Newsweek: Better Red Than Free!

On Monday I wrote about Jacob Weisberg's shockingly dumb Newsweek column arguing that a certain cable news station engaged in an "un-American" approach to reporting. Now my Reason.tv colleague Meredith Bragg calls my attention to this chart in the latest issue of Jon Meacham somnolent journal of opinion (see below, and click for a larger image).

The sourcing on this absurd little chart is vague, no context is provided, and we aren't told what years are being compared ("Then" is compared with "now"). The conclusion to be drawn, one supposes, is that because the Soviet Union had more hospitals and fewer diagnosed diseases, their undernourished and underfed population was somehow healthier than those living in today's Russia. If we are to take these numbers at face value—I couldn't track down some of the stats, but will trust that Newsweek is being straight...with the notoriously unreliable figures produced by the Soviet dictatorship—what conclusions can we draw from a decrease in the number of hospitals? Is it that the criminal free market has skimped on health care in Russia, or is it that, during the Yeltsin years, the creaking health care bureaucracy created in post-Stalinist Russia was consolidated and made more efficient. As The Independent noted in 1990, health care in "the Soviet Union compares favourably only with parts of the Third World." And were those hospitals back "then" stocked with the latest technology? Were they fully equipped with prescription drugs and equipment? (The answer, obviously, is no).

Or how about the figures presented for those "diagnosed with diseases," which has increased from 91 million to 110 million. Contrary to Newsweek's implication, this could simply indicate not that communism was better for your health, but that capitalism is better at diagnosing disease. There has been a slight drop in life expectancy, but it should by pointed out that in 1990, at the tail end of the Soviet experiment, the life expectancy of a male in the Soviet Union was 64 years. On average, women lived a full ten years longer.

The Rodchenko-inspired "better off red" table also notes that divorce rates have increased significantly in the post-Soviet period, but fails to inform readers that Bolshevism restricted divorce in various ways over its 70-plus year run. Nor is it particularly surprising that increased economic and social freedom would lead to higher divorce rates. The reliance on Soviet "crime" statistics is particularly egregious, as the categories of crime (like "wrecking" and "social dangerousness") have mercifully changed, with the still illiberal Russian penal code having purged of most Bolshevik categories of criminality. Not represented in these figures, of course, are crimes committed by the Soviet government. I doubt, for instance, that Georgi Markov was factored into Bulgaria's 1978 murder rate.

But the most pathetic comparison must be the number of cinemas in the Soviet Union (2,337) versus the number is present day Russia (1,510). Recall, if you will, the good old days of Soviet cinema: the glorious, tedious films about collectivization; of girls falling in love with dashing commissars too busy with purge trials to reciprocate their affection; the clumsy, yet charming, remakes of classics from the less rigidly ideological comrades in the Albanian cinema community. One might expect Newsweek to celebrate this movie theater contraction as a victory over crass American culture, but it is more likely that Russians now have access to flat screen televisions, satellite television, the Internet, and DVD players. But yeah, Russia probably was "better off red."

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  • ||

    Economic collapse, check.
    Totalitarian rule, check.
    Virtually no civil liberties, check.
    Mass slaughter of population, check.
    Aggressive expansionism, check.

    Yep, it's all good.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Weakness. Plain and simple weakness. People ALL ACROSS THE WORLD are too weak and stupid to handle Freedom and Liberty.

    I hate mankind. And I wish this post was being funny or dramatic. It's not.

  • ||

    Do they actually have freedom and liberty in Russia? From what I can tell, it's mostly Boris' play thing for his rich, formerly commie friends.

  • Kyle Jordan||

    I would say no. And I'd also say no to it being anywhere else in the world on a large scale. Not even here in the US anymore.

  • Mike||

    You mean Putin. Boris has been dead for a while now.

  • ||

    Yes, Putin. [blushes] For some reason I was thinking Vlad, but typing Boris.

  • ||

    In russia, freedom handles you!

