Mirrors of the Economy: National Accounts and International Norms in Russia and Beyond

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Mirrors of the Economy: National Accounts and International Norms in Russia and Beyond (Cornell Studies in Political Economy)
By Yoshiko M. Herrera
Cornell University Press, 2010
272 pp. $49.95
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Studying how Russia has changed the way it does its national economic accounting may sound dry, but it is far from so. On the contrary, given the impact that GDP statistics have on politics and policy choices -- sometimes including international politics -- how these are measured and reported has immense practical consequences. During the Soviet era, Russia and its neighbors used completely different metrics from those of the United Nations System of National Accounts (SNA), which from the 1950s onward slowly became the international standard. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Goskomstat -- the old Soviet-era statistical agency, staffed with bureaucrats for whom the SNA was anathema -- abruptly and thoroughly discarded its old system of accounting. How and why? Herrera believes that the old guard's bifurcated sense of norms (the SNA was for market-based economies; their system, for a command economy) was key. Once one economic order replaced another, so, logically, should one bookkeeping system replace another. This leads Herrera to make a much larger point concerning the way norms influence institutions and institutions influence norms. This she does deftly, adding convincing complexity to standard theory.