National Wealth

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

National Wealth


the total aggregate of use values accumulated by a society during the entire period of its productive activity, expressed as of a certain date in monetary terms; one of the most important indexes of a country’s economic might.

Under capitalism, F. Engels noted, “the expression ’national wealth’ first appeared as a result of the striving of liberal economists for generalizations. As long as private property exists this expression makes no sense” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. 548). Therefore bourgeois political economy has a correspondingly limited approach to national wealth, studying only how wealth is created within the capitalist system and how it should be distributed to further enrich the capitalists. Thus bourgeois political economy attempts to conceal the fact that national wealth is created by the working people but is acquired by the exploiters.

In Marxist political economy, national wealth is defined as the “objectivization of human labor” (ibid., vol. 26, pt. 3, p. 446). The most important component of national wealth is physical wealth, that is, the aggregate of accumulated material assets. In addition, there are results of labor that are not fixed in physical form but are nonetheless considered to be part of national wealth, such as the production skills and experience of the populace. “If we throw out the limited capitalist form,” Marx wrote, “what else is wealth but the universality of needs, abilities, means of consumption, productive forces, and the like of individuals, created by universal exchange? What else is wealth but the true development of human dominance over the forces of nature, i.e., both over the forces of ’nature’ proper and over the forces of the human being’s own ’nature’? What else is wealth but the absolute revelation of the creative gifts of the human being” (ibid., vol. 46, pt. 1, p. 476).

National wealth was first calculated by the English economist W. Petty in 1664. The first estimate of national wealth in France was made in 1789, in the United States in 1805, and in Russia in 1864. In 1853 the methodological problems of measuring national wealth first became the subject of international statistical congresses. In 1947, the International Association for Research Into Income and Wealth was formed; since 1966 it has published The Review of Income and Wealth. The most significant research on national wealth carried out abroad in the 20th century has been by R. Goldsmith, who calculated the national wealth of the United States for 1898–1948, 1905–50, and 1945–58; and by P. Redfern, who determined the national wealth of Great Britain for 1938–53. In the 1930’s, Soviet statistician A. L. Vainshtein computed the size of Russia’s national wealth on Jan. 1, 1914, and showed its distribution according to economic sector and social group.

In Soviet economic literature, national wealth usually means the stock of material goods created by labor and used for production and consumption; natural wealth and the labor force appear as sources and conditions for the creation of national wealth. Some Soviet economists include natural resources in national wealth. Lastly, there is the point of view that contends that the concept of national wealth should also encompass nonmaterial assets such as available scientific knowledge and general cultural levels.

Measurement of national wealth in the capitalist countries is made difficult by the existence of such concomitants of private property as “commercial secrecy,” which make it necessary to use indirect methods of calculation.

In compiling statistics on national wealth in the USSR, methods of direct calculation are used that rely on data drawn from the monitoring of inventory levels and from an analysis of accounting and statistical reporting. The national wealth of the Soviet Union includes the following physical assets: fixed and working productive funds, which in turn consists of the means of labor (machinery, production facilities) and of items subject to labor (raw materials, processed materials, fuel); nonproductive social funds, which include housing and other cultural and domestic resources that belong to state, cooperative, and public organizations; personal property, that is, consumer goods belonging to the population; commodity stocks that belong to production enterprises and nonproduction organizations; state reserves, including insurance funds, gold reserves, and defense stockpiles; and natural resources that have been drawn into the production process such as agricultural land, forests, mineral deposits, and hydroelectric resources. The components of national wealth and their relative proportions do not remain unchanged. Particularly large shifts in the composition of national wealth are taking place during the period of the scientific and technical revolution: productive funds are being expanded and updated rapidly; scientific, educational, medical, and other related establishments are holding an ever larger share of nonproductive funds; and the rates of natural resource extraction and economic turnover are steadily accelerating.

According to figures from the Central Statistical Board of the USSR, the national wealth of the Soviet Union (not counting land and forests) at the end of 1973 equaled 1.7 trillion rubles. Of this sum, 680 billion rubles was fixed productive funds, 313 was working funds and reserves, 410 billion was fixed nonproductive funds, and about 300 billion rubles was the personal property of the population. The national wealth of the USSR is 20 times larger than the national wealth of prerevolutionary Russia and has a fundamentally different social structure. In 1914 the working population possessed 24.3 percent of the national wealth (19.2 percent going to the rural population and 5.1 percent to the urban population), while the private capitalist sector owned 55.3 percent of Russia’s national wealth. In the Soviet Union, all national wealth belongs to the working people and is calculated according to the three forms of social ownership present in the national economy: state property, cooperative and kolkhoz property, and personal property. The growth rate of national wealth in the USSR is approximately 2.5 times greater than that of the United States.

Under socialism, national wealth is the aggregate of public, group, and personal funds. To a large extent, its growth reflects increased efficiency in public production, particularly the achievement of optimal combinations between such economic indexes as the accumulation, or savings, norm in national income and the basic funds return. The steady accumulation of public wealth makes it possible in each new stage of development to accomplish greater, more far-reaching tasks.


Vainshtein, A. L. Narodnoe bogatstvo i narodnokhoziaistvennoe nakoplenie predrevoliutsionnoi Rossii. Moscow, 1960.
Kirichenko, V. N. Natsional’noe bogatstvo SSSR. Moscow, 1964.
Goldsmith, R. W. Natsional’noe bogatstvo SShA ν poslevoennyi period. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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