I sent a post about Russia previously. In it I described how I finally discovered why I was supposed to go. However, here I wanted to describe to you a little of what it is like in a government-controlled system of Socialism from really personal “hands-on- experience”. I don’t want you to have to go, but since it is now being so pushed upon us, I really think you should know a little of what it is actually like.
More on Russia
I just had the overwhelming compulsion that I was supposed to go to Russia . My father and I had sold the Russians several groups of Santa Gertrudis cattle, but I did not need to go there. They always came here for those purchases.
Also, in the early 1970’s most people from here were not especially welcome there. If you drew a chart of Russia ’s meanness and their efforts to take over the whole world in the name of Communism, that would have been the time when the graph of meanness on the chart would have been at its peak. But I thought I should go.
Even though we had sold them cattle, you didn’t just apply for a visa and go on your own. That would have caused all kinds of suspicion and consternation. But I found a way (or was shown a way). There was a man from Houston who was getting together a small group of people to go to Russia for a “Cultural Tour”, mostly to listen to the Russian symphony orchestras and to particularly watch the Russian ballets. Russia had a long history in these areas and Communists were still proud of those traditions. In fact, in those days there, that was some of the only entertainment that they had.
So, my wife and I joined this cultural tour. A few of the people were from Houston and a few were from Dallas . We were to go to Moscow and St. Petersburg (called Leningrad under the Communists).
When you fly across Russia you realize just how huge that country is. As we were flying for hours and hours, I was thinking: How in the world could the Germans ever think they could conquer a place this huge.
In the early days of the 1970’s one of the first things you learned was that almost nothing had been built since the Communists took over in 1917. Most of the municipal buildings used by the Communist government are old palaces and the homes of formerly very wealthy people from pre-revolution days that have been converted to other uses. Even the main department store in Moscow was a converted palace.
The hotel where we stayed in Moscow was directly across the street from the huge Red Square . It and the room’s furniture were pre-1917. Our room even had a grand piano in it from those days.
Another thing that you had heard about and were now experiencing was that the government and the KGB controlled everything. They did not even check any of our luggage or belongings upon entering the country.
Their attitude was that if you brought in anything that you shouldn’t, they would know it because of their tight control. The floors on our four-story hotel were not very large, only a few rooms, but at the head of the stairs on every floor was a tough looking lady at a desk who just watched everything. Just for spite, I started leaving my room key with her whenever I left. She just kept it for me. She never said a word.
Another thing that you learned was that nothing worked. There was a small leak in my bathroom under the sink. I was told by the economics’ head of the US embassy in Moscow (with whom I had a most interesting visit) that I could come back years from now and that leak would still be there.
He was quite ready to go back home since he had been there almost two years and was scheduled to soon go back home. However, he was willing to spend time with me to answer my questions. One of my first questions was: What are those large white things along the railroad tracks that you see as you fly over the county………they look like little white mountains.
He said: “That is fertilizer.” And I said: “No, Man, fertilizer will turn to a solid if it his stored out in the open like that.” He answered: “Yes, it has; that is why they look like little white mountains. In effect it is.” Then he explained that the government wanted to aid agricultural production in their plans, so they just ordered it sent to the countryside with no thought of how it may need storage.
He explained many other things of how their system does not work. One was about their grain. The US and other countries were feeding them, mostly with enormous shipments of wheat. The grain ships were lined up in the Russian ports, waiting for many, many days to be unloaded. This was causing much consternation among the people shipping the grain since they were being charged high prices by the day for those ships. So, there was great pressure to get them unloaded. The economics fellow explained that the train would roll up there in the port ready to be loaded with grain. The man with the big hose to blow the grain in would open the top of the box car. He would look down and there would be open slats in the floor of the car. He would say: “I can’t put grain in here. It will all drain out before you go 20 kilometers.” The train master would say: “Look, my job is to get this train back to Moscow by Thursday. Put it in!” So, he would.
The economics dude even told me about the little things where the government screws things up. He said all over Russia they eat lots of cabbage and cheese. Every housewife has this little flat grater that she grates or shreds these things with. Since their kitchens are so small and compact, the grater fits flat and neatly into a special little drawer. But the “all knowing” government planners decided to improve on this. They designed a big stand-up, four sided grater with four different sizes for shredding the cabbage and cheese. It caused a huge, overwhelming push-back from the housewives across the country. There was no place in the kitchen to keep it. It was totally “in the way”.
