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View Full Version : Soviet Union/Russia lying about population, and we go along.


Stan Shmenge
03-30-2008, 12:27 PM
Robert Heinlein made a visit to the Soviet Union in 1960, and upon returning wrote of his impressions. One of his strongest was that the population of Moscow was being exaggerated by perhaps an order of magnitude. This was easy to dismiss as Heinlein crackpottery at the time, but now that I am looking at Google Earth, I think he might be right. Compare Moscow with New York, a city with approximately the same population density according to Wiki. Go to Google Earth and study the two. There is no comparison! Moscow looks more like Columbus Ohio, than it does NYC. Same goes for other prominent cities in Russia. They all look like small towns in comparison to even our 2nd tier cities. Check out the buildings, the infrastructure, none of it is commensurate with the population claims being made.

I'm guessing there are about 50 million people in Russia, and they obviously know this and so does our intelligence, but we never have called them on it or publicized it with the exception of Mr. Heinlein's article.

What say The Dope, have I uncovered one of the biggest lies in history, or am I as cracked as Heinlein? :D

BrainGlutton
03-30-2008, 12:31 PM
The CIA World Fact Book (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rs.html) give's Russia's population as 141 million. Either that figure is more or less right; or the CIA has uncritically accepted the Russian government's own inflated estimates, which would not be in character; or the CIA knows the figure is lower but for some reason has decided to collude with the Russian government in the deception. Which do you think is more plausible?

BrainGlutton
03-30-2008, 12:33 PM
Furthermore, if the Russians were claiming nearly three times their actual population, I think some scholar specializing in Soviet/Russian demographic analysis, such as Murray Feshbach, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Feshbach) would have twigged to it by now.

RickJay
03-30-2008, 12:54 PM
Inflating a population figure would take a hell of a lot more than just getting the CIA to agree to report a phony number; you'd have to lie about a million other things. You'd have to hide the real figures from every foreign contractor who worked on a government computer system. You'd have to either hide the country's true GDP or somehow hide the fact that the average Russian is three times richer than you're admitting. You'd have to either lie about the size of the armed forces, or you'd be maintaining an army far bigger than you could support.

The OP seems to be based on the assumption that a Russian city should look the same as an American city when viewed on an internet map site, which does not strike me as being the most scientific of approaches.

And to be honest, I don't even buy the OP's observation. For fun, I looked at Moscow on Google Earth, and compared it to cities of varying sizes. The urbal sprawl looks consistent with Moscow's alleged size (about 10 million.) It is definitely smaller than metropolitan New York, which is at least 17 million, and quite obviously larger than metropolitan Toronto, about five million.

Chimera
03-30-2008, 01:35 PM
Remember that the Soviet Union was a very large country, land area wise. It's like back in 1992 when I ran into some German tourists at Mesa Verde in SW Colorado. They asked where all the people were, because they couldn't believe that the land was so lightly populated.

Also remember that pre-WWII, our cities were much more compact. Minneapolis had roughly 400,000 population on less than it's current land use. Suburbs were villages, not the sprawling land wasters we now know. Then translate that to a more centrally controlled, old world nation state. It only makes sense that cities were much smaller in area.

If you consider how many people the SU put under arms in WWII, there is just no way in heck they could have done that with a population of just 50 million. At least not while maintaining any actual food and materials production.

Mops
03-30-2008, 01:50 PM
I suspect Heinlein did, and to a lesser extent you do, massively overestimate the standard of living esp. the housing situation. Perhaps Heinlein was invited to the home of privileged people (they would be privileged, being involved in things like a foreign writer's officially sponsored visit) and went away with the idea of decent sized apartments and one nuclear family per apartment.

Captain Carrot
03-30-2008, 02:38 PM
Heinlein's visit wasn't officially sponsored, nor did he go on a typical tourist's trip. Robert and Virginia saw the grubby underside of the Soviet Union, and formed their opinions with that in mind. He definitely knew about their quality of life re: housing.

PaulParkhead
03-30-2008, 03:02 PM
I suspect Heinlein did, and to a lesser extent you do, massively overestimate the standard of living esp. the housing situation. Perhaps Heinlein was invited to the home of privileged people (they would be privileged, being involved in things like a foreign writer's officially sponsored visit) and went away with the idea of decent sized apartments and one nuclear family per apartment.

I visited the USSR on a state-sponsored visit in 1990. If they were showing me the best that Leningrad/St Petersburg had to offer, well, I wasn't too impressed. It was nice enough, but hardly luxurious.

My memories of driving around Moscow consist of miles and miles of concrete multistorey spawl. I suspect that's where all the people are. Someone somewhere has a video of us playing soccer in Red Square. I'd pay money to find that.

XT
03-30-2008, 03:24 PM
What would be in it for the Soviets to attempt to pull the wool over everyone's eyes wrt their total population?

-XT

XT
03-30-2008, 03:37 PM
:smack: I meant the Russians...but what WOULD have been in it for the Soviets?

-XT

Alessan
03-30-2008, 03:42 PM
Heinlein's visit wasn't officially sponsored, nor did he go on a typical tourist's trip. Robert and Virginia saw the grubby underside of the Soviet Union, and formed their opinions with that in mind. He definitely knew about their quality of life re: housing.
I suspect Heinlin may have failed to comprehend just how big Russia is. Sure, any given part of it may seem relatively unpopulated; but there's just so damn much of it, that eventualy, it adds up.

As several invaders discovered, you can walk through Russia for days and weeks and months, and all you'll see around you is more and more Russia. It never, ever ends.

clairobscur
03-30-2008, 03:48 PM
If Moscow's population was so blatantly inflated that the OP could notice it just by looking at a google image, I suspect that at least some of the millions of foreign visitors this city receive each year would have noticed it as well.

Frank
03-30-2008, 03:54 PM
I suspect Heinlin may have failed to comprehend just how big Russia is. Sure, any given part of it may seem relatively unpopulated; but there's just so damn much of it, that eventualy, it adds up.
That section of the article dealt particularly with Moscow, taking into account transportation infrastructure more than housing if I recall correctly: roads, trains, river, and so on. Certainly extrapolating that to the remainder of the USSR may have been a stretch, but I believe he made a convincing case that the population of Moscow was officially overstated.

P.S. The names of the two articles on the Heinleins' Soviet tour were "Pravda Means Truth" and "Inside Intourist". Both were most recently published in the collection Expanded Universe. Neither appears to be available online.

Švejk
03-30-2008, 03:58 PM
Looks to me, Happy Wanderer, that you've never actually been to Moscow. The way the city's laid out is absolutely not similar to NYC, let alone any other US city. The same goes for other Russian cities. US cities, correct me if i'm wrong, tend to consist of large suburban sprawls and one-floor buildings. Moscow, on the other hand, has no suburban areas, or, for that matter, one-floor buildings. My guess is that a very sizeable (as in: 75 % or more) live in high-rise buildings of around 10 floors. Having lived in Russia, I would say that the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation may have lied (and may still be lying) about a whole lot of things, but not about their population.

Simplicio
03-30-2008, 03:59 PM
I suspect Heinlin may have failed to comprehend just how big Russia is. Sure, any given part of it may seem relatively unpopulated; but there's just so damn much of it, that eventualy, it adds up.

Except, according to the OP, his claim wasn't about Russia specifically, but about Moscow in particular.

Interestingly, the Moscow wiki article speculates that the opposite is true. That a large number of undocumented immigrants/guest workers mean that Moscow's population is much larger then the offical census of ~10 mil. Of course, that's todays Moscow, no idea what the situation was in the 60's

alphaboi867
03-30-2008, 04:01 PM
...My memories of driving around Moscow consist of miles and miles of concrete multistorey spawl...

Does Russia even have suburbs in the North American sense? It's my understanding that new single family homes simple weren't built (except in rural areas) in the Soviet Union. All new housing consisted of apartment blocks. Not only that but the same plans were used over and over again all over the USSR.

Švejk
03-30-2008, 04:20 PM
I'm guessing there are about 50 million people in Russia, and they obviously know this and so does our intelligence, but we never have called them on it or publicized it with the exception of Mr. Heinlein's article.


