Paul Craig Roberts
February 5, 2011
In 1961 I was a member of the student exchange program to the Soviet Union. It was the second year of the exchange and part of a diplomatic effort to achieve some thaw in the Cold War.
There were three groups of us totaling approximately 35 American students. The Soviet authorities were not comfortable with us hanging out with Russian students, so we were kept constantly on the move. Consequently, we saw a lot of the communist country and its empire.
My group went in through Yugoslavia and Romania, spent time in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Tashkent, Samarkand, and a Soviet sports camp on the Black Sea in Georgia, and came out via Poland and East Germany during the construction of the Berlin Wall. We were in the Caucasus mountains when Yuri Gagarin made the first spaceflight, a propaganda success for the Soviet Union.
What was most striking about the Soviet Union was that, except for the sparkling clean Moscow subway with its gleaming marble floors and walls and some beautiful old buildings built by the czars, there was nothing there. There was no traffic on Moscow’s boulevards. The small food stores were empty. The department store, GUM, had nothing to sell us for our fistfuls of rubles we had been paid for our Levi jeans, button-down shirts, and penny loafers, clothes literally bought off our backs on the streets.
I remember being on a bus in Tashkent when a meat delivery truck appeared. The carcass was hanging on a rail in the open air. The few vehicles on the street were following the delivery truck. The bus driver deviated from his route to follow the delivery.
Bus passengers came alive with anti-cipation. People began coming out from shops and office buildings. By the time the truck arrived at the small butcher’s shop, a long line had formed.
In the Soviet Union people kept a sharp eye out for deliveries of any kind. People would line up to purchase whatever was available as it could be bartered to obtain other goods. As goods of all kinds were scarce, money was not an effective medium of exchange.
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In the USSR, a defunct ideology prevented the Soviets from saving themselves by using price and profit signals, instead of gross output indicators, to organize their economy. In the United States, politically powerful interest groups, such as Wall Street and the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about, prevent the measures that would rejuvenate the consumer economy by bringing the offshored jobs home and reduce the deficit by ending the counter-productive wars.
The advantage to corporations and the financial sector of cheap foreign labor can be offset by taxing corporations according to where value is added to their product: a low tax rate if value is added with American labor and a high tax rate if value is added with foreign labor. This simple change would bring jobs back to Americans, rebuild the ladders of upward mobility that made the U.S. an opportunity society, restore the tax bases of cities, states, and the federal government, and reduce the trade deficit by the amount of the goods and services that are produced offshore by U.S. firms for U.S. markets.
Yet just as the Soviet communist bosses held on to power to the point of their self-destruction, the American oligarchies will squeeze the U.S. economy to its death. Is President Obama’s failure to bring any change yet another indication that change in America will only follow catastrophe?
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is the father of Reaganomics and the former head of policy at the Department of Treasury. He is a columnist and was previously the editor of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, “How the Economy Was Lost: The War of the Worlds,” details why America is disintegrating.
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