StreetEYE Blog

Why did the Soviet Union collapse?

A few years old, but new to me: an interesting perspective from Yegor Gaidar, reformist economist of the post-Gorbachev era.

• Collectivisation and urbanization left the Soviet Union with a grain shortfall. Rather than reform the agricultural sector, they paid for food with oil exports.

• In the 1985, the Saudis decided they would no longer act as swing producer and forgo exports while other members of OPEC cheated. The Saudis started a price war and broke up the cartel. Oil went briefly under $10 a barrel and Soviet oil revenue dried up.

• At first the Soviets paid for food with foreign reserves, then they borrowed. But then they began to reach the limits of their credit.

• Part of Gorbachev’s reforms were with the idea of becoming a country the West would lend to, even provide state guarantees in exchange for reform.

That didn’t work out too well. As Brzezinski later said, the Soviet Union could be an empire or a democracy, but not both. Once they showed weakness, everyone wanted out.

China: society and politics, and what next?

In the post-war period period (possibly throughout the dynasties), truth has been relative in China, while power has been absolute.

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China: A history cheat sheet

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Fellow travelers: Zhou, Mao and 2 revolutionaries I never heard of in Shaanxi, 1937

I spent most of March in Asia and trying to figure out China. To understand the present, you have to understand the past, so I turned to The Search For Modern China, by Jonathan Spence of Yale, which seems to be standard fare for undergrad history surveys. It was a great start, although I wished he had given his analysis of the whys as well as the who, what, when, where, despite the political sensitivities when talking about modern China.

Here is a quick summary mixed with a few conclusions and speculations.

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