One of the Greatest Environmental Crimes of the 20th Century

It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret. The Soviet Union was a party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that limited countries to a set quota of whales each year. By the time a ban on commercial whaling went into effect, in 1986, the Soviets had reported killing a total of 2,710 humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the country’s fleets had killed nearly 18 times that many, along with thousands of unreported whales of other species. It had been an elaborate and audacious deception: Soviet captains had disguised ships, tampered with scientific data, and misled international authorities for decades. In the estimation of the marine biologists Yulia Ivashchenko, Phillip Clapham, and Robert Brownell, it was “arguably one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century.”

That’s from an excellent piece by Charles Homans in the Pacific Standard. The Soviets killed some 180,000 whales illegally, driving several species to the brink of extinction. But why? The obvious answer Is wrong:

…the Soviet Union had little real demand for whale products. Once the blubber was cut away for conversion into oil, the rest of the animal, as often as not, was left in the sea to rot or was thrown into a furnace and reduced to bone meal—a low-value material used for agricultural fertilizer, made from the few animal byproducts that slaughterhouses and fish canneries can’t put to more profitable use….Why did a country with so little use for whales kill so many of them?

The actual answer has a lot to say about the impossibility of rational economic calculation under socialism (and also the lesser but still important problem under capitalism of mispricing in the presence of externalities and the difficulty of aligning private and social incentives.) The answer did not appear until 2008 when, long after his death, the memoir of Alfred Berzin, a Soviet-era fisheries scientist, was translated and published. Homans summarizes:

The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products. “Whalers knew that no matter what, the plan must be met!” Berzin wrote. The Sovetskaya Rossiya seemed to contain in microcosm everything Berzin believed to be wrong about the Soviet system: its irrationality, its brutality, its inclination toward crime.

You can find Bezin’s memoir here. It’s bitter, sardonic, sad and funny.

Whalers knew that no matter what, the plan must be met! Looking for whales they would go farther and farther from the islands and bring rotten baleen whales to the stations, those which could not be used for food. This was not regarded as a problem by anybody. The plan—at any price! And whalers were killing everything.

Why bring in rotten whales? Without prices the Soviets had to calculate in very crude terms, most notably gross output. In the famous cartoon, the nail factory is supposed to produce X tons of nails and finds the easiest way to do this is to produce a single large nail. The cartoon illustrated a real problem in the Soviet economy which many have documented including Bezin.

Another concept—no less frightening, ugly, and absurd—was that of “gross output.” This was a typical creation of socialism and would be impossible in any other system. Gross output: this is when nobody is interested in a living object itself, and the only thing they care about is the size of the catch. It is reports giving figures in tsentner [100 kilos, AT] and metric tons, even if it is fish that were thrown out, or rotten whales.

The whalers were paid well but it wasn’t just positive incentives. The history of the industry was never far from mind. Quoting Homans again:

Whaling fleets that met or exceeded targets were rewarded handsomely, their triumphs celebrated in the Soviet press and the crews given large bonuses. But failure to meet targets came with harsh consequences. Captains would be demoted and crew members fired; reports to the fisheries ministry would sometimes identify responsible parties by name.

Soviet ships’ officers would have been familiar with the story of Aleksandr Dudnik, the captain of the Aleut, the only factory ship the Soviets owned before World War II. Dudnik was a celebrated pioneer in the Soviet whaling industry, and had received the Order of Lenin—the Communist Party’s highest honor—in 1936. The following year, however, his fleet failed to meet its production targets. When the Aleut fleet docked in Vladivostok in 1938, Dudnik was arrested by the secret police and thrown in jail, where he was interrogated on charges of being a Japanese agent. If his downfall was of a piece with the unique paranoia of the Stalin years, it was also an indelible reminder to captains in the decades that followed.

Bezin, a scientist, writes about who got to the top in the Soviet system:

..As a rule, the people who became commissars were the ones who couldn’t find another job. They were not very smart but were very conceited, self important individuals, especially after they had been given a taste of power, and especially over other people. Those who were thinking about a career in the party system, who could speak loudly and authoritatively from a podium, and who curried favor with the boss, these people could climb the party ladder quickly, and high up.

