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Published The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

- January 13, 2010

Alex Tabarrok has posts on the amusing story of Westerners overestimating the Soviet economy. For example, here’s a graph from the legendary Paul Samuelson textbook (from 1961):


Tabarrok points out that it’s even worse than it looks: “in subsequent editions Samuelson presented the same analysis again and again except the overtaking time was always pushed further into the future so by 1980 the dates were 2002 to 2012. In subsequent editions, Samuelson provided no acknowledgment of his past failure to predict and little commentary beyond remarks about ‘bad weather’ in the Soviet Union.”

The bit about the bad weather is funny. If you’ve had bad weather in the past, maybe the possibility of future bad weather should be incorporated into the forecast, no?

As Tabarrok and his commenters point out, this mistake can’t simply be attributed to socialist sympathies of the center-left Samuelson: For one thing, various other leftist economists did not think that the Soviets were catching up to us; and, for another, political commentators on the right at the time were all telling us that the communists were about to overwhelm us militarily.

I don’t really have anything to add here, I just agree with Alex that it’s a funny graph.