Understanding Economic Development
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Understanding Economic Development

A Global Transition from Poverty to Prosperity?

Colin White

This fascinating book considers one of the most important problems in economics: the inception of modern economic development. There is at present no satisfactory explanation of the inception of modern economic development; an excessive focus on either pure theory or on unique histories limits the explanatory power. This book realises the need to integrate the two approaches, moving beyond the proximate causes of economic theory to review the role in an analytic narrative of significant ultimate causes – geography, risk environments, human capital, and institutions.
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Chapter 13: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union: The Failed Experiment

Colin White


. . . the Soviet ‘experiment’ loomed as the great Other in terms of which the world was obliged to define itself. To the hopeful, it represented the socialist antithesis to capitalism, and the future as against the past. To the fearful, it became the totalitarian menace to the free world of the West, and the enemy of civilisation. (Malia 1999: 3) One of the most interesting analytic narratives of the recent past involves the failed experiment with communism, as it was played out in the USSR, an analytical narrative not yet properly unravelled, let alone written. In the words of Gregory, ‘The Soviet administrative-command economy was the most important social and economic experiment of the twentieth century’ (Gregory 2004: 1). As Hobsbawm (1994: 55) asserts in his history of the twentieth century, it is no accident that his dating of that century virtually coincides with the lifetime of the state born of the October Revolution in 1917 and dead by 1991: that revolution has dominated interpretations of the twentieth century. The experiment was an exercise in social engineering, intended to achieve a fair society, but adopting, as one of its preparatory aims, a decisive inception of modern economic development. It is surprising that communism became a mechanism for promoting modern economic development, since, according to Marxist theory, the relevant revolution was supposed to happen in an economy where the problems of development had already been resolved. A momentous debate occurred during the 1920s concerning the strategy of economic development and the implementation...

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