Why the Soviets doctored the numbers

Through considerable ``detective work,'' Jan Vanous of PlanEcon, a Washington-based consulting firm, and Philip Hanson from the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham, England, concluded independently that the Soviet Central Statistical Administration (TsSU) has inflated retail sales and growth rates of total national consumption since 1985. The apparent aim was to offset statistically the sudden drop in alcohol sales as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign.

Because taxes amount to 85 or 90 percent of the retail value of alcohol and because of the previous high consumption rate of liquor in the Soviet Union, liquor sales in 1984 made up some 10 percent of total consumption of all goods (net material product used, in Soviet terminology).

When the quantity of alcohol sold by the state dropped 14.5 percent in 1985 and an additional 37 percent in 1986, the normal statistical result would have been a substantial decline in retail trade turnover and then total consumption. But the statistical office apparently fudged the numbers.

Mr. Vanous says ``it strains credulity'' to suppose that TsSU was unaware of what it has done and of the ``desirable'' political implications of exaggerated growth figures.

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