Essays > The World of the Soviet Citizen > The paternalistic state
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Some psychological, social, and economic consequences of a paternalist state.
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Soviet citizens were conditioned to think that the government was responsible for providing individuals with everything necessary for daily life, from housing to electricity (and the wiring that went with it) to food and consumer goods. People paid for most of these things, but nominally. The result of this way of life was a tendency to see the state as a paternal figure: not necessarily a parent who saw to all your needs, but one who covered enough of them as long as you played the role of a dutiful citizen. If you went along with what the state provided, there was no need to show much initiative. Demanding something from the state, by contrast, took a lot of initiative.

While food and housing were provided for a minimum amount of rubles, there were many hidden costs. One such cost was a limitation on freedom. People paid very little for housing, but they couldn't move to a more desirable city or buy a better apartment. Improvement in living conditions resulted from some combination of factors: many years of waiting, intensive bureaucratic finagling, and useful connections (blat). Persistence and simple good luck were often the most important. There was also an official system for trading apartments or rooms with other individuals. Residence was regulated by the internal passport and the residency permit (propiska).

Some goods were too cheap: by the end of the Soviet period, farmers were feeding bread to cattle. Some goods were not produced at all (like sanitary products for women) because government planners weren't interested; the economy had very few mechanisms for consumer input. With price largely absent as a regulator, a lot of consumer goods were subject to shortages—even what would seem to be necessities, like toilet paper. People kept toilet paper in their own rooms because it was costly: not by price, but by the hours needed to look for it and stand in line for it; sometimes it wasn't there it all. It wasn't something cheap you would share with co-tenants.

Despite these deficiencies and limitations (and aside from the dissident movement among the intelligentsia), Soviet people by and large tended to trust the state and think that it was committed to providing for the Soviet citizen, however meagerly. Grumbling about and coping with daily challenges was just a way of life

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