
If you were old, if you were farmer, if you were a manual worker, the market was a great deal worse than even the relatively stagnant Soviet economy of Brezhnev. The recovery under Putin, such as it was, came almost entirely as a side effect of rising world oil prices, the very process that had operated under Brezhnev.”