In the 1970s, the USSR is thought to go through a period of stagnation. However, there was little stagnation in the economy. Brezhnev’s Five-year plan from 1971-1975 had as its goal the improvement of the people’s standard of living. To achieve this aim, pensions and minimum wage were raised to accommodate the higher cost of living.
The government also mandated an increase in the production of goods, a goal that they tried to achieve by raising quotas. However, this had an unintended consequence of decreasing the quality of goods, because companies focused more on the number of goods they had to produce. As the quotas increased, the quality of the products decreased. This focus on quotas followed the earlier Liberman Proposal from 1962.
Later on, in the 1980s until the fall of the Soviet Union, the lack of high quality goods led to an underground economy. In the black market, foreign goods began to have enormous value, to the point where foreigners could sell their American-made or Finnish-made goods for high profits. A “jeans culture” began to emerge, in which the type of goods you had, and especially your clothing, told people what social class you were in. In the article Knights of the ‘Jean Culture’, the author criticizes the youth of Russia for their emphasis on materialism. Not only were Soviet goods less well made, but they were also more expensive after the government raised the prices of goods.
The government actively tried to fight the black market that emerged during this time period. The party declared a war on crime, even sentencing some ‘speculators’ to death. However, their attempts to stifle the underground economy were ultimately not effective.