Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-11 02:22pm

Simon_Jester wrote:But I do think we should be intellectually honest about why capitalism accomplishes what it accomplishes, and what the advantages and disadvantages of the system are. And "achieve more because FREEDOM" is not an intellectually honest statement along those lines. It's an attempt to use buzz-words to bypass the thinking process.


"Freedom" is a lot more than a buzzword, see my example above with the transistor radio.

In fact the freedom of founding your own company triggers progress in a capitalistic society.

This leads to "creative destruction", meaning technological outdated products go extinct, along with companies which cannot adapt to new technology.

A good example is the typewriter: The microcomputers/ PCs of the 70ies started to replace typewriters, in the 80ies the last producers of typewriters went bankrupt or closed their typewriter-business.

Gone were Olivetti and Triumph Adler, born were Microsoft, Apple, Commodore etc.

What incentive does a communist society have to replace typewriters with PCs?
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-11 02:35pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:and in the USSR plenty of economic statistics were just lies thanks to oppressive politics


I think that this is a key point: I have seen corporations which acted the same way, with most managers being spineless careerists.

But the huge difference is that such corporations just go bankrupt eventually and disappear, which causes much less damage than a whole society acting this way until a revolution takes place.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-11 02:45pm

BabelHuber wrote:What incentive does a communist society have to replace typewriters with PCs?

What incentive did it have to replace horses with tractors? :lol: I'm afraid this looks more and more like a congregation of people whose sorry intellectual state is itself a sign of capitalistic disease - poorly capable of thinking systemically and imagining concepts outside the typical buzzwords, they fall prey to the simplest concepts aired in the meme space.
BabelHuber wrote:But the huge difference is that such corporations just go bankrupt eventually and disappear, which causes much less damage than a whole society acting this way until a revolution takes place.

Some companies - and some quite corrupt ones - existed for hundreds of years. Should they be abolished just because you feel it is somehow an injust situation where corrupt organizations outlive people, or is that an injustice that's OK because it's capitalism? Or is it about damage control - then how about all the people who lose their jobs thanks to companies going bankrupt?
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-11 03:31pm

K. A. Pital wrote:What incentive did it have to replace horses with tractors? :lol: I'm afraid this looks more and more like a congregation of people whose sorry intellectual state is itself a sign of capitalistic disease - poorly capable of thinking systemically and imagining concepts outside the typical buzzwords, they fall prey to the simplest concepts aired in the meme space.


Replacing horses with tractors is an obvious way to raise productivity for agricultural production. Any sane communist leadership will love to do this if it has the chance - either for importing less or for exporting more.

But replacing typewriters with PCs is totally different - it does not give you immediate and obvious advantages. Why would the Brezhnev administration see this as a major breakthrough? Oh right it did not!

A few years later, they will see what they have missed when the capitalist society has a big lead in productivity because of this new technology. But then it already is very difficult to catch up.

So before calling somebody "poorly capable of thinking systemically", I would think a little bit more systemically myself first :lol:

K. A. Pital wrote:Some companies - and some quite corrupt ones - existed for hundreds of years. Should they be abolished just because you feel it is somehow an injust situation where corrupt organizations outlive people, or is that an injustice that's OK because it's capitalism? Or is it about damage control - then how about all the people who lose their jobs thanks to companies going bankrupt?


Big organizations tend to become inefficient, because people in such organizations tend to occupy themselves with internal matters of the organization instead of focusing on important issues.

I have seen this first hand, managers doing some monkey work, "enhancing their visibility" to progress their career etc. In the end they become parasites who waste the money the hard-working people in this organization earn.

Can such organizations survive for a long term under good external conditions? Yes. Do they die quickly when they have competent competition? Yes Do they deserve to go bankrupt? Hell yes!

People can get new jobs. Except of those whose career is so tailored to the loony bin they worked in that they are useless outside of this organization. Togh shit, it was their decision. Live's a bitch.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-11 04:20pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
BabelHuber wrote:What incentive does a communist society have to replace typewriters with PCs?

What incentive did it have to replace horses with tractors? :lol: I'm afraid this looks more and more like a congregation of people whose sorry intellectual state is itself a sign of capitalistic disease - poorly capable of thinking systemically and imagining concepts outside the typical buzzwords, they fall prey to the simplest concepts aired in the meme space.
You are actually looking at two congregations of people mixed together. One is trapped in buzzwords. One is not.

It is, for example, my opinion that capitalism is very powerful at accomplishing some things, and phenomenally weak at accomplishing others. It has strengths and weaknesses. It gives rise to certain intellectual diseases and economic problems. It cures other diseases and problems. It is intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise- either by giving capitalism undeserved praise, or by giving it undeserved condemnation.

Likewise, it is also intellectually dishonest to pretend that communism does not, and did not, fall prey to intellectual diseases and economic problems of its own. Like capitalism, communism has (and had) strengths and weaknesses, curing some problems while causing others. Skimmer pointed out some of the problems caused, for instance.

Judging the two systems relative to one another cannot be done as a matter of ideology, it must be done as a matter of practical concerns and which does a better job of caring for the humans it rules.

BabelHuber wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:But I do think we should be intellectually honest about why capitalism accomplishes what it accomplishes, and what the advantages and disadvantages of the system are. And "achieve more because FREEDOM" is not an intellectually honest statement along those lines. It's an attempt to use buzz-words to bypass the thinking process.
"Freedom" is a lot more than a buzzword, see my example above with the transistor radio.

In fact the freedom of founding your own company triggers progress in a capitalistic society.
BabelHuber, you are missing the point, because your definition of 'freedom' is nebulous. Just saying "people are more free under capitalism" is meaningless.

If you were competent at making your own points, you would say something more like this:

"Capitalism grants people a specific freedom which communism does not: the freedom of enterprise. Whether or not they are more free in other ways, they are more free to try economic activities, to experiment with the means of production, because they have more influence over how the means of production are used."

We can talk about the merits of "freedom of enterprise" without the debate turning into you and Stas shouting buzzwords at each other.

For that matter, we can even talk about whether there are ways to somehow incorporate a greater degree of "freedom of enterprise" into a command economy, and whether this would be beneficial.

This leads to "creative destruction", meaning technological outdated products go extinct, along with companies which cannot adapt to new technology.

A good example is the typewriter: The microcomputers/ PCs of the 70ies started to replace typewriters, in the 80ies the last producers of typewriters went bankrupt or closed their typewriter-business.

Gone were Olivetti and Triumph Adler, born were Microsoft, Apple, Commodore etc.

What incentive does a communist society have to replace typewriters with PCs?
As Stas noted, it would have the same incentives everyone else did. No reasonably prosperous and functional communist society ever stopped trying to advance its technology, when it knew of a better technology to accomplish a given objective.

The problem was not that communist society had no incentive to replace typewriters with word processors. The problem was that communist society was unable to rapidly develop and produce a word processor that could outcompete the typewriter.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-11 04:58pm

BabelHuber wrote:Replacing horses with tractors is an obvious way to raise productivity for agricultural production. Any sane communist leadership will love to do this if it has the chance - either for importing less or for exporting more.

