How fare the US, USSR?; USSR -- quick growth for 30 years but still behind Japan and Europe
Ivan and Natasha Ivanov have seen a boost in their standard of living during the last 30 years. They're eating more meat these days, and they're more likely to buy a car - though they'll still be hard-pressed to find someone to fix it.
Finding a vacant apartment in Moscow is still as tough as finding a snowball along the Black Sea in summer - but it'll be easier for them to outfit it with a refrigerator, washer, and dryer when they do. Even their wardrobes are improving.
Despite its shortcomings, the Soviet economy has grown at a healthy 4.8 percent annual rate during the last 30 years, according to a new US Central Intelligence Agency study. And with that growth has come a definite increase in the Soviet standard of living.
The 4.8 percent rate is slower than the 7.4 percent claimed by Soviet officials. But the Soviets outstripped the 3.4 percent average annual growth rate for the US economy during the same 30-year period, the study notes. The CIA report adds that more recently the Soviet growth rate has slowed to less than 3 percent a year, primarily because of poor harvests. At the same time, US GNP growth has held relatively steady.
The significance of the 401-page survey lies not so much in its overall conclusion. Many experts on the Soviet Union have long noted an increase in the USSR's economic growth and in the resulting increase in the standard of living for Soviet citizens. But it does show that the economy is more resilient than many have thought.
According to US Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, the study punctures the theory that the Soviet economy is in terrible shape and therefore renders the country vulnerable to Western economic pressure.
''This important study helps put into perspective for Americans the fact that the USSR, far from being on the verge of collapse, has experienced major growth, '' says Representative Reuss, though he acknowledges that the Soviet Union faces major economic problems that result in part from excess military spending.
Moreover, the CIA appears to have developed a way to analyze Soviet economic trends in a manner similar to the way Western economies are studied. In releasing the report during the weekend, Reuss notes that past studies have had to depend on ''incomplete Soviet statistics and accounting practices.'' It also is believed to be the first comprehensive attempt to measure the USSR's gross national product (GNP), the total goods and services an economy produces. Previous studies focused only on sectors of the Soviet economy.
Some of the key areas the report examines include:
* Defense spending. In 1970, 11-13 percent of Soviet GNP went for defense. This increase has slowed since then to a level sightly higher than the average growth in GNP. By comparison, US defense spending amounted to 7.4 percent of GNP in 1970, and dropped to 5.2 percent in 1981. Taken by itself, Soviet defense spending has increased at an annual rate of 4-5 percent since 1965, said Reuss.
* Standard of living. The Soviet standard of living still lags far below that of the US, Japan, and much of Europe. Still, the Soviet citizen of today is markedly better off than his counterpart 30 years ago. ''The level of living of the Soviet people has improved rapidly during the past 30 years,'' the study notes. ''During 1950-80, real consumption per capita nearly tripled, rising at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent.'' Even so, the study adds that the rate of increase in consumption has slowed in recent years along with the overall drop in the economic growth rate.
* Food supplies. In quantity, growth has been slow. But the study shows that ''the quality of the diet has nonetheless improved greatly, shifting toward a pattern of less reliance on bread and potatoes and more reliance on meat and dairy products.'' The study adds that this shift is typical as per capita income rises.
* Makeup of Soviet economy. Since 1950, there has been a stunning reversal in the clout wielded by agriculture and industry. In 1950, agriculture accounted for 31 percent of the GNP, while industry garnered a 20 percent share. In 1980, industry accounted for 37 percent of GNP, while agriculture had dropped to a 14 percent share.