In This Review

A Full-Value Ruble: The Promise of Prosperity in the Postwar Soviet Union
A Full-Value Ruble: The Promise of Prosperity in the Postwar Soviet Union
By Kristy Ironside
Harvard University Press, 2021, 320 pp

In her study of Soviet economic policies from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s, Ironside contests the view that money had limited value in the Soviet system. She demonstrates that Soviet postwar governments were very concerned with increasing the ruble’s purchasing power as a means to economic growth and eventual abundance. This goal, however, remained unfulfilled. By examining political leaders’ beliefs, economic experts’ debates, and citizens’ complaints to the authorities, Ironside shows how a variety of economic policies introduced in the decades after World War II repeatedly led to the accumulation of unspendable money in the hands of the people. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin slashed consumer prices, but amid an acute food shortage, there was little for people to buy. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, opted instead to raise pensions and the wages of low-paid workers and to eliminate certain taxes, but that led to wage overspending—and without a rise in productivity, the demand for goods still exceeded the supply. The resulting surplus of cash further undermined the ruble. The government tried various means, such as compulsory mass--subscription bonds, lotteries, and savings deposits, to absorb the excess cash, but these instruments steadily increased the government’s debt to its own citizens—which remained unpaid through the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.