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Retired high tech (Silicon Valley from 1964) R&D (not software).
Interests: History, Econ History, Sciences
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The "nomenklatura" was, according to critics of the Soviet communist system a "patron / vassal" power system. Such systems work their way through the hierarchy to make those at the top have enormous control over those at the bottom, which is equivalent to a feudal system, at least in all material respects. There seems to be a disjunction between your statements that the economic system was "totally immobilized" by gov't that didn't let anything be "even lightly regulated". If the economy was "immobilized" then that also means it had to be "highly regulated", not lightly regulated as you say. Also, according to western estimates of inequalities of income in the Soviet republics, the elites (1%) were as prevalent during the Soviet era as it is now in the western nations. For the USSR as a whole 6.8% had incomes over 2x that of the lower 47% of incomes though the data available is in quintiles truncated at the 2x level of the approx. mean. If you divide the western societies into income quintiles (in absolute income values) they're also highly truncated at the top quintile but that doesn't imply the top 1% or 2% aren't immensely more wealthy than the rest. The broad distribution of incomes with lower differences of incomes does in fact show as you say a "fairly equal society" for most, but I would point out that this doesn't necessarily mean or imply that income inequality from middle to top incomes wasn't as high as in western societies. Bear in mind that in a feudal system most of the population has fairly equal incomes also... but that doesn't at all imply the oligarchy didn't exist. Also I'm not sure if your "living half your life" in Eastern Europe means in the Soviet Socialist Republics or in the non-communist former Soviet Republics in the transition period after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was quite a difference in economic distributions in the non-elite income during the transition to unplanned economies after the collapse. Your perceptions and experiences as child (<18 if not <25) would not be, I submit, be an accurate or even a reliable assessment of income inequalities.
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And yet, just a stone's throw away Western Europe had big gov't, social spending policies, and economic growth rates the rest of the globe envied (except the US). I don't think Eastern Europe at the time you lived there was "big gov't"... it was capital capture by oligarchs under the guise of "government" it called "communist". You might also call it a modern form of feudalism.
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Jul 25, 2016