One more thing about the suggestion that there's about 90 million hoaxed Russians: here's a link to what wikipedia (http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia#Demographics) tells us about Russian demographics. It tells us that the Russian population has been declining. This is recognized as a serious problem by the Russian government, who are trying to promote child-bearing by any means possible.

Now if that is in fact the case, and the Russian government is coming forward with this information, what incentive could they possibly have to lie about their real population?

Martin Hyde
03-30-2008, 06:14 PM
It seems to me there is a lot of confusion between "what Russia today says" and what "the Soviet Union almost fifty-years" ago said.

Heinlein didn't visit the USSR anytime in the last forty-years.

I do know that the USSR underestimated its wartime losses in WWII--in order to try and hide just how gargantuan their losses were. This made sense, since the USSR had some reason to fear the other Allies may have decided to try and fight them over Eastern Europe (as it was, the Soviets always tended to be a bit more worried about us than they probably should have been--Roosevelt never had any intentions of fighting the soviets over Eastern Europe and it's doubtful the American people would have stood for it.)

mswas
03-30-2008, 06:25 PM
Well one of the mistakes being made here is that the New York Metro area is about 21.362 million people. So if Moscow looks about half the size that's because it's roughly 40% smaller at 13.1 million.

http://www.demographia.com/db-world-metro2000.htm


Or it could be: 29m to 12m

http://www.mongabay.com/cities_urban_01.htm

Stranger On A Train
03-30-2008, 07:01 PM
Heinlein's visit wasn't officially sponsored, nor did he go on a typical tourist's trip. Robert and Virginia saw the grubby underside of the Soviet Union, and formed their opinions with that in mind. He definitely knew about their quality of life re: housing.The Heinlein's booked their trip and guides through Intourist, the Soviet governnment travel bureau, which was the only way for foreign visitors to tour the Soviet Union at that time. Although Virginia Heinlein was reportedly fluent in the Russian language and they made several attempts to go outside the proscribed standard tour destinations, they did not explore enough of Moscow or any other Soviet city in detail to form reliable estimates regarding population.

As others have pointed out, Soviet cities were not built like the cities of Western Europe or North America. Most Soviet cities in the Ukraine and eastern Russia were heavily damaged during the war; when they were rebuilt they were intentionally built with high population density residences that were relatively close to industrial zones, and even at that there were often two or more families sharing a flat that would be considered suitable for only one (small) family by Western standards of living. Obtaining one's own flat was a rare privilege in the Soviet Union. Because of this, and the paucity of personal automobiles and freeway infrastructure, the cities are much more compact than European or especially American cities of similar population size. As others have noted, Russian cities don't have much in the way of suburbs; you go from city blocks and industrial zones to woodlands. The only suburbs to speak of are the dachas owned by the powerful and influentials. American cities, in contrast, are great sprawling expanses with extensive suburbs in no small part due to the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. They're to completely different species of fruit.

It is true, however, that the Soviet Union lost a substantial amount of population in famines of the early 1920's, the purges of the 1930's, and in the war. It is impossible to accurately assess how many were lost but it was certainly on the order of tens of millions. Still, with all that, the Soviet Union was huge, and in the postwar era reproduction was encourages and even in some areas subsidised. That policy came to an end sometime after Stalin's death, and because of the low standard of living the birthrate declined dramatically in the late 'Sixties and 'Seventies, becoming negative at some point well before the fall of the Soviet Union. Currently, Russia and many of the former East Bloc client states have impending problems with negative growth rates.

As for why the Soviet Union would want to exaggerate their population size, it might be done in order to conceal the extent of loss during the war, plus the losses during the purges, in order not to make the nation look weaker. But I don't think they could get away with claiming population sizes that were exaggerated by an order of magnitude. There are too many traceable indicators (like energy use, grain consumption, et cetera) that would demonstrate the falsity of such a claim.

Stranger

BrainGlutton
03-30-2008, 07:16 PM
:smack: I meant the Russians...but what WOULD have been in it for the Soviets?

-XT

Heinlein seemed to think they were inflating their population figures to puff up their perceived strength (and the general health and success of their system).

