It is possible to learn as much or more through anecdotes and humor as through rigorous economic analysis. This is especially true of communism. Following is a collection of my favorite commie stories. They reveal all you ever need to know.
Gorbachev once presided over a special politburo meeting to address a pantyhose crisis. Pantyhose had disappeared from the USSR; even wives of politburo members could not get them and their complaints forced an emergency pantyhose politburo meeting. Imagine a US cabinet meeting devoted solely to underwear production.
The Soviets had a broken window crisis. The problem was traced to glass factories where production quotas were based on square footage of glass. The glass commissars exceeded their quotas by producing vast quantities of ultra thin glass. To correct this, the head commies changed the quota from square footage to weight. The outcome is as predictable as it is farcical; the glass commissars switched to producing equally unuseable ultra thick glass. This is but a microcosm of what happens when there are no markets. It also proves the capitalist principle that people respond to incentives.
One day the chief Soviet economist burst into the office of the head commie exclaiming “Congratulations comrade, we have conquered the entire world except for New Zealand.” The General Secretary was happy but perplexed; he asked, “Surely we are more powerful than New Zealand; why have we not conquered it as well?” The economist replied, “We must keep one place in the world where there are real prices.“
Communist East Germany had the most advanced computer technology in the Soviet block. Their computer scientists were told extreme security was necessary because they were so far ahead of the west. After the Berlin Wall fell, the top commie computer scientist visited West Berlin where he was flabbergasted to find far more advanced computers for sale to the public at ridiculously low prices. The secrecy was imposed not because commie computers were so good, but because they were so bad.
In the 1980s my friends were visiting Moscow. One day while walking around, they noticed it was lunch time and looked for a place to eat. They found a cafeteria and got in line. Despite waiting forever, the line did not move. My friend went to see what was going on. He found a sign that read: Cafeteria closed for employees’ lunch.
I conclude with an icon of communism, the Trabant – the best car produced by commies. It had a two-stroke, two-cylinder engine and went from zero to 60 in the same day. It had 26 horsepower and a top speed of 60 mph. The gas gauge was a dipstick and oil had to be mixed in with the gas in precisely the correct proportion. Since it had no fuel pump, the gas tank was located atop the engine for gravity flow. Despite all this, the waiting time from order to delivery was 12-15 years.
Contrast the East German manufactured Trabant with cars manufactured in West Germany: Mercedes, VW, Audi and BMW. Communism produced Trabants with a 12- year wait; capitalism produced Mercedes and BMWs available immediately and with a stunning array of options. The difference between communism and capitalism really is this obvious – – they promise you a Mercedes-Benz but they give you a Trabant!
The final posting in our Red October series on October 29th is entitled “The God That Failed“. It is one of the most powerful posts of all time; don’t miss it!