  • TXLimey||

    Newsweek's new slogan "Better Red than read"

  • John Tagliaferro||

    How about "Reagan Lied, Ruskies Died"?

  • @||

    "Better Off Red?"
    That's truly obscene.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Mark my words: once communism falls in Cuba, their high literacy numbers and stellar health care will plummet - PLUMMET - faster than Newsweek subscriptions.

  • Rimfax||

    Switching to accurate accounting will do that.

  • Barry S.||

    Too big to fail.

  • Abdul||

    In Soviet Russia, "better" offs you.

  • Warty||

    That's much better than anything Yakoff Smirnoff ever did.

  • ||

    Please put this in H&R's all-time classic list.

  • Mango Punch||

    You guys are so bad at statistics. Even when numbers are clear and right there in front of you, you still insist on refusing to believe that Comunism is a good thing!

  • Rimfax||

    I see it now, freedom IS slavery!

  • Vendulka||

    Perhaps Communism *is* a good thing, but these comparisons don't make a compelling argument for it.

    These statistics simply illustrate the lack of academic rigor in Newsweek.

    Of course, perhaps it was better that people suffered diseases without diagnosis. Now that they're being diagnosed in larger numbers, we might feel guilty not helping them.

    And as long as its the state killing people for being too gay or too jewish or too expressive, it's okay because it's not murder. Perhaps we should look to the Deep South for hope in America.

    Of course a rise in reported crimes might have to do with the fact that under totalitarianism the last thing you wanted to do was bring yourself to the attention of the police -- whether or not your neighbors had just stolen from you.

  • peachy||

    Wasn't it Newsweek that recently had a cover article about how Biden is a "real" VP, who like, does stuff and shit? (Even reading the blurb I was reminded irresistibly of Fredo protesting his worthiness.)

  • ||

    Did they really? I have been hearing that about every single VP since I was old enough to pay attention.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    You mean like washing his Trans Am in the White House driveway before going on a burger run with the pres?

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    That was one of the funniest Onion articles I've ever read.

  • Suki||

    Thank you, I liked it too. I hope that you like the way I worked it into a story ;)

  • Xeones||

    Goddamn Reason won't let me comment in Cyrillic characters. Yo, yob tvoyu mat, Jacob Weisberg.

  • Colin||

    If Comrade Weisberg is reading this and can't understand Russian, Xeones just instructed you to perform a certain act with your mother, forthwith.

  • mark||

    This is all part of the Newsweek/Time newspeak agenda. We're all socialists now! Russia was better off red! Red is like socialism, except different! Socialism is a bad word when conservatives use it! We're all socialists now, so it must be racist when they use that word! But seriously, we're all socialists now and there's no debate about that. All Americans are socialists and love their socialism, so stop being racist and embrace socialism!

    Green is the new it. Embrace green or you won't get laid. Aren't you ashamed of your bourgeois high carbon footprint lifestyle yet?

    Eventually the words will lose all meaning, and the population will be easier to control.

  • anonymous||

    Either Newsweek is a black flag GOP operation, or we should all be very very afraid. Consider their cover stories.

    "We are all socialists now"

    "The Confidence Game [over a picture of a new president]" (Don't tell me they aren't aware of the double meaning -- and I'm pretty sure there was a subtitle or part of the article or something where they actually Obama a "Confidence Man")

    "Is your baby racist?"

    "The case for killing Granny" (Ok, fuck it, you're not even trying anymore)

  • ||

    If Biden is Fredo, what does that make Obama? I think Obama is Fredo, and Biden is Fredo's stupid assistant, kept around by Fredo to make Fredo think he isn't an idiot.

  • Joe||

    Obama = Moe Green

  • ||

    With hard-hitting journalism like this you really do have to wonder why the MSM is so in trouble.

  • ||

    I used to hear from leftists all the time--even around here--how nobody was talking about socialism, they all hated communism, yada, yada, yada. Sure are coming out of the closet in droves now, aren't they? Better be ready for the consequences when they find out that most of the rest of us don't like communism any more than we like Nazism.

  • Marc||

    Paging Edward Tutfe...

  • Edward Tufte||

    This specimen, far from being a confection, is riddled with disingenuous comparisons and not a little chartjunk. Notice how the "red," a color typically associated with Communism, is now used to denote the statistics describing Russia in the present-day.

    Given that the two sets of statistics probably don't belong anywhere near each other in a comparative sense, this punishing color scheme and sharp-angle-filled abomination shows us how far design has come since the Cold War.

  • Stoneymonster||

    Bravo sir.

  • Marc||

    Wow. If that wasn't the man himself, it was a damn good facsimile. A-

    (I strongly suspect the latter, given that he neglected to comment on the seizure-inducing visual vibrations.)

  • DanD||

    It was me. I just finished reading "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" for the 18th time :D

  • Don||

    Just like sometime in the '90s, Republican states became 'red' and Dem states 'blue'. George Bush I & II were both corporate socialists, but as long as they opposed abortion, they were conservative--we're all Keynesian neo-socialists now.

  • DanD||

    OK, Michael already nailed how they're basically taking official Soviet statistics at face value, but two other things caught my eye:

    Forest: OMG there is 0.1% less forest area guys. DAMN YOU QUASI-CAPITALIST AUTOCRACY!

    Farmland: Just like in the US, they've gotten more efficient at using land for agriculture, freeing up unneeded land for other uses. Bravo.

  • Tyler||

    The more farmland, the better! THINK GREEN! Wouldn't we be living in a more just society if we were ALL farmers?

  • DanD||

    I'm outed!

    I expect to see James Hansen of NASA and his minions in their winter garb performing protest raps in front of my front door tomorrow morning.

  • Don||

    Both farmland and forests are decreasing. Are deserts and/or lakes increasing?

  • dfd||

    Someone should to put together a parody of this with some other well-cherry-picked, misleading and downright dishonest statistics under the heading "Was Germany Better Off Nazi?" I'll bet it could be done.

  • ||

    If nothing else, the "Land Under Control" category would be significantly higher.

  • Newsweek||

    Germany:
    Then - almost eradicated Tay-Sachs disease

    Now - Tay-Sachs resurgent

  • ||

    That was so wrong. I can't stop laughing.

  • ||

    How does Meacham tie his shoes in the morning if he's this retarded? Holy crap.

  • ||

    Velcro, Epi, velcro.

  • Josh||

    Missing: Stats on when the trains ran on time.

  • Tyler||

    I can see it now:

    "According to Communist records, all trains always ran on time. No records exist of those who said otherwise. Better off red, indeed!"

  • Rich||

    I gave up on Newsweek long ago. When will the administration lump it with Fox?

  • ||

    They forgot the collumns

    Number of people worked to death in slave labor camps

    and

    Number of people executed by the KGB for being of the wrong political conscienceness

    But remember publications like newsweek are the real "news outlets". OMG this just disgusting.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Number of people worked to death in slave labor camps

    Those were volunteers, for great justice.

  • ||

    Social justice, actually.

  • smartass sob||

    Why, yes - slaverycommunity service.

  • MJ||

    Did that make the guards "community organizers"?

  • ||

    Unfortunately, the number of people executed by the KGB is unlikely to be zero now. The KGB was caught red-handed trying to blow up an apartment building in Ryazan in 1999. Plenty of journalists, political activists, and opposition politicians have been killed or unexpectedly died under mysterious circumstances.

  • ||

    Yes it is a number greater than zero but probably less than 10,000 which means it has to be an improvement over the past.

  • DanD||

    OK, the more I look at this the more pissed off I get.

    Does the author even know someone who's lived in Russia through the Communist era into the current autocracy? Did he even bother to look?