In many other ways he explained that the biggest problem in the whole country and the Communist system was how to get spare parts where they are needed and when they are needed. But I said that they seem to be getting their spare parts out to their agricultural areas. I wanted to know why that was working when spare parts were not available most anywhere else.
He said: “I studied that, because I wanted to know that myself. So, let me explain.”
He said: “You know that the country has just recently gone to an 8 hour work day”. And I said: “Yes.” Then he explained that if you work in a factory in a city like Moscow , it does not matter that there is and 8 hour day. You come when they tell you to and you go home when they tell you that you can. But he explained that with central government planning, they have never learned how to schedule train crews on the trains. A train gets a crew and it just goes until they have done their 8 hours. They pull over onto a siding and wait until it is time for them to go again.
So I say: “What has that got to do with spare parts for the farmers?” Then he explained that they were trying to break out new land way up north in the really cold country to increase agricultural production. Whether it will work or not, they are sending most all their new tractors and combines and such up there. So, when they are parked on those sidings, the local farmers slip on there at night and get their spare parts. He said that when they get up north to their destinations, they are just skeletons.
Before I left for Russia , I procured a letter from the Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, Bob Poage. Poage was the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee from 1967 to 1975, until he was removed from his position by the House Democratic Caucus. The Caucus considered Poage to be too conservative and he was replaced by Tom Foley. Since he was from my home-town of Waco, he was happy to give me a letter introducing me to the Russian government and requesting a meeting with the Russian Agricultural officials.
I was requested to meet with the Russian Ag officials at 9:00AM on a particular morning. It was not that inconvenient since the hotel that I described was right across the street from the Kremlin. I got lost trying to find the particular building inside the Kremlin for my meeting. As a result, I wandered around in some of those huge rooms (where I was not supposed to be) that were at least a hundred yards long filled with a plethora of government central planners. I don’t know what they were doing, but they were all sitting at desks, planning something.
Finally, they found me and got me to the right building, and the right room. In those days when there was a meeting with someone from outside the country, they had and interesting custom or rule. There was a requirement that a worker from a factory be present. He may not know what was going on, but he was required to be present. There were quite a few people there around that big, round table; and much to my delight the veterinarian who had come to Texas and bought our Santa Gertrudis Cattle from us was there. He was now head of all Animal Husbandry for the whole country.
He had come to our ranch in particular since he knew that the last time we showed our cattle, we won all eight national Santa Gertrudis shows across the US……..Kansas City, Denver, Dallas, Houston and the others. He knew that we had taken particular delight in beating Winthrop Rockefeller’s cattle from Morrilton , Arkansas and the Governor of Texas’s cattle from his ranches at the big Houston show.
I asked him why he liked the Santa Gertrudis breed so well above the other breeds, since it was the only true breed to ever be developed in the US up to that time.
So, he told me a most interesting thing about them. They were developed on the King Ranch in Texas . They are bred to withstand the heat. That is why they are so popular in the hot parts of South America and South Africa , both places to which we have sold them from our ranch. When they are judged at the shows by the animal husbandry professors from universities in the US , they want them to have very loose skin to better withstand the heat.
He said they were putting them way up in Siberia . That they would grow a long coat of hair in the winter (probably from the Short Horn’s from Ireland that is in their DNA). Then he said that in the summer there would be some really hot days in Siberia that would devastate other breeds, but that these would shed all that hair off and do well in the heat.
They served the obligatory tea and he and I recalled some of the great times he had enjoyed in Texas . One, neither of us would ever forget. They landed their plane in Waco with which to load their purchased cattle and fly them off. They bought mostly bulls for breeding, but since they were flying them out, they did not need to buy 2,000 pound bulls. They just took half-grown ones to save weight and space. They could already tell what they were going to look like when they were fully grown. So, the young bulls were to go up this chute into the plane, turn left and go into individual compartments made of heavy netting to keep them stable on their long flight.
On the last shipment that they bought all was going quite well. Every animal went up the chute, turned left from the back door and into his assigned place….until the very last bull. He did not turn. He went straight through the side of that plane and made the neatest round hole you ever saw. We had to phone back to the ranch and have a cowboy come with his horse and rope him down at the end of the runway.