Stan Shmenge
03-30-2008, 07:43 PM
Heinlein seemed to think they were inflating their population figures to puff up their perceived strength (and the general health and success of their system).Yes, that is what I recall. I will have to dig out my copies and re-read them. Anyway, from Google Earth, they sure look like small towns. (I spend a lot of time on Google Earth). In fact, what brought up all this was I was taking a virtual Google Earth tour of Russia' s railway stations (many quite beautiful) and I was noticing that in city after city it seemed more like a small town. Cities we have heard of as being the most prominent in Russia, like Kiev, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, etc. None of them seemed like much more than small towns.

Anyway, thanks for the responses. It also occurs to me that a lot of Russians simply don't live in the city at all. As another poster mentioned, it is a big country.

I think some scholar specializing in Soviet/Russian demographic analysis, such as Murray Feshbach, would have twigged to it by now.I have noticed that a lot of academics cannot see the forest for the trees.

If you consider how many people the SU put under arms in WWII, there is just no way in heck they could have done that with a population of just 50 million. At least not while maintaining any actual food and materials production.But they lost like 20 million in WWII, and probably another 30 million to the gulag. Combine that with the low birth rate after the war and you have a significant contraction.

BrainGlutton
03-30-2008, 08:20 PM
I have noticed that a lot of academics cannot see the forest for the trees.

Feshbach is a demographer; the forests are his specialty.

Little Nemo
03-30-2008, 09:18 PM
There were plenty of people who visited the Soviet Union for a week or two and came away convinced it was a paradise with prosperity and freedom for all. Obviously they missed the big picture. Why assume Robert and Virginia Heinlein were any better enlightened during their brief visit to the Soviet Union?

Sam Stone
03-30-2008, 10:28 PM
Heinlein pointed out that he had been trained in logistical analysis, and was using his training to come up with an estimate. He was looking at the road, rail, and waterway infrastructure and trying to gauge how much population it could support, and he came up with numbers much lower than they should have been. It's been years since I read that article, but didn't he also talk about that with some spooks he knew, and get some sort of unofficial confirmation?

In any event, it occurs to me that he may have missed the real reason - if a country says their citizens have a per-capita GDP of X, and a city has X citizens, and then you measure the flow of goods and services and discover that it can't be right, there are two possibilities - one is that the population is smaller than it is, and the other is that the people aren't consuming as much as the government says they were.

I find it more likely that Heinlein couldn't account for the goods because the people weren't nearly as well off as the government said they were. It wasn't the size of the population the Soviets were inflating - it was the health of their economy. Heinlein just missed that because at the time no one believed that the Soviet Union's economy was that bad.

There may have been other factors as well. For example, a black market in goods that would trickle into the city using unconventional means, or locally created and traded products.

DrDeth
03-30-2008, 11:29 PM
Moscow, on the other hand, has no suburban areas, or, for that matter, one-floor buildings. My guess is that a very sizeable (as in: 75 % or more) live in high-rise buildings of around 10 floors. .

And, in too many cases, an entire family lives in an apt that in the USA we think is sized for a single person or perhaps a childless couple. Or that's what I have been told, anyway.

Little Nemo
03-30-2008, 11:55 PM
One big factor was probably a lack of private automobiles. A city of ten million people that don't own cars is going to be a lot more compact that a city of ten million car owners - so no suburban sprawl.

Sam Stone
03-31-2008, 01:27 AM
Heinlein's analysis had nothing to do with the physical size of the city. It was all about measuring the river and road and rail traffic and determining how much population such a flow of material could support.

This is exactly the type of analysis the CIA does all the time. By tracking shipping in and out of an area, you can tell a whole lot about how many people live there, what kind of people they are, and what kinds of things they might be doing. Heinlein was taught this in the Academy, and used his training for fun while on vacation - and got a strange result.

Paladud
03-31-2008, 03:13 AM
The building layouts are quite different from what we are used to in the US. The apartment my family lived in was in a relatively newer building in the northwest part of Moscow. The twelve-story building was subdivided into multiple (3 or 4 iirc, it's been ages) podyezds - mutually inaccessible sections separated from one another along the vertical. My podyezd had four apartments per floor. Most newer residential buildings were similarly laid out though often somewhat smaller - eight to ten floors was the norm.

