A friend and I were recently discussing the fact that so many toilets in Russia are missing toilet seats, a particularly unpleasant fact if one's immediate business requires the adoption of a sedentary position. This unfortunate absence is especially pronounced in buildings and institutions which are state-funded (by which I mean, of course, state-underfunded). To take a random example, oh, I don't know... the Russian public university. This, of course, leads to the very reasonable question, "where have all the toilet seats gone?"
[Incidentally, readers might not be aware of the fact that American folk-singer Pete Seeger wrote a secret "lost" verse to his famous antiwar song, where he posed this very question, "where have all the toilet seats gone?" Scholars have taken this as conclusive evidence that Seeger had ties to the Soviet Union, thereby justifying the suspicions of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Fearing arrest as HUAC's noose tightened around him, Seeger destroyed all evidence of his communist sympathies, including the "lost verse." However, word of the verse's existence traveled through the American communist underground, inspiring other Soviet-themed add-on verses such as, "where has all the toilet paper gone?", "where has all the cabbage gone?", "where have all the kulaks gone?," and the perennial favorite, "where has comrade Khrushchev gone?", penned after Khrushchev's ouster and internal exile in 1964.
Readers might also not be aware of the fact that none of the above paragraph is true, as I just made it up on the spot. But it makes a good story, doesn't it?]
But back to the business of the missing toilet seats, which is no fiction, I assure you. Applying the incisive tools of social science to this puzzle, we can develop several plausible hypotheses to explain the absence of toilet seats in Russia:
H1: The toilet seats have been stolen.
Implications of H1: This is entirely plausible, as things are often stolen in Russia, as in any country. A persistently high rate of toilet seat theft would imply high demand on the black market, a sign of a severe shortage in toilet seat production and supply.
H2: The toilet seats have been broken and never replaced.
Implications of H2: For this hypothesis to be validated, we must first inquire as to why such a large percentage of toilet seats were broken in the first place. It is unlikely due to excessive weight of Russians. After all, we all know that America is probably the most overweight nation in the world, yet our toilet seats seem not to suffer. Another possibility is that Russian toilet seats are being abused in ways that lead to premature weakening and breakage. As I cannnot imagine any activities that would overload a toilet seat, such as those requiring the seat to bear the weight of multiple individuals at once, this possibility can be categorically eliminated. The remaining explanation for the high rate of toilet seat breakage is shoddy construction and weak materials, a condition that was pervasive throughout the "Golden Age" of Soviet life (the Brezhnev years). I mean, Stalinism had its faults, but back then they knew how to build sturdy buildings and probably sturdy toilets too.
But why, once broken, wouldn't these toilet seats be replaced? The only logical explanation points again to severe supply shortages in the Russian toilet seat market. While a competing explanation might be found in official indifference to the posterior comfort of those who frequent these institutions, as we all know, Russian public institutions are bastions of caring and kindness. Thus, this possibility can be rejected without further discussion.
H3: The toilet seats were never there.
Implications of H3: As with the other hypotheses, validation of H3 would require further in-depth field research. Such research might entail a qualitative approach involving interviews with current and former custodial staff in order to determine whether the toilet seats were ever there in the first place. One might also take a quantitative approach, coding individual stalls, bathrooms, and buildings for the presence of toilet seats in order to determine whether a pattern emerges. For example, if half the stalls in a bathroom have toilet seats, it is likely that the other half had them once too. However, if an entire building lacks seats entirely, it increases the probability that they were never there. In any case, the investigator should avoid at all costs the anthropological approach of "soak and poke," the reasons for which should be self-evident.
Presuming H3 were found to be valid, this would also imply a severe shortage of toilet seats, as builders were unable to install them at the time of construction. Further shortages would have prevented their addition in the meantime.
There are, of course, infinite minor hypotheses that could also explain the puzzle at hand. For example, it is possible that toilet seats are the preferred material with which a yet-undiscovered nocturnal species of giant dung beetle builds its nests. But until the existence of the the new species (Scarabaeinae toiletus seatus) is proven, such hypotheses are best left aside.
But what to do about H1-H3, all of which seem plausible? Data does not currently exist that allow us to distinguish between the three alternatives. Nor is further investigation likely to be undertaken, as this is not a "priority" area of research in any of the fields of social science.
However, based on preliminary data and deductive reasoning, along with the fact that all three hypotheses imply the same underlying cause, we can conclude that Russia is in the grips of a major market failure, as embodied by the severe shortage of toilet seats. It may just be toilet seats today, but what about tomorrow? What happens when the toilets themselves start disappearing? Even worse, what happens when our pants disappear as well?
In any case, it seems clear that Russia's toilet seat industry is one of the last holdouts of the Soviet planned economy, as only such a decrepit institution could produce such spectacular shortages. I have a suspicion that the man in the Bureau of Toiletry Production at Gosplan plugged in his 8-track back in the 70s (did 8 track even make it to the Soviet Union? Probably not.), put on his headphones, and hasn't noticed that things are kind of quiet around the office these days.
If Russia is to finally join the ranks of capitalist democratic countries... Oh, right. If Russia is to finally join the ranks of capitalist countries, the reform of the toilet seat industry must be made a top priority of the country's leadership.
After all, they produce loads of B.S. every day. Don't you think they'd be sympathetic to the need for a good toilet seat?