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Former socialist economist explains why central planning never works


16 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Matthew D. Mitchell

Central planning from the inside—an interview with a Soviet-era economist

In our descriptions of socialism in Poland and Estonia, we often quoted firsthand accounts of Poles and Estonians who lived through the period. These were workers, consumers, victims of oppression and resistance fighters. One voice that we didn’t capture was that of the planner—the government official charged with making the economy work, despite socialism’s enormous handicaps.

To better understand that perspective, I recently interviewed Gia Jandieri, an economist who worked for the State Supply Committee in Georgia from 1984 to 1989.

In 1989 Gia cofounded the very first non-governmental organization in Soviet Georgia (the Association of Young Economists) to push for market economic education. And in 2001 he established a think-tank, the New Economic School, to promote economic freedom. The New Economic School has been a full member of the Economic Freedom Network since 2004.

Here’s our discussion (lightly edited for readability):

Matthew Mitchell (MM):

How did you become an economist and a Soviet planner?

Gia Jandieri (GM):

It was accidental. In 1984 my mother worked at the Gossnab (the State Supply Committee for the Central Planning Authority) and she offered to introduce me to her boss. At that time I was only 23 years old and had graduated from the Georgian Polytechnical Institute. My knowledge of economics was mostly from life and family experience (my parents worked at a metallurgical plant).

But as a student in 1979 I had had what I thought were a few strange discussions with a teacher of political economy. Like most teachers, he was no true believer in socialism (it was hard for anyone to believe at that time). But he was required to teach the propaganda. What surprised me was that he was willing to publicly agree with me about my suspicions that the system was failing and might even collapse. This was rare, and he was taking a risk. But it also inspired me. It is also important to note that he wanted to hide his hesitation about Marxism and the Soviet system and he also wanted me to stop my questions, and/or stop attending his lectures (which was of course not allowed). I recall he told me: “either I report you or someone reports both of us for having prohibited discussions.”

When I finished my university study of engineering, I was already sure I wanted to be an economist. So, when the opportunity arose in 1984 to work at the State Supply Committee, I seized it.


Tell us a little bit about the job of a planner. What were your responsibilities? And how did you go about doing them?


Our department inside of Gossnab was responsible for monitoring the execution of agreements for production of goods and government orders. My task was to verify that the plans had been executed correctly, to find failures and problems, and to report to the higher authorities.

This included reading lots of reports and visiting the factories and their warehouses for auditing.

The Soviet economy had been in a troublesome condition since the 1970s. We (at the Gossnab) had plenty of information about failures, but it wasn’t useful. We knew that the quality of produced goods was very low, that any household good that was of usable quality was in deficit, and that the shortages encouraged people to buy on the black market through bribes.

In reality, a bribe was a substitute for a market-determined price; people were interested in paying more than the official price for the goods they valued, and the bribe was a way for them to indicate that they valued it more than others.

The process of planning was long. The government had to study demand, find resources and production capacities, create long-run production and supply plans, compare these to political priorities, and get approval for general plans at the Communist Party meetings. Then the general plans needed to be converted to practical production and supply plans, with figures about resources, finances, material and labour, particular producers, particular suppliers, transportation capacities, etc. After this, we began the process of connecting factories and suppliers to one another, organizing transportation, arranging warehousing, and lining up retail shops.

The final stage of the planning process was to send the participating parties their own particular plans and supply contracts. These were obligatory government orders. Those who refused to follow them or failed to fulfill them properly were punished. The production factories had no right or resources to produce any other goods or services than those described in the supply contracts and production plans they received from the authorities. Funny enough, though, government officials could demand that they produce more goods than what was indicated in the plans.


What made your job difficult? Let’s assume that a socialist planner is 100 per cent committed to the cause; all he or she wants to do is serve the state and the people. What makes it difficult to do that?


There were several difficulties. We had to find appropriate consumer data and compare it to the data of suppliers (of production goods mostly). I was working with several (5-15) factories per year. I needed to have current and immediate information, but the state companies were always trying to hide or falsify their reports. In some cases, waste and theft could be so significant that production had to be halted.

The planners invested vast sums of money and time in data collection and each had special units of data processing.

This was a technical exercise and had nothing to do with efficiency or usefulness. The collected data was outdated by the time it was printed. The planning, approval, and execution processes could take many years to complete, and by the time plans were ready, demand had usually changed, creating deficits of what was demanded and surpluses of what was not demanded. The planners, no matter how dedicated or intelligent they might be, simply couldn’t meet the demands of the customers.