…Russian people have a good sense of humor, and even when they should be crying they laugh…Here is [a Russian joke]: On the counter of a store there are different types of brains. Among them are commissar brains, which are being sold for a price many times higher than those of farm animals. “Why are the commissar brains so expensive?” asks a customer. The assistant replies, “Do you know how many commissars we have to slaughter to get one kilo of brains?”

The whole system was built on lies and had to be built on lies:

For seventy Soviet years the industry of lies was created, shaped, and perfected in the country. Lies were encouraged and cultivated, and people were forced to lie. Lies in art, lies in movies, on TV, on the radio, and in newspapers. One of my colleagues was saying: “Why do I need Crocodile? When I go to work I buy the newspaper Pravda and all the way to the institute I am dying from laughter.” Lies in the numbers of the Central Statistics Department. And facts about Chernobyl were lies, dreadful and inhumane, deserving of damnation. Lies about the history of our country, which the leaders of the country changed to suit their needs. To the latter, people reacted with a wicked grin: “An institute of experimental history has been created!”

…People were lying whether they needed to or not, and I would say that the lying was pathological and at all levels. From the most blatant lie at the international level…to naïve but proud lies like: “Soviet means the best.” Sometimes they were self-assured but silly, as for example in this poetic sentence: “As it’s known, the earth begins with the Kremlin”; or they were absolutely idiotic: “The whole Soviet country is song and dance all day long.” Just think of the meaning of these words! You could hear on radio and at concerts singing like: “Like an owner, a person walks through the boundless native land,” or “How wonderful it is to live in the Soviet country. . .” And all of these were promulgated in the 1930’s when the country was surrounded by the barbed wire of fearful GULAG’s . . .

Hat tip: The Browser.

Addendum: See the HBO series Chernobyl, brilliant cinematography and compelling storytelling, for a closely related story.

Comments

Hi Alex, Have you read the novel _Red Plenty_ by Francis Spufford. Although it's a novel, the authors know a great deal about Austrian theory, the socialist calculation debate, and the actual way in which the Soviet economy functioned. I would be interested in your thoughts about this book, which deals with many of the themes discuss in your blog post.

Loved Red Plenty!

Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
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Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just
sum it up what I submitted and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.
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Scott Alexander did an interesting review on Red Plenty a few years ago:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/24/book-review-red-plenty/

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"I would say that the lying was pathological and at all levels". Is Trump, like the Soviet liars, a pathological liar or is there a purpose for his lies? Maybe there's more to Trump's relationship to the Russians than we may have considered: maybe Trump is a Russian, a pathologically lying Russian. If that's true, Trump can't be held accountable for his lies because he can't help himself. And Trump can tell a whale of a lie!

No. You're just a hysterical ninny.

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How long do you spend on your posts? Serious question.

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That was probably an impersonation, but here is an authentic segue:

Why is Trump considering a $2/bushel subsidy for Patriotic Farmers? Because excess soybean production is in the 5 year plan?

One, Because he can; he's president until 2025.

Two, No,

In 2025, Trump will be serving the third year of his prison sentence. Don Jr. will be out on parole by then though.

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You bring up an interesting point, Rayward. I have strange idea about Trump. I do not care for the man, and I certainly recognize he lies about things all the time.

But I also can't help but notice that he is addressing things, bringing up issues for that for years or decades the elites of this country swept under the carpet. The fact that most US citizens are greatly opposed to illegal immigration but little was done about it. China's deceitful and underhanded trading practices. NATO countries spending a fraction of their spending goals for maintaining military readiness and depending on the US for their defense.

And it makes me wonder if despite the little lies you see on the surface, Trump isn't on a more fundamental level one of the most honest figures in national politics today. Thoughts?

This. So much so, I have come to feel it amounts to an IQ test.

Say even if you are on the left, or the libertarian "whatever" like Alex T., you should surely welcome having been given the chance, finally in sight, to move free and open immigration, for instance, from being an open secret to stated policy. It was under Trump that this position was given full utterance, and presumably will prevail. That would hardly have happened under Hillary Clinton.

Trump's moves on the environment mostly infuriate me. But I recognize, again, he's honestly carrying forward ideas baked into the GOP long ago, only they simply didn't choose to advertise them *quite* as baldly as he does. You know who you're dealing with. You think Trump had ever heard of Bears Ears? You think Trump ever thought about Utah before, unless he's got a hotel there?

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The irony is that Trump is the most honest person in our government. THAT is why he must be removed...