Obvious to whom?
BabelHuber wrote:But replacing typewriters with PCs is totally different - it does not give you immediate and obvious advantages.

So, not obvious to a person with higher education who understands that replacing pen and paper with a calculator is efficient? Are we even on the same planet?
BabelHuber wrote:Big organizations tend to become inefficient, because people in such organizations tend to occupy themselves with internal matters of the organization instead of focusing on important issues. I have seen this first hand, managers doing some monkey work, "enhancing their visibility" to progress their career etc. In the end they become parasites who waste the money the hard-working people in this organization earn. Can such organizations survive for a long term under good external conditions? Yes. Do they die quickly when they have competent competition? Yes Do they deserve to go bankrupt? Hell yes! People can get new jobs. Except of those whose career is so tailored to the loony bin they worked in that they are useless outside of this organization. Togh shit, it was their decision. Live's a bitch.

Thankfully, "togh shit" dumbasses like you don't get to decide anything - that's a relief, if such a thing can even exist in our oligarchic world. Life's not a bitch and shit's not obliged to be tough, were it not for short-sighted idiots. Some Asian superconglomerates survived for hundreds of years in face of extreme competition. Didn't mean they weren't corrupt or without internal problems. Didn't mean that people weren't doing "monkey work" - a certain percentage for sure. But a lot of people went home to their families with bread for many decades - for generations and generations. But thanks for this demonstration of what you are.

Personally, I think that your idea of "efficiency" is itself just hostage to the concept of "creative destruction". As you are unable to even imagine an alternative concept of organizing creative effort, it is pointless to discuss this further.

Let me just note that it was far from obvious - according to yoru criteria, at least - that indigenous computing would bring long-term benefits to the economy, but a variety of systems were developed in the USSR the late 1940s and 1950s.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-11 05:07pm

Simon_Jester wrote:If you were competent at making your own points, you would say something more like this:

"Capitalism grants people a specific freedom which communism does not: the freedom of enterprise. Whether or not they are more free in other ways, they are more free to try economic activities, to experiment with the means of production, because they have more influence over how the means of production are used."


My original point was:

Because a capitalist society has a huge advantage: Individuals have more freedom and hence can start their own companies and pursue their own visions. In a communist society, you may have engineers who are similarly qualified and have similar visions, but due to the centralist nature of their society they cannot pursue them as well.


I don't think that this is nebulous at all

Simon_Jester wrote:As Stas noted, it would have the same incentives everyone else did. No reasonably prosperous and functional communist society ever stopped trying to advance its technology, when it knew of a better technology to accomplish a given objective.


You have overseen my main point: Creative destruction.

This is the advantage of capitalistic societies. While creating something new, something old is destroyed.

Modern-day China has yet to prove that it is capable of this while keeping its current society at the same time.

Simon_Jester wrote:The problem was not that communist society had no incentive to replace typewriters with word processors. The problem was that communist society was unable to rapidly develop and produce a word processor that could outcompete the typewriter.


No. A communist society has to take care about a ridiculous amount of issues. Like in the German Democratic Republic, where the leadership was struggling to make sure that the population has enough coffee (otherwise the people would be in a bad mood).

When you are distracted by such trivial problems, it is difficult to spend resources on things like typewriters vs. PCs. They did too little, too late as a consequence.

As Sea Skimmer has already explained, communistic societies have to fall back over time compared to capitalistic ones. Of course you can try to go the route of modern-day China, but then you just get a capitalistic dictatorship which claims to be communist.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-11 05:25pm

K. A. Pital wrote:Obvious to whom?


To anybody with half a brain.

K. A. Pital wrote:So, not obvious to a person with higher education who understands that replacing pen and paper with a calculator is efficient? Are we even on the same planet?


All of the communist societies in the 1970ies failed to replace typewriters with PCs. Not a single one put a top priority on this. Not soviet Russia, not the GDR, not Poland, not Bulgaria, not Cuba, the list goes on and on.

And what benefits exactly do you think Brezhnev and his nomenclature expected in 1975 regarding microcomputers (as PCs were called back then)?

And we are not talking about calculators, we are talking about typewriters vs. PCs here. You know, a device which initially lets you type letters faster (in 1975, even the spreadsheet wasn't invented yet! Just google Visicalc).

K. A. Pital wrote:Thankfully, "togh shit" dumbasses like you don't get to decide anything - that's a relief, if such a thing can even exist in our oligarchic world. Life's not a bitch and shit's not obliged to be tough, were it not for short-sighted idiots.

Some Asian superconglomerates survived for hundreds of years in face of extreme competition. Didn't mean they weren't corrupt or without internal problems. Didn't mean that people weren't doing "monkey work" - a certain percentage for sure. But a lot of people went home to their families with bread for many decades - for generations and generations. But thanks for this demonstration of what you are.


You don't seem to get that a company is just a legal construct, not more. If it goes bankrupt, all the people, tools etc. are still there and can be utilized. Except in your twisted fantasy, where the end of a legal entity means suffering of people per default.

K. A. Pital wrote:Personally, I think that your idea of "efficiency" is itself just hostage to the concept of "creative destruction". As you are unable to even imagine an alternative concept of organizing creative effort, it is pointless to discuss this further.


Creative destruction is absolutely paramount for the advancement of society. If morons like you would rule the world, we would still have stagecoaches rolling around - because otherwise its whole infrastructure would vanish with according unemployment :banghead:
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Starglider » 2016-08-11 07:11pm

In theory modern computing, particularly supply chain management technology could make communism less of a disaster. But it doesn't matter because the theory of communism is relevant only as propaganda to entice useful fools and suppress the first stages of dissent. The practice of communism is the pursuit of total oppression, state domination and control, under which umbrella the inner party can hijack the entire resources of the state for their own gratification without needing to display any competence other than bootlicking superiors and crushing opposition. Any attempt to deploy advanced economic management technology will fail because communist politicians are not actually motivated to manage the economy, not when ideological compliance and propaganda-fueling spectacle is always valued over merely meeting targets, not when said targets can be faked, the inspectors bribed, the whistleblowers liquified with such ease. Advanced computing obtained by a committed communist state is always prioritised for military and population control; the prospects of pervasive survellience to suppress all dissent are far more interesting than the idea of improving lives of irrelevant proles. It is of course deeply ironic that the bubling, steaming, hypocritical lump of pure hatred currently calling itself as 'Kapital' rails against capitalism on an open standards, multi-vendor, minimally censored, democratised global communication network that no communist society could ever permit to exist, much less create.

