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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Spartan Constitution 2: Lessons from the Soviet Union

In a recent blog, I looked at the effect of Spartan style constitutions and the inevitable failures which arise when circumstances change but the constitution and government cannot adapt to the new reality.

This has obvious parallels to what is happening in the Western World but instead I will look at a constitution which is further along the road, that has passed its crisis and begun to re-build, Russia.

Individual Freedom Inevitably Triumphs Over State Control
The economy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was based on a system of state ownership of the means of production, collective farming, industrial manufacturing and centralized administrative planning.

The economy was characterised by state control of investment, public ownership of industrial assets, and during the last 20 years of its existence, pervasive corruption and socio-economic stagnation.

From 1928 the entire course of the economy was guided by a series of Five-Year Plans. The reforms were based on the considerations of some of the greatest intellectuals of the early nineteenth century.

Within 40 years, the nation had evolved from a mainly agrarian society and became one of the world's three top manufacturers of a large number of capital goods, heavy industrial products and weaponry.

Nonetheless, from the Stalin-era to the early Brezhnev-era, the Soviet economy grew as fast as the Japanese economy and significantly faster than that of the United States. The Soviet era achieved all it had set out to do, it had fulfilled its promise to the Russian People, but now became a barrier to change. Those in power clung desperately to it.

The stagnation, which would consume the last years of the Soviet Union, was caused by poor governance under Leonid Brezhnev and inefficiencies within the planned economy. When the stagnation began is a matter of debate, but is normally placed either in the 1960s or early 1970s.

Critically, the USSR lagged far behind in the output of light industrial production and consumer durables, the goods which are most heavily consumed by the Western World, mostly because of the inability of Gosplan, the economic planning committee, to predict the demand for such products, particularly over a vast geographic area where regional differences were often overlooked for the sake of simplicity.

The complex demands of a modern economy and inflexible administration overwhelmed and constrained the central planners. Corruption and data fiddling became common practice among the bureaucracy by reporting fulfilled targets and quotas, thus entrenching the crisis.

At the end of the regime the USSR became increasingly involved in military adventures; most notably the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan.

After Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, continuing economic liberalisation moved the economy towards a market-oriented Socialist economy. However, this gave the people a taste for freedom. As Churchill said Socialism is the equality of misery, and the people preferred to retain control of their own destinies.

All of these factors contributed to the final dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Like the Soviet Union, the government of Jersey has become bloated and inefficient. It adjusts the manner in which statistics are produced and refuses to represent the truth. For fear of losing control it is content to drag down the whole of Jersey, in fear of making any change it jeopardises any future that Jersey might have.