Seen on Instapundit, “After a decade of justice denied — under Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, John Brennan, James Comey, and others — Bill Whittle thinks he now detects a whiff of fear among those in that cabal.”

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If he's so honest, why did he lie about Stormy? He's also not very honest about his taxes while raising ours.

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little real demand? hey, leave TSLA alone. The production plans must be met to please the dear leader ;)

In more serious terms, the USSR was a natural experiment which provides lots of insights. Please read about the time the Soviets invented shared mobility on the early 1970s. Nikita Khruschev was amazed at the wastefulness of people in NYC, how is it possible that everyone owns a car? https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2017/05/08/2188387/shared-mobility-v-1-ussr-edition/

After reading Alex's post and laughing at the big nail cartoon is not hard to imagine the whale hunt reports could have been inflated. Thus, the absolute number is not that important, the most important research results was not the 180K but providing a plausible explanation of why the population of whale declined, and is recovering now.

I just have one question at the end, what term is better to describe the situation? Command economy or resource misallocation?. Calling it command economy may make us fall into complacency because we're not as dumb as the Soviets, calling it resource misallocation may raise awareness that these problems exist today and can be fixed without taking down the political system first.

A Bitcoin saga:

https://twitter.com/cooncesean/status/1130493867734605824?s=19

I think the trick in a market economy is that you just never admit you misallocated anything. You just suffer unforseen circumstances.

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I think "command economy" is better. It's possible to misalocate resources in a market economy too. The problem with socialism is it can't take onto account the imbedded knowledge of people in setting market prices (the calculation debate). This is thw Heyakian insight on emergent order. So control of the economy is the cause, widespread misalocation is the symptom.

+1

Not to mention the negative effects of resource misallocation are socialized in a planned economy (e.g., the public as a whole has to keep paying the whalers to kill whales for no reason).

But if whale tasted as good as bluefin tuna sushi, it would be fine?

You don't see a difference between killing animals and eating them, and killing them for no reason at all?

They are just as dead. Seriously I am not a communist, and have never had use for planed economies, but it *is* kind of a shallow reading that this is *because communism*, given the buffalo, the passenger pigeon, the north Atlantic cod, the blue fin tuna, etc

If Trump was a Russian agent, and we know that he was not (because for one thing Putin’s people didn’t even know how to contact the Trump campaign, just as they probably didn’t know how to contact 11-12 of the other ~15 Republicans in the race), I would have supported executing him for Treason. He would have been justifiably and legally dead. You just want him dead.

I'm the one that offered Trump the sage advice to "retire for medical reasons" in February 2017. He'd be happily golfing now, without a care in the world.

Trump is much happier right where he is, battling away, with everyone hanging on his every word. He would be miserable just golfing.

I agree that he would be miserable on the green but having a million investigations with calls for impeachment is nobody's idea of fun, even for an A-level narcissist like Trump.

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All I said was that it was that the problem of resource misallocation was worse under planned economies because of the socialized costs. You read something into my comment that wasn't there.

I meant no criticism, but I did pick up on "kill whales for no reason" and that whales taste bad, and cod and tuna taste good. That's all.

For anyone who doesn't now, the north Atlantic cod ban has been a big revelation. It turns out that when you stop over-fishing too late, the fishery might not come back. It might have found a new low equilibrium. If I understand correctly there are too few cod to pass the hurdle of the seals, and so they are trapped. We'd have to go back to clubbing baby seals (sarc) to fix things (sarc).

Tragedy of the commons.

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I'm sorry you were triggered. Now piss off.

Triggered? This really is a safe space for you conservatives.

Every day we live examples of capitalism causing environmental destruction. Oil, rainforest, coral dying, plastic flooding oceans, mass extinction of animals...

Some whales died. Ok. Everything is dying now, and it’s ALL capitalism. Profit motive is what is destroying the Earth. No one would burn things unless they had a capitalist patriarchy.

Commies killed some whales. Great. Capitalists are burning the world down.

Socialists take care of their environment, and a few whales don’t matter. Compare carbon emissions per capita in North Korea vs the US.

On the moral scale, NK is helping prevent a global melt down. The US is shoveling coal into the burner.

sorry, but I love truth. The story is a red herring. They weren't brave, but they were deceitful. You can induce understanding. You cannot induce empathy. What's a historian's job? To be empathetic to the people while at the same time, diving into the time. There's a lot of water. If a historian considers themselves a celebrity, and war-hero celebrityism is the Worst, he will not be objective. He will confuse his personal history for objective history; alas, we cannot be one thing whalers!

