The precipitous decline of the Soviet population's standard of living in the last years of the USSR is one of the great ironies of the Gorbachev era. In Hard Times, economist William Moskoff takes a closer look at the objective and subjective experience of economic decline as it affected ordinary citizens.
After an introductory survey of the Soviet economy during these years, Moskoff examines several key problems: the chronic shortages of food and consumer goods, so emblematic of Soviet life, and the hoarding, black marketeering, and corruption which scarcity fostered. Next he takes the measure of declining living standards in the late 1980s and early 1990s as reflected in prices and incomes, collapsing social programs, and rising indigency and homelessness. Employment, by contrast, shows a relatively small decline - a reflection of political rather than economic realities.
In concluding chapters the population's response to the combined experience of political liberalization and economic distress is examined, with special attention to labor militancy and the radicalization of popular moods.