DP17244 New Russian Economic History
This survey discusses recent developments in the growing literature on the Russian economic history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Using novel data and modern empirical methods, this research generates new insights and provides important lessons for development economics and political economy. We organize the discussion around four strands of this literature. First, we summarize and put in comparative perspective research on the long-term trends in economic development and living standards, which shows that throughout history Russia significantly underperformed advanced economies. We also compile reliable quantifications of the human cost of Stalin's dictatorship. Second, we discuss new studies of imperial Russia that partially confirm Gerschenkron's classic conjecture on the institutional explanation for Russia's relatively low level of economic development and on the causes of the revolution. The third strand of the literature focuses on the Soviet period and explains its slowdown over time and the eventual collapse of the system by the command economy's inability to provide incentives to individual agents. The fourth strand documents the long-term economic, social, and political consequences of large-scale historical experiments that took place during both the imperial and the Soviet periods. We conclude by discussing the lessons from these four strands of the literature and highlight open questions for future research.