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That's not the same Anonymous. His technique is to take something where I'm 4 or 5 on a scale of ten, and dial it up to 11.

In that, it was a pretty good attempt.

But fwiw, I don't think there has been any organization of humans in the history of the world without blemish.

The goal of moderate pragmatism is to balance power centers. Not all eggs in one basket.

Definitely not one "decider."

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Thanks Jeff. I forgot that the misallocated resources are literally the money of all the people =/

Resource misallocation in a failed business sometimes is even funny, resource misallocation in a command economy is tragic.

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"Command economy or resource misallocation?."

Well clearly it's both. But it seems like the command economy made the situation much worse. It's doubtful if the entire Soviet whaling fleet was a net profit. They went through the majority of the whaling stock in 5 years. At that point the whaling fleet was surplus and most of the stock of ships, trained crew and processing facilities would need to be re-purposed. Any kind of profit motive would have investors worried about a positive return on the investment.

The Soviets didn't have a feedback mechanism for their economy. And like any operation without feedback, eventually it will fail.

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1 the ussr was certainly a natural experiment in speech/language codes
2 didn't russians have to get permission from kruschef to own a car
back then & ussr cars sucked

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Makes you wonder how another command economy was able to avoid such problems - though of course, it was much shorter lived than both the Soviet Union and the timespan it grandiosely proclaimed for itself.

Admittedly, there are commenters here who would probably state that the real reason one command economy was not plagued with the same absurd problems as the other was based on genetics - and of course, the shorter lived command economy would have fully agreed with that explanation.

Agree. This place is toxic. Perhaps I should take a break from commenting here and try to work out some of my obvious personal problems instead.

Finally, a bit of levity.

Of course, this place is not toxic (what a stupid concept in general), but there are commenters who certainly like to lean on genetic explanations for any variation in human behavior.

Not that Prof. Tabarrok is prone to this, but he seems to overlook that the Russians have been working to 'plan' long before the Soviets arrived. The Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell (both never used in any significant sense) being fine examples of useless objects designed to satisfy the apparent needs of the state and the egos of those running it.

I've long been aware of this. The science of genetics is actually just Nazism in disguise. I quit believing in genetics a long time ago, just due to the association you're talking about. I'm gonna go fling my feces at a wall now.

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The MOST likely answer: When ppl are given free rein, they do horrible things. It's the greatest example of Lord of the Flies/people are animals and given the chance, they will do as much horrible shit as they can get away with. The need to dovetail "socialism" (USSR socialism, meaning COMMUNISM) into the argument is telling, and the argument is over-thought.

> they will do as much horrible shit as they can get away with.

So what are the limits, and where do they come from? What would limit such a thing in a democratic free market economy? Quite a few things, price for one. No one would spend their resources to flood a market with a product that wasn't wanted. Another is social and political pressure to put other values higher than the destruction of a resource.

The problem with socialism is that there is no limit. The whole economy is available as a resource to plunder because it is all available by design to the state to meet it's goals. The by the time a limit is reached nothing is left. It naturally creates a substantial apparat, necessarily because you need a substantial bureaucracy to run everything, who then become a power in itself determined to self perpetuate, and who essentially write the rules to their own benefit.

What stopped the unbelievable horrors of the Soviets? A collapsed state. What stopped the environmental degradation cause by industrial pollution in the US? A democratically passed law. What stopped Mao's multiple revolutions that killed millions each? Mass starvation. What stopped the ridiculous delays for getting medical care in Canada in the 90's? A court challenge that found that if the system couldn't provide timely care it was unconstitutional as it breached the right of people to the security of their person, and much to the dismay of the socialist in Canada it was reformed to a much better state.

Communism was designed to remove any checks to the goals of the Party. So as you say they got away with as much horrible shit as they could imagine. If you protested, you were an enemy of the people and were either killed or imprisoned.

Democracy, the principles of the justice system, the division and competition of powers between the branches of government, a free market based on competition, and many other things are structured on the truth that "they will do as much horrible shit as they can get away with".

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"When ppl are given free rein, they do horrible things."

I'm baffled at how you can interpret the Soviet leadership ordering the building and deployment of a vast whaling fleeting in violation of the Whaling Treaty as "ppl are given free rein".

