#13 - JRL 7176
From: John Wilhelm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Response to Alexander Andreyewsky JRL 7171
Date: Fri, 9 May 2003
While I greatly appreciate the trouble Alexander Andreyewsky took (JRL 7171) to give a thoughtful reply to my dissent regarding Abram Bergson's contribution to Soviet studies, there are two major points which he makes with which I differ and to which I believe I should respond.
First, I take exception with Alexander Andreyewsky's statement that "As for the manner in which CIA arrived at its conclusions about the Soviet economy, the mystery will remain hidden from view for decades to come." It seems to me that a great deal is know about this since a number of outside specialists with clear access to the CIA and its materials on this matter have looked at this issue. This would include the late Ed Hewett, Abraham Becker and the committee headed by James R. Millar whose report I criticize quite severely in my recent article on "The Failure of the American Sovietological Economics Profession," EUROPE-ASIA STUDIES, Vol. 55. No. 1, 2003, pp. 59-74. While I am very critical of the conclusions of Millar's committee, my criticism did not extend to their description of the CIA's work on assessing the Soviet economic and political situation, since based on everything I know and what they related it seems very clear that the CIA specialists adhered to the standards generally accepted in the academic community for studying the Soviet system (See US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Review Committee: Daniel M. Berkowitz et al., "Survey Article: An Evaluation of the CIA's Analysis of Soviet Economic Performance, 1970-90." COMPARATIVE ECONOMIC STUDIES, Summer 1993). The problem was not with the CIA per se, but with the academic community which trained the CIA specialists which was what prompted me to write my article in the first place.
Second, related to this, I also take exception to Alexander Andreyewsky's statement that "John Wilhelm's claim that Bergson's methodological legacy somehow impedes the ability of U.S. economists to asses the outside world seems more than a little bit far fetched." I tried to argue in my article that the problem with Bergson's methodology is typical of methodological problems in economics in general and that failure to recognize this, especially on the part of specialists like those who served on Millar's committee, is a major impediment to doing better in terms of assessing the outside world.
With the exception of a specialist like Marshall Goldman, whom I greatly admire and whom I acknowledged in my article did get a lot about the Soviet Union right, most American specialists did not. A not unimportant factor in this was Bergson's methodology of national income comparisons which dominated the thinking of many in the academic and intelligence communities in this country. As Abraham Becker acknowledged in his assessment of the CIA's national income comparisons (Abraham C. Becker, "Intelligence Fiasco or Reasoned Accounting?: CIA Estimates of Soviet GNP," POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS, 10, 4, 1994):
*In the United States after World War II, Abram Bergson pioneered the field of [Soviet] national income measurement. This effort was supported and continued at the Rand Corporation. Since the 1960s, however the CIA has been virtually alone in the Western world in developing and publishing such estimates. The CIA studies, with some modifications, adhere to Bergson's theoretical and methodological approach.*
Or, to quote from my piece, as the Millar committee put it,
*the CIA's estimates were 'based upon an adjusted factor cost (AFC) standard pioneered by Abram Bergson and his students." The committee noted that the methodology underlying these estimates had been presented regularly to the scholarly community for review and criticism, argued that 'there has been very little criticism of this work, and CIA estimates have been accepted as authoritative throughout the world, including the Soviet Union.*
The late Ed Hewett's book on Gorbachev's economic reform [Ed. A. Hewett, REFORMING THE SOVIET ECONOMY (Washington, D.C., The Brookings Institution, 1988)] is a good example of the impact of Bergson's approach on the thinking about the Soviet economy on the part of many American specialists. In commenting on his view of Soviet economic performance Ed stated that:
*Soviet leaders have good reason to be proud of their county's economic growth...But even Abram Bergson's meticulous efforts to eliminate the upward bias and construct a fair measure of Soviet GNP growth come up with very respectable rates for 1928-55...
The postwar record, while less impressive, is still decent by world standards....
More conservative US Central Intelligence Agency estimates of Soviet national income accounts sill suggest a very good performance record, according to Western concepts.*
From his writings and from statements at public lectures in Ann Arbor, I know that Ed gave a lot of credence to Bergson's and the CIA's estimates and this clearly affected his perception of the seriousness of the Soviet economic situation which I believe an objective reading of his 1988 book will show he did not understand. On this score, I regarded Bergson's statement in his New York Times review of Ed's book that it was "an impressive study" to have been another example, along with the poor tract record of his techniques of Soviet national income studies, of just how competent Bergson was as a Soviet specialist.
P.S. It would be useful to have some other comments as well on the issue of the training and methodology of our specialists in areas like this. I would be particularly curious as to what knowledgeable people might be able to relate about the experience of G. Warren Nutter. A number of people in conversations, including a former student of his, James Schlessinger and some specialists in the Pentagon, have volunteered that understanding the problems that Nutter encountered with our specialists in his study of the Soviet economy is also important in understanding the failure of the American sovietological economic profession.