This got the Vet/Government Official deep into recalling his wonderful times in Texas …..the BBQ and big steaks; the camaraderie, his new cowboy hat gifted to him, and everything else. I know what was happening. Compared to the grayness and oppressiveness and absolute boredom of Russia , he was getting carried away feeling once again the freedom and openness of the US and Texas in particular.
In that vein he went on to say: “You know those last cattle you sold us. When they grew up into magnificent animals, I showed them all over Eastern Europe as the greatest cattle we had ever raised in Russia .” That is when someone kicked the heck out of him under the table.
In the documents that the founding fathers of our country wrote, they mention “The Pursuit of Happiness”. Have you ever considered what they meant by that. In the founding documents of our country those words seem a little odd and out of place………”Pursuit of Happiness.”
In Russia , the purpose and meaning of those words became vividly clear to me for the first time. In those days in Russia and even up until today. Very few people ever smile. There is no such thing as what we would call happiness or joy. Our founders wanted us to have the opportunity to have the ability to accumulate even a miniscule amount of wealth by working hard for the advancement of our children and our family. We sometimes call it just “getting ahead”. Just the ability to pursue that creates real happiness. Those founders knew that. That is why the put those words in there.
But in a Marxist or Socialist system that is never possible. You get your head up a little bit, and it is whacked back down. In that system it really doesn’t matter how hard you work. If you are courteous and try to please your customers, you are not going to get ahead or advance in your company. So, no one is courteous and rudeness to customers is the norm. It is really true. No one is happy in a Socialist system. They just go around with their heads down in a state of glumness. Maybe that is why alcoholism is such a desperate problem there.
When you are standing in those long lines trying to get whatever you need, you are not thinking of who is behind you or in front of you, you are concentrating on getting as much as you can for yourself to just survive.
They kept me in the Kremlin for hours. It turned out that most of those guys at that table were not agricultural people at all. They were high level analysts who wanted information from me. They wanted me to tell them about our US “management system”. See, it is not Communism or Socialism that does not work. It is “central planning” that does not work. A county may be called Communist or Socialist, but under those systems it is necessary for the government to plan most everything, and I promise you……..that just does not work. Bureaucrats can never make a government owned business run like an entrepreneurial owner can.
The example that I use to explain it is the US war effort of WWII. The smartest people we had went into that effort. They were well motivated to “win the war”, and they knew, one way or the other, they would not be in those jobs forever. But those who were there and involved can tell you about all the snafus that happened. They got parkas for the arctic down into the tropics. They got mosquito nets for the tropics up into the arctic. If you were a military officer needing to make a system or project work, you had to have one of those Master Sergeants who knew how to go around all the rules and regulations to get the spare parts or other equipment that you had to have.
He traded things like booze and special items with other Master Sergeants and got the job done. We made twice as many trucks and other vehicles as we needed, just to get the ones that had to be there to the right places at the right times. I could go one and on with those stories. They are legion. But the point is that if central planning would not work well for an effort as specific as the war effort with all our good intentions and motivation, and sharp people determined to make things work. Just imagine what it was like in a place like Russia that was being centrally planned with bureaucrats who had little motivation or incentive, not really that sharp, and knowing that they were stuck there for their whole working life at their boring jobs.
Since everything works in the US , at least relative to how it was over there at that time. They thought we had this amazing “management system”. They wanted to learn about it from me, as I am sure they had quizzed others on the subject. You know the answer: It is the “guiding hand of the market” that Adam Smith so eloquently described in his writings, like in his famous book The Wealth of Nations. It is the profit motive in Capitalism that makes things work in the US and gets spare parts where they need to be when they need to be there. It may not be perfect, but it is light years ahead of a country run by central planning. And there is a “pleasantness” involved with Capitalism. In your effort to make a profit you must please your customers. You must create “pleasantness” for them if you want to get ahead. It evolves into and an atmosphere of what I call “joy” compared to the grayness and selfishness of Socialism with its necessary central planning.
China was one of the poorest countries on the planet, but when Deng Xiaoping went to Singapore and the leader of that wealthy little place explained the principals of Capitalism to him, he went back and abolished the central planning of government over businesses in China . They have since created more wealth in a shorter time than the world has ever seen. It is just staggering. And even now, their business community is way freer than ours with all its many regulations.