Many of the older buildings (such as the ones my parents grew up in) were originally the property of nobility or other wealthy types pre-revolution. These had fewer floors but very numerous rooms. Under the Soviet Union, twenty to forty families shared a floor, one family to a room. The big problem was having one bathroom and one kitchen per floor. This was the prevalent form of urban housing in Heinlein's times, so he was obviously treated to a misrepresentation of the housing situation.

Derleth
03-31-2008, 03:32 AM
I've read the article. I have it to hand, in fact, collected in "Expanded Universe", and have skimmed the relevant parts again.

Sam Stone is exactly right: Heinlein and his unnamed retired admiral both worked it out as a logistics problem, and it's likely they both got tripped up by assuming too high of a standard of living and underestimating the black market. (For the record, their guess was 750,000 when the Soviets were claiming 5,000,000.)

Švejk
03-31-2008, 05:02 AM
As others have noted, Russian cities don't have much in the way of suburbs; you go from city blocks and industrial zones to woodlands. The only suburbs to speak of are the dachas owned by the powerful and influentials.



Actually, Stranger, dacha ownership is quite widespread even among the regular population in the Soviet Union. I cannot find any USSR-era estimates but the Russian Wiki (http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%94%D0%B0%D1%87%D0%B0) for dachas puts it at 30 million.

Given that Happy Wanderer puts the Russian population at 50 million, that probably means more than one dacha per family :p.

Švejk
03-31-2008, 05:04 AM
Cities we have heard of as being the most prominent in Russia, like Kiev, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, etc. None of them seemed like much more than small towns.


Nitpick: Kiev is not in Russia

MarcusF
03-31-2008, 05:35 AM
Originally posted by Sam Stone:
Heinlein's analysis had nothing to do with the physical size of the city. It was all about measuring the river and road and rail traffic and determining how much population such a flow of material could support.

This is exactly the type of analysis the CIA does all the time. By tracking shipping in and out of an area, you can tell a whole lot about how many people live there, what kind of people they are, and what kinds of things they might be doing. Heinlein was taught this in the Academy, and used his training for fun while on vacation - and got a strange result.This type of analysis depends crucially on a number of factors and I doubt RAH had accurate figures for any of them. As others have noted it is very likely he overestimated the requirements/expectations of the Soviet population but I would also doubt he could have done more than the most superficial measurement of traffic in and out of Moscow during a short visit. I can't remember how long he spent in city but did he sit up each night counting trains and barges? Did he account for the seasonal variations in transport patterns, etc, etc.

I don't think anyone would be surprised if the Soviet's lied about their population (or anything else when it suited them) but misrepresenting the population of their capital city by factor 6 or 7 - and having nobody other than Heinlein notice or challenge them on it seems unlikely.

Capt B. Phart
03-31-2008, 06:13 AM
<snip> He was looking at the road, rail, and waterway infrastructure and trying to gauge how much population it could support, and he came up with numbers much lower than they should have been.
<snip>
There may have been other factors as well. For example, a black market in goods that would trickle into the city using unconventional means, or locally created and traded products.

Much more than a trickle, according to an article I read a while back on the huge size (and near invisibility) of the parallel economy in Russia (and presumably in the rest of the Soviet Union)
It gave the example of a group of American experts who’d gone to Moscow just after the fall of the USSR to advise on economic matters.
Their initial naďve optimism that they had all the answers soon evaporated as they started to apply the models that had worked in the US.
“We can’t find the economy!” “Why aren’t people starving?”
The official economy had all but totally collapsed at that point, yet the streets weren’t full of starved corpses, in fact people mostly went about their lives as normal - teachers still taught in schools even if they hadn’t been paid for months.
According to the article, the unofficial economy had grown so big and ubiquitous during the Soviet era that it allowed the population to weather the collapse

Little Nemo
03-31-2008, 10:28 AM
Heinlein's analysis had nothing to do with the physical size of the city. It was all about measuring the river and road and rail traffic and determining how much population such a flow of material could support.The OP was comparing the physical size of the cities using Googol Earth.

I'm not disputing that the Soviets probably lied about their population. They lied about plenty of other statistics. But I doubt that they pumped up the figures by more than 10 or 20 percent. No way could they have gotten away with a 300 or 500 percent exaggeration that some people are claiming here.