Regardless, even if we were to indulge in the fantasy of the USSR actually trying to provide something like the Internet to ordinary citizens, the telecommunications infrastructure of the 70s/80s was hopelessly far behind the free world and utterly incapable of providing mass remote access, even if the USSR could somehow construct (or more likely buy with oil revenues) enough mainframes/minicomputers to provide the central servers. This would have been a fools errand in any case as by the 80s the economics hugely favoured mass production of cheap stand-alone microcomputers, usable WAN communications would not become economic until the late 90s. The economics of this were mutually beneficial with the proliferation of microcontrollers, improving the efficiency and functionality of virtually every complex machine. Even in the west, 60s/70s predictions of central factory control computers, central home control computers, even single car control computers proved incorrect, replaced by large numbers of embedded processors in every device and (for cars) subassembly. For communism, democratisation cannot be tolerated, peer-to-peer is blasphemous, lack of central control deadly. We don't yet know the long term effects of social networking on politics; it is possible socialism could be a net benificiary; but the IT industry as a whole has over the past 40 years it has strongly driven globalisation, capitalism and individual freedom. Cell phones alone (both original and then smartphones) were an huge jump in interpersonal, non-state-mediated freedom to communicate. The IT industry helped to kill Soviet communism, and is right now a major force in the slow dismantling of Chinese communism, and that's just one more reason why it's awesome.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-11 07:28pm

BabelHuber wrote:
K. A. Pital wrote:What incentive did it have to replace horses with tractors? :lol: I'm afraid this looks more and more like a congregation of people whose sorry intellectual state is itself a sign of capitalistic disease - poorly capable of thinking systemically and imagining concepts outside the typical buzzwords, they fall prey to the simplest concepts aired in the meme space.
Replacing horses with tractors is an obvious way to raise productivity for agricultural production. Any sane communist leadership will love to do this if it has the chance - either for importing less or for exporting more.

But replacing typewriters with PCs is totally different - it does not give you immediate and obvious advantages. Why would the Brezhnev administration see this as a major breakthrough? Oh right it did not!
The Brezhnev administration didn't have ready access to microcomputers that could outcompete the typewriter.

Remember that typewriters remained in widespread use right up into and through the 1980s. This is not because there were no microcomputers. This is because a microcomputer cost ten or a hundred times more than a typewriter.

Microcomputers became cheap enough to replace typewriters for reasons that had very little to do with anyone's vision or lack of vision. They had to do with advances in the underlying technology. They had to do with people getting more and more experience in programming simple, cheap, user-friendly computers that could do the jobs that used to require large, bulky, unserviceable mainframes.

Did capitalism play a major role in making this possible? Yes.

Is it correct to say "communists didn't see the point in replacing typewriters with microcomputers, so they didn't try?" No, it is not.

If you honestly believe the truth is on your side, don't lie. Don't oversimplify. Don't play word games and try to use catch phrases as a substitute for explanations.



BabelHuber wrote:My original point was:

Because a capitalist society has a huge advantage: Individuals have more freedom and hence can start their own companies and pursue their own visions. In a communist society, you may have engineers who are similarly qualified and have similar visions, but due to the centralist nature of their society they cannot pursue them as well.


I don't think that this is nebulous at all.
Yes, I know you don't. That's your problem.

See, "freedom" means a lot of things besides "freedom of enterprise," a term I had to make up precisely because there is no widely accepted word for the phenomenon. Using the word 'freedom' when you mean a singular specific freedom is you falling prey to buzz-word thinking- one of the very common products of exactly the sort of inefficient, sloppily organized, incompetent, ossified organizations you claim to despise.

People who are effective and useful don't use vague, broad words to refer to specific, precise concepts. Because they, unlike you, have a clear understanding of what they're talking about. They know what it is, and they know what it is not.

You do not have this understanding of capitalism, as shown by the way you speak of it. This is why your analyses of capitalism, and your policy recommendations, tend to be both ineffective and useless.

Simon_Jester wrote:As Stas noted, it would have the same incentives everyone else did. No reasonably prosperous and functional communist society ever stopped trying to advance its technology, when it knew of a better technology to accomplish a given objective.
You have overseen my main point: Creative destruction.

This is the advantage of capitalistic societies. While creating something new, something old is destroyed.
Creative destruction is not unique to capitalism. Communism is, in fact, frighteningly good at destroying old things to make room for new things.

The fact that you have a fetish for destroying old 'inefficient' systems because you think they should be replaced with something different does not somehow make you better or smarter.

You're trying to act as though capitalism is somehow uniquely responsible for this wonderful thing you call creative destruction. It's ridiculous. It's like a child trying to take credit for the fact that rain started falling, because they just did the proper little magic dance.

So stop singing from the hymn book in praise of competition, and start thinking. Like Skimmer did. Skimmer actually came up with a very good, and very specific, reason why capitalism was successful at creating computers. It wasn't a vague buzz-word like "competition." It wasn't "creative destruction."

It was the simple fact of cost accounting. As long as no market failures or major intangibles are involved, the use of market prices to determine the cost of goods and services has a major advantage. By using market prices, a capitalist economy provides an impersonal, largely objective metric of how much things actually cost society at large, in terms of the labor and materials and logistics required to make them. This is an extremely helpful tool for planning and organizing efficient operations, and it is one that centrally planned economies struggle to duplicate.

And that is only one of many such observations that could be made here.

But such observations are beyond you, because you're so busy making a fetish out of capitalism that you can't stop and think long enough to develop a clear-eyed understanding of what it is.

Simon_Jester wrote:The problem was not that communist society had no incentive to replace typewriters with word processors. The problem was that communist society was unable to rapidly develop and produce a word processor that could outcompete the typewriter.
No. A communist society has to take care about a ridiculous amount of issues. Like in the German Democratic Republic, where the leadership was struggling to make sure that the population has enough coffee (otherwise the people would be in a bad mood).
And yet communism did not have any remarkable problems switching from horses to tractors, or from village blacksmiths to steel mills, or from steam locomotives to diesel, or from trains to airplanes.

You're coming up with simplistic, childish excuses for things that are far more usefully explained by more adult-level thinking.

The problem is not that the leadership of the communist country is distracted by coffee shipments or something. The problem is the difficulty of ensuring that resources and labor are allocated efficiently enough to make the manufacture of cutting-edge computer hardware possible.

You don't seem to get that a company is just a legal construct, not more. If it goes bankrupt, all the people, tools etc. are still there and can be utilized. Except in your twisted fantasy, where the end of a legal entity means suffering of people per default.
Experience shows that you are not correct. When companies go out of business, workers frequently suffer, as they are either left without a job, or forced to justify the right to retain their job to a new employer who purchased their services as part of a buyout.

Have you actually talked to real people whose company went bankrupt, in a diverse set of circumstances and industries?

BabelHuber wrote:
K. A. Pital wrote:So, not obvious to a person with higher education who understands that replacing pen and paper with a calculator is efficient? Are we even on the same planet?
All of the communist societies in the 1970ies failed to replace typewriters with PCs. Not a single one put a top priority on this. Not soviet Russia, not the GDR, not Poland, not Bulgaria, not Cuba, the list goes on and on.
Capitalist societies in the 1970s didn't replace typewriters with PCs either. Typewriters remained in use up through the 1980s, and were not dislodged by PCs until the end of that decade. In parts of the world where people have less money, they are still in widespread use.

