Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American prospects by Dimitry Orlov

This book discusses the Soviet collapse (loosely moving between the end of the USSR and their economic hyperinflationary collapse a few years later, more on this in a bit). It compares and contrasts what could be called the Soviet model with current and possible future events in America. In doing so the book looks at where we may be going. I read it on my kindle but am sure you can get it in a physical format if you so desire. Anyway let us get onto the usual format.

The Good: It was a quick, easy read. The author did a bang up job of speaking on complicated issues in clear language without jargon or scienceinese (the language scientists speak and none of the rest of us understand).  Somebody smart once said that if you can’t explain an idea to an average man on the street then you do not really understand it. By that standard Dimitry Orlov really understands the themes and ideas that make up the subject matter for this book. For a nonfiction book it reads rather casually, part because of the clear simple language used and part because it is interwoven with stories of his experiences and anecdotal tales. In the closing comments he said (more of less) that he tried to keep it light and enjoyable and I would say he did a great job. The information on the Soviet economy and collapse was outstanding. Also the way it was written hit the man on the street angle as well as the bigger picture of what was happening. This balancing act was probably hard and he did a great job of it. I learned a lot about how the Soviet economy worked, failed to work and fell apart in this book.

The Bad: It is abundantly clear to me that the author looks at the Soviet union through some rose colored glasses. I don’t know a ton about the USSR/ Russia’s history but he seemed to have an awful positive memory. Furthermore I found him willing to sweep America with a broadly critical brush that is probably not deserved. The words “if you liked it so much then why didn’t you stay there” came to mind and maybe out of my mouth a few times. If he would have been glowing or rough to both sides it would have made a lot more sense. This almost discredited an otherwise quality book for me.
The author could not seem to make up his mind between talking about the fall of the USSR and the Russian economic collapse a few years later. Of course both events were linked but the way he talked about them flipping back and forth randomly was confusing and in my mind not particularly logical. I’m not sure if he was trying to pad the book a bit, in any case it was distracting.

The Ugly: At points I found the book to be full of contradictions. He can’t seem to decide if there is going to be an economic collapse and hyperinflation or if things are going to go all Mad Max and stick with one idea. Much of his claim rests on peak oil theory which is, while not as discredited as global warming, certainly a subject that could be debated. This goes back to the point before that the events he is claiming will or are happening do not seem to logically lead to the conclusion he goes to. Maybe my reading missed something.
More so than any comparable book (Kustner, FerFAL, etc) I found this to be depressingly low on concrete ideas to prepare for the scenario the author lays out. He mentions how you might want to buy some compact tangibles such as soap and razor blades and that having a home with a bit of land to grow a garden that is paid off is a good idea. Aside from a few vagaries the book is awful long on problem and short on solution.  I’ve been told never to bring somebody a problem without an idea for a solution, apparently Dimitry Orlov hasn’t heard that one.

Now for some discussion in no particular order:
-One compelling and disturbing point was brought up. A significant reason the Russian economic collapse was so calm was that everyone’s residence was owned by the state so nobody got evicted. Sure they shared an apartment with a 12 member 3 generation family but at least they had a roof and walls that was not tied to any need for income. In America pretty much everyone’s residence is tied to a need for continued income, if just to pay the property taxes. That kept their homeless population to a real minimum which contributed a lot to stability. I do not know a lot of people in America who would still be in their home after a year or two if their savings/ investments were wiped away and their job lost. I am not sure what would happen if America had that sort of structurally high unemployment. However if our current situation is any indicator it would favor banksters and large residential property owners (who are typically quite well off) not average down on his luck Joe 6 pack. Massive homelessness would be a huge tragedy for a lot of people and cause significant instability. When people think (maybe accurately) that they have nothing to lose they are very dangerous.
- I think it is not possible to make a lot of comparison’s in an ‘apples to apples’ way because so much was going on in the USSR and Russia during that period. All of the events happening make direct cause and effect impossible in some cases, at least IMO. I would say a lot of the chaos and the rise of a massive criminal underworld was the result of communism or the wild west collapse of communism. Unless there are significant tariff’s, price controls or truly punitive taxes put into place I do not see the kind of massive underworld that appeared in Russia happening. There is no need to buy $25 soap from a sketchy dude in an alley when you can get it from the neighborhood store.  The existence of a relatively free market and its inherent ability to adapt readily negates some points the author made.
- Also for a lot of reasons I do not see the kind of massive corruption that took place in Russia happening, it just is not part of our culture, well except maybe Dem’s in Illinois. I do believe we could fall a rung down the proverbial corruption ladder but not to where Russia was/ is.
-As for the idea of a lot of laws and regulations being almost removed by the default of non enforcement I am not so sure. Unfortunately I think the answer is that laws will stay on the books and either every once in awhile somebody will get hammered for running an unlicensed business, dodging taxes, etc. This is not a huge deal as the odds of it being you are low. Another possibility is that laws will just be enforced selectively based upon various personal and political motives. Given the way the pendulum has swung recently that would be bad for most people who read this blog, especially the ones who are publicly outspoken. That the New Black Panthers can openly and brazenly intimidate white voters with weapons and face no consequences but an active conservative type will get hammered for a parking ticket or the like could be seen as a glimpse into the future.
In closing I do think this book is worth reading even though it does have some rough spots. The info and background on the Russian collapse was very interesting and though provoking. Heck I would go as far as to say it is worth paying retail price for if you can’t borrow a copy.


Arsenius the Hermit said...

The man gets a lot of air time. I've heard him on NPR and he came across as pretty logical. I ought to read the book.

Suburban Survivalist said...

Good review. I thought the book could have summed up the important points in ~20 pages, the rest was pro-Soviet fluff;


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts