Life in the Soviet Union Todayery broad subjectwe cannot begin to cover all aspects of it. As Iyou are primarily concerned with how theave chosen to focus on three topicsand livingould like tothoughts on each topic and then answer questions. specific needs or interests,clear
/ please feel free to interrupt at any time. introduction
In recent years, the average level of living in the USSR has risen by amounts that most Westerners would consider exceptional. Diets have improvedmore meat and other quality food andBtaretMfl are on the nation's tables. Consumer durables are found in more homes and arc more available in stores. Dress has improved, and the contrast with foreign clothing is less discernible. Still, the consumer's situationixture of pluses and minuses. On the negative side, incomes have continued to rise faster than tho supply of goods and services, forcing individuals to postpone purchases. As you know? in the USSR nearly all prices arc centrally determined and are seldom changed. This has many consequences which we'll talk about later. For now it is enough to say that unchanging prices can lead to shortages. Despite marked improvement in the level of living.
the gap between the USSR and the Westor even Bloc countriesremains largo, and Soviet consumers areaware of whore they stand. Moreover, those problems that cost vexed consumers in the immediateyears remainsuch as inadequate supplies and quality of various foods, housing, and services. Finally, the harvest disaster2 and subsequent shortages and higher pricesin those areas where prices can changeremind consumers how tentative their gains have been. The Soviet regime has not yet satisfactorily sdlved that most basic of problemsproviding the populationuality diet.
Turning first to incomes
look et incomes in two ways -and wages. ftEfJ Disposable income means justspendable income or what one has in one's pocket. It
is income after taxes and other deductions. It includes not only wages but money received from otheruch as the governmenttudent stipends, pensions, mother's grants and so onor from private activity such as sale of surplus farm produce, music lesson or medical service. Wages, on the other hand, are hourly earnings for labor,
capita disposable income2 was about
ublesimes0 level. If one
adjusts for price changes, the growth is even more impressive.
wellimes. Despite this rapid growth, it was not
8 that incomes reached what Soviets
(Ruble dollar conversion))
he average monthly wageas less thannecessary toamily of four at the This explains, in part, the very highfamilies with, atorkers, and the low (Population growth is lessercent per year.)
"4. Non-working women are few in the USSR and Soviets frequently express surprise at the extent to which women reanin at home in other parts of the world. Incidentally, at the lastas asked about wife-to-wife contacts. This rdghtood place to enlarge on the
Relatively low wages are reflected in the level of personal savings in the USSR. Consumers saveercent of their incomes, about half the level of the US.
Nevertheless personal savings are growing rapidly; total deposits in saving banks havefoldn average annual rate ofercent. Still, the average account2 contianedubles, not much more thanercent of the amount needed tohiguli- ,
consumptionwhich can be broken into five-
broad categories: food, soft good3 including clothing and shoes, durable goods ranging from electric irons to automobiles, personal and household services, and health and education services.
1. First, let us compare Soviet consumption with that in the USust emphasize that consumption does not mean personal expenditures rather thearket basket if youf goods and services available.
on)nauranca ';IC-I) Cor.str'Astion.
an All sectors
In per capita terns, the average citizen consumes roughly one-third of the goods and services consumed by his US counterpart. (First chart). The comparison fails to reflect fully the inferior quality and assortment of goods and services available, however. More of that later. In Chartoviet per capita consumption of the other categories is also related to that of US. aution is in orderin comparison with the US consumer, the Soviet consumer appears in an unfavorable light. ime comparison, however, the Soviot consumer has made great strides forward.
2. To begin with food. Soviet consumers receive enough to eat in terms of daily calories, and have for at least two decades. But their diet is overly weighted with starches and, relative to tho US, is low in meat, vegetables, and fruit (Second chart). Nevertheless, the Soviet consumer has seen substantial improvement both in dietary quality and in the variety and assortment of food available. 0 v
the share of calories provided by grain products and potatoes dropped fromercent During the same timeof sugar more than tripled, that of fats and oils more than doubled, and that of meat almost doubled.
the quality of Soviet soft goods isbelcw the average Western level, it isecade ago. Visitors to the Soviet Unionthe greater availability of clothing and shoes, theand wider range of styles and color. In fact,
at least one US speciality buyer has imported several Soviet designs and anticipates no trouble in selling them. In the USSR, imported soft goods, particularly clothing and shoes, arc extraordinarily popular and are increasingly available.
for sewing machines, soviet consumersa fraction of the durables owned by their USchart). Many durables, common here, such asdryers, and freezers, are not manufactured or sold
in. the USSR. On the other hand, both color and black and white television sets, radio-phonographs, transistor radios and tape recorders are available off the sales floor. Waiting lists, soew years ago, have almost disappeared. One naed register onlyar or for some models ofre desirable refrigerators.
demand for automobiles is extremely strongremain strong for many years although the supplyrapidly. housand automobilesby individuals. Soviet automobiles0 rublesor theor the Volga, the largestcar sold to individuals. Even the smallestears total income of the working man. oderately priced car in the USo about six months earnings for anworker. Soviet cars must be purchased inis no credit. Buyers may pay in one lump sum orpayments up to time of delivery.
should address the quality problem briefly. In-
and particularly of consumer goods-any discussion of Soviet products/comments on poor quality
early constant refrain. There are, of course, a
few exceptions, but most products are sub-standard. Why do
plant managers not try to improve quality? Because the
emphasis is on meeting the plan, and the plan invariably
is for quantity. Managers are not rewarded for quality.
