Modern Economic Growth in Tsarist Russia
Your discussion of pre-Soviet Russia reminds me a bit of a too common view that modern economic growth was very slow in China before 1949. The modern section was small, but the growth between the two world wars was very impressive as was some of the structural change. If it has not been for Japan’s invasion - a difficult counter factual to test - I have argued China might well have emerged as a major economy from the 1950s. In my 2021 book The Chinese Economy I reproduce the table on comparative growth of industrial output in Cn, Japan, India and USSR/Russia 1912-2008 from Brandt et in the O’Rourke & Williamson 2017 The Spread of Modern Industry to the Global Periphery Since 1871. It might be of interest if you have not seen it.
Charles Arthur Conant was one of the leading American economists in the 1890-1910 period, and in his important, and very interesting, 1900 book, "The United States in the Orient", he writes that Russia had one of the most vibrant and best-managed economies in the world, and was likely to be the only serious challenger to the US. What's interesting is he doesn't posit this as a contrarian view but rather as if it is obvious and accepted by other economists. Especially under Sergei Witte, who was Minister of Finance in the 1890s (and later, briefly, Prime Minister), Russia was considered an economic powerhouse.
TIL Kedrosky is a boardgamer
Interesting post. I'm not knowledgeable at all about Russian economic history but one point I found interesting was (I hope I am correct) was that among the few things the Communists did achieve was to widen and improve education substantially (especially among women). I guess might have happened under a tsarist regime but seems less likely. Or what do you think?
How do you think the economy of Tsarist Russia compared to pre-Franco Spain's?
"Russian industry was growing much faster over 1870-1914 than that of any other European country—at 5.1 percent per annum, versus 4.1 percent in Germany and just 2.1 percent in France and England. Industrial capital per worker rose by 55 percent between the 1880s and 1913, and the overall growth rate (8-9 percent) of the capital stock was greater than that in other industrializers of the period." I'd like to know the source of this data, please. Is it Maddison?
This is a good piece that sums things up well. Anatoly Karlin made a similar argument from a human capital and comparative economic perspective a few years ago here: https://akarlin.com/the-soviet-economy-charting-failure/, which I think complements your post well. My personal estimate is that sans the Revolution, Russia would be about as wealthy as Spain today, with a vastly larger population (probably ~400 million Slavs, plus assorted Caucasians, Central Asians, Jews, etc).
A comparison to Portugal/Mexico/Italy/Greece/Turkey would have been useful here.
Are you familiar with this essay?
It seems to me like it makes many of the same points you do.
I fully agree with you. Tsarist Russia was on a path of rapid industrialization in 1914 and unlike Meiji Japan and Argentina it had a decent level of scientific research and technological innovation.
I was interested by the link regarding the success of Stolypin Reforms because I recently read Judith Pallot - Land Reform in Russia, 1906-1917 Peasant Responses to Stolypin's Project of Rural Transformation (1999, Oxford University Press, USA) and the author was not impressed by its effectiveness seeing it as a top down reform that made most peasants unhappy. The idea of the reformists was that turning the right to an allotment in the commune land into a western style private farm would lead to productivity increases but the author claimed that it didn't happen because the peasants didn't had the money or the knowledge to modernize while the loss of communal forests and pastures was a serious problem.
Excellent, as normal. Mancur Olson’s argument that Stalin’s policy maximised the resources under his direct control remains persuasive, and compatible with what you lay out.