Central planning was not an easy exercise. The central planners needed to understand what was needed—both production supplies and consumer goods. But, of course, we had no way of knowing what people truly wanted because there was no market. Consumers weren’t free to choose from different suppliers and new suppliers weren’t free to enter the market to offer new or slightly different goods.

One of the more helpful ways to find out what people wanted was to look at what consumers in the West wanted since they actually had economic freedom and their demands were quickly satisfied. The government also did a lot of industrial spying to steal Western production ways and technologies.


Were most of the planners you encountered 100 per cent committed to the cause? Were they incentivized to serve the cause?


Some of the staffers were dedicated to their work. Others were mostly thinking about how they could obtain bribes from the production factories as a reward for closing their eyes to mismanagement and failure. The planners were also involved in more significant corruption to allow the production factories to have extra materials and financial resources so they could produce for the black market or so they could simply steal.

Then the revenue from these bribes would be divided among all personnel from different agencies (like the Price Committee, Auditing (“Public Control”), and several other agencies charged with inspections). So, in fact, the system generated corruption as a substitute for official incentives. If anything was still operating, this was mostly due to these corrupt incentives and not in spite of them.

The planning system was quite complex and involved many governmental offices though the main decisions were made by the Communist Party. Planning authorities would report to the Party leadership what they thought would be possible to produce and Party leaders would inevitably demand higher quantities.

Gosplan was bureaucratic to its core, both in principle and character. Nobody was allowed to innovate other than planned/artificial innovation. Everyone had to work only by decrees and orders coming from the political leadership. The political orders and bribes were the only engines that were moving anything. Market incentives didn’t exist. Bonuses (premia) were awarded according to bureaucratic rules, and, paradoxically, these destroyed the motivation of the genuinely hard workers.


Moving beyond economics a bit, how did the socialist system affect other aspects of life? Culture, families, relationships, civil institutions?


One of the examples is Western pop-music. Soviet propaganda tried to hide Western culture. Music schools mostly taught Russian classical music and some folk music of various Soviet ethnic nationalities, but it was mostly Russian.

Jazz and hard rock were not prohibited but very much limited. That of course encouraged smuggling and illegal dissemination, as in every sector. Soviet music factories were buying some rights to the music (for instance the Beatles, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald). But these recordings were only available in limited quantities and were of bad quality in order to limit their influence.

Small illegal outfits would make unofficial and illegal copies of any popular western music (not classical).

Cultural institutions like theatre or cinema were harshly censored and mostly served the propaganda machine. The people involved in these sectors did what all producers of goods did. They needed to lobby their benefactors in the bureaucracy, bribing and currying favour with them in different ways. It was said that only one out of four films produced would be shown in the cinemas. The other three films were only produced so studios could steal the resources and obtain higher reimbursements.

Before Soviet rule, Georgia was a property rights and ethics-based society. We have ancient proverbs that testify to this. The Soviets killed the ethical leaders, the property-owning elite, and confiscated their property. The stolen property was supposed to be held in common. In fact, the bureaucracy took it.

State ownership of property opened the way to waste and theft of construction and production materials, office inventory, fertilizer, harvested agricultural products, etc.

In Georgia, one bright spot was underground education. Georgians succeeded in growing a network of informal tutors who effectively operated despite very harsh efforts by the authorities to quash them. These skillful teachers prepared the young people for university exams. This was so widespread that some successful young people (including my wife and friends, for instance) started offering private (completely illegal) teaching services when they were university students.


To this day, socialism remains alluring to many in the West, especially young people. What do you have to say to the 46 per cent of Canadians aged 18-34 who support socialism?


Very simply, it is a mistake to think socialism fails because of the wrong managers. This mistake allows people to think that it’ll work the next time it is tried, if we just have better people. In fact the opposite is true—socialism invites the wrong managers. It doesn’t reward a great manager who tries to improve the system but a person who can adapt to and accept the corruption, waste and theft. Socialism also encourages corruption. When more resources are in the control of politicians and the bureaucracy, there is more favouritism, privilege, and discrimination. Jobs and business opportunities are based on privilege rather than market competition. This means naïve people will always be cheated by brazen liars and manipulators.

Poor people are told that the state is under their control but in fact the bureaucracy and political hierarchy control everything.

