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Back in the USSR: What life was like in the Soviet Union

Last month saw the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Although the Soviet Experiment it ushered in passed through oppression, genocide, and declining economic growth on its way to final collapse in 1991, it is concerning how clouded this historical memory is becoming. Last month also saw the release of poll results which showed that ‘Millennials would rather live in socialist or communist nation than under capitalism’.

In an effort to dispel the ignorance that gives rise to such results, the Adam Smith Institute in London has published an excellent new book Back in the USSR: What life was like in the Soviet Union by José Luis Ricón Fernández de la Puente. It reveals that

In 1976 only two thirds of Soviet families had a refrigerator—the USA hit two thirds in the early 1930s. Soviet families had to wait years to get one, and when they finally got a postcard giving notice they could buy one, they had a fixed one hour slot during which they could pick it up. They lost their chance if they did not arrive in time.

In the same period, the USA had nearly 100m passenger cars. The USSR? Five million. People typically had to wait four to six years, and often as long as ten, to get one.

There was 30x as much typhoid, 20x as much measles, and cancer detection rates were half as good as in the United States.

Life expectancy actually fell in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s.

The USSR had the highest physician-patient ratio in the world, triple the UK rate, but many medical school graduates could not perform basic tasks like reading an electrocardiogram.

15% of the population lived in areas with pollution 10x normal levels.

By the US poverty measure, well over half of the Soviet population were poor.

Around a quarter could not afford a winter hat or coat, which cost an entire month’s wages on average (the equivalent of £1700 in UK terms).

If you find yourself seduced by the siren song of socialism or communism, read this sobering book. Like potatoes in Soviet Russia, its free. Unlike potatoes in Soviet Russia, you don’t have to queue for six hours to get a copy. You can down load it here.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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