The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold

Brookings Institution Press

Can Russia ever become a normal, free-market, democratic society? Why have so many reforms failed since the Soviet Union's collapse? In this highly-original work, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy argue that Russia's geography, history, and monumental mistakes perpetrated by Soviet planners have locked it into a dead-end path to economic ruin.Shattering a number of myths that have long persisted in the West and in Russia, The Siberian Curse explains why Russia's greatest assets––its gigantic size and Siberia's natural resources––are now the source of one its greatest weaknesses. For seventy years, driven by ideological zeal and the imperative to colonize and industrialize its vast frontiers, communist planners forced people to live in Siberia. They did this in true totalitarian fashion by using the GULAG prison system and slave labor to build huge factories and million-person cities to support them. Today, tens of millions of people and thousands of large-scale industrial enterprises languish in the cold and distant places communist planners put them––not where market forces or free choice would have placed them. Russian leaders still believe that an industrialized Siberia is the key to Russia's prosperity. As a result, the country is burdened by the ever-increasing costs of subsidizing economic activity in some of the most forbidding places on the planet. Russia pays a steep price for continuing this folly––it wastes the very resources it needs to recover from the ravages of communism. Hill and Gaddy contend that Russia's future prosperity requires that it finally throw off the shackles of its Soviet past, by shrinking Siberia's cities. Only by facilitating the relocation of population to western Russia, closer to Europe and its markets, can Russia achieve sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately for Russia, there is no historical precedent for shrinking cities on the scale that will be required. Downsizing Siberia will be a costly and wrenching process. But there is no alternative. Russia cannot afford to keep the cities communist planners left for it out in the cold.
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About the author

Fiona Hillis a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies program at the Brookings Institution. Trained as a historian at St. Andrews University and Harvard University, she has published extensively on a wide range of issues related to Russian and Soviet history, Russia's economic and political transition, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and energy and security issues.

Clifford G. Gaddyis a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy and Governance Studies programs at the Brookings Institution and a visiting professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. His previous books include Russia's Virtual Economy(Brookings, 2002) and The Price of the Past: Russia's Struggle with the Legacy of a Militarized Economy(Brookings, 1996).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2003
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Pages
303
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ISBN
9780815736455
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Development / Economic Development
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Business & Economics / Environmental Economics
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Communism, Post-Communism & Socialism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Can Russia ever become a normal, free-market, democratic society? Why have so many reforms failed since the Soviet Union's collapse? In this highly-original work, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy argue that Russia's geography, history, and monumental mistakes perpetrated by Soviet planners have locked it into a dead-end path to economic ruin. Shattering a number of myths that have long persisted in the West and in Russia, The Siberian Curse explains why Russia's greatest assets––its gigantic size and Siberia's natural resources––are now the source of one its greatest weaknesses. For seventy years, driven by ideological zeal and the imperative to colonize and industrialize its vast frontiers, communist planners forced people to live in Siberia. They did this in true totalitarian fashion by using the GULAG prison system and slave labor to build huge factories and million-person cities to support them. Today, tens of millions of people and thousands of large-scale industrial enterprises languish in the cold and distant places communist planners put them––not where market forces or free choice would have placed them. Russian leaders still believe that an industrialized Siberia is the key to Russia's prosperity. As a result, the country is burdened by the ever-increasing costs of subsidizing economic activity in some of the most forbidding places on the planet. Russia pays a steep price for continuing this folly––it wastes the very resources it needs to recover from the ravages of communism. Hill and Gaddy contend that Russia's future prosperity requires that it finally throw off the shackles of its Soviet past, by shrinking Siberia's cities. Only by facilitating the relocation of population to western Russia, closer to Europe and its markets, can Russia achieve sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately for Russia, there is no historical precedent for shrinking cities on the scale that will be required. Downsizing Siberia will be a costly and wrenching process. But there is no alternative. Russia cannot afford to keep the cities communist planners left for it out in the cold.
From the KGB to the Kremlin: a multidimensional portrait of the man at war with the West. Where do Vladimir Putin's ideas come from? How does he look at the outside world? What does he want, and how far is he willing to go?

The great lesson of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 was the danger of misreading the statements, actions, and intentions of the adversary. Today, Vladimir Putin has become the greatest challenge to European security and the global world order in decades. Russia's 8,000 nuclear weapons underscore the huge risks of not understanding who Putin is.   Featuring five new chapters, this new edition dispels potentially dangerous misconceptions about Putin and offers a clear-eyed look at his objectives. It presents Putin as a reflection of deeply ingrained Russian ways of thinking as well as his unique personal background and experience.

Praise for the first edition

If you want to begin to understand Russia today, read this book. —Sir John Scarlett, former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

For anyone wishing to understand Russia's evolution since the breakup of the Soviet Union and its trajectory since then, the book you hold in your hand is an essential guide.—John McLaughlin, former deputy director of U.S. Central Intelligence

Of the many biographies of Vladimir Putin that have appeared in recent years, this one is the most useful. —Foreign Affairs

This is not just another Putin biography. It is a psychological portrait. —The Financial Times

Q: Do you have time to read books? If so, which ones would you recommend? "My goodness, let's see. There's Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy. Insightful." —Vice President Joseph Biden in Joe Biden: The Rolling Stone Interview.

Bear Traps examines Russia’s longer term economic growth prospects. It argues that Russia’s growth challenges are conventionally misdiagnosed and examines the reasons why: a spatial misallocation that imposes excess costs on production and investment; distortions to human capital; an excessively high relative price of investment that serves as a tax on physical capital accumulation; and an economic mechanism that inhibits adjustments that would correct the misallocation. Bear Traps explains why Soviet legacies still constrain economic growth and outlines a feasible policy path that could remove these obstacles.

The most popular proposals for Russian economic reform today — diversification, innovation, modernization — are misguided. They are based on a faulty diagnosis of the country’s ills, because they ignore a simple reality: Russia’s capital, both physical and human, is systematically overvalued, owing to a failure to account for the handicap imposed by geography and location. Part of the handicap is an unavoidable consequence of Russia’s size and cold climate. But another part is self-inflicted. Soviet policies placed far too much economic activity in cold, remote locations. Specific institutions in today’s Russia, notably its federalist structure, help preserve the Soviet spatial legacy. As a result, capital remains handicapped.

Investments made to compensate for the handicaps of cold and distance should properly be treated as costs. Instead, they are considered net additions to capital. When returns to what appear to be large quantities of physical and human capital fail to satisfy expectations, the blame naturally goes to poor institutions, corruption, backward technology, and so on. Policy proceeds along the wrong path, with costly programs that can end up doing more damage than good. The authors insist that the goal should be to seek to remove the handicaps rather than to spend to compensate for them. They discuss how Russia could develop a modernization program that would let the nation finally focus on its economic advantages, not its handicaps.

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