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I don't think you understand what free rein means. Try to be a tad more objective in this, if you're given a goal and the alternative is you and yourfamily is sent to a gulag, you will do your best to meet that goal.

Hence the consistency of horrfic environmental catastrophes under socialism (whaling, chernobel, Central asian catastrophes, the Aral sea, etc.). When you are under threat of death to meet a goal, you will meet it.

There is no dovetialing socialism in, socialism is at the core here.

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What free rein? Didn't you read the part of what happened to those who couldn't meet the quota?

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Again...overthinking. I'm simply referring to the actual killers, not the institutions that gave them the ability to get away with it.

But on that line, I still see no evidence that "Socialism" was the problem. Authoritarian rule, in the form of Communism, was that driver. The ppl on this board are trying to equate USSR style Communism with European (western, smart-asses) lite socialism. It's like I'm listening to Ben Shapiro. Next I'll hear how Pharma price gouging isn't the fault of capitalism, just bad patent law.

So yeah!, ppl will do as much horrible shit as they can get away with.
Don't overthink it. I know everyone on this board is beyond brilliant, but that gets in the way.

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I thank President Captain Bolsonaro for delivering Brazil from Socialism.

on this blessed morning
we thank the nytimes.com &" the view"s roomful of publicists for attempting to mediasplain why "the view" is not in
fact low-brow postmodern bullshit!
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/magazine/the-view-politics-tv.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage

when the laughter ends
we will make more coffee!

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It's entirely plausible that this actually happened. But there's a big missing piece: according to the Pacific Standard article, Berzin's manuscript "remains unpublished in Russian". Why??

In this day and age, it would be trivially easy to do so. You could easily scan images of the manuscript pages and put them online. You could obtain the text by OCR, or if it's handwritten then volunteers could type it up.

For authentication purposes, this is the absolute minimum we must demand. The Russian manuscript must be published online immediately so that fluent speakers can check for non-idiomatic phrasing and any other possible signs of a hoax. That seems unlikely, but in an age of viral disinformation absolutely nothing can be taken for granted.

Scholars demand stringent proof that socialism doesn't work!

It's well-documented that socialism created environmental disasters. Turning the Aral Sea to desert is just one example. So the story is plausible. But.

We just need to see the original manuscript, for the sake of transparency and authentication and to check the accuracy of the translation.

All the more so because Brownell's explanation of his own inaction strains credulity. Sitting on a bombshell manuscript that he himself solicited, on a topic he had been investigating as a scientist and surely cared about deeply, for a decade (!), on a flimsy and easily remedied pretext.

This had better not blow up into some goddamn Hitler Diaries hoax. All the more so because the underlying story of overquota hunting is probably valid and the search for truth would only be harmed by embellishment.

Such delicate sensibility. The whole post is about economies of scale.
1) "Colors weren't true either, but rather a vague assortment of shaded pastels that indicated not so much color as faded familiarities...So I was not so much forgiven as I was [understood]."
2) "In my Jouornal, I add to each Story by Way of Improvement, such probably Circumstances as I think it will 'bear,' and in my Ledger the whole is regularly posted."
3) …"I peeped in at the Door, And never in my Life before such a Set of simple vacant Countenances...like so many blue wooden Images of rye Dough."

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According to the article, in 1993 Brownell arranged for Yablokov to make a public confession of illegal Soviet whaling at a marine mammalogy conference. It must have been a bombshell announcement.

Then, "Yablokov and Brownell both began piecing together the real figures with the assistance of several scientists who had worked aboard the whaling fleets."

In 1994, Berzin sent Brownell a summary of the memoir he was writing. A memoir that Brownell himself suggested to Berzin that he should write. Seven months later, Brownell received Berzin's manuscript in Russian.

But then he just sat on the manuscript for a decade, because he couldn't read Russian!

Could he not have sent the manuscript to his collaborator Yablokov? Could he not have sent it to any of the "[obviously Russian-speaking] scientists who had worked aboard the [Soviet] whaling fleets" who had been assisting him?

Did he just lose interest in the whole thing? This is very odd behavior for a marine biologist hunting down a bombshell story.

We need to see the Russian manuscript. Soon.

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"It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population in world history—and it had happened almost entirely in secret."