On that note, you bringing up nations like Cuba which were always deeply impoverished compared to developed nations makes this a further joke. Do you really expect a country that never had anything like the West's per capita GDP, before or after communism, to be an early adopter of high technology?

It's not that it's wrong to say "capitalism made the computer revolution possible and it would not be possible under communism." That's not wrong, honestly, I think.

The problem is that you're babbling nonsense and blustering about buzz-words in an attempt to support a true conclusion, a conclusion which is true for more subtle and practical reasons that I'm not sure you're prepared to understand.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Sidewinder » 2016-08-11 11:50pm

One oft-overlooked motivation for improvements in computer technology, is entertainment, i.e., computer gaming. Hell, the Japanese government once tried to control exports of Sony Playstation 2s, because the video game console's CPU could be used for missile guidance systems. In the absence of such profit motivation, I doubt Soviet computer technology could ever rival that of the west.

It makes me wonder, when planning alt-history stories in which the Soviet Union survived, what a "Made in the USSR" video game console and its games would be like, however. (Most obvious answers for games: combat flight simulators, turn-based and real-time strategy games, first-person shooters. Would something like the 'Final Fantasy' or 'Street Fighter' series ever take off in the Soviet Union?)
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Titan Uranus » 2016-08-12 01:50am

I expect that would rather depend on what changed in the USSR to allow it to survive.

Did the hardliners grimly hold to power, and pull Russia further into a failed police state?
Did state control over the economy slowly recede with only strategic industries remaining nationalized?
Or did Gorbechav and his successors just trundle along, mediocre and pointless, just barely avoiding collapse?


Though outside of specific applications relating to graphics, I don't think that video games were much of a driving force in computer development.

I'm also pretty sure that The Japanese government briefly considered restricting the export of PS2s for political reasons, not because they were actually useful as guidance computers, they would be too large, overpowered for the job, and probably not resilient enough to actually be useful.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-12 02:35am

Disregarding the childish attacks of primitive conformists like Starglider and BabelHuber, I would like to quickly demolish the latter's silly argument that investing in unproven science and technology cannot occur under communism.

In 1954, the USSR built the first Tokamak, a nuclear fusion chamber - requiring considerable invesment and application of intellectual resources - a decade before any Western power. In fact, the only other Western power to construct the devices early was Australia.

At the time it was not obvious even to the smartest people that fusion power was going to be relevant or feasible, but investment occured nonetheless.

It is not a matter of the technology bringing an obvious benefit. It is a matter of random choice, and this is where market is better. There was no market for computers in planned economies, only a potential demand from the planning apparatus. On the other hand, under capitalism there is actual demand and the market is better at choosing which random technologies to develop for profit. I am afraid most of the participants are unable to even understand the difference between "profitable" and "good" - these are overlapping categories and not a 1-1 match.

Even the narrative of Soviet computing lagging behind the West severly is only true for the period of 1970-1980, which is marked by technological and social stagnation in the country. Whereas in 1953 the Soviet computer BESM 1 was the fastest in Europe, and the lag was generally created due to a lack of free exchange of core component samples (COCOM restrictions), which severely limited access to semiconductors. Still, even with the COCOM restrictions, up to the late 1960s the USSR managed to produce some of the fastest computers in Europe (BESM-6, for example).

So the story is not as one-sided as simpletons believe.

Those who are interested in history of Soviet computing, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, are invited to read this book:
http://www.sigcis.org/files/SIGCISMC2010_001.pdf
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-12 09:34am

Titan Uranus wrote:I'm also pretty sure that The Japanese government briefly considered restricting the export of PS2s for political reasons, not because they were actually useful as guidance computers, they would be too large, overpowered for the job, and probably not resilient enough to actually be useful.
No, that kind of resilience would only be found in Nintendo products. ;)

Anyway, yeah, there was nothing about the Playstation 2 that was truly revolutionary technologically, and it's not like Japan had a monopoly on good computer hardware. Anyone desperate enough for good computers to buy Playstation 2s, gut them, and use the CPU for a missile would be able to accomplish the same thing by purchasing any number of other commercially available products.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Starglider » 2016-08-12 11:23am

Simon_Jester wrote:Anyway, yeah, there was nothing about the Playstation 2 that was truly revolutionary technologically


Radical new hardware concepts do not tend to occur in ulra-mass-market entertainment products. However the PS2 was quite impressive in manufacturing terms, because it delivered a fairly advanced vector processing CPU (considerably ahead of the just-introduced Intel SSE, albeit lower clocked) at an order of magnitude lower cost than contemporary vectorised RISC implementations. The fact that anyone even considered building supercomputers out of it, going to all the effort of forcing a consumer entertainment product to work on scientific/engineering problems, is a testement to how much of a jump in price/performance it was.

K. A. Pital wrote:Disregarding the childish attacks of primitive conformists like Starglider and BabelHuber


What was that old SDNet saying again? Ah yes, "Concession Accepted". Although 'conformist' did make me laugh, I believe that is the first time in 36 years I have ever been called that.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-12 12:56pm

Starglider wrote:
K. A. Pital wrote:Disregarding the childish attacks of primitive conformists like Starglider and BabelHuber

What was that old SDNet saying again? Ah yes, "Concession Accepted". Although 'conformist' did make me laugh, I believe that is the first time in 36 years I have ever been called that.

Which concession? You had no point. Instead you chose to ridicule your own fantasies about the USSR providing "an Internet to ordinary citizens". These fantasies of yours were not the subject of my statements here. And of course you are conformist - your viewpoint is that of the established ruling capitalist class. He who takes a point of view that's pretty much in line with the actual development of our society and advocated by its richest oligarchs hardly deserves to be called anything but a conformist. If you ever had any point outside a silly personal attack on me, I sure have not found it. Your contribution is laughable and looks more like Liberty Prime's trot-out phrases, the words of a mindless automaton.

I, on the other hand, have explained my position on why the failure happened, have provided a good source on the historical development of computing in the USSR and have given historical examples relevant to my statements.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Titan Uranus » 2016-08-12 01:07pm

Weren't There few supercomputers built out of networked PS3s?
Though it occurs to me that Sony sold them at a ($200?) loss initially, so I think that probably had more to do with it.


Stas Bush, do you realize how silly you sound?
If the USSR was only able to keep up when it was able to copy western designs/components, then it's computer industry was not competitive with the west, and it was unhealthy to begin with.

BESM-6 was capable of 1 megaFLOPS in 1968 (though it was designed in 1965)
The fastest western (by which we mean American, at this point) super computer in 1961 was also capable of producing 1 megaFLOPS.
So that puts the USSR 4-7 years behind befor technical stagnation set in.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-12 01:26pm

Thoroughness compels me to ask why we are comparing the USSR to the US only, and not to other European countries. The US enjoyed some unique advantages compared to other countries, such as not having its entire precision instrument industry uprooted or destroyed by the Second World War.

It might be a more reasonable basis of comparison if we look at Soviet computers versus those of, say, Britain or France.

