DAM, What A President!: The Real Medvedev, Part 1

A recent study by Laura Bottazzi et al. at the University of Bologna, Italy confirmed a pretty obvious fact of international business. Far from being the rational agents of standard economics, objectively focusing on those countries offering the best return on their investments, international financiers are in fact heavily influenced by national stereotypes. A Dutch venture capital fund, for instance, is far likelier to invest in a German company than a Spanish one. This is due in large part to the greater trust and cultural affinity that exists between the Dutch and Germans, rather than any specifically economic reason.

As a country suffering from a severe reputational deficit, even relative to most other major emerging markets, these findings should be of great interest to Russia’s leaders – whose lack of PR finesse is simply astounding (any number of specific examples can be given, but suffice to say that there is still no effective Russia lobby in Washington DC). Medvedev seems to be operating under the delusion that publicly lambasting Russia’s institutions – e.g. his famous dismissal of the entire judicial system by portraying Russia’s environment as one of “legal nihilism” – will somehow help resolve those problems that do exist, enhance Russia’s image, and woo foreign investors. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Progress in institutional improvement has been rapid the past few years. A third of the most senior police officers were recently dismissed; international anti-corruption agreements have been signed up to; according to a recent government report, the incidence of bribes has fallen, while their average size has grown (which indicates corruption has become riskier, e.g. thanks to measures such as greater fines for bribery). This is reflected in Russia’s score on the Global Integrity Report, which attempts to measure objective levels of corruption, rose from 63/100 in 2006 to 69/100 in 2008 and 71/100 in 2010. The latest figures aren’t much worse than what is found for East-Central European countries now commonly regarded as “civilized”, such as Hungary or the Czech Republic.

However, on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which is (by definition) a very subjective measure of corruption, Russia continues to plummet relentlessly, from 2.5/10 in 2007 to just 2.1/10 by 2010, putting it below Third World failed states like Zimbabwe or Yemen. So under Medvedev the international perception (in the media, think-tanks, etc) is that corruption and institutional failure have proceeded apace even as most objective indicators hinted that developments were moving in the opposite direction. This widening gap between perception and reality isn’t only a vast and growing PR failure, but it also hurts the Russian economy and is one that in large part Medvedev is responsible for on account of his intemperate rhetoric.

Speaking in black and white terms of “legal nihilism” is easy (but just a bit questionable, given that Russian citizens win the majority of cases against the state) but doesn’t solve any problems that do exist. In the process, instead of lauding Russia for its openness and willingness to acknowledge problems, the exact opposite effect is created in which the Western media and other opinion-makers quote the President’s own words to reinforce its stereotype as a lawless jungle that out be shunned by investors. And they seem to be listening; capital outflow from Russia has been accelerating in recent months, despite a recovery in economic output and if anything a further acceleration in reforms.

Of course, even if we accept that Russia is full of legal nihilism, would it be in its interests to propagandize that fact to the world? Of course not. Only an idealist or an idiot would think otherwise.

Apart from all that Medvedev has done very little to promote Russia, and a lot to undermine it. I’m not just speaking of stunts like his child-like adoration of an iPhone from Steve Jobs (thus earning him the name Dima iPhonechik on Runet), or attacking Putin’s germane criticism of the West for their crusader aggression against Libya (thus losing it many billions of dollars in economic contracts with Gadaffi for no gain, as the rebels have made it clear that once they take power everything will be re-awarded to French and British firms), or ordering European planes for his Presidential fleet at a time when the indigenous Russian Sukhoi Superjet is coming into service, or asking the government to draft a program for the support of education of Russian students in leading international universities (how many of them will actually return to Russia and repay the state? why subsidize Oxbridge or the Ivy League when RUSSIAN universities could do with a bit more funding themselves???), or his ridiculous prancing to American Boy (in stark contrast to Putin who sticks with patriotic songs like Where Does the Motherland Begin? and of good taste like Blueberry Hill).

DAM, why don’t you go back to being a high school DJ?

He is in thrall to the Russian liberal worldview that hates Russia and worships Western ideas taken to extremes not seen in their own countries. For instance, take DAM’s bizarre recent campaign to transform economic criminality into a respectable profession.

  1. Amnesty for economic crimes – No doubt with Khodorkovsky specifically in mind (pardoning whom is morally repugnant by itself). Not only will this be interpreted as an admission that the Kremlin was wrong to dare to defend its sovereignty from an oligarchic coup, but it will also demonstrate to other economic criminals that fraud, tax avoidance, buying political influence, etc. are all now smiled upon. (Do you see even the US, otherwise notorious for not prosecuting bankster criminals, working overtime for an economic crimes amnesty in which the likes of Bernie Madoff go free? Thought not.)
  2. The proposed abolition of pre-trial detention means that economic criminals will now simply be able to take an extended holiday in London, even in those cases the state still has the backbone to prosecute.

This is accompanied by a renewed ideological drive of the Medvedev liberals to privatize Russian state companies, in a quest – conscious or not – to transform Russia into a full-fledged oligarchy where the moneyed call all the shots. Thus, going from a situation in which the state – at least minimally beholden to its electorate – heavily influences the oligarchs, to one where the oligarchs (unaccountable to anyone whatsoever, as evidenced by Medvedev-friendly Prokhorov’s push for a 60-hour workweek) control the state and oppress everyone else with their sick neoliberal ideology.

Things are now clear. Medvedev is a naive fool at best, or simply an enemy of Russia. In any case, he is patently unfit for the Presidential office. One way or another, through Putin’s intervention or the ballot box or the pitchfork, he has to be ousted from the Kremlin if the Russian people value their sovereignty. While I did (and still do) predict the likeliest outcome is a continuation of the DAM Presidency from 2012, there has rarely been a time when I more earnestly wished to be proven wrong.


  1. Yeah, I really hope Russia doesn’t become a place where “the moneyed call all the shots.” My God, that would shake the very foundations of the country, where state officials administer the economy with saintly temperance, always protecting the national interest.

    Also, shame on Medvedev for his “black and white” rhetoric, like ‘legal nihilism.’ Doesn’t he know that the first step to solving Russia’s endemically corrupt legal system isn’t acknowledging the problem, but covering it up, so Western ‘stereotype’ criticisms aren’t validated? Doesn’t he understand that his initiatives to improve the rule of law have only alerted foreigners to the absence of it? (They were in the dark before his traitorous ‘Russia Forward!’ op-ed!)

    And why is he turning to foreign military suppliers when there are perfectly good overpriced options at home? So what if the cost of Topol-M and Yars rockets has spiked by billions of rubles?

    And so on.

    Apologies for the sarcastic tone, Anatoly, but — unless this post is meant in jest — this has got to be one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever authored. You are utterly obsessed with Russia’s ‘image’ in the eyes of the world, but deaf to the nation’s present and future needs at home. Russia has problems and addressing them doesn’t amount to waving a white flag. If you’d take your eyes off Western alarmism, I think you’d be manage a calmer assessment of the urgent challenges facing the Kremlin. In light of this distraction, it’s hard to take this post seriously.

    • I agree that it’s fairly ridiculous relative to my average content – that’s why it’s tagged as a rant (among other things) – but do I not have the right, as someone with a stake in Russia’s future, to engage in occasional political partisanship?

      I’m neither fair nor balanced here, obviously, because I’m going off my normative judgments here, hence I don’t expect anyone to take the post seriously. Nonetheless, I stand by them. Yes, I consider state ownership of strategic assets preferable to privatization. Publicly dissing the entire justice system is neither productive, nor useful, nor even fair to the many judges who are clean and upstanding. I don’t see what benefit airing such sentiments in public can have other than reinforcing already existing stereotypes; I am not against anti-corruption (as you claim) but I do think that Medvedev does it ass-backwards by talking a lot about how bad it is (soiling Russia’s image) while in many cases actual progress is glacial or non-existent (e.g. Bank of Moscow, Magnitsky). Much easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. A true leader would work to promote transparency quietly and efficiently, without overblown rhetoric that smears the whole country.

      And I’m quite serious about the other things. DAM does not exude the image of a patriot of his country; his leniency towards economic crime does not endear (e.g. amnesty suggestion); and many of his projects are the fruits of infatuation with the West rather than a hard-nosed consideration of Russia’s national interests (e.g. undermining Putin on Libya; the idea of paying Russian students to go and study at Western universities, thus pissing money into the wind because of their inevitably low return rate).

      Incidentally, I’m not against selectively shopping for military technologies abroad. Don’t know why you got the impression. I did criticize Medvedev for choosing Airbus for his Presidential transport fleet (and in characteristic DAM manner dissing Russian aircraft manufacturers to add insult to injury).

