Advancing a Free Society

The Russian Export Ban: An Economic Story Worth Telling

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Soviet Union used to provide me with plenty of current event stories to tell students in Economics 1 about the wastes and harms of price controls and central planning. But most first-year college students taking introductory economics this fall were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Those good old stories are far from students’ personal memory and are certainly not current events.

That’s why I was so interested in Paul Gregory's recent blog about this summer’s grain export ban in Russia. It’s a current event well worth telling students about. After the damage from the heat to Russia’s grain crop, Prime Minister Putin imposed a ban on grain exports. But as Paul Gregory shows the reason the story is worth telling is that Russia is now an exporter of grain. In contrast the Soviet Union actually had to import grain from the United States and other countries, because of the inefficiency of the collective farms and misallocation of resources under central planning. Recall that President Carter put an embargo on U.S. exports of grain to the Soviet Union, using it as a lever to get the Soviet’s to leave Afghanistan.

In the years before the Russian Revolution, Russia was an exporter of grains. Ukraine was considered the breadbasket of Europe. Now after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the Ukraine are exporting again. So this fall the inefficiencies of central planning in the Soviet Union can be explained with a current event after all.