I mean seriously, if we're modeling this as a race between capitalism and communism to see who provides their people with computers of what quality at what time, it's just basic intellectual honesty to pick the contestants in the race who have comparable circumstances. It makes no sense, for instance, to declare that Racer One is slow and weak because he lost to Racer Two, if Racer two got a hearty meal and some light exercise the morning of the race, while Racer One got no food and a brutal beating that same morning.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-12 02:05pm

Titan Uranus wrote:Stas Bush, do you realize how silly you sound?
If the USSR was only able to keep up when it was able to copy western designs/components, then it's computer industry was not competitive with the west, and it was unhealthy to begin with.

Where did I say that? You make a statement and then say it sounds silly. I can assure you it does, but it makes you sound silly, not me. Does Chinese copying of Western and Japanese designs and then pretty much crushing the manufacturing sector of quite a few First World countries into bloody pulp mean they are "not competitive" and "unhealthy to begin with"?
Titan Uranus wrote:BESM-6 was capable of 1 megaFLOPS in 1968 (though it was designed in 1965) The fastest western (by which we mean American, at this point) super computer in 1961 was also capable of producing 1 megaFLOPS. So that puts the USSR 4-7 years behind befor technical stagnation set in.

4-7 years behind the US is a great result. I don't even think you realize how great it was to only be 4-7 years behind the US in certain technologies in the 1950s and 1960s of all times and places - the prime industrial power of the world that had an entire continent worth of resources and was completely undamaged by World War II. That with blocked technology transfer and an atmosphere of total hostility.

Try finding another nation that had the same starting conditions and which still managed to "not lag behind" with indigenous technology. Was there ever one?
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2016-08-14 07:17pm

Titan Uranus wrote:Weren't There few supercomputers built out of networked PS3s?
Though it occurs to me that Sony sold them at a ($200?) loss initially, so I think that probably had more to do with it.

There were a few smaller ones with a handful of consoles, but the USAF built a cluster out of 1760 to analyze satellite imagery. With comparable computing power it is 10% of the cost* and consumes 10% of the power as a proper supercomputer. Though they had to use older models in that the new ones could not install linux, probably because Sony didn't want to lose money to people using it as something other than a game console.

* Because as you point out, they were selling it at a loss and making back the money selling games.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-15 08:52am

Simon_Jester wrote:Remember that typewriters remained in widespread use right up into and through the 1980s. This is not because there were no microcomputers. This is because a microcomputer cost ten or a hundred times more than a typewriter.


Actually, microcomputer usage in offices started in the 1970ies, especially after Visicalc was released. By the mid-eighties, PCs were the norm in offices (at least in West Germany).

Even an Apple 2 or one of the first Commodore PCs (like the PET or the 4032) was vastly superiour to a typewriter and led to dramatic increases in productivity for office work.

Simon_Jester wrote:Microcomputers became cheap enough to replace typewriters for reasons that had very little to do with anyone's vision or lack of vision.


... in capitalistic societyies. Yes.

Simon_Jester wrote:Did capitalism play a major role in making this possible? Yes.

Is it correct to say "communists didn't see the point in replacing typewriters with microcomputers, so they didn't try?" No, it is not.


I am not aware of any initiative in the soviet union of the 1970ies to replace typewriters with microcomputers. If you have sources which state otherwise, cite them. Then I'll concede the point.

Simon_Jester wrote:If you honestly believe the truth is on your side, don't lie. Don't oversimplify. Don't play word games and try to use catch phrases as a substitute for explanations.


I hope this is meant in a general sense, because I don't lie. In case you want to accuse me of lying, I'd like to see proof.

Simon_Jester wrote:Yes, I know you don't. That's your problem.

See, "freedom" means a lot of things besides "freedom of enterprise," a term I had to make up precisely because there is no widely accepted word for the phenomenon. Using the word 'freedom' when you mean a singular specific freedom is you falling prey to buzz-word thinking- one of the very common products of exactly the sort of inefficient, sloppily organized, incompetent, ossified organizations you claim to despise.


This is just semantics with no substance at all. The topic here is the development of the computer industry of the soviet union vs. the USA.

If you think "freedom" is just a buzzword in this context then tell this to the soviet dissidents which were killed, tortured or imprisoned.

The point is that people enjoyed more freedom in the US, including the freedom to found companies. Of course in theory one could envision a society where the freedom to found companies is decoupled from e.g. the freedom of speech. But this is purely theoretic and doesn't play a role in this context.

Simon_Jester wrote:The fact that you have a fetish for destroying old 'inefficient' systems because you think they should be replaced with something different does not somehow make you better or smarter.

You're trying to act as though capitalism is somehow uniquely responsible for this wonderful thing you call creative destruction. It's ridiculous. It's like a child trying to take credit for the fact that rain started falling, because they just did the proper little magic dance.


Now "creative destruction" would be a weird kind of a fetish. Luckily, this doesn't apply to me. :D

Of course I meant "creative destruction" in the sense of Schumpeter, not Marx.

See here for a definition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction

Capitalism [...] is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. [...] The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.
[...] The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.
[... Capitalism requires] the perennial gale of Creative Destruction.


So yes, "creative destruction" is inherent to capitalstic societies and also is important for its progress - sometimes new technology replaces an old one (typewriters vs. PCs, stagecoaches vs. trains etc.). It's not something I have made up.

Simon_Jester wrote:And yet communism did not have any remarkable problems switching from horses to tractors, or from village blacksmiths to steel mills, or from steam locomotives to diesel, or from trains to airplanes.


This has nothing to do with creative destruction as such: Airplanes did not replace trains completely (and most probably never will). Diesel locomotives are still locomotives.

See here for an article about this topic: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Crea ... ction.html

Simon_Jester wrote:The problem is not that the leadership of the communist country is distracted by coffee shipments or something. The problem is the difficulty of ensuring that resources and labor are allocated efficiently enough to make the manufacture of cutting-edge computer hardware possible.


Of course distraction by coffee shipments, shoe production and whatnot is part of the problem. Communistic societies have to plan the whole national economy, for god's sake. Priorities can be easily set wrong here, and this usually becomes only clear retrospectively.

Simon_Jester wrote:Have you actually talked to real people whose company went bankrupt, in a diverse set of circumstances and industries?


Do I know people whose company went bancrupt? Or people who were fired for other reasons? Yes of course, who doesn't!

But this is anecdotal evidence only anyways. What role does it play?

Simon_Jester wrote:On that note, you bringing up nations like Cuba which were always deeply impoverished compared to developed nations makes this a further joke. Do you really expect a country that never had anything like the West's per capita GDP, before or after communism, to be an early adopter of high technology?


What about the other countries I stated? The GDR? Poland? Soviet Russia?

You take only one example out of many and start beating that strawman to death. The point was that no communist country achieved this.

And you are talking about 'honesty' and 'don't lie'! This is really funny!

Simon_Jester wrote:It's not that it's wrong to say "capitalism made the computer revolution possible and it would not be possible under communism." That's not wrong, honestly, I think.

The problem is that you're babbling nonsense and blustering about buzz-words in an attempt to support a true conclusion, a conclusion which is true for more subtle and practical reasons that I'm not sure you're prepared to understand.


Yes, buzz words like "creative destruction", which is a clearly defined term. Or freedom in the context of "USA vs. Soviet Union", where the differences should be clear to anyone.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-15 12:49pm

BabelHuber wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:Remember that typewriters remained in widespread use right up into and through the 1980s. This is not because there were no microcomputers. This is because a microcomputer cost ten or a hundred times more than a typewriter.
Actually, microcomputer usage in offices started in the 1970ies, especially after Visicalc was released. By the mid-eighties, PCs were the norm in offices (at least in West Germany).

Even an Apple 2 or one of the first Commodore PCs (like the PET or the 4032) was vastly superiour to a typewriter and led to dramatic increases in productivity for office work.
You're acting as though you've disproved what I was saying.

"Typewriters remained in widespread use" and "computers were increasingly common in offices" are not mutually exclusive statements. There was a long period of time during which computers had replaced some but not all of the typewriters and other such instruments in offices. The speed of replacement had a lot to do with cheaper computers and increasing computer literacy (since it doesn't matter if a computer would enhance productivity, if you cannot find anyone who knows how to operate that computer).

The capitalist approach to producing, designing, and selling computers had a lot to do with why and how computers became cheap and widespread. I am not denying or disputing this.

But you were criticizing Brezhnev for 'failing' to replace the typewriters with computers, when Western countries mostly 'failed' to do the same thing during Brezhnev's time in office. Brezhnev died in 1982, at a time when even in the most prosperous countries in the world, personal computers were still just beginning to make a dent in the typical business office.

This is why I bring up the "don't lie" point. If your point is strong enough to stand on its own merits (and "capitalism did a lot to make the computer revolution possible" is strong)...

Don't make intellectually dishonest comparisons. Don't complain that something hadn't happened in Country A by 1982 if it hadn't happened by 1982 in countries B, C, D, and E either. Don't compare countries utterly devastated by World War Two to countries that were hardly even scratched by it. Don't expect equal results from unequal starting conditions.

There are plenty of valid criticism of communism you can make, including economic and 'freedom of enterprise' criticisms. Such as "It's not a good idea to tell your computer engineers and programmers that before they can build computers for a given purpose, they need to seek the approval of someone born in 1925."

The catch is that if you're going to do that, don't then contaminate your argument with spurious claims and unfair comparisons. It undermines the overall strength of your position.

Simon_Jester wrote:Yes, I know you don't. That's your problem.

See, "freedom" means a lot of things besides "freedom of enterprise," a term I had to make up precisely because there is no widely accepted word for the phenomenon. Using the word 'freedom' when you mean a singular specific freedom is you falling prey to buzz-word thinking- one of the very common products of exactly the sort of inefficient, sloppily organized, incompetent, ossified organizations you claim to despise.


This is just semantics with no substance at all. The topic here is the development of the computer industry of the soviet union vs. the USA.

If you think "freedom" is just a buzzword in this context then tell this to the soviet dissidents which were killed, tortured or imprisoned.
In the context of this discussion, saying 'the West enjoyed a computer revolution and the Soviets didn't because freedom' amounts to use of a buzzword.

If you want to say "it's important to let computer producers and programmers experiment to see what is popular," say so. Don't say "you need freedom" when you specifically mean the right to start a business and market a product.

Simon_Jester wrote:The fact that you have a fetish for destroying old 'inefficient' systems because you think they should be replaced with something different does not somehow make you better or smarter.

You're trying to act as though capitalism is somehow uniquely responsible for this wonderful thing you call creative destruction. It's ridiculous. It's like a child trying to take credit for the fact that rain started falling, because they just did the proper little magic dance.
Now "creative destruction" would be a weird kind of a fetish. Luckily, this doesn't apply to me. :D

Of course I meant "creative destruction" in the sense of Schumpeter, not Marx...
This still fails to adequately explain how capitalism is uniquely responsible for the existence of 'creative destruction.' Capitalism provides no reliable guarantee that it will cause destruction that is more creative than the destruction caused by other social systems that change the way things operate.

Communist societies routinely destroy old models of production and ownership, for instance, and at least try to reallocate resources in ways that will be more efficient and productive. It's not like the Soviet Union insisted on forcing everyone to use horse-drawn wagons and opposed trucks and buses, or anything like that.

Simon_Jester wrote:And yet communism did not have any remarkable problems switching from horses to tractors, or from village blacksmiths to steel mills, or from steam locomotives to diesel, or from trains to airplanes.
This has nothing to do with creative destruction as such: Airplanes did not replace trains completely (and most probably never will). Diesel locomotives are still locomotives.
You're still dodging the point.

Claiming that capitalism results in a great deal of change, much of it positive, is not the same as saying that positive change is somehow the unique property of capitalism. It isn't even the same as proving that capitalism is better at that kind of positive change.

It's like the difference between proving that I am tall, and proving that I am the tallest person in the world, or that my unique height is a sign of divine favor.

Simon_Jester wrote:The problem is not that the leadership of the communist country is distracted by coffee shipments or something. The problem is the difficulty of ensuring that resources and labor are allocated efficiently enough to make the manufacture of cutting-edge computer hardware possible.
Of course distraction by coffee shipments, shoe production and whatnot is part of the problem. Communistic societies have to plan the whole national economy, for god's sake. Priorities can be easily set wrong here, and this usually becomes only clear retrospectively.
You specify that the problem is top-level management of the country being distracted by petty concerns. If so, then prove it.

If you wish to revise your claim to "resources get misallocated due to poor prioritization" then do so. But that isn't the same thing.

Simon_Jester wrote:Have you actually talked to real people whose company went bankrupt, in a diverse set of circumstances and industries?
Do I know people whose company went bancrupt? Or people who were fired for other reasons? Yes of course, who doesn't!

But this is anecdotal evidence only anyways. What role does it play?
Because unless the anecdotes you've heard are wildly misrepresentative of the general experience... yes people are harmed when the companies they work for go bankrupt.

See, the phrase "the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data' " is all very well. But it is no substitute for life experience, or for learning from life experience.

If you have any real life experience of the job market in a First World country, for instance, it informs you that finding jobs is rarely an easy or quick process except for highly sought-after technical specialists. In which case you would have to be an ideologically blinkered moron to say "finding a new job is not hard, so having to find a new job is not a serious inconvenience."

If corporate bankruptcy is associated with a high risk of job loss, that in itself is a serious problem for the average employee.

Simon_Jester wrote:On that note, you bringing up nations like Cuba which were always deeply impoverished compared to developed nations makes this a further joke. Do you really expect a country that never had anything like the West's per capita GDP, before or after communism, to be an early adopter of high technology?


What about the other countries I stated? The GDR? Poland? Soviet Russia?

You take only one example out of many and start beating that strawman to death. The point was that no communist country achieved this.

