Inequality & The Soviet Union

This is going to be a very brief and low effort post, I apologise for that, but I’ve run into a particular error about half a dozen times in the last week, and you know what it’s like when somebody is wrong on the internet. This post isn’t going to endear me to anyone. The pro-soviet left will hate it because I point out the USSR was less equal than Norway, the right will hate it because I point out it was actually quite an equal society. Ah well.

I am no fan of the Soviet Union, but I consistently find myself defending it against uninformed criticism. One of those lines of criticism is that it was as unequal, if not more so, than Western industrialised societies, with government oligarchs living lives of opulence. All available data suggests that this is not true. The Soviet Union was less unequal than almost -but not quite- all societies that exist today.

Here’s income share of the top 10% in Russia, versus France and the USA. As you can see, it was low right up until about the end of communism. Source: Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman (2017).

The Gini coefficient of the Soviet Union in its later period appears to have been in the vicinity of .26-.29. That’s a bit higher than Norway today, but far and away lower than most industrialised countries.

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