Soviet Sports and the Efficiency of Central Planning
40 Pages Posted: 10 May 2013 Last revised: 28 Mar 2016
Date Written: May 9, 2013
The failure of economic central planning in the Soviet Union is interpreted as evidence of the impossibility of efficient central planning. But the deficiencies of the Soviet economy might have resulted from other factors, such as Soviet history, culture, leadership, and/or unique circumstances, such as the Cold War. If so, the failure of the Soviet Union would not necessarily constitute evidence against the impossibility of central planning under different conditions. Yet, in some areas such as chess and the Olympics, central planning in the Soviet Union was remarkably successful. We examine the implications of Soviet successes in Olympics and chess to reassess the epistemic and motivational arguments against central planning. We contend that three factors help explain Soviet sports successes: first, the objectivity of success in sports or chess in contrast with the subjectivity of economic success; second, the importance of fame and renown as motives for Olympic class athletes and chess grand masters; and third, the poor economic performance of the Soviet Union, which helped ensure incentive compatibility. The Soviet Union’s success in achieving goals that did not require complex economic information or a fundamental realignment of incentives, but not in centrally planning the economy, reinforce the epistemic and motivational arguments against economic central planning.
Keywords: central planning, Soviet Union, socialism, economic calculation
JEL Classification: B53, P20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation