The Economic History Review

Technical change and the postwar slowdown in Soviet economic growth in a long run perspective, 1885–2019

Volume 77 Issue 2
Home > The Economic History Review > Technical change and the postwar slowdown in Soviet economic growth in a long run perspective, 1885–2019
Pages: 644-674Authors: Leonard Kukić
Published online: September 26, 2023DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13284

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The existing studies usually find that technical change was very important in constraining the economic growth of the Soviet Union. While these studies have been successful in quantifying the extent of technical change, they have been less successful in quantifying its nature. This paper moves a step closer to probing the essence of Soviet efficiency by splitting the aggregate technical change into its subcomponents – namely, capital and labour efficiency. I find that the Soviet Union registered strong labour efficiency gains during most of the postwar period, converging towards the labour efficiency level of the global frontier – the US. Labour efficiency growth did decrease over time, but labour efficiency was not a primary cause of Soviet growth retardation. That retardation was instead caused by a decline in capital efficiency. At a disaggregated level, I find that the decrease in capital efficiency was driven by structures. I hypothesize that labour shortages and an inadequate investment policy resulted in a large stock of unfinished, and hence idle, structures, distorting Soviet economic growth.

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