Google Autocomplete Wants to Know Why Post-Communist Europe Is So Poor

It's been two decades since the Iron Curtain fell, but post-communist Europe still has a long way to catch up—and Google autocomplete knows it.
Twitter: Randal Olson

History has rendered its verdict on communism, and now Google autocomplete has too.

That verdict? Well, see for yourself. Try searching "Why is Estonia so...." Now try "Why is Ukraine so...." And "Why is Hungary so...." Notice a pattern?

As you can see in the map above from Randal Olson, most people want Google to tell them why post-communist Europe is still so poor. Though there are some exceptions. The top result for Poland is "weak." For Lithuania, it's "suicidal." Russia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic all at least get off with more neutral ones. (And Turkey's is most certainly for the meat, not the country).

Who cares? Google autocomplete is barely a step above Yahoo Answers. Look at the top result for France, and then tell me there's no such thing as a stupid question. Sometimes the crowd isn't wise. Sometimes it's ignorant. But despite that, people still know enough to know that the Eastern bloc hasn't nearly caught up with the rest of Europe. That's how big a failure communism was: even Google autocomplete knows it.

But not everybody does. Venezuela, for one, is destroying its economy with something short of "full" communism, but close enough. It's a vicious circle of inflation, price controls, shortages, and devaluation—which only adds to the inflation. Here's how it (doesn't) work. The Venezuelan government has made bigger promises than it can pay for, even with all its petrodollars. So it prints what it needs. Of course, all this new money should increase inflation and devalue the currency. But the government tries to deny this reality. It tells businesses how much they can charge, and how much profit they can make. And it sets a supposedly fixed exchange rate.

This doesn't work. You can't suspend the laws of economics by decree. Eventually gravity catches up. It catches up, because companies stop making things when they aren't allowed to charge enough to make more profit. So the stores go empty. People can't find what they need—including toilet paper—and turn to the black market instead. That's assuming they can afford to pay. Many can't. Now, the government can (and has) nationalized factories to supply necessities at a loss. But that just means more money-printing. And that means they need more dollars to defend their currency peg—dollars they don't have. They can try to fight it, but ultimately they have to devalue. At which point the cycle repeats: a plunging currency will only add to their 56 percent inflation.

I'll give you one guess what Venezuela's autocomplete is.


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Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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