How strong was the Soviet economy in the 1970's and 1980's?

I am wondering what the Soviet economy was like. Any info would be great.

What was the Soviet GDP compared to the USA, Japan and Germany?

What goods and services did the Soviet Union produce?

What was the standard of living of the average Soviet citizen?

What did the Soviet Union import and export?

Sure sounds like homework questions.

Are you familiar with this research tool?

Or this one: http://en.wikipedia.org

If this is indeed a homework question, there are pages on the Soviet economy and specific reforms during during that period should probably be a good starting point.

However, one of the conclusions that western historians and economists have come to after the fall of the Soviet Union is that virtually everyone was engaged in the faking of economic data, from individual workers fudging their production quotas all the way up to the government cherry-picking what economic indicators to release. It seems in retrospect that at nearly every point, the size and strength of the Soviet economy was overestimated by western observers, and it seems doubtful that even the Soviets themselves had a very good handle on things. As a result, even today with all the data (such as it is) available for us to look at, it’s really hard to get a handle on what the actual economic conditions were. There is a camp of “Soviet apologists” who think the official numbers were close to reality, but there’s also those on the opposite extreme who think things were significantly worse. IMHO, you need to approach the topic with a little bit of agnosticism since there really is so little trustworthy data available.

There is a reason Perestroika and Glasnost were initiated.

… and produced a cascade of reforms that lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moral of the Story: The end of an intolerable régime can happen peacefully.

Amoral of the Story: If you’re in power, don’t give an inch. Stalin died an emperor.

This is a very interesting piece on why the USSR collapsed.

The truth was that the Soviet economy sucked-it was in constant financial difficulties for most of its existence. By the time of Krushchev, it was experiencing famines, and low industrial productivity. Most of the consumer goods it was able to make were shoddy and inferior to world standards. By the 1970’s, agricultural output was so bad that the USSR had to buy massive amounts of foodstuffs-it was saved from financial collapse by the big increase in oil prices in the 1970’s (the USSR was the world’s largest producer of oil). By the 1980’s, it was deteriorating faster-and it finally collapsed.
Communism was no viable economic model-it failed on all counts.

There were a few books written back then by foreign correspondents on what life was like in the
“worker’s paradise” (sarcasm) such as “The Russians” by Hedrick Smith. Used copies are real cheap on Amazon.

Red Plenty is a recent novel of the early days of the economic unraveling of the USSR.

Another interesting point, was that Brezhnev and his generation were the ones who fought WWII. Since 1914, with the Russian civil war and then WWII, Russia took extraordinary measures to deal with a threat to its territory; after the war it created a buffer of satellite states to protect itself from further threats.

Gorbachev and the new generation did not remember the war or external threats. They grew up with a relatively privileged position watching excessive repression for no valid reason they could understand, and thinking “there must be a better way”. Once they took over, they tried to implement a “better way”, only to find it did not include the old system at all.

The problems with the system were pretty simple - there was no real incentive to produce properly, and with central management rather than market forces, nothing worked. There’s the joke about the glass factory’s quota being in square meters of glass - so logically, they made up for low volume by producing glass too thin - so a lot broke before reaching the end users, wasting even more than if they had simply produced less but usable glass. Having met their quota or not, (or if they fudge the numbers) they still got paid.

As a result, the people had a lot of money, but nothing at the controlled prices to spend it on. Allowing any free/black markets simply displayed the worthlessness of that money and the scarcity of goods; and allowed some to get very rich, or others would take goods intended for regular retail and sell them extremely marked up on the black market.

There’s the story that when it rained, every car in Moscow pulled over to the side of the road and put the windshield wipers on. They were kept in the glovebox because otherwise, they would be stolen because you could not buy them at the store.

Another vote for The Russians. A straightforward and well-written look at Soviet society in the mid-Seventies.

A Russian joke from the time: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” For a lot more, see here (I think you can tell a lot about a society by its jokes):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_political_jokes

So how did they survive for several generations and how did they win World War II? If nothing worked how did they make it past Lenin? Or Stalin? Or to the 60s? Or the 70s or the 80s?

See the link on Soviet jokes, especially there’s one about Stalin shootng rows of people until one 'fesses up. Every organization, factory, collective farm, even each naval vessel, had one or more “political officers” who had an incentive to see things done and the threat to enforce at least a minimum effort of work. Similarly, the top brass in factories and farms had an incentive too, to keep their jobs or move up. However, “minimum effort” is the key word. People will do what they are told, use no initiative, and ensure no specific blame falls on them. As a result, production levels are poor. Neglect means crops could rot in the bins, for example, as long as they were actually harvested and could be counted as “done”.

An acquaintance once was a consulting engineer in communist Albania for a few months. He said for example, the workers at the refinery would listen to a pump grind its guts to junk and do nothing - because if the pump failed on its own, that was not their fault; but if they stopped production so the pump could be changed, lost production was all their fault for calling the stoppage. Once the pump failed, they had to stop so it was nobodys fault. Needless to say, while the pump failed, product turned to junk. Again, nobodys fault.

As for Soviets during the war, nothing motivates like a real external threat, and even disinterested factory drones have patriotic feelings and like self-preservation.

Yeah, the minimum effort disappears when slacking can get you sent to the front, to a gulag or just outright shot.

Or the reason you need to work hard is because maurauding huns are about to overrun your home… Just because their leaders were butchers does not mean they did not have pride in country and cause. Events like the seige of Stalingrad were not won on doing just enough to not get shot.

Russia was backwards enough that pretty much any kind of investment up till about the 1950s would have paid off for them. Much of the investment was in heavy industry, which would eventually create its own problems.

But as md2000 said, the fear and oppression of the Stalin years kept people honest and working hard to surmount the inefficiencies inherent in the system. When Khrushchev took over, there were problems, but there was an idealistic post-war generation of people willing to work towards solving them. By the time Brezhnev took over, the idealism was gone and the leaders were more brazenly corrupt, which led to a willingness to game the system rather than trying to muddle through within it.

Nonetheless, the fear of their leader and his displeasure was a not insignificant motivator.

From the beginning, Soviet Russia had problems-in the late 1920’s the country sold antiques, paintings, gold precious, gems for hard cash-this was needed because of the perilous state of Soviet food production.In the early-1930’s Stalin allowed the Germans to set up shop in Russia (developing weapons) in return for technical assistance.
So the country was far from a mighty colossus-it was more like a dwarf with a strong right arm. The illusion of Soviet strength was greatly aided by the US-it kept a lot of defense industries going.

Interesting. Basically the Soviet Union fell because Gorby and other rulers were good men. It does lead to the Amoral of the story however.

The satellite states fell because Gorbahev refused to pull a Hungary or Czeckoslovakia and use the Soviet Army to back up those regimes. The Soviet “Union” fell apart when the attempted coup was overurned and the local Republics realized the central power was ineffective, had no control over the army, and so pretty much conceded its illegitimacy - roughly the same as happened to the satellite states.