Ho matter thatercent of the shoe factory's output is classed
defective, it still has been produced. Window glass is a
enormous production, continual shortages. Why?
The latest review saysercent arrives brokenplant '
managers want to produce more square meters, hence it gets
thinner and thinner. Repetitive clothing styles are another
example. Hats, oae stylejonlyy'* Furthermore, controlled,
centrally set prices mean no incentive. Everyone is familiar
with the so called "technology" lag, the slowness in devising and introducing new equipment and techniques.
western standards, the supply of personal and
household services available to consumers is still extremely limited. Nevertheless, marked progress has been made in the range and quality of services provided. One can get clothing dry cleaned now, one doesn't have to remove buttons before sending clothes to the laundry. On the other hand, the total value of state supplied services0 amounted to onlyubles er capitaat Soviet prices enoughan toaircut every other week oroman to have her hair washed and set sevenear, and housing conditions are probably tho most distressing aspect of Soviet life.
achievements in health and educationand well known:
Teachers (thousands) 2
Students (per teacher) 3
Quality particularly in the health area remains below desired levels.
ould like to talkunber of topics loosely aggregated as living conditions housing, shopping, education and medical services, child care, and so on.ew slides to show you what housing looks like, what traffic conditions are, and what the average shopper faces. We'll go quickly through thenterrupt if yound then discuss the topics in more detail.
begin with housing. Urbanization hasgrowing strain on the supply of housing.
of the total populationillion) now live in cities. Despite tremendous quantities of construction concentrated in urban areasthe stock more than doubled1he average space8 m7selow the minimum standard set soon after the revolution. Housing space ishat in the United States.
is broadly dividedypesprivate
Stateaostly urban areas
aiting lists, some favoritism, wait fromr more years necessary
are low, under 5%
type of state housing
associationumber of Soviet citizens
in equal shares overo 20
own,ubles monthly and
onthly for upkeep comparedonthly for state)
quantity declining,n 71
small cities, rural areas
con be purchased
state or private
highly luxrious to very primative 3. By Western standards, quality is shoddy and
design unimaginative. Priority is to quantity and not quality. Moreover,f urban state housing still is without running water and seweragefor all housing, rural and urban, the figure is probably ubstantial percentage of urban apartments involve the sharing of kitchens and bathrooms. j, it is planned thatercent of the people in state housing will be in single fard ly apartments.
4* Daily difficulty of shopping for food and other consumer goods
stores and collective farm markets
from hoine-produced to purchased
strains the system
self service, suspected dis-
for products and cashiers
- compounded by shortages,
everyone *'on the alertH "where did you find that"
generally poor quality (as discussed before)
miniscule variety and
kinds of shoeshere
oupons, hard currency -
for priveleged personnel, diplomats and
lackunier credit for desired durables though some available for items in good supply
oi services partially met by
private sector 5. Education and medical servicesMuch is mace of free and universal education and medical services, and rightly so. But the services are not entirely freenor
- ii -
are they equally available everywhere. School books and supplies must be purchased as well as school uniforms. items also must be paid for. The supply of both kinds of services is far superior in urban areas fckmmural.
All children do begin schoolage 7school is compulsoryears,ontinueore years,eneral secondary education,education is availableelative fewis closely controlled by the state.
Medical emphasis is on prevention rather than cure, system of polyclinics.
"does not existocialist economy"
cannot be measured
prices bid up in collective farm market [
complaints of higher prices on "same" goods
tolkach or expediter
bribes for all sorts of services, to get
a higher place on the housing or car list
housing materials, food, general
supplies, spare parts
recent Georgia situation
special stores for "privileged"
10. Andopic which might be called "social graces" or daily behavior
difficulties and frustrations result.
in incredible rudeness
shoving and pushing, time spent waiting
theater coat checking
Despite marked progress, daily life stillull sameness everything seems to look alike and people seen on the street seem bored and preoccupied. Thereubstantial degree of unsatisfied demand among the populationemand for quality foods such as meat, fruit and vegetables, and demand for well-made soft and durable goods. The population is more choosy and does refuse poor quality goods. are increasing at the same time as savings accounts are building. All this has an effect on the total economy which is plagued with lowercent more workers than the US but only half the gross national product. Soviel workers are not inspired to greater efforts by the pr.criisa o: mart* money and goods. The economy has not been able to supply the coods so far.Original document.