How was "in secret" possible? Other whaling nations like Norway and Iceland and Japan would surely have taken notice of this massive tragedy of the commons, and raised a huge diplomatic fuss about their catches drying up practically overnight. According to the article entire whale populations nearly vanished in less than five years.

And the Soviet fleets weren't exactly being subtle: "The Soviet Union had many more ships in the Antarctic than any other country, sometimes twice as many catchers for each factory ship. And they worked differently, sweeping the sea in a line like a naval blockade." So much for secrecy. Whaling ships from other countries, working the same waters, must surely have crossed paths occasionally with these oversized Soviet armadas, and put two and two together.

Why didn't those countries raise the alarm and accuse the Soviets back then, given that their own economic interests were directly at stake. Or at the very least, Norwegian and Japanese scientists would have written some internal reports about the situation. I hope those reports will now also be coming to light.

@Captain Slime - ahoy! You did a good job in your posts here debunking this sensationalist piece of revisionist history. Another thing to consider is that the Soviet commercial fishing fleet was in fact also doing spy work for the USSR military, as is well known. Perhaps these Soviet whalers were killing whales and dumping the carcasses into the sea, but at the same time spying?

Of course there was no debunking and the commenter could well be a Russian troll

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Decimate means to reduce by 1/10th, surely the loss was far greater than that. Why use words that are misleading?

That's what decimate used to mean, not what it means now.

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One red herring in the article is the fate of Aleksandr Ignatievich Dudnik, arrested in 1938. But that was right in the middle of the Great Purge, when millions of Soviets in every profession from astronomer to census taker were being arrested and executed for any reason or no reason at all.

It's silly to imply that Dudnik's fate terrified anyone in the whaling industry in the late 1950s, mid-1960s and early 1970s, long after Stalin's death and even longer after the height of the purges. All the more so because Dudnik was cleared after an 18-month investigation! He resumed his sailing career and later retired and died of old age in 1973. And the accusation against him was an alleged plot to sell the Aleut fleet to a Japanese firm, not failure to meet quotas.

The whole paragraph about Dudnik is just blowing smoke. It was not "an indelible reminder" to captains "in the decades that followed" to meet "the plan — at any price!" This breathless nonsense just takes away from the rest of the article and impairs credibility.

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This isn't a new allegation. All of this came out in the early 1990's after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The new data is the exact size of the crime.

Here is an article from 1993:

"In all, during 40 years of whaling in the
Antarctic, the U.S.S.R. reported 185,778
whales taken but at least 338,336 were
actually killed. Data for the North Pacific
are currently incomplete, but from provisional data we estimate that at least
30,000 whales were killed illegally in this
ocean. Overall, we judge that, worldwide,
the U.S.S.R. killed approximately 180,000
whales illegally and caused a number of
population crashes. Finally, we note that
Soviet illegal catches continued after
1972 despite the presence of international
observers on factory fleets."

https://indopacificimages.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Illegal-Soviet-Whaling.pdf

The article you link to (Ivashchenko, Clapham and Brownell in Marine Fisheries Review 73(3), 2011) is from 2011, not 1993.

It also mentions Berzin mostly in passing, as one of many sources, who seemingly provided mostly anecdotal and background information and personal recollections. The hard numbers were also gleaned from many other sources.

The Pacific Standard article linked here by Alex Tabarrok makes Berzin the central focus, making it seem like he was some sort of key whistleblower and Solzhenitsyn-like figure. The confusion can be blamed on that author, trying to find an angle to sex up the story.

Berzin's original Russian manuscript, then, is in fact not of such great importance. This isn't really new data at all, it has merely been sitting in plain sight for the past eight years and has only now, for some unaccountable reason gone viral. Even the Pacific Standard article dates back to two years ago.

TL;DR: nearly half a century ago the Soviets were killing twice as many whales as they reported. Through careful digging, scientists in 2011 published fairly precise figures. The story has gone viral now, but it's sad old news and nothing about the past can be changed. We might change the present and the future though. Perhaps Japan might be convinced one day to give up whaling, and I hope we can do better for other large mammals like rhinos and elephants.

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"the people who became commissars were the ones who couldn’t find another job. They were not very smart but were very conceited, self important individuals, especially after they had been given a taste of power, and especially over other people."

No wonder certain young social media darlings are so enamored with socialism...

American politicians, from aldermen to the president, are conman.