  2. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Anatoly,

    I wouldn’t be too stressed about Medvedev and the alleged “amnesty for economic crimes”. The alleged “amnesty for economic crimes” is a misreading/misrepresentation of his comments by Novosti, which appears to be the most liberal influenced of the Russian news agencies. Itar Tass reported Medvedev’s actual words in a post on 5th July 2011 from which it is clear that what Medvedev was talking about was judicial and penal reform. Specifically he talked of the draconian nature of the Soviet legal system in a way that shows that what he was really discussing was the need to imprison fewer people for trivial offences so as to reduce Russia’s excessively big prison population and in that context discussed the possibility of a partial amnesty. This has no relevance to the likes of Khodorkovsky.

    • There were massive reforms during the Putin presidency that removed the draconian extremes existing under Yeltsin. For example, steal a loaf of bread since you are hungry and you will do hard time in a penal colony. Russia was number two in the world behind the USA in terms of its prison population. Thanks to Putin about 180,000 prisoners were released. DAM can’t claim any credit for judicial reform, probation and jury trials are Putin’s baby.

      • Alexander Mercouris says:

        Of course I completely agree. I would add that a major achievement of the Putin era was to eradicate a tuberculosis epidemic in the Russian prison system that got completely out of hand and raised the prison death rate under Yeltsin to appallling levels. There is a study somewhere that discusses this. My point was not that Medvedev deserves special credit for anything but that some innocuous comments he made about the possibility of a partial amnesty to reduce the size of the prison population by freeing some categories of none violent prisoners were misrepresented by Novosti to mean something quite different. I sould add that prison amnesties of this sort have a long history in Russia. They were very common for example during the Staliin era.

    • RIA Novosti is getting out of control if that is the case. It has a definite liberal slant that I’ve noticed and as it is state-financed someone really should give their editors a good talking to.

      I’m also wondering where the recent plans to massively step up Russia’s war on drugs (e.g. imprisoning addicts who refuse treatment) figure in Medvedev’s grand vision to reduce the prison population.

      • Alexander Mercouris says:

        As to Novosti I agree. I still read it because it does give a full coverage and is something of a curate’s egg ie good in parts. Also I think it is useful to know what the liberals are saying. I always read Konstantin von Eggert’s posts though I think the man is crackers. Having said this Itar Tass has recently reconfigured its website and its coverage is now at least as full and seems more authoritative. As it is the official news agency I prefer it anyway for official announcements and for reporting comments made by officials.

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          As for the prison population I do not think Medvedev has any “grand vision” or indeed any vision at all. His comments about a partial amnesty seem to have been made a little off the cuff probably as a way of getting debate off the ground. He admitted himself that the decision lies with the Duma (ie Putin and United Russia) and not with him. As for his idea of locking up drug addicts who refuse treatment, the idea is frankly barmy and just about the worst way to deal with the country’s drugs problem. I understand that Putin has publicly opposed it. Interesting that on this Medvedev the “liberal” is taking a “tough” line whilst Putin the “hardliner” is taking a “soft” line.

      • yalensis says:

        I can’t believe any right-thinking person anywhere would want to emulate America’s “war on drugs”, which is a gross violation of human rights, not to mention racist. Also a way for America to feed more cannon fodder into its vast prison system, a profit-making enterprise for private contractors. Vast majority of inmates in sprawling American GULAG are non-violent drug offenders.
        Underscores once again that iPhoneChik is a shallow thinker, a talker not a doer. His 4 years in office have been a setback for Russia.

  3. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Anatoly,

    I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a Russian businessman in which I made some of the same points that you are making. To attract investors one needs to project a positive and optimistic image, not a negative one. For the same reason I think Medvedev is wrong to talk about “modernisation”, which implies that Russia is “backward”. A country that builds nuclear reactors, has an ongoing space programme, builds the complete range of manufactured goods from socks to supercomputers and which has a brilliant cultural life is not “backward”. In fairness to Medvedev I do not think Russians have ever got the hang of self promotion. The biggest difference between Russians and Chinese is that Russians lack self confidence.