Ludovic
03-31-2008, 10:56 AM
The OP was comparing the physical size of the cities using Googol Earth.Well, looking at the physical size of the Orlando metropolitan area, (i.e. from Sanford to Kissimmee and from Winter Garden to Bithlo,) you'd have to conclude that Orlando must be in the top 10 most populous cities in America. (Okay it IS the 26th or so, but it looks freakin huge on a map and from a plane (it's the only place where from a plane I've seen development as far as the eye could see.))

BrainGlutton
03-31-2008, 11:12 AM
Well, looking at the physical size of the Orlando metropolitan area, (i.e. from Sanford to Kissimmee and from Winter Garden to Bithlo,) you'd have to conclude that Orlando must be in the top 10 most populous cities in America. (Okay it IS the 26th or so, but it looks freakin huge on a map and from a plane (it's the only place where from a plane I've seen development as far as the eye could see.))

On Interstate 4, midway between Orlando and Tampa, I once saw a billboard reading, "FUTURE SITE OF DOWNTOWN ORLAMPA."

I think it had something to do with the high-speed rail initiative, but, if so, I'm not clear if it was for it or against it.

Ludovic
03-31-2008, 12:25 PM
I always read that as "buy property here, cause in 30 years this will be a hot and happening place!" With the thrown in assumption of course that this includes high speed rail.

BrainGlutton
03-31-2008, 01:37 PM
I always read that as "buy property here, cause in 30 years this will be a hot and happening place!" With the thrown in assumption of course that this includes high speed rail.

A HSR link between Tampa and Orlando would not necessarily affect the value of rural property midway between, where the train would not be stopping.

Little Nemo
03-31-2008, 09:50 PM
I always read that as "buy property here, cause in 30 years this will be a hot and happening place!" With the thrown in assumption of course that this includes high speed rail.Using a similar logic, I should be buying up property in Trenton - the future site of downtown Yorkadelphia.

slaphead
04-04-2008, 10:33 AM
(For the record, their guess was 750,000 when the Soviets were claiming 5,000,000.)
Ummm, I think if the population of Moscow was only 15% of what the soviets were claiming, more than a couple of people would have noticed. That's a pretty honking big discrepancy.

ralph124c
04-04-2008, 11:24 AM
The mayors of the machine -run, corrupt Democratic party-held cities (NYC, Boston, Providence, etc.) have been inflating populations statistics for years! the reason is:
-the want to keep the federal aid $$ flowing (the money is dictated by official population numbers)
-the Democratic party wants to keep a majority in the house-and they will lie to keep the seats
Offically, the population of Boston is about 880,000-the Deomcratic machine claims it is over a million! I'd bet it is more like 600,000.
The machine that runs Boston will NEVER allow an honest census-they even forced the federal census to accept 'phantom' residents, to keep the crooks in power!

Chimera
04-04-2008, 11:29 AM
Using a similar logic, I should be buying up property in Trenton - the future site of downtown Yorkadelphia.

hijack;

Well, if you would have told people at the end of WWII that they should buy up all the property they could in places like Orlando, Orange County CA, The Atlanta or Dallas Suburbs...or heck, just about any township less than 20 miles from a major city;

What do you think they'd have said?

"Yes Mr. 1945, by the 80's, Los Angeles will be the #2 city in America. Orange County will be suburbs as far as the eye can see. Yes, Orlando will actually be more than a gas station in the middle of Florida. Why yes, Bloomington MN will be completely developed with a population of close to 100k, rather than the farms you see now.

Buy land just over the next hill from whatever development you see today, because tomorrow it will be worth big money."


Back on OP, remember that all of the cities in western Russia were pretty much blown to bits in the war, and Mr. Heinlein's visit was only 15 years after it ended. They had lost an awful lot of people, including most of the original populations of those cities, and it takes a while for rebuilding and migration to make up for those kinds of staggering losses.

BrainGlutton
04-04-2008, 12:42 PM
The mayors of the machine -run, corrupt Democratic party-held cities (NYC, Boston, Providence, etc.) have been inflating populations statistics for years!

Cite?