    This reminds me of those retarded studies along the lines of "America's Least Healthy Cities" or "America's Most Manly Cities," where they basically run an algorithm on the variables of interest in a few sets of data like economic numbers or survey results and then assign some arbitrary weight to each variable to find which city is best. The people making the data have no real-life familiarity with the questions they're asking. They've never visited the cities they rank to see how valid their methods are. They just say "This is our indicator" and run with it.

    It's apparent this wanker did the same thing, only with a larger helping of intellectual dishonesty. What a tool.

  • ||

    Hey Newspeak, here's a real brain twister for you: why don't you compare "then" statistics between the USSR and the US? Hell, you could even throw in the "Now" for kicks.

    Holy Christ on a pogo stick, I knew they were always a bunch of out-of-touch lefties at that mag, but *this* far to the left?

  • Grandpa Whithers||

    I, for one, welcome our new Sovietesque overlords and their communications arm.

  • ||

    What's really ridiculous about this is that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all sorts of records and other information came out showing that pretty much everything they said about their economic state, culture, human rights record, etc. were absolute lies. Not even taking into account the fact that all totalitarian governments are full of shit.

    This guy has to know all of this, so I can't help but think that he wants totalitarianism here. Great.

  • Warty||

    http://www.amazon.com/Forsaken.....1594201684

    Read up, Newsweek, you fucking fifth columnist cockgarglers.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    The reliance on Soviet "crime" statistics is particularly egregious, as the categories of crime (like "wrecking" and "social dangerousness") have mercifully changed, with the still illiberal Russian penal code having purged of most Bolshevik categories of criminality.

    Then the crime rates should be lower now, right, because fewer activities are crimes? Newsweak probably is missing the important point about how much stuff was outlawed in the USSR, but if they had corrected for that error, it would have made the Then/Now comparison even more striking than it is. I have no problem believing Russia has a higher crime rate now than it did under Brezhnev, just as Italy had fewer on-time trains in 1959 than it had in 1939.

  • ||

    Still, they managed to make this excellent Russo-Finnish co-production back in the day.

    Also, isn't it standard for Newsweak* to simply present a bunch of numbers without providing any sort of meaningful analysis or context? I mean, that's really all they've got. And what analysis they do have is usually of the "more is good" and "less is bad" or "more is bad" and "less is good" variety.

    *Intentional, dammit.

  • ||

    Holy shit, did I really just post the same pun at the same time as Cavanaugh?

    el-oh-el

  • ||

    el-oh-el, do I know you nooge?

    Aren't you that guy I confessed my kitten plot to?

  • ||

    Is that 7.5 liters a day? No way that's per year, unless there's a lot of Russian Muslims that we don't know about.

  • Zeb||

    I think that is liters of pure alcohol. Still, I would have expected a bit more annually from Russians.

  • Atabrat||

    The Chernobyl disaster occurred in the Soviet Union, but now Russia is better off because Chernobyl is in Ukraine. Ha! Take that, Newsweek! But I must admit I prefer the old days when I could only get swap meet Louie.

  • ||

    I have a question. What would the Soviets have done if a guy was making coffee in the nude at 5:30 a.m. (let's assume darkness) in his apartment, and some lady and her kid saw his nudity through the window?

  • ||

    Depends on how slow a day the KGB was having. If they needed some bodies to make their numbers for "arresting enemies of the state" they probably would have arrested them both. If not, they would have told the woman to stop peeping in people's windows.

  • ev||

    Fapped.

  • Abdul||

    Trick question: everyone in Russia was too hung over at 5:30 in the morning to be doing anything.

  • Coffee through a straw?||

    Are they comparing all of the Soviet Union to Russia? Wasn't Russia only part of the CCCP?

  • ||

    I like how the numbers are almost exactly the same, with only a small actual difference; it's not like any statistic jumped or dropped by an order of magnitude (not even close).

    I'm not a statistician, but even taking these numbers at face value, it seems that few of the differences would be statistically significant.

