Socialism In Action

When I was young, I was a bit of a amateur Sovietologist. This was in the day that we were tirelessly told but the apologists of the Soviet Union that all our concerns about the Soviet Union were wrong. Were told the Soviet Union was morally superior to the Imperialist US in every way and that any conflict between Soviet interests were the fault of the US. In the meantime, if you looked closely, the Soviet Union was a massive clusterf**k waiting to implode. The biggest concern that many of us had was that the gullible here in the US and Europe would convince the USSR that it could take the rest of the world down with it when the end came.

I found this piece in Marginal Revolution. It turns out that the Soviets were responsible for killing most of the whales after they signed a treaty limiting their whale catch.
The reason is a clear example why Socialism does not work.
Here’s the source material:

When the Sovetskaya Rossiya reached the western coast of Australia late that year, however, the whalers found themselves in a desert ocean. By the end of the season the ship had managed to round up only a few hundred animals, many of them calves—what the whalers called “small-sized gloves.” Harpooners on the other fleets’ catcher ships, too, accustomed to the miraculous abundance of years past, now looked upon a blank horizon. Alfred Berzin, a scientist aboard the Sovetskaya Rossiya, offered an alarmed and unequivocal summary in his seasonal report to the state fisheries ministry. “In five years of intensive whaling by first one, then two, three, and finally four fleets,” he wrote, the populations of humpback whales off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand “were so reduced in abundance that we can now say that they are completely destroyed!”

It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.”

The Soviets put enormous resources into the whaling fleet, building the largest whaling ships ever.

The reason why they did, demonstrates the real problems with the Soviet system and Socialism in general. Without a price determination there is no way to evaluate the economic viability if anything and even best case of Socialism, the drive to do better and better drives a society to insanity if the brake of a price system doesn’t exist. More from the article:

The Soviet whale slaughter followed no such logic. Unlike Norway and Japan, the other major whaling nations of the era, the Soviet Union had little real demand for whale products. Once the blubber was cut away for conversion into oil, the rest of the animal, as often as not, was left in the sea to rot or was thrown into a furnace and reduced to bone meal—a low-value material used for agricultural fertilizer, made from the few animal byproducts that slaughterhouses and fish canneries can’t put to more profitable use. “It was a good product,” Dmitri Tormosov, a scientist who worked on the Soviet fleets, wryly recalls, “but maybe not so important as to support a whole whaling industry.”

Russia is a net exporter of oil products. It has been such since the late 19th Century. There was no reason to develop a whaling industry at all, even if they needed the meat, which they were throwing away. The whole thing was pointless, yet that is what the Soviets did, because once the ball was rolling, to say that the thing was pointless was to be the last man clapping and get sent to he cold place. So there was the drive for ever larger quotas of whale oil until the whales were almost gone. Why? to fill a number in Soviet statistics and make some faceless apparatchik stay warm:

The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products. “Whalers knew that no matter what, the plan must be met!” Berzin wrote. The Sovetskaya Rossiya seemed to contain in microcosm everything Berzin believed to be wrong about the Soviet system: its irrationality, its brutality, its inclination toward crime.

Berzin contrasted the Soviet whalers with the Japanese, who are similarly thought to have caught whales off the books in the Antarctic (though in numbers, scientists believe, far short of the Soviets). The Japanese, motivated as they were by domestic demand for whale meat, were “at least understandable” in their actions, he wrote. “I should not say that as a scientist, but it is possible to understand the difference between a motivated and unmotivated crime.” Japanese whalers made use of 90 percent of the whales they hauled up the spillway; the Soviets, according to Berzin, used barely 30 percent. Crews would routinely return with whales that had been left to rot, “which could not be used for food. This was not regarded as a problem by anybody.”

This absurdity stemmed from an oversight deep in the bowels of the Soviet bureaucracy. Whaling, like every other industry in the Soviet Union, was governed by the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers, a government organ tasked with meting out production targets. In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy, whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry. This meant that the progress of the whaling fleets was measured by the same metric as the fishing fleets: gross product, principally the sheer mass of whales killed.

When somebody advocates Socialism think about the faceless bureaucrats who make arbitrary decisions and have no skin in the game.


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