Assessing Soviet Economic Performance During the Cold War: A Failure of Intelligence?
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Many observers felt that social scientists in general, and economists in particular, had failed, as Martin Malia put it, to understand “the deeper dynamics driving Soviet reality.” Their writings, in Malia’s view, had suggested that the Soviet system was perfectly viable. They had assumed that the Soviet Union was “just another” modern society — that it was “as much a going concern as its ‘capitalist’ adversary.” Viewing things through that social scientific lens, he thought, had prevented Western scholars from seeing how serious the USSR’s problems were; this was the main reason so many of them had “been so wrong about so much for so long.”1 Western economists in particular, he said, had been unable to see that the USSR had to deal with some very grave and perhaps even fatal problems; the more pessimistic line taken by some émigré Russian economists had mistakenly been dismissed out of hand. Mainstream economists in the West, he believed, had greatly overestimated Soviet economic performance; and had it not been for that, political scientists, sociologists, and historians would scarcely have painted such a rosy picture of Soviet performance in the areas they studied