  • ||

    Funny, in this month's Reason magazine, Matt was lamenting the lack of attention the MSM is paying to the 20 year anniversary of the fall of Eastern European Communism. But this is exactly the type of coverage we can expect! Better off without it.

  • @||

    It serves a purpose, though: the left is able to compare our semi-free, mixed economy with the failures of post-Soviet Russia and exclaim, "See? Everything's fine in Obamaland!"

  • ||

    Is Newsweek comparing the former USSR with current Russia? Those aren't even the same place.

    Or is Newsweek comparing the former 'state' of Russia with the current 'nation' of Russia? Seems like these stats prove what Kazakhs, Turkmen, Ukrainians, etc. always believed: the Soviet system outsourced the misery to the provinces and kept the plenty for the Russians.

    Collectivism is wonderful for those who control the collective.

    As I'm sure Pol Pot would've said in 1978: "Our statistics show that I'm much happier now than before."

  • ||

    That is an excellent point I hadn't thought of. Why don't these clowns ask the Baltic States how things are post Soviet Union.

  • ||

    Things were much better "then," when we only had 13 colonies. Lower crime, lower prices and more trees.

  • That Son-of-a-Bitch Van Owen||

    In addition they are double dipping their stats.

    Fewer "economically active people" basically reflects the lower population. An economically active popluation that is 3 million lower is what you would expect with a total population 5 million lower.

  • ||

    No, the Soviet system shoveled what little wealth there was from Russia to the provinces. Or to be more accurate -the city of Moscow got first cut, then then the provinces then Russia proper. The standard of living in the Baltics and Ukraine, and the Caucuses for the most part, was always higher than the standard of living in provincial Russia. The fall of the USSR showed this pretty clearly as the Ukraine to this day is still begging for oil and gas at subsidized prices. The real problem of course was that socialism prevented real wealth from being created in the provinces or in the center. But what little there was mostly flowed from Russia outwards, hence the haste with which the elite dumped the "colonies" in 1991.

  • ||

    Ukraine gets the discount not for begging but for allowing Gazprom to use the pipeline that crosses their territory into Western Europe. Given that your one point that I'm familiar with was utterly false, I'll make a similar judgement about the rest of your comment.

  • ||

    Next time do some research before you try to be snarky - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia–Ukraine_gas_disputes

    You've just made a total ass of yourself.

  • ||

    This is the lead-in to next issue's look at how America is better off now that it's no longer free, I take it.

  • ||

    You know what killed the Soviet Union? Deregulation! Damn that Bush!

  • G Mc||

    The assertion that the lives of Russians (as measured by various quality of life metrics) were "better" before the collapse of the Soviet system is not an indictment of capitalism. It is a reflection of the extent of Russia's failure to embrace true economic freedom in the subsequent years.

  • ||

    There's another issue. The chart is like comparing the health of an alcoholic methhead before and after he crashes and ends up in rehab. Before he was a fun party guy with all his teeth, but now he's a wreck. This "proves" rehab was a bad idea.

  • ||

    That's a great analogy.

  • MatTrue||

    One of my favorite philosophers, Mao Zedong, used to always say, "you make up your own numbers, I'll make up mine" or something to that effect.

    Be sure to read your Newsweek, kids!

  • Grandpa Whithers||

    A lot of high schools use use Newsweek as a learning tool. Usually in a current events or sociology class.

    Does Reason promote its magazine to high schools? It couldn't hurt.

  • Sandi||

    I took a shit in Russia once.

  • ||

    You better take it back before the KGB comes looking for you.

  • ||

    I wonder if they talked to any, you know, actual Russians about whether it was better "then" or "now."

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    From a 1994 NYT article on Russia's falling population numbers.
    Even in the late 1980's, when Mikhail S. Gorbachev cut access to vodka in an attempt to improve health, longevity and industrial production, many people turned to fermenting dangerous chemicals in homemade stills and drinking them, and some ate thick pieces of bread spread with tractor oil.

