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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Back in the USSR" Was Just a Song

"You don't know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the USSR, yeah"
It was just a song.  But to Brian Leiter, a law and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago who frequently takes swipes and swings at conservatives, it had a ring of truth to it:
"I should add, of course, that whether the collapse of the Soviet Union should be considered a good thing is a separate question. Certainly everyone (except the despots) welcomes the end of totalitarian regimes, though some of the former Soviet republics have remained thoroughly undemocratic, and Russia itself has moved strongly back in that direction. Then, of course, there was the enormous human cost to the collapse (increased mortality, a decline in longevity, and massive economic and thus human dislocation and suffering). Finally, certain other world-historic crimes, such as the U.S. war of aggression against Iraq, are unlikely to have occurred if the Soviet Union had remained intact."
When I saw the link at Instapundit last night, I was going to write about how misguided this analysis was on so many levels.  As many of you know, I was a Russian Studies major in college and lived in the Soviet Union while studying and traveling in the early 1980s, about which I have written here numerous times.

But Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason who writes at Volokh Conspiracy, beat me to it, and frankly, Ilya did a better job than I could have done at debunking the mythology of the Soviet Union laid out in Leiter's post. 

Read the entire post at Volokh Conspiracy which addresses the erroneous health and life expectancy superiority of Soviet society.  Here is the conclusion on whether the fall of the Soviet Union led to "world-historic crimes":
"Finally, we have Leiter’s claim that the survival of the USSR might have averted “world-historic crimes” such as the US invasion of Iraq. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of the Iraq War, I think it’s not at all obvious that it counts as a “world-historic crime.” Although the war may not have been worth its cost from a US point of view and was often badly conducted, the replacement of a mass-murdering despot by a relatively democratic government is very likely a net gain for Iraqis themselves. It’s also worth noting that the Cold War era was far from free of bloody proxy wars, many of which had worse outcomes than Iraq. Such conflicts would likely have continued had the USSR survived.

Perhaps more to the point, the USSR had a tendency to commit “world-historic crimes” of its own, such as the mass murder of millions of its own people and — most recently — the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which ended up killing over 1 million people. Had the USSR survived the 1980s, it is very likely that such atrocities would have recurred. Previously in Soviet history, periods of liberalization (e.g. the mid-1920s and early 1960s) were followed by periods of heightened repression at home and expansionism abroad (e.g. — the Stalin and Brezhnev eras). Had Gorbachev’s reforms fizzled out or been reversed, the same pattern would likely have recurred as more hardline communist leaders returned to power and tried to suppress liberal tendencies.

We cannot know exactly how history would have unfolded if the USSR had survived to the present day. But the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that the world is far better off without it."
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  1. "Back in the USSR" or "Leiter in the Sky with Diatribes"?

  2. "Then, of course, there was the enormous human cost to the collapse (increased mortality, a decline in longevity, and massive economic and thus human dislocation and suffering)" <-- Silly beyond deserving of a response.

    I believe that there is universal agreement that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a net positive for the people there, unless of course you asked those who had just lost their power. There also is no evidence of a "decline in longevity" or a "increase in mortality", again unless you believe the Soviet statistics. We all know they would never have cooked the books.

  3. "Mikhail, My Belle" has a lovely ring to it.

  4. Even as a kid I took bitussr as irony. This boy knew how lucky he was 'not' to be there. I'm not the only one either.

  5. I am surprised that Leiter did not mention that had Mussolini stayed in power we would not only have fewer world historic crimes but that all of our trains would run on time.

    It is good we have so many university professors in this country otherwise our mental institutions would be overwhelmed.