And you are talking about 'honesty' and 'don't lie'! This is really funny!
I bring up Cuba because it doesn't belong on the list.

If we want to make good comparisons, we might do well to compare countries which had similar per capita GDP in 1950. Say, Poland and Spain. Were computers widespread in Spain in, say, 1980?

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby BabelHuber » 2016-08-15 04:38pm

Simon_Jester wrote:But you were criticizing Brezhnev for 'failing' to replace the typewriters with computers, when Western countries mostly 'failed' to do the same thing during Brezhnev's time in office. Brezhnev died in 1982, at a time when even in the most prosperous countries in the world, personal computers were still just beginning to make a dent in the typical business office.


I did not criticize the Brezhnev administration - what I pointed out (or tried to point out) is that in the soviet command economy, such a decision from the Brezhnev administration in the 70ies would have been required in order for being able to compete with the USA in the 1980ies in this area.

Of course you can hardly blame Brezhnev for not seeing this, most people didn't see this in the 1970ies. But failing to make this decision means the USA is pulling away in the 80ies in an important field.
And this is a disadvantage in a command economy - the government has to make the right decision at the right time, otherwise nothing happens.

Simon_Jester wrote:If you want to say "it's important to let computer producers and programmers experiment to see what is popular," say so. Don't say "you need freedom" when you specifically mean the right to start a business and market a product.


"Individuals have more freedom and hence can start their own companies and pursue their own visions. In a communist society, you may have engineers who are similarly qualified and have similar visions, but due to the centralist nature of their society they cannot pursue them as well" comes pretty close to this statement, I'd say.

But yes, I could have been a tad more specific. But you also have blown this out of proportion. 8)

Simon_Jester wrote:Communist societies routinely destroy old models of production and ownership, for instance, and at least try to reallocate resources in ways that will be more efficient and productive. It's not like the Soviet Union insisted on forcing everyone to use horse-drawn wagons and opposed trucks and buses, or anything like that.


Yes. But you miss the creative in "creative destruction".

A communist administration needs to actually plan such a change: The old supply chain needs to be replaced, a new one has to be established. It has to be decided what to do with the employees of the old industry, how to get them new jobs etc.

In capitalism, this usually is not necessary, the change is driven by market forces once after the invention occured:

Entrepreneurs introduce new products and technologies with an eye toward making themselves better off—the profit motive. New goods and services, new firms, and new industries compete with existing ones in the marketplace, taking customers by offering lower prices, better performance, new features, catchier styling, faster service, more convenient locations, higher status, more aggressive marketing, or more attractive packaging. In another seemingly contradictory aspect of creative destruction, the pursuit of self-interest ignites the progress that makes others better off..

Simon_Jester wrote:You specify that the problem is top-level management of the country being distracted by petty concerns. If so, then prove it.


Due to the strong German tradition of drinking coffee, coffee imports were one of the most important for consumers. A massive rise in coffee prices in 1976–77 led to a quadrupling of the annual costs of importing coffee compared to 1972–75. This caused severe financial problems for the GDR, which perennially lacked hard currency.

As a result, in mid-1977 the Politburo withdrew most cheaper brands of coffee from sale, limited use in restaurants, and effectively withdrew its provision in public offices and state enterprises. In addition, an infamous new type of coffee was introduced, Mischkaffee (mixed coffee), which was 51% coffee and 49% a range of fillers, including chicory, rye, and sugar beet.

Unsurprisingly, the new coffee was generally detested for its awful taste, and the whole episode is informally known as the "coffee crisis". The crisis passed after 1978 as world coffee prices began to fall again, as well as increased supply through an agreement between the GDR and Vietnam - the latter becoming one of the world's largest coffee producers in the 1990s. However, the episode vividly illustrated the structural economic and financial problems of the GDR.


Simon_Jester wrote:If you wish to revise your claim to "resources get misallocated due to poor prioritization" then do so. But that isn't the same thing.


The GDR could spend every DM or $ they had only once. If coffee is one of the top priorities, something else had to give.

Simon_Jester wrote:If you have any real life experience of the job market in a First World country, for instance, it informs you that finding jobs is rarely an easy or quick process except for highly sought-after technical specialists. In which case you would have to be an ideologically blinkered moron to say "finding a new job is not hard, so having to find a new job is not a serious inconvenience."


Since anecdotes seem to be accepted in this case, I can tell you one:

In 2013/2014 I was involved in a project where a factory with a few hundred workers was moved from Germany to Romania. The machines were mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, it was basically commodity goods manufacturing with lots of manual work (I just had to make sure that Supply Chain Execution in SAP still worked after the relocation, I wasn't involved in the relocation as such).

After the plan was announced, the workers fled in droves. The management had huge problems to get temporary staff to keep the production running exactly because for most workers it was not difficult to find something else, especially for the skilled ones which were in high demand anyways.

For workers near the retirement age, a social plan was negotiated with the unions.

So most workers were not affected much. The exception were the unskilled workers who worked for decades in this factory, because they had above-average wages. When the factory closed, it was near impossible for them to find a job with the same conditions.

So I'd say the average worker wasn't affected much here, but some were. They could still find a new job, but probably couldn't keep their standard of living.

Simon_Jester wrote:If we want to make good comparisons, we might do well to compare countries which had similar per capita GDP in 1950. Say, Poland and Spain. Were computers widespread in Spain in, say, 1980?


To be honest, I don't have a clue about Spain. I know what happened in the USA and in West Germany, but that's it.
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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-15 08:00pm

BabelHuber wrote:And this is a disadvantage in a command economy - the government has to make the right decision at the right time, otherwise nothing happens.
Okay, presented more clearly, this becomes a valid critique. I am inclined to agree.

The corresponding problem in capitalism seems to arise less often, though it might have worse consequences if it did: in a capit

Simon_Jester wrote:If you want to say "it's important to let computer producers and programmers experiment to see what is popular," say so. Don't say "you need freedom" when you specifically mean the right to start a business and market a product.
"Individuals have more freedom and hence can start their own companies and pursue their own visions. In a communist society, you may have engineers who are similarly qualified and have similar visions, but due to the centralist nature of their society they cannot pursue them as well" comes pretty close to this statement, I'd say.

But yes, I could have been a tad more specific. But you also have blown this out of proportion. 8)
I have seen people, including you, try to use "freedom" as an ideology-based argument about why one economic policy is better than another many times. I have therefore become insistent that when we use "freedom" as a term in economics, we be precise about what is meant and why it is significant. Not all conceivable freedoms are even desirable in an economic system- the freedom to cheat or deceive comes to mind.

Simon_Jester wrote:Communist societies routinely destroy old models of production and ownership, for instance, and at least try to reallocate resources in ways that will be more efficient and productive. It's not like the Soviet Union insisted on forcing everyone to use horse-drawn wagons and opposed trucks and buses, or anything like that.
Yes. But you miss the creative in "creative destruction".

A communist administration needs to actually plan such a change: The old supply chain needs to be replaced, a new one has to be established. It has to be decided what to do with the employees of the old industry, how to get them new jobs etc.

