BOFIT Seminar - Andrei Markevich (University of Helsinki) - American Relief and the Soviet Famine of 1921-22

Co-authors: Volha Charnysh (MIT) and Natalya Naumenko (George Mason University) 


This paper explores the efficiency of one of the first mass-scale international aid policies – American relief to Soviet Russia suffering from the 1921-22 famine. We construct a large novel panel dataset and document several new facts. We show that the famine resulted from the combination of grain requisitions during the War Communism and the severe drought and the resulting harvest failure in 1921. We further show that despite Soviet interference and infrastructural difficulties, the American Relief Administration (ARA) managed to distribute the relief based on the severity of the famine, with provinces that collected smaller harvests receiving more food. As a result, birth cohorts from the time window around the famine were more likely to survive in the provinces where the ARA fed more people. To establish a causal effect of American aid on survival, we rely on the arguably exogenous variation in grain shipments to Soviet ports and the location of the first ARA’s headquarters in the suffering region. Our analysis shows how effective international aid can be when it is not captured by local elites.


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