In socialism, nature and natural resources are abused and wasted. The Tragedy of the Commons runs rampant without private property, voluntary cooperation, and ethics. The government tries to manage everything centrally and totally fails because it lacks dynamic information, competitive discipline, and proper incentives.



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Trudeau drops $220,000 on airplane food

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News release from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

You ever get the feeling the government is running a secret contest to see who can order up the most expensive meals while flying around the world?

Well if they are, we’ve got a new winner: The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

After Governor General Mary Simon spent $100,000 on airplane food, Trudeau said, ‘Hold my beef Wellington’ and doubled the taxpayer tab.

All that and more in this week’s Taxpayer Waste Watch.

Bon apétit.


Fine China, fancy feasts and a $220,000 taxpayer tab

Welcome to Air Trudeau, where the cares are free, the juice is freshly squeezed, the meals are served on fine China and the bill is sent to you.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his entourage spent $223,000 of your money on airplane food during a six-day tour of the Indo-Pacific region last fall, according to government records dug up by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Eating that much could wear a silver spoon right out.

To put things in perspective: that’s enough money to cover a month of groceries for 165 Canadian families, or buy 13,937 glasses of Bev Oda’s favourite orange juice.

But the bill gets big when this is the grocery list:

Beef brisket and parsley mashed potatoes with truffle oil. Pan fried beef tenderloin with port wine reduction sauce. Braised lamb shanks with steamed broccoli and boiled baby potatoes. Strawberry shortcake and baked cheesecake with pistachio brittle.

Sounds just like the meals you get on Air Canada or WestJet, right?

The records indicate staff were told Trudeau’s meals (and ONLY Trudeau’s meals) must be appropriately garnished and served on China dishware.

Pro-tip for the prime minister:

Have you seen your polling numbers lately? It might be tough to connect with the middle class while chowing down on braised lamb shanks, topped with a sprig of parsley and served on fine China.

Snacks offered onboard Air Trudeau included cured meats and artisanal cheeses, veggies and dip, and fresh papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit, watermelon and berries. And the juice served was noted as being “freshly-squeezed.”

A special request was put in for the plane to be stocked with Trudeau’s favourite brand of premium alkaline spring water, and staff picked up $900 worth of pop and chips before take-off. Trudeau and his entourage also spent $300 on movies and magazines.

Well we already know the prime minister doesn’t read his briefing notes, so it’s good he had the latest editions of the Jacobin and Mad Magazine to keep him occupied – it was a long flight, after all.

All told, the trip cost you $1.9 million and counting.

Trudeau has now claimed the top spot on our leaderboard for the most extravagant taxpayer-funded travel expenses, surpassing Governor General Mary Simon’s legendary March 2022 performance, when she gobbled up $100,000 worth of airplane food.

After details of Simon’s airplane extravaganza went public (courtesy of your friends at the CTF), a parliamentary committee summoned high-ranking bureaucrats to answer for the outrageous tab.

The bureaucrats pinkie promised to change the rules and stop frivolous spending.

Well clearly those efforts are going swimmingly…

The government set out to lower costs.

Then Trudeau doubled them.

Poilievre grills Trudeau about airplane feast in House of Commons 

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre grilled Trudeau about his $223,000 worth of airplane food expenses in the House of Commons.


Trudeau’s EV corporate welfare worse than you think

Federal and provincial governments are ponying up billions more in electric vehicle battery subsidies than the corporations themselves are spending to build their own factories.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report this week showing just how bad taxpayers are being taken to the cleaners on these corporate welfare deals.

Governments promised $52 billion to these corporations. The corporations are only spending $46 billion.

Does that sounds like a good deal to you?

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‘Save Our Cars’ Is A Winning Campaign Message In An Age Of EV Mandates

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation



Automobile consumers who treasure the open roads during the summertime could upend the presidential campaign and U.S. Senate races in surprising places if public opposition to electric-vehicle mandates and other regulations continues to rise.

That is what some recent polls suggest and it certainly helps to explain why the Biden administration is poised to artificially reduce fuel prices by selling one million barrels of gasoline from an energy reserve in New England timed with the summer driving season and in anticipation of the November elections.

Since the East Coast consumed in excess of three million barrels a day of gasoline last June, it is not evident that having an additional one million barrels on the market will make an appreciable difference.

