Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Living Standards Up Since the Fall of Communism

Young people don't remember just how bad it was under socialism.

It's hard to believe that November 9 marked 26 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those of us who remember living under communism do not have to be reminded of the benefits of freedom. Not everyone, however, feels that a return to democracy and free markets was a good thing. Nostalgia for the days of communism was always present among the old, who recalled the days of their youth and found freedom difficult to cope with.

Recently, however, there has been an uptick in interest in socialism among young people, who have never lived through the daily frustrations of life under communism, such as food shortages and queues for basic necessities, not to mention repression of political and civil freedoms.

A Slovak newspaper has recently published a basic breakdown of the cost of living in 1989, the last year of communism, and 2015. I have calculated the percentage difference in the "minutes of labor" needed to purchase an item on an average wage in 1989 and in 2015. As can be seen, most everyday items fell in price appreciably.

But there are at least two caveats. The newspaper did not note the change in the price of energy, which was massively subsidized under communism. That led to much waste and unnecessary spoliation of the environment. After 1989, energy subsidies were removed and the price of energy greatly increased. Correspondingly, as we show at HumanProgress, the use of energy in ex-communist states decreased.

(Parenthetically, the rise in energy consumption is usually associated with higher growth rates and rising prosperity. Not so with latter-day communism. Between 1987, when energy consumption in the former Czechoslovakia peaked, and 2011, energy consumption per person dropped by 35 percent. During the same time period, incomes rose by 58 percent.)  

Also, housing has dramatically increased in price. It needs to be said that the quality of housing has vastly improved. Central Europeans now buy gorgeous Western-style apartments, rather than live in the hideous apartment blocks that are ubiquitous throughout the former Soviet bloc.

Still, the end of central planning did not mean the end of regulation. Many ex-communist countries had to adopt the strict and costly Western European regulatory standards in the construction industry as a pre-condition for joining the European Union. Moreover, as is the case in the United States, the former Soviet bloc countries are heavily involved in the promotion of home-ownership through subsidized loans.   

Explore more data like this at HumanProgress.org.

Photo Credit: inyucho/flickr

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Salmon Pants||

    First ?

  • Gozer the Gozerian||

    And only.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Many young people seem never to have heard of China under Mao Zedong or of the Soviet Union at all. At least they have the excuse, however weak, of "That was before my time." The frustrating ones are those who acknowledge the communist past but no-true-Scotsman it away.

  • dantheserene||

    Since there were no successful communist regimes anywhere at anytime, history can be dismissed.

  • Inigo Montoya, Micro-Aggressor||

    "Many young people seem never to have heard of China under Mao Zedong or of the Soviet Union at all. At least they have the excuse, however weak, of "That was before my time." "

    Well, I've heard of the Celts, the Etruscans, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire and others, all of which were WAY before my time. Hell, get a few drinks in me, and I'll even acknowledge knowing a little bit about Atlantis and Lemuria.

  • Professor Woland||

    Do you know a lot about the reign of King Kull?

  • CatoTheYounger||

    When young people say "socialism" they are of course referring to the Scandinavian kind of "socialism" (the Nordic model).

  • Sevo||

    Which is a slower way to spread poverty.

  • Brian||

    You know who else talked a lot about "Nordic" people?

  • Mindyourbusiness||

    Eric the Red?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Scandinavian? Where committing suicide is a form of tax evasion?

  • LifeStrategies||

    You say that housing has dramatically increased in price. But this is largely because the value of the pieces of paper (money) that the government controls has dramatically decreased in value, see www.lifestrategies.net/inflation

    In Germany, I'm told that house prices have changed little in the past many years. Germany understands the immense problems which come with inflation, which is only different to hyper-inflation in degree, and so don't do it. Yet ignorant economists and commentators complain that Germany don't do quantatitive easing.

    Correct, Germany doesn't print money which is why their economy is in so much better shape that most others. Such German policies should be emulated. As someone once said: To be successful, copy the successful...

  • Chip Chipperson||

    But you just don't understand. They didn't do it right those other times. We're finally the ones who know what we're doing, so this time it'll be different.

    And besides, 'higher standard of living' just means we're using more carbon and other stuff that destroys the planet.

    You see, seeking a 'higher' standard of living is an oppressive and outdated heterocispatriarchal concept which only serves to marginalize at-risk populations and enrich the privileged. We must seek a sustainable standard of living, even if that means we don't have things like SUVs or 24-hour electricity or freedom of movement.

    It's all here in our totally original five-year plan.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    We have computers that can resolve the problems with central planning!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Sigh... the same holds for the quasi-communist socialism in the banana republics, but has communism ended? Since 1913 the progressive personal income forces every American to involuntarily produce or pay to produce increasingly complex calculations and hand over money accordingly. The origin of this is plank 2 of the communist manifesto of 1848 demanding: "A heavy progressive or graduated income tax." Enacted as the Thirteenth Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling that ended the economic collapse the income tax initiated 1893. So the differences between Soviet Socialism, German National Socialism, and American Democracy by secret ballot really boil down to a difference of degree, not kind. All three regimes, religious and altruistic, take values by force. Only since 1971 has there been any hope of reversing this degeneration through the political process.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online