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Central planning vs. innovation: Which helps the people more?

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Dmitry Lovetsky / AP / File

(Read caption) Olga Kukushkina cooks at the kitchen in a communal apartment in St. Petersburg, in this 2003 file photo. Kukushkina, a housewife, says she has learned to live with the poverty and inconvenience of communal living.

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Bryan Caplan quotes the delightfully named Professor Nutter on the Soviet Union circa 1957:

All this in an economy that apparently has not yet discovered the wheelbarrow - sledges and two-man litters are used instead - where the scythe is far more in evidence than the mower, where brooms are mostly bundles of twigs without handles, where the mop is a handless rag, etc. In the drive for modernism, the Soviet system has apparently ignored the multitude of simple yet dramatic inventions so important in the economic development of other countries.

Innovation, that vital part of increasing productivity, does not depend upon large and grand inventions. It depends upon the myriad of small changes which are made to this and that which in general make all of the peoples' time more productive. Inventing Sputnik is all very well, but just think of the time in aggregate that could be saved by the deployment of the simple Fuller Brush to babushkas across the country!

As many of you will know I spent most of the 90s living in the rubble of that Soviet system. It was the little things that grated, not the large. The standard washing machine which was really just a plastic version of a washboard placed in the bathtub, the mop in use was a rag wrapped around the brush which hadn't advanced all that much from the 50s, shopping for even trivialities required queueing three times in the one store.

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