News 19 Mar: It Takes 2 (or 3) to Tango in Human Rights

The US State Department has released its latest human rights report – as usual, a veritable list of America’s bugbears (North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan are the ‘top ten’). It is true that the majority of the above are pretty odious regimes, with the partial exception of Belarus and Cuba.

Nonetheless, the State Department shoots itself in the foot – the hypocrisy is revealed immediately by thinking Belarus; Kazakhstan; Saudi Arabia. Obviously, having lots of oil and being friendly to the superpower has highly democratizing effects…

The fact that China was dropped from The List didn’t stop them from issuing a Human Rights Record of the US in 2007, which cites an increase in violent crime, police brutality and unaccountability, world beating prison population, racism, sexism, increasing socio-economic stratification and huge HR abuses abroad and calls on Americans to finish with double standards and ‘reflect on their own issues’. Russia wasn’t much impressed either.

This is all part of a positive development in which maligned countries are starting to go on the offensive over accusations of human rights abuses from the US. For instance, a Russian think-tank dedicated monitoring Western democracy and human rights abuses and softening Russia’s image has been registered in Paris and New York, as part of a general push to burnish Russia’s image in the Western press, TV and the Internet.

The lesson? The US should think very carefully before making condescending pronouncements of who is good and who is evil before the international community, and should do much more to ensure basic freedoms are upkept in its own backyard – otherwise, by leaving itself so exposed to charges of bias and hypocrisy, it hurts human rights not only domestically but globally.

Russia throws a wrench in NATO’s works – the important European members of NATO (Germany and France) have refused to contemplate admitting Ukraine and Georgia to the Membership Action Plan during the Bucharest summit in April 2008. This is because, now that NATO is faced with the prospect of losing in Afghanistan, it would like to see co-operation from Russia and its Central Asian allies on establishing an air corridor to Afghanistan, so as to bypass unreliable and troublesome Pakistan. Nonetheless, the United States is the least enthusiastic about this, since closer co-operation with Russia would entail recognizing their failure to contain Russia from its former Soviet empire in Asia, jeopardizing plans to project NATO as an alternative to the UN and increasing Russian diplomatic influence amongst the West Europeans (which would affect their automatic acceptance of America’s traditional trans-Atlantic leadership role).

The IHT notices that Russia and China rethink arms deals, thus echoing Forbes’ January piece, which I covered here. Famous neocon Perle has published an absurd piece claiming the arms race was a myth.

The Economist has succeeded in finally discovering a blindingly obvious fact. Just as average personal affluence is measured by GDP per capita rather than absolute GDP, so changes in individual prosperity is better measured by GDP growth per capita rather than GDP growth. As you’ve noticed, this is the method I used in my analytical economic piece Education as the Elixir of Growth. (On that topic, there’s more support for that theory from the Economist – the admission that a link between the rule of law and growth has been much tougher for economists to establish, in contrast to my link between the gap between human capital and expected GDP per capita, and economic growth).

Looking at things this way, common perceptions of economic performance change substantially. From 2003-2007, the United States no longer performs dramatically better than sclerotic ‘old Europe’ or Japan; meanwhile, Russia (7.4%) bests fellow BRIC member Brazil (a meager 2.3%) and even shining India (6.8%), although China maintains an impressive lead (10.2%). By this measure, the new millenium has seen the fastest growth ever observed in the world economy. But it would also imply that the US was in recession since late last year.

They also have an article about maths, including America’s worrying long-standing inability to produce enough of them (but which was masked by imports from the former Soviet Union and East Asia). Nonetheless, the fact that these countries have retained their Communist-era strengths (as reflected in things like Maths Olympiad and programming competition results), coupled with their rising economic strength and planned expenditures on attracting new cadres into academic work, means that the US will increasingly have to concentrate more on its indigenous human capital.

Illarianov shows why few serious economists listen to him with his article in Kommersant called Bananotechnologies. While I can’t be bothered ripping apart the article like I did with The Trouble with Russia’s Economy, I’d like to make two remarks. Firstly, it doesn’t reflect well on Illarianov when he makes fun of strategic investments (from oil revenues) into technological development in Russia, a tried and proven development strategy across the East Asian tigers. Secondly, his persistent Freedom House- and AEI-inspired complaints about Russia’s supposed lack of freedom and civil rights lose much of their effect when you consider that this intensely anti-Kremlin article was published in Russia’s leading business newspaper, owned by Gazprom-linked oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

Standard & Poor’s revised its Russia ratings to positive, Moscow is now Europe’s hottest real estate market and Russian car production went up by 10.4% in 2007, nearly reaching 1.7mn units – more than Italy (1.3mn) and gaining on the UK (1.8mn). Hope this news will dispel the negativity from Illarianov’s gratuitous pessimism.

Finally, the BBC covers Siberian prison’s beauty pageant.


  1. Oleg Nevestin says:

    Illarionov is the biggest joke of the Russophobic world. Liar, and pretty incompetent at that. Good thing this clown is out of Russia. As soon as he unpacked his bags in New York, the US started to collapse. Cool timing.

  2. Talking about Illarionov, I’m going to be doing a story on his Eho Moskvy interview ( soon.