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So the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling proved to be fatuous rubbish. Is there any sign that multilateral international treaties have tended to be more effective in the years since 1946?

Reagan, peace be upon him, seemed to think that the best treaties were bilateral and verifiable. I dare say he was right.

Too bad that in retrospect history has judged Reagan to be a Cuck!

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"Is there any sign that multilateral international treaties have tended to be more effective in the years since 1946?"

This is not a post 1946 problem.

Belgium neutrality was based on a multilateral international treaty until someone decided that it was just a "scrap of paper".

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>People were lying whether they needed to or not, and I would say that the lying was pathological and at all levels

Sounds exactly like the Global Warming hysteria.

Actually, most nonsense is spread not by liars, but by the deluded, like you.

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Indeed. Politicians and corporate executives in capitalist countries NEVER lie.

Just like the capitalists lied about vaccines causing autism. Of course they do, the drug companies are pushing their vaccines to profit from fear. Fear from polio?? A disease invented by Pfizer to trick the populace into buying drugs.

Socialists don’t lie, because they don’t have to. Without the profit motive, no one has any reason to lie. That’s why socialist countries are high trust and capitalists gouge prices and rip off everyone they can.

My sociology degree has given me invaluable insight into how societies work.

Wake up SHEEPLE

Socialists dont lie because they dont have to.

Thats actually wonderfully clever. Shame you obscure it with childish noise

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It's not just the Soviet Union that makes such errors. Tyler Cowen has previously stated that productivity is good. Economists often assume efficiency is good.

But this ignores the question what exactly is produced, and what exactly is made more efficient. Productivity of negative utility is bad. Efficiency in causing negative utility is bad. Who needs, say, more productive and efficient torture chambers?

Never ignore context. And of course, the nature and definition of goodness is highly subjective and this subjectivity cannot be kept out of the analysis.

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Unfortunately it is very easy to find environmental crimes of far more widespread consequence done in the name of capitalism or just trying to make a living. Environmental destruction has been an equal opportunity disaster.

The important thing, Ed, is that you tried to change the subject. Nice work!

@TNP Trying looking at the subject line of Alex's essay - the subject is in it.

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You are ALL Cucks! I repeat: you are ALL Cucks!

The Soviet Union was the greatest country country on Earth, And one day Russia will return to such glory and crush the West!

they wont

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One of the Greatest Environmental Crimes of the 20th Century? Doesn't sound like it would make the grade - maybe "One of the Greatest Crimes against BioDiversity of the 20th Century" - the list of environmental crimes is eye-wateringing long and depressing - oil & gas over exploration and over use...., nuclear weapons test, Chernobyl - it would make an interesting table if someone put it together

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Re the HBO Chernobyl documentary:
We are watching it. I think it is well made, but IMO they are over-hyping the dangers of radiation for the sake of dramatic effect. For instance, at one point Legasov states that a thermal explosion of some water tanks would cause the deaths of 100 million people. They're unfortunately reinforcing a lot of hysterical ideas that people have about the dangers of radiation. The Legasov character is constantly talking about thousands or millions of people dying from radiation poisoning, which of course never happened.

Yes, from a science&technology point of view that HBO series (PLEASE it's not documentary) is atrocious. Legasov may have been a good radiochemist, but he knew jack shit about reactors, so it's small wonder he was constantly popping out wild ideas. How many deaths he caused by having military personnel (including folks conscripted specifically to work on liquidation) eat huge doses of radiation executing his hare-brained suggestions, like the one about dropping loads of lead and boron into the reactor from helicopters, I don't know. To top it off, he might have thrust himself forward in order to gain an edge in a bureaucratic fight with Alexandrov, the chief scientist of the RBMK project, to become the head of the Kurchatov Institute. At least he had the decency afterwards to take responsibility and become an hero.

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Forbes review
https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/05/09/the-reason-they-fictionalize-nuclear-disasters-like-chernobyl-is-because-they-kill-so-few-people/

The radiation got them! No, mostly they only burned up! A few kids got thyroid cancer! But that's nothing to that dam that collapsed and drowned all those people! And what about coal?

etc., etc. But just making sure, Amory Lovins is still a crank, right? Everyone agrees on that.

