July 21

Ep. 0014: The Collapse of the Soviet Empire

Join Prof. C.J. as he discusses:

  • The proximate causes of the fall of the Soviet Empire, i.e., the long term/inherent problems of communism as an economic system, which are the incentive problem & the calculation problem
  • How the Soviet system could produce AKs but failed at such basic things as agriculture and consumer goods
  • How the Soviets’ renewed aggressiveness after America’s failure in Vietnam may have led to Soviet overextension
  • Immediate causes (that caused the Soviet system to fall when it did): an unwinnable, costly war (in Afghanistan of all places!); a lack of good leadership (exemplified by the dimwitted & senile Brezhnev); and nationalist unrest (sometimes combined with religious unrest) in the satellite states, starting with the Polish Solidarity movement
  • Symptoms of decline & milestones in the loss of legitimacy for the Soviet regime in the 1980s
  • The rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985
  • Gorbachev’s 3-pronged plan to ‘fix’ communism:  glasnost; perestroika; and peredyshka
  • The success of (mostly nonviolent) resistance in the satellite states, culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
  • Gorbachev’s renunciation of the use of force and the Brezhnev doctrine
  • The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan
  • Political reforms within the USSR, which led to its disintegration
  • How the US disbanded NATO and drastically slashed its defense spending, because after all, the Soviet Union was gone, the Cold War was over, so the rationale for those things no longer existed.  (Oh, wait, that last part didn’t really happen.  Actually, the opposite happened.)

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Posted July 21, 2014 by profcj in category "Modern World History", "Podcasts


  1. By James on

    are you claiming China is not communist?
    there are many examples of failed capitalist states.
    is capitalism doomed too?
    if the market place is the only way to assess the value of goods, why do we have gov’t intervention.
    the u.S. has commandeered steel for its military too. and oil of course

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      China since 1980 has not been fully communist in an economic sense. When Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1980, he began instituting reforms to free up the economy somewhat, which have gradually continued ever since. It’s true that a fairly authoritarian party called “the Communist Party” still rules China politically, but it’s not fully economically communist in the way that the Soviet Union was, or the way that China itself was under Mao Tse Tung — ie, with the means of production owned and operated directly by the state, central planning of virtually all of the economy, etc. China now has a state capitalist or mixed economy, wherein there is some degree of market activity, but still a significant degree of government intervention of various types. This has made China much more prosperous than it was under Mao (see, for example, “The Great Leap Forward,” in which millions of people died due to state control of virtually all of China’s economy); however, the government intervention that still takes place in China does distort its economy and misallocate resources (see, for example: http://davidstockmanscontracorner.com/chinas-monumental-ponzi-heres-how-it-unravels/ ), just not to the same degree as it distorted and misallocated things under full economic communism prior to Deng’s reforms.

      As to your question about “capitalism,” it depends on what you mean by that term. Do you mean the economy of the US and the rest of the developed world as they currently exist? Or do you mean a truly free market economy?

      The US & the rest of the developed world do not have truly free economies. Instead, they have “mixed economies” (as does China currently) in which there is some degree of free market activity, but also various types of state intervention. This could perhaps be called state capitalism or something along those lines to distinguish it from a pure free market. The exact mixture between the two elements (state & market) of course varies from country to country; there’s more state control still in China than in the US; but there are several other countries (for example, Singapore and Switzerland) which have overall a freer economy than the US. http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

      I agree that “capitalist” states can fail (again, using the term capitalist here to describe the mixed economy) because most of the time, when state interventions in the economy cause distortions and problems, the state usually responds, not by undoing the intervention and freeing up the market, but instead by further interventions, and this continues in a cycle (see https://mises.org/library/middle-road-policy-leads-socialism ) until there is an economic and/or fiscal crisis that can, in some instances, lead to revolutions and other problems for the regime.

      Please understand, I’m not defending “capitalist states,” which contain all sorts of ways in which the economy is rigged in favor of special interests — I’m defending a real free market in which there is no state intervention to cause distortions and misallocations of resources. I agree absolutely that, in the long run, the US economy (running on inflationary currency, with Fed-manipulated interest rates & astronomical debts, rife with bailouts & subsidies, etc) is not a sustainable system. My point in this podcast wasn’t to imply that the US system is really a free market (it’s not); nor was it to imply that the US economy is indefinitely sustainable (it’s not.)

      My point was that the Soviet economy, because it was much less free relative to the US’s, caused a regime collapse in 1989-1991; whereas the US economy (which I do believe in its current form cannot be sustained indefinitely) is still, despite its problems (which I would typically blame on various forms of state intervention), has continued to “run” (despite its obvious problems) through to the present.

  2. By Edward Jones on

    Another wonderful podcast, you bring up many great points.

    I lived through the Reagan “revolution” and was part of his 600 ship Navy build-up. I think at the time most folks through the USSR had issues. Reagan said lets push them over. And we believed him.

    I think it’s hard to for someone not in the time to appreciate the existential threat we were convinced we faced, the USSR as “The Evil Empire” was real to us. I think it’s like me trying to really understand the feelings of Americans the days/weeks after Pearl Harbor.

    I never saw how much our build-up was taxing the USSR. But I know when I saw the Foxbat that defected I was seriously puzzled as how the USSR could even come close to standing up in a conventional war with the US. We had something like 6 CV battle groups they didn’t have a single carrier! But then nuclear missiles do tend to changed the math.

    Yeap and that “Peace Dividend” lasted for about 3 nanoseconds before we had the never ending war on adjectives. Eisenhower warned us but I think even by 1961 it was already too late.

    Again a Great podcast, thanks.


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