Throughout its history, USSR GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has been considerably lower compared to US GDP. At its highest, Soviet GDP reached around 60% of US GDP, but by 1989 it had shrunk to around half the size of US GDP.
By 1989, just before the Soviet Union’s collapse, USSR GDP was reported to be $2,500 billion, compared to US GDP of $4,862 billion. In terms of per capita GDP or per capita income, this translates into $8,700 per capita in the USSR, and $19,800 in the USA.
All of this, of course, is assuming that the official GDP figures provided by the Soviet Union were accurate. Although much of the massive disparity between USSR GDP and FSU GDP can be explained by the chaos caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, much is also probably due to inflated figures provided by Party officials keen to meet targets and impress their political masters (this was a particular problem during the Brezhnev era, before the reforms of Perestroika and Glasnost that were implemented by Gorbachev.)
The chart above demonstrates that Soviet GDP grew modestly but fairly steadily during the 1970s, but really stagnated during the late 1970s and early 1980s – the late Brezhnev era. GDP rose rapidly once Gorbachev came to power.
The Soviet economy was strongly oriented towards the production of natural resources (oil, gas, coal, steel, etc), heavy industry and the development of its military. Central management of the economy (through cumbersome top-down five year plans) was fairly well suited to such large scale enterprises and led to significant expansion of the Soviet economy during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. However, during the 1970s and 1980s, the centralised system proved unable to keep up with rapidly increasing consumer demand and expectations of an improved lifestyle, and five year plans became more and more detached from reality.
GPD growth within the Soviet Union was also probably stunted by the country’s general unwillingness to trade internationally. As a large country, it remained relatively self-sufficient in many areas, which meant that it did not need to respond to international markets, and develop its efficiency.
The USSR’s economic problems could be said to have led to its downfall – partly by increasing unhappiness among the general population, and partly because it left the state unable to afford the costs of maintaining and modernizing its military. The reforms of the Gorbachev era, which led to a big boost in the economy, were not sufficient to match these problems.