    "It was a way to get drunk," said Anatoly I. Antonov, chairman of the department of family sociology at Moscow State University. "And that was far more important to millions of people than how long they might live. They would drink brake fluid or kerosene if that was all that was available."

    Personally it sounds like darwinism is in full effect.

  • Sean Dougherty||

    Unbelievable. I'm waiting for "better off apartheid," next week, in which we compare crime, disease, healthcare, GDP and economic opportunities under South Africa's racist regime v. now. I'm sure that will also be interesting reading.

  • ||

    And for Zimbabwe, too....

  • Sean Dougherty||

    Oh, and did anyone else find it funny that a russian mail order bride site is advertising on this page?

  • Jamie Dettmer||

    This is a bizarre post. Excuse me. You think that Russia under Putin is an example of a free market or a democracy or an open society? It is none of those things: it is an autocratic state. As my old mate Ed Lucas of the Economist said in the run-up to the first Putin coronation (oops election) the stage was set for a battle between the spooks and the crooks. The spooks won and absorbed the crooks. It is a country without a rule of law. For those few in the middle class and in big cities, life isn't bad. For the others it probably was better under Communism. Maybe you should go there before writing about something you clearly know nothing about. Health services in the latter part of Soviet Communism were probably better. There is a plethora of statistics and studies from credible sources to indicate general health has deteriorated badly since the Gorbachev years.

  • Marc||

    You think that Russia under Putin is an example of a free market or a democracy or an open society?

    Yes, we all think that. We're all totally moving there and getting a condo together.

  • Anonymous||

    And next door they're'll be hookers and blackjack!

    In fact, forget the condo and the blackjack.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Lulz

  • ||

    Jamie, you're at Reason.com commenting about a dubious Newsweek graphic.

    If you think Newsweek was attempting to prove that Putin has failed and not capitalism, you must not read Newsweek very often.

    If you expect Reason readers to agree with Newsweek's implication that communism is a workable system, you must not read Reason very often.

  • Vendulka||

    T-bone, you must not know who's who in libertarian circles.

    I suspect Jamie Dettmer was arguing that while the Newsweek comparisons were disingenous (at best), the Reason commentary fails to point out that Russia NOW is hardly an exemplary model of liberal institutions.

  • Jamie Dettmer||

    Precisely.

  • ||

    The problem is that everyone sane and intelligent has already quit the print media, leaving only lunatic wingnuts and morons.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    And Abdul deserves a free Kindle™ or something for his 3:18 comment.

  • Abdul||

    Soviet Abdul needs no bourgeois awards.

    Humor from each according to his ability, and to each according to his need for laffs.

  • ||

    Communist regimes were strikingly successful at creating impressive statistics.

    Somehow, the statistics were at odds with the shabby, dirty, depressed and sometimes even stinking reality of real-day communism.

    As a child in 1980's Czechoslovakia, I did not doubt that we had huge industry. Everyone could smell it in the air. The chemistry plant 3 km from the center of the city released smells comparable to a burning heap of truck tires.

  • ||

    No dictatorship is worse than utter kleptocracy. I read that on this very website.

    The fact that Russia might have been better under communism speaks to how bad it is under Putin/Medvedev, not to how good communism was.

  • ||

    Exactly. But since Reason is trying to become something like Fox News for people that smokes weed, then they don´t get it.

  • Mad Ivan||

    The chart is absolutely meaningless, of course. But for Reason, which publishes Cavanaugh's (I think it was him) articles about how life in USSR was extremely boring because Hollywood hasn't made any movies with fun Russian characters, to complain about it is rather hypocritical.

  • ||

    So Russia has lost 827 cinemas since "then" until "now"? Heck, from 1995 to 2008, the number of cinemas in the United States dropped by 1,958.

    Granted, the number of movie screens increased by over 10,000 in the same period, but that's not what Newsweek was measuring in the case of Russia.

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