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Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2003
Abraham Becker, 76; Expert on Soviet Economy
From a Times Staff Writer

Abraham S. Becker, a Rand Corp. economist who advised the CIA on military spending in the former Soviet Union and was known for his thorough understanding of the complexities of the Soviet economy during the Cold War, died of leukemia July 5 in Los Angeles. He was 76.

He was best known for his work suggesting that the Soviet Union's hefty military spending would lead to its eventual downfall.

Becker was "a pioneer in developing the national capacity to understand the Soviet economy -- how the Soviets decided to allocate resources and how much of that economy was being spent to maintain Soviet military forces," Rand President James A. Thomson said.

Citing CIA estimates, Becker said in 1980 that the Soviet Union was spending 12% to 14% of its gross national product on its military, an economic burden that would eventually prove crippling.

"There's little doubt that this represents a burden on the economy because the military uses scarce, high-valued resources that could have alternative uses," Becker told the New York Times in 1980 when the question of Soviet military spending was fueling debate in the presidential contest between President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan.

"This has contributed to maintaining a ceiling on Soviet economic growth and perhaps even to its retardation," he said.

Becker's remarks came several years before the rise to power in the mid-1980s of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who would argue for a reduction in military spending as a key feature of a plan to modernize the ailing Soviet economy.

During his 46 years with Rand, Becker wrote 92 papers, among the most influential of which was "The Burden of Soviet Defense, a Political-Economic Essay," which was published in 1981.

A New York native who was educated at Harvard and Columbia universities, Becker joined Rand, the Santa Monica-based think tank, in 1957.

He previously worked at the Mid-European Studies Center of the Free Europe Committee in New York and the Corporation for Economic and Industrial Research in Washington.

Becker's positions at Rand included associate program director of the national security strategies program and director of the Rand-UCLA Center for Soviet International Behavior, which he helped found in 1983.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Tamar; a daughter, Ornah Becker of Los Angeles; a son, Doron Becker of Potomac, Md.; and four grandchildren.

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