When I first went to China in 1980 before it had really “opened up” and everyone had to wear the same drab, grey clothing to all look alike, no one smiled. There was no happiness. But now, “wow”, with the chance to actually create some wealth for you and your family, they are some of the happiest people on the planet. And their sales people in the stores couldn’t be more courteous.
I tried in those hours in the Kremlin, but could not get through to them. They had no conception of how an economy can work without being planned.
I was quizzed in China in the early 1980’s by the same level of officials in Beijing on the very same subject. They thought we had this incredible management system running our government. I actually had them read Adam Smith. The Chinese were way more flexible in listening.
In our larger corporations, I have been surprised to find that they have positions called an “Expediter” in their different departments. He is there to get around all the red tape, and requisition requirements, and all the bureaucracy that builds up in any big organization that is planned from the top. The executive in a big company who has the most adroit “expediter” on his staff becomes the hero leader who gets promoted. That is why small businesses are the real backbone of any capitalist society.
They are run by one boss who keeps his finger on everything and makes everything work. That is why your favorite restaurant is so good; the owner is there every minute it is open to make it all work and make sure the food is special. When the business or restaurant gets too big for one boss to handle it all, and it becomes necessary to start delegating supervision to regular employees and central planning takes over, efficiency and quality go down in most cases.
So when the liberal and even Socialist professors at most of our state universities and many private ones too, are teaching their students how great things will be when the government starts running things, they don’t have a clue about the real, ultimate result of such policies. The most recent example of a county which has tried central planning is Venezuela . It was one of the world’s most prosperous countries just a short time ago. Now it is a disaster. The same is true of Cuba , which has been so poor and backward for so long.
If those professors would just go there and visit among the people, they may realize that what they have been drilling into their students for years and years would only lead to extreme poverty and chaos if it were tried, as they so ardently advocate. The same would hold true for our politicians who so fervently advocate the same Socialist policies.
Our US health system is severely criticized by those who wish to change it to be totally government controlled. But all those doctors and dentists seeking to make more money, and all those pharmacy companies seeking to make drugs to cure diseases and genetic problems so they can make more money, may not have created a perfect system. But it is envied by most every other country. Would you really want to live under a health system that was centrally planned…….totally planned by fallible people?
Anyway, I tried to get through to those analysts in the Kremlin, but they were so steeped in central planning that it was impossible. We parted ways with them still thinking I was hiding my knowledge of “our great US management system” from them.
When you left Russia was when they went “all out” to inspect what you may be taking with you. They did little inspection when entering, because they figured that they had such close surveillance of everything that they would know if you had anything forbidden.
So, upon finally leaving, they went meticulously through everything I had, particularly my hand-carried bag. For some reason they did not want you to take any rubles out of Russia. Sure enough they found a few that I wanted to take back to show people. So they had me go cash those in and receive back US currency.
Also, they found a few pieces of Christian literature in the very bottom of my black handbag. I had passed out much of such to the churches that I visited, but had overlooked these few. They took me up to a KGB office and interrogated me about whether I had distributed other such literature for the longest time.
Just before I left for Russia, my mother had given me a book to read on the trip by a famous evangelist about how he had been smuggling Bibles into Russia. When they found that with the picture on its cover of the Russian cycle, not with the hammer through it but a Christian cross through it. Wow! They just went “ape”! They seized it and took it and copied every page.
And sure enough, a few rubles that I had forgotten fell out of those same pages. That was “enough”!!! Those KGB operatives threatened to hold me and keep me from leaving on my flight. In their “grasp” you feel so helpless and defenseless.
However, they knew that I had that letter from Congressman Bob Poage. And the knew that I had those meetings in the Kremlin with the Russian Minister of Animal Husbandry and other officials. So, at the last minute they let me go and catch my flight.
And folks, believe me, when that plane finally passed the line where it would need to go forward instead of turning back into Russia should it develop engine trouble, everyone in our group breathed a great sigh of relief, especially me. It is really hard to describe the deep-down feeling one gets to pass into freedom and escape from the feeling of oppression one has in a government-controlled system where you are just helpless!!!
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