  4. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Anatoly,
    One very last comment about Medvedev: from what I have been able to understand the proposal about students concerns such things as business schools not technical training where Russian universities are acknowledged to offer quality teaching. Medvedev has previously talked at length about upgrading teaching in Russia in such subjects as engineering and about restoring the prestige of engineering courses. One cannot accuse him of neglecting Russia’s university sector. Other countries including China fund students who go to study overseas. The sort of students who want to go study in the west at a business school would probably find some way of going abroad anyway and the number involved at around one thousand is small. The calculation probably is that if the government funds them they are more likely to come back.

    • What benefit to the economy as a whole do MBA degrees serve? Sure, they can be valuable to the individuals getting them, but to a whole nation? They’re mostly BS. They can help individual corporate bureaucrats outrun rival corporate bureaucrats on the corporate ladder. But has anyone ever pretended that they have any objective worth outside of the world of office politics? Who are the people that are pretending that?

      • Alexander Mercouris says:

        If you are asking me for my opinion about the practical value of an MBA then the short answer is very little. I say this on the basis of the three people I know who have them one of whom is Russian. I didn’t say that I agreed with the policy but when it involves just one thousand or so students a year then one shouldn’t get too worked up about it.

        • MBAs are about contacts. Getting them in elite places makes you hang out with guys/girls from other nations who will also be influential because you are in an elite school for management.

  5. Yalensis says:

    @anatoly: The probability of iphoneChik returning to presidency in 2012 is next to zero, I don’t know why you are still worried about this. DAM was doomed even before, but his approach to Libya war really doomed him in the eyes of most right-thinking Russians. Assuming vote is honest and not rigged, then Putin will be next prez of Russia, I assure you!

    • I don’t follow Russian politics as closely as Anatoly does, but it WAS disturbing to me that the UN vote went the way Medvedev wanted it to go, not the way Putin wanted it to go. Isn’t that an indication of who’s more in control? And the firing of Luzhkov was said to be a Medvedev initiative, not a Putin initiative.

      • A test of who is in charge is WTO membership. Luzhkov was opposed and for good reason as is Putin. But there is a big move to sign away Russia’s economic sovereignty under DAM. Putin as prime minister is actively resisting this push as you can tell from his various statements about signing WTO on Russia’s terms.

        I guess the compardor slime in Russia did not get squashed enough. They are trying to rally to bring back the good old days of Yeltsin. AK’s rant hits the bull’s eye.

  6. A few points:

    1. The World already thinks that Russia’s investment environment sucks. Talking about it at least gives the impression that Russia’s leadership is responsive to these concerns seriously. Ergo, talking about Russia’s poor investment environment is good for Russia’s image. Furthermore, I would argue that this message repetition is essential for the bureaucracy to get the point that anticorruption initiatives are to be taken seriously. These guys really just look at what Medvedev says on teevee to get a sense of what sorts of cases they should pursue.

    2. The privatization is selective – see, e.g., the announced purchase by Gazprom of Vekselberg’s IES, which effectively creates a ‘national champion’ in the power generation sector. Instead, they are focusing on sectors and companies like oil/gas and Rosneft where the state should derive an income from the company’s operation and retain strategic control of the company, but probably cannot be trusted to run the company effectively. This is more like the Statoil example in Norway or ENI in Italy, both of which act like their privately-owned competitors. I would point out that the company’s plan on listing either at home or abroad, which makes it more likely that these companies will be owned by a group of institutional and individual investors concerned about share price, not oligarchs meddling in the company. If you stand back, this is a synthesis of what’s happened over the past 20 years and probably the optimal route – from highly concentrated private control, to highly concentrated state control, to shareholder control with state trusteeship in the form of golden or blocking shares. The only exceptions, as I noted above, should be in ‘natural’ monopolies and defense companies.

    3. If you think Putin substantively disagrees with any of Medvedev’s plan, [I think] you are sorely mistaken.

    • Still waiting for somebody with a pair to respond to this excellent comment…

    • If that’s the direction privatizations are going it is more palatable, so thanks for the info – you follow the topic very closely.

      But wasn’t the latest plan for Rosneft for the state to go beneath its blocking share after 2015? (The plan that the Rosneft chairman was opposing).

      • The Russian state will always retain a ‘golden share’ or veto rights for board decisions – i.e., will retain ‘control’. The problem is that currently, the Russian state essentially runs Rosneft, Gazprom, et al on a day to day basis. They need to retain strategic control while getting the bureaucracy out of the business of business. To the extent Medvedev or Dvorkovich public say Russia should dispose of ‘golden shares’, this is just bargaining tactics so that retaining a golden share will look like the ‘middle position’.