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I am not sure if this is a socialism problem or as other commentators above say, a problem with people being allowed to get away with murder, literally. No doubt in USSR the leadership got away with plenty. The comment on "Gross Output" with the cartoon on the nail, reminded me of a bank called Wells Fargo. It had a division's staff being measured on number of new accounts being opened. So they opened fake accounts for customers. This incident is not from the last century, but a few years ago. Leadership gets what it measures.

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Very relieved we now have market forces driving the extinction of elephants and rhinos.

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More troll bait drivel from MR.

Hardly the worst environmental catastrophe. Probably barely even in the top 100. And the other 99 happened in capitalist systems.

And the implication that only socialist system have perverse incentives, or encourage box ticking, or discard what isnt valued is simply idiotic.

'And the other 99 happened in capitalist systems.'

Not even close. The drying of the Aral Sea was already mentioned, and this was truly Soviet sized environmental destruction - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyshtym_disaster

When it comes to nuclear accidents, the Soviets performed in much the same fashion they used to in the Olympics, placing 1st and 3rd, with the Japanese coming in second place to represent capitalism-

Weak cherry picking. There is nothing particularly socialist about polluting a body of water or hosting nuclear accidents.

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I bet you can still get a flight to Venezuela. I hear they have a remarkable Socialist society. ;)

Why should I move? I can get my pharmaceuticals doses right here at home for free via my drinking water.

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"It was one of the fastest decimations of an animal population"

If 90% of the whales were left, what's the problem?

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Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws ... Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?" — Tecumseh, 1811

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How does this rank as worse than, say, deliberately modifying your auto engines to game the emissions testing?

A deliberate sociopathic act that most certainly caused human deaths and increased human suffering from pollution, such as asthma, not to mention increasing overall air pollution and smog, and worsening climate change.

Or perhaps, Bhopal. As two examples just from the top of my head.

Or the wanton hunting to near extinction of US bison, merely for hides and to deprive Indians of their traditional food source and thus drive them to reservations. The carcasses of slaughtered buffalo were left to rot across the prairie. By the tens of millions.

How is it different? Was Bhopal deliberate, someone opening a valve knowingly releasing chemicals to kill people? No it wasn't. It was terrible, and there were processes and systems that were poorly maintained or operated.

Gaming emissions? How about the environmental damage caused by replacing perfectly functioning automobiles?

The US bison is one of many instances where large populations of animals were destroyed by hunting. Read Farley Mowat's Sea of Slaughter. These abuses have been corrected by management and controls because once more enlightened thinking made it unthinkable it was changed. The whale slaughter was happening and misreported to the treaty organizations that were organized to prevent that from happening.

Bad things happen. We learn from them and don't do them again, hopefully. Communism took all the hard and bloody acquired wisdom and thought they could do better by putting the right people in powerful positions where no one could question their decisions, and oddly enough things went really badly.

Something like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. That didn't work out very well either.

Communist systems by definition have no limit to what they can and will do. That is a fatal flaw.

Worst environmental crime ever.... or bad stuff happens?

Something about the venezuela situation has brought the commie derangement syndrome of the right back up out of the sewers

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"Or the wanton hunting to near extinction of US bison ..."

How different? Well, off the top of my head, has Russia since had a leader that took a special interest in the whales, acknowledged the loss in whatever is the equivalent of their state of the union address: as Teddy Roosevelt did when he came to regret the buffalo slaughter, and then took steps to reintroduce them to the few remaining public grasslands?

I think it's important to keep score both of the bad things that we did, and the things we did after we came to our senses. Otherwise, you quickly get amnesia about the environmental movement (which, admittedly, would suit the libertarian "right" just fine).

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Who else read "Quoting Homans" as "Quohog"? lol

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A Large, worthless nail to juice GDP. Got em! Take that AOC and Bernard.

Now do a long form article on the yearly funny accounting in buying billions of USD of patriot missiles via the US taxpayer money for Israel or BETTER YET trillions of USD spent on pointless wars for the past 19 years, and the billions of unfunded liabilities from the VA disability claims for the next couple decades (some valid, most not!).

All those costs are only potential GDP multipliers right?

NO!! Capitalists NEVER inflate their numbers, only communists do that!

Because, unlike communism, where there is nothing to stop number inflation, in capitalism the incentive leads them to, um, well, um, inflate the numbers. sigh

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Hmmm since no one really wanted whale products why not just say they caught the whales? Since no one needed the whales who would check or care that they were 'missing' from the catches?

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