In capitalism, this usually is not necessary, the change is driven by market forces once after the invention occured...
I fail to see how this makes capitalism uniquely good at creative destruction. It makes creating a new system harder in a communist economy, in the sense that more labor and planning is involved. But it does not make creative destruction a special property of capitalism alone.

Simon_Jester wrote:You specify that the problem is top-level management of the country being distracted by petty concerns. If so, then prove it.
url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_East_Germany#Coffee_crisis.2C_1976.E2.80.9379

Due to the strong German tradition of drinking coffee, coffee imports were one of the most important for consumers. A massive rise in coffee prices in 1976–77 led to a quadrupling of the annual costs of importing coffee compared to 1972–75. This caused severe financial problems for the GDR, which perennially lacked hard currency... the whole episode is informally known as the "coffee crisis". The crisis passed after 1978 as world coffee prices began to fall again, as well as increased supply through an agreement between the GDR and Vietnam - the latter becoming one of the world's largest coffee producers in the 1990s. However, the episode vividly illustrated the structural economic and financial problems of the GDR.
The problem here sounds like one of currency supply, not of the German government getting distracted. The structural problem was East Germany's inability to participate in the international market, which existed for a variety of reasons, their command economy being only one of them.

Simon_Jester wrote:If you wish to revise your claim to "resources get misallocated due to poor prioritization" then do so. But that isn't the same thing.
The GDR could spend every DM or $ they had only once. If coffee is one of the top priorities, something else had to give.
Coffee was a top-level import of many countries, because it is an extremely popular luxury good that is not only desirable but also enhances people's ability to function.

Are you also going to attack the British because during the Second World War they put an extremely high priority on ship imports of tea?

Moreover, the only things the East Germans could have imported that would advance the technical state of their economy are things like advanced machine tools, high-tech computers, and the like... which are exactly the sort of things that were under export restrictions in the West.

Simon_Jester wrote:If you have any real life experience of the job market in a First World country, for instance, it informs you that finding jobs is rarely an easy or quick process except for highly sought-after technical specialists. In which case you would have to be an ideologically blinkered moron to say "finding a new job is not hard, so having to find a new job is not a serious inconvenience."


Since anecdotes seem to be accepted in this case, I can tell you one:

In 2013/2014 I was involved in a project where a factory with a few hundred workers was moved from Germany to Romania. The machines were mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, it was basically commodity goods manufacturing with lots of manual work (I just had to make sure that Supply Chain Execution in SAP still worked after the relocation, I wasn't involved in the relocation as such).

After the plan was announced, the workers fled in droves. The management had huge problems to get temporary staff to keep the production running exactly because for most workers it was not difficult to find something else, especially for the skilled ones which were in high demand anyways.

For workers near the retirement age, a social plan was negotiated with the unions.

So most workers were not affected much. The exception were the unskilled workers who worked for decades in this factory, because they had above-average wages. When the factory closed, it was near impossible for them to find a job with the same conditions.
I will note that the ease of finding new jobs for the skilled workers is not necessarily the norm, and moreover the hardship for the work force sounds like it would have been more serious if not for the presence of unions, which are not an element of the capitalist system and which capitalist systems often try to destroy in order to increase profits.

Simon_Jester wrote:If we want to make good comparisons, we might do well to compare countries which had similar per capita GDP in 1950. Say, Poland and Spain. Were computers widespread in Spain in, say, 1980?
To be honest, I don't have a clue about Spain. I know what happened in the USA and in West Germany, but that's it.
Yes- and that is precisely the problems.

For instance, Russia was always poor. The territories that made up the USSR were poor under the Czars. Russia had per capita PPP below that of Mexico in 1913, for instance- and less than a third of the per capita PPP of the United States or Britain. The gap actively narrowed during the rest of the century- US PPP 'merely' tripled from 1913 to 1973, while that of the Soviet Union quadrupled. Despite Russian/Soviet industrial development being massively disrupted by a civil war and two world wars.

However, that still left the Soviets in the same general tier of per capita wealth as the poorest backwater nations in Europe- which is exactly where they'd been sixty years earlier before the communists took over.

This position of poverty translates directly into reduced demand for advanced consumer goods (like personal computers), and having less surplus left over to support a high-tech industry after providing necessities of life such as food, clothing, and shelter.

It didn't help that the Soviets were trying to keep up an arms race with the US at the time, which in retrospect seems to have caused them a lot of harm.

So if you want to look at how actively a capitalist Russia that never went communist would have embraced the computer revolution, compare it to countries that were themselves capitalist throughout the 20th century, and started from a comparable point. It's easy to build up a computer industry when you're the richest nation in the world. Not so easy when you started from below the global average per capita GDP.

Don't compare 1980 Russia to 1980 West Germany when the West Germans were richer, and had always been richer, than the Russians.

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Re: Why did the Soviet fail to develop a computer industry

Postby Guardsman Bass » 2016-08-16 01:19am

Simon_Jester wrote:Don't compare 1980 Russia to 1980 West Germany when the West Germans were richer, and had always been richer, than the Russians.


A better comparison would definitely be between Warsaw Pact communist countries and western European capitalist ones. West Germany and East Germany come to mind (as well as North and South Korea if you want to get outside of Europe for examples), but there's also the case of Czechoslovakia:

Before World War Two, the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia (already the industrial heartland of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before 1914) had a higher per capita output than France, specializing in leather goods, motor vehicles, high-tech arms manufacture and a broad range of luxury goods.

Measured by industrial skill levels, productivity, standard of living and share of foreign markets, pre-1938 Czechoslovakia was comparable to Belgium and well ahead of Austria and Italy. By 1956, Communist Czechoslovakia had not only fallen behind Austria, Belgiumand the rest of Western Europe, but was far less efficient and much poorer than it had been twenty years earlier. In 1938, per capita car ownership in Czechoslovakia and Austria was at similar levels; by 1960 the ratio was 1:3.


To me, there's one massive caveat we have to attach to any "socialist economy vs capitalist economy" comparison, and that's that the economies which went full socialist were also authoritarian - we don't really know what a democratic socialist economy would look like in comparison to a democratic capitalist society in terms of output, unless we really want to stretch the definition of "democratic socialist economy" and include things like the heavy state ownership presence in capitalist France after World War 2, etc.

That matters, because a democratic society is at least in theory* answerable to the populace and can thus respond to public unhappiness and make changes in state-owned enterprises and output (certainly there are a fair number of public services that run reasonably well, and cases like the VA where major reforms were undertaken that improved it in the US). It's not as fast or as responsive as a market economy on all products, but it's much more responsive than an authoritarian country.

* Venezuela unfortunately might be presenting an empirical counter-argument to that, since its elections are still quite fair IIRC even if the governance is authoritarian and illiberal.

. . . Assuming such a state is possible. Certainly there were attempts to move that way in France when Mitterand took over and with the original concept of the Wage-Earner Funds in 1970s Sweden, but they retreated in the face of political and economic backlash.
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