Soviet Defense Spending

The Spartan Analogy

by Alvin H. Bernstein


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This Note attempts to provide the means for evaluating the frequently made comparison between the Soviet Union and ancient Sparta as states where politics takes precedence over economics. It marshals and explicates both the ancient evidence and modern scholarship on the issues that a student of the contemporary Soviet economy must understand in order to judge to what extent ancient Spartan society sheds light on the way the Soviet Union does business today. The author describes the origins, developments, and ultimate failure of Sparta's political economy, and analyzes that economy's strengths and vulnerabilities. He points out that the striking similarities that many scholars have noted between the two societies come principally from the fact that they are both militaristic states. He also cautions that the Spartan analogy may be useful for acquiring insights into the Soviet economy, but it has no predictive value.

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