The Socialist Car

23 March 2012 at 9:32 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

I blogged previously about Lewis Siegelbaum’s 2008 book Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (or, more precisely, Perry Patterson’s EH.Net review). So I need to say something about the follow up, The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc (Cornell University Press, 2011), an essay collection edited by Siegelbaum. Once again, here’s Patterson:

As was true for Cars for Comrades, this book takes the modern upper-middle-class Western reader far from the contemporary world where drivers need not know what’s “under the hood,” where synthetic oil might not need attention for 15,000 miles or more, and where long-standing institutions for finance, distribution and service of vehicles are seemingly ubiquitous.  Rather, this is a world where two-stroke engines are designed for easy (and frequent) self-service, new car owners are required to install windshield wipers, and new automobiles are provided with extensive repair kits and instructions for disassembly.  This world is also one where private automobiles – and even socially-owned trucks – represent potential threats to the Soviet-style socialist undertaking by providing opportunities for generating illegal incomes and diverting resources toward consumption.  At the core of the rich set of stories contained here are the compromises that everyday citizens, urban planners, and Party officials routinely made as the powerful forces associated with the automobile became more and more apparent throughout the socialist bloc.  In addition, the examples presented in this eleven-chapter volume say much about the increasingly complex information flows required and implied by automobiles that became more and more technically complex over time.

Speaking of EH.net, the performativity crowd may get a kick out of another recent review, Bruce Carruthers’s discussion of Carl Wennerlind, Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720 (Harvard University Press, 2011). Notes Carruthers: “It was not simply that early modern capital markets evolved, that financial systems developed, or that English economic institutions changed. These critical transformations were accompanied and even shaped by the analyses offered by people who witnessed the events of the time.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Recommended Reading. Tags: .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rafe  |  26 March 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Peter you need to take into account the restriction of choice by new cars. Lots of people used to like doing their own running repairs and car maintenance. Remember the group homes where the lounge room would often feature the partly assembled gear box or differential of one of the occupants.

  • 2. mikemarotta  |  27 March 2012 at 12:09 pm

    There is no shortage of problems underlying and consequent to a “planned economy.” I do not know a good label for the idea that there is one right way to do things, perhaps “the technocratic fallacy.” Mathematics informs physics and everyone looks to physics as the standard of truth in science, including social scientists and scientific socialists. So, how many kinds of cars could you need? One! The right one designed by the best engineers, etc., etc.

    But look at how even advocates of the free market teach supply and demand. Where the two curves intersect is “equilibrium” and every other point is “inefficient.” You can pay $5 for a cup of yogurt on the street. As a writer in numismatic markets, known to many dealers, at an ANA convention, I get one price and someone else gets a different price.

    Yet the idea persists that there is one “efficient” price where QS and QD intersect. So, why not have the state enforce that price, comrades? Why allow what even apologists for capitalism admit is the inefficient allocation of resources?

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