The Economic Narrative of National Institutions

Hitler christening part of the Autobahn in the late 1930s with crowd of people in background

Hi All,

I hope y’all had a good 4th of July, I know I did :). In terms of my research I have gotten off to a great start so far and I’ve really excited about where things are going. The focus of my research is the construction and effect of economic narrative, or in laymen’s terms, how American society creates intellectual storylines in regard to economic behavior, their relationship with the reality of economic behavior, and how the discrepancies between these impact policy.
I’ve divided my research into three main areas, focusing on the understanding of institutional behavior, the behavior of economic cycles, and the evolution of ethics and legal structures within economics. For the past month I have been focusing mainly on the examination of institutional structures and governmental systems within nations of the past and present, looking at how society has subscribed labels to political and economic systems and how well the structures within these systems interact with the narrative understanding that society has of them.
Much of my focus has been on the distinctions that society has made between systems that are “good” or “bad”. When one examines the narratives of these systems I find that there is a wholesale rejection of the ability for any economic structure within un-capitalist tendencies to be successful, and in general, an inference that nearly all societies that search for alternative to capitalism are economic failures. Interestingly, so far I’ve found that these contentions do not necessarily hold true.
Over the past month I have attempted to look at many types of economic systems from an objective, economic angle to determine the legitimacy of their accomplishments, with some surprising results. My examination of the economic structure of the Soviet Union have revealed that it did have a problematic political, social, and economic identity, however, this does not hold true for all communist societies. If one looks at the nature of the Marxist society of nations such as Cuba or the fascist society of National Socialist Germany one can find feats of economic genius within societies that at the same time were discriminating against, persecuting, and restricting the liberty of their own citizens.
Communist Cuba has seen major improvements in healthcare and education policy, with a cost per patient ratio that is lower than that of the United States ($193 per patient to the $4540 per patient of the US, 4% of the cost) and statistics in regard to patient care that are on par with the United States, Canada, Denmark, and other industrialized nations. Additionally, Cuba boasts one of the fastest growths in education quality among world nations with a 94% high school graduation rate and literacy program that has increased literacy in Cuba from 60% to nearly 99% over the past half-century. National Socialist Germany’s Autobahn program was an infrastructure project that employed approximately 400,000 Germans and reached nearly 4000 km by the eve of World War II, making it the largest high-speed road network in the world at the time. Although these accomplishments are overshadowed by the actions of these regimes against their own citizens, it is important to make the distinction that the economic policies of nations ascribed the labels of fascist or communist are all unique, and should be assessed fairly as economic beings, taking into account their human rights crimes, but also the validity they may have in a free and democratic context.

A side by side comparison of Health-care statistics between the United States and Cuba. (Courtesy of the World Health Organization)
Hitler christening part of the Autobahn in the late 1930s.

I have also found that the opposite of this occurrence is also something society should consider. While many democratic nations, including the United States and much of Europe champion economic policies of neoliberal capitalism, there are countless examples of those negatively affected by these market based structures, as these societies drift further and further away from ideal “free markets”. The creeping power of monopolistic or oligopolistic structures within certain sectors of the economy such as banking, telecommunications, and energy suggest autocratic tendencies that may be just as threatening to consumers as an outright autocratic government. Professor Philip Hanson of the University of Birmingham makes this comparison in his text The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Economy, in which he compares the structure of the Soviet economy to that of a large corporation, a conflation that I had never before considered but seems to follow a reverse order of economic movement to arrive at the same economic conclusion, a totalitarian society where power is isolated among a small group of individuals.

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The basic structure of the Economy of the USSR, one that I wasn’t completely familiar with before researching it.

I am hoping to explore this concept more as well as expand my understanding of economic narrative through further research in my other two subject areas!