      • i heart timely kommersant articles –

        На совещании у первого вице-премьера Игоря Шувалова в пятницу обсуждены предложения Минэкономики по расширению по требованию президента приватизации крупных государственных АО в 2012-2015 годах. Главный предмет дискуссии — как выполнить поручение, не потеряв контроля над госкомпаниями.


        • “This is accompanied by a renewed ideological drive of the Medvedev liberals to privatize Russian state companies, in a quest – conscious or not – to transform Russia into a full-fledged oligarchy where the moneyed call all the shots.”

          Russia is already “a full-fledged oligarchy where the moneyed call all the shots.” I don’t know where you’ve been. I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that the “deputy prime ministers” that until recently were on the boards of state companies were personally reaping most the benefits. Not to mention that the richest of the rich are also those closest to the Kremlin.

          Anatoly, the implicit point behind this “rant” is that Putin’s return would reverse this when in fact he has merely continued what was begun under the Yeltsin years. His only revision is to make sure the oligarchs are under central control. It sounds like you’re buying into the Putin “populist” and the Medvedev “liberal” spin that the Kremlin’s technologists have been hocking.

          I also find faulting Medvedev for openly discussing Russia’s many problems as silly. If Medevdev worried about reinforcing stereotypes, Russia would bob along just like it did in the late 1960s and 1970s.

          I also want to say in regard to Jesse’s comment that the Russian government giving up direct management but not control is consistent with the history of Russian state intervention in the commanding heights of the economy. It was the case under the Tsarist and early Soviet governments. The period 1996-2003 is the exception rather than the rule. At other times, 1928-1991, and 2003-? the state had direct management over its prized industries. I seriously doubt the Russian government will ever give up control over the commanding heights until the dominant political view these sectors are essential for state modernization and stability is changed. And I wouldn’t hold my breath that it will in the near future.

  7. “…East-Central European countries now commonly regarded as “civilized”, such as Hungary or the Czech Republic.”

    “He is in thrall to the Russian liberal worldview that hates Russia and worships Western ideas…”

    This is especially ironic because the Western liberal worldview hates the West and worships third world ideas. Russian liberals tell ordinary Russians that the West is more civilized than Russia, that the West has set the standard for what “civilized” even means, and that Russia should at all times follow that standard. But any journalist who writes the above about the West in a commercial Western publication would be immediately fired for racism. In the Western liberal view, which is the controlling view in the Western media, Western Civ. is evil, oppressive, outdated, something to be overcome.

    I think that before WWI Western Civ. really was the golden standard that everyone with any brains should have emulated. Since then that’s only been true with respect to technology. And nothing else. The Chinese strategy of copying modern Western technology and availing themselves of pre-WWI West’s unequaled cultural achievements (even in America most piano lessons are surely paid for by Asian parents), while shunning all the decadent liberal ideology is the smart strategy.

    “…and of good taste like Blueberry Hill…”

    I don’t think Blueberry Hill is any good as a song, but regardless, Putin didn’t look ridiculous while playing it badly. In the above clip Medvedev does look ridiculous. Unmanly. Manly self-confidence can compensate for a lot of things, and Medvedev lacks it. When he tries to fake it, he just looks worse. Plus there’s his weird stature (my mom calls him рахитик). Does a politician’s level of ballsiness have a decisive impact on policy? Probably not. Yeltsin was ballsy as hell, and yet his policies were defeatist to the extreme.

    I agree with your last paragraph completely.

    • Scowspi says:

      Glossy: “This is especially ironic because the Western liberal worldview hates the West and worships third world ideas.”

      You have a point here, but I think your statement is too broad. Basically, the West has a post-imperial guilt complex vis-a-vis the “Third World” (an increasingly meaningless term). However, to say the West “worships third world ideas” – I really don’t know what this means. What’s a third world idea – Islam? Maoism? The “Juche idea” of Comrade Kim Il Sung?

      • Well, those Western liberals who convert to Buddhism, and it’s not a small number, LITERALLY worship third world ideas. The infatuation with Eastern mysticism in general is a sign of a lack of cultural self-confidence, i.e. of a confidence in one’s own culture.

        The proliferation of books in the West that falsely try to prove that it wasn’t actually Westerners who came up with all the modern science and technology, but other peoples – that has similar motivations.

