Like most Sixties fossils, P.J. O’Rourke went senile sometime during the Bush years, and Trump caused him to lose whatever was left of his mind. But at one point he was a seriously funny dude, with a real knack for boiling down complex political issues into humorous bites. What follows draws extensively on Eat the Rich, a book I still recommend if you have young people in your life — high school or early college — who need a primer on basic economics.*
Back in the bad old days in the USSR, they wanted to establish a system on non-monetary accounting, money being Capitalism of course, comrade. This despite the fact that Lenin’s “War Communism” was an admission, as early as 1918, that Marxist economics was badly wrong… but whatever, being Commies and thus unconstrained by mere physical reality, they went ahead and did it anyway. But being Commies (and thus unconstrained by mere reality), they didn’t realize that “price” isn’t just something the Capitalists made up to screw over the Workers. No, price is just information, and one of the key things it communicates is demand.
O’Rourke uses the example of shoes. The Commies weren’t big on consumer goods for obvious reasons, but even the proles need shoes. If you’re a Communist (or a teenager), it seems simple enough: send your flunkies out into a region, have them write down everyone’s shoe sizes, and then make those. Which would work, I guess, if not for the fact that industry doesn’t operate that way. Industries are only efficient through economies of scale. “A shoe factory” only beats “a cordwainer” because the factory can crank out 10,000 pairs of shoes in the time it takes the cordwainer to produce one pair. Worse, factories are massive resource sinks if they’re not running at full blast at all times…
After trying several workarounds, GOSPLAN, the state production ministry, decided to use “Gross Output Targets” to produce goods. Which probably worked ok for stuff like rebar, if you don’t care about quality (see Mao’s DIY backyard blast furnaces, below), but is terrible for stuff like shoes. So let’s say GOSPLAN decides that 100,000 lucky proles of Irkutsk Oblast shall receive one pair of shoes apiece. Since all materials had to be requisitioned in advance from GOSSNAB (I confess: I love Soviet acronyms), and since the production line would need to be re-tooled for each individual size and style of shoe, the factory managers — who had to hit the Gross Output Target, or go tour Siberia — did the only logical thing: They cranked out 100,000 baby shoes, all left feet. (Baby shoes use less leather; the excess can be sold or traded, see below).
Again, Commies couldn’t care less about consumer complaints, but eventually some up and comer in the Party will notice that everyone is wandering barefoot around a big pile of baby shoes. That might make him look bad, so he sends a report, and, after a long and convoluted bureaucratic process, GOSPLAN revises their order: 100,000 pairs of shoes, but in different sizes and styles, for men and women. In response to which, the factory manager does the only logical thing: 99,999 pairs of baby shoes, all left feet, plus one pump and one wingtip.
Lather, rinse, repeat. The factory manager isn’t a bad guy — in fact, let’s say he’s Wyatt. He’s just operating on an entirely different incentive structure than even his immediate boss, to say nothing of the faceless apparatchiks at GOSPLAN. Hitting any Gross Output Target is a real task, given that his workforce is a bunch of illiterate peasants who hate him and are constantly drunk. What probably seems like spectacularly inventive cruelty to the proles of Irkutsk Oblast is just Wyatt doing everything he can to keep his family out of the Gulag. And since Wyatt’s a smart guy, he can get around any target GOSPLAN sets. If they tell him to produce 100,000 pounds of shoes, his factory cranks out one enormous pair of concrete sneakers.
That’s one of Wyatt’s two overriding priorities: Staying out of the Gulag. The other one is: Using whatever he can scrimp, save, or scrounge from GOSSNAB as trade goods in the black market.
Here again, Wyatt’s not a bad guy. He’s not doing this to feather his own nest (though of course he lives a little better than others; he’s only human). In the words of the immortal Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth, and even the most meticulously “scientific” management gets punched in the mouth all the time. As we’ve seen, GOSPLAN can’t even get it right with something as low-tech, as easy to mass-produce as shoes, so imagine how they do with more complex bits of equipment. The factory managers, who have to hit the Gross Output Targets, no matter what, quickly figure out that they’ll be waiting until doomsday if they try requisitioning what they need from GOSSNAB, so they form a kind of black market between themselves. Indeed there’s an entire class of quasi-criminals, whose name I forget, that exists only to facilitate such transactions.
Extend that paradigm to everything, and you’ve got life in the USSR. There’s the “official” economy, which is pure fantasy. There’s the black market economy at the factory level, where bulk materials change hands (since the official economy is pure fantasy, nobody blinks an eye when, say, 100,000 metric tons of concrete disappears off a manifest somewhere and reappears, un-manifested (as it were), somewhere else). There’s the black market at the consumer level, since of course the poor proles of Irkutsk Oblast have to have shoes and there’s no way they’re getting them from Wyatt’s factory. And finally, there’s the black market at the service level — those go-betweens arranging for 100,000 metric tons of concrete to fall off a truck in Vladivostok and appear, like magic, in Kiev (and their consumer-level equivalents — think pimps, but for everything).
All of which is coming soon to a theater near you.
In fact, a lot of it is largely in place. We’ve gone at it backasswards, of course, because a) this is Amurrica, and b) everyone involved so far has been a retard, but look at the aforementioned “education” system. Being in “higher” ed I was at the tail end of it, but even on my perch I could see it happening in miniature. Any “school,” K-thru-PhD, has what amounts to a Gross Output Target. A buddy of mine from grad school who teaches at one of those patented Small Private Liberal Arts Colleges (TM) had one of the muckety-mucks tell him to his face that he was failing too many students.
So he first tried dumbing the class down. When that didn’t work, he started rigging the grading scale, such that stuff like “having a works cited page,” which should be worth less than nothing, was now worth 10% of the paper’s grade. He tried other expedients, like “extra credit,” but since it was soon made clear to him that the kind of parents who send their kids to Small Private Liberal Arts Colleges (TM) ain’t paying for no “gentleman’s C,” he did what we all ended up doing, after going through much the same process — he just made it up. Thankfully college students are even lazier than their teachers somehow, so there are always a few who “wreck the curve” by not turning anything in, but since that doesn’t happen in grade school, they’ve done the only logical thing — declare that “grades be rayciss” and throwing them out.
No, really. Google it. And while you’re at it, google the horrifying reports that somehow slipped out last summer, about how some huge percentage of students in “lockdown” didn’t bother logging on to Zoom School at all. They still passed, of course, and do you see what I mean? The administration gets sent to Siberia if they don’t pass everyone through to the next grade; lots of kids never attended; therefore attendance be rayciss (no, really, that was really the excuse they used — some “underprivileged” households don’t have Internet access, and never mind what little Shitavious and Sasquatcheeta are doing with far nicer smartphones than you have).
Me personally, I’m planning on building a black market empire teaching basic history, spelling, and grammar, but that’s beside the point. The point is, most of the “official” AINO economy is pure fantasy already. The rest of it soon will be, and pretty soon you’ll need to know a guy to get just about anything. The good news is, since so many persyns in high places are so very, very stupid, black marketing should come fairly easy to anyone with anything on the ball. The bad news, of course, is that this is a shitty, soul-destroying way to live, but… there it is.
*I know, I know, Econ as a discipline is mostly ooga-booga stuff, but “supply and demand” etc. still work, and this is good for that.Loading Likes...