Moreover, there is an argument to be made that by tapping into the reserve Team Biden is leaving the region open to cyberattacks that would disrupt energy supplies. (Recall, that is precisely what happened throughout the southeast in 2021 when a ransomware attack hit the Colonial Pipeline.)

But even in the absence of any cyber drama, the cumulative effect of President Joe Biden’s anti-energy agenda is already registering with consumers who benefit from affordable, reliable energy. This is particularly true where conventional, gas-powered cars are concerned.

On holiday weekends, cars erase differences, bring families together and improve the quality of life. The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts almost 50 million people will travel 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate Independence Day over the weekend of June 30 to July 4.

This would represent an increase of 3.7% from 2021 bringing travel volumes to where they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. This increase will be particularly acute with AAA expecting 42 million Americans to hit the roads this coming Independence Day.

But what about those EV mandates?

President Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, remain undeterred by the paucity of charging stations, the limited range of EV’s, their exorbitant costs, and the vulnerability of foreign supply chains leading back to China as they press ahead with new regulatory initiatives. Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized a tailpipe emissions rule in March aimed at coercing automakers into selling more EVs while the California Air Resources Board is pressing ahead with a “zero emissions” rule the board approved last year to meet Newsom’s stated climate goals.

California is clearly working hand in glove with the Biden administration to achieve zero emissions goals for vehicles by 2035. This effort will most certainly limit consumer choice and raise costs.

Despite all the subsidies and regulatory schemes developed to favor EV’s, they represent only about 1% of the 290 million vehicles in the U.S. today. Meanwhile EV costs continue to soar.

Recent studies also show that EVs, on average, are more expensive to own and operate than their gas-powered counterparts. So how should consumers respond to the regulatory onslaught?

Enter the “Save Our Cars Coalition,” which includes 31 national and state organizations devoted to preserving the ability of consumers to select the vehicles most suitable to their needs.

Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a coalition member that favors free market energy policies, views cars as an integral component of American life. The Biden-Newsom regulations amount to what Pyle describes as “an assault on American freedom.”

“In a nation as expansive as the United States, cars are not merely vehicles, they are integral to the American way of life,” Pyle says. “They play a pivotal role in our daily lives, especially in suburban and rural settings. This modern-day prohibition would outlaw a product and a value–in this case, gasoline-powered cars and trucks that have created personal mobility on an unprecedented scale – that it cannot persuade people to forego themselves.”

The coalition is perfectly positioned to make EV mandates a campaign issue in areas where the affordability of cars capable of traversing long distances without frequent stops is very much on the minds of voters. State officials who continue to double-down on California-type regulations will only serve to bolster the coalition’s arguments.

By contrast, states that break free from California’s emissions standards could become surprisingly competitive in the presidential race. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, recently announced that he would end California’s EV mandate in his state by the end of this year. Although Virginia hasn’t backed a Republican for president since George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, polls show Biden and  Donald Trump are in a dead heat. The former, and perhaps future Republican president, is on record opposing Biden’s EV mandates.

By contrast, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat elected in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, is moving full speed ahead with a California-type mandate requiring all new car sales to be electric by 2035. Polls show Murphy’s Jersey constituents are not keen on the policy change. In fact, more than half of state residents say they are not inclined to buy an electric car even with the mandates.

New Jersey has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since George Bush Sr. won the state in 1988. But fresh polls show Biden leading Trump by just seven points in the Garden State. It is worth noting that New Jersey has a large block of unaffiliated voters that can be pliable in tight races such as the most recent gubernatorial campaign.

Murphy almost lost his re-election bid to Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman and businessman, who came within a few percentage points of pulling off an upset. Trump’s campaign rally in Wildwood, N.J., that attracted more than 100,000 people could also serve as a barometer for a potentially close election. A beach resort community, Wildwood is practically inaccessible without the kind of vehicles Biden and Newsom are attempting to ban.

The big prize though may be Pennsylvania where Trump is leading Biden in recent polls. There is also a competitive U.S. Senate race in that state between Sen. Robert Casey Jr., the Democratic incumbent, and Dave McCormick, the Republican challenger.

Polls show Casey is only ahead by six points. So far, Casey has been ducking and avoiding any questions about his position on EV mandates. With Trump already leading, and McCormick gaining in the Keystone State, anyone running on a platform of “Save Our Cars” could have a field day.

Kevin Mooney is the Senior Investigative Reporter at the Commonwealth Foundation’s free-market think tank and writes for several national publications. Twitter: @KevinMooneyDC

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