        I could come up with other examples.

        • Well just because it goes against the idea that the West was DA BEST doesn’t mean its wrong.

          For instance, I’m currently reading The Great Divergence, in which Prestowitz makes the rather convincing case that China was not behind Europe (and its most advanced part, the regions at the mouth of the Yangtze, were not behind England) as late as the 18th century. And hence that it was England (in particular, its northwest, with a wet climate and plentiful coal) that industrialized first was a geographical stroke of good fortune.

          Buddhism isn’t a Third World idea. How could it be? It was developed 500 years before Christianity, and some 2500 years before the very idea of a “Third World.” Not to mention that some countries where Buddhism is prominent, such as Japan, aren’t Third World by any metric. And in many respects I find “Eastern” religions far more interesting than Christianity; they are more philosophies even than religions, while Christianity approaches such heights only in its most exotic variants like Gnosticism.

          • Yes, the Buddhism example threw me. It’s not particularly “Third World” for the reasons you mention; and I frankly doubt that Western converts to Buddhism are more than a small number. (I thought it was just a few Hollywood types.)

            When I think of Third World ideas, I think of certain localized strains of Marxism, along with stuff like Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, the “Bolivarian Revolution,” Islamic fundamentalism, and related movements. None of this stuff is popular with Western elites. On the other hand, there is widespread interest in the historically Confucian cultures of East Asia – for good reason, because they’ve been a remarkable success story lately.

          • Obviously, in the 18th century China was not ahead of the West in science or math. The same can be said of the 17th, 16th and 15th centuries. Who was the Chinese Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Newton, etc? Imagine if Mr. Prestowitz wanted to write a book whose thesis was that China always lagged. Who would have agreed to publish that book? How would you have found out about his existence? One shouldn’t be surprised that there’s bias. There always have been and always will be lots of biases out there. But it’s important to identify them and to try to discount for them. Obviously, any book published by a major publishing house in the West in the last few decades that touches on Western history will have to bash Western history. And books published before the 20th century on that topic were triumphalist. The truth isn’t necessarily in the middle, but it’s somewhere out there too. One just has to be skeptical of others’ motivations to have a chance at finding it.

            For most of written history China would have been ahead of the West on metrics like law and order and peace and prosperity, and to be sure that’s very impressive, but that’s not where modernity comes from. It comes from Western science and technology.

            A while ago I read a bit about Taoism. Its main message seems to be “let it be”, “let things slide”, “everything is futile anyway, so just chill out.” Obviously I’m paraphrasing. A culture that stubbornly keeps coming up with such stuff stagnated for millenia and even now mostly just copies – shocking, right? I’ll bet a $100 that that book you’re reading won’t make the above connection, and yet it’s obvious. And no, I’m not aware of any major strains of Christianity that present intellectual apathy, an inactive stance towards the world, as a virtue.

            “Buddhism isn’t a Third World idea.”

            Well, it’s a thoroughly non-Western idea. The irony I pointed out above still stands – Russian liberals worship the West while Western liberals despise the West and worship other things instead. Also, if Alexander the Great’s guys could have been acquainted with the modern term “third world”, I’m sure they’d enthusiastically have used it to describe Buddhists (and yes, there are Hellenistic mentions of Buddhism; they were definitely aware of it).

            • And by the way, if most of the people who practice Buddhism now are third-worlders, then I don’t see much of a problem calling it a third world idea.

              “It’s not particularly “Third World” for the reasons you mention…”

              Anatoly mentioned that Buddhism originated more than 2,500 years ago.

              “When I think of Third World ideas, I think of certain localized strains of Marxism…”

              But Marxism originated in the West. You can’t make origin-based arguments when it suits you and then ignore origin-based arguments when it doesn’t. If you’re going to credit arguments through origin (and you’ve just agreed with Anatoly’s reasons above), then you’re bound to say that Marxism is not a third world idea. But you’ve just said the opposite.

              • Oh, and of course, Marxism originated a century before the term third world was invented. So if you’re going to argue that Buddhism can’t be called third-world on chronological grounds, then you’ll have to argue that Marxism can’t be called third-world either, on those same chronological grounds. But you’ve just called localized strains of Marxism third-world anyway.

              • Re: Marxism. Of course it’s a Western idea, as I realized after writing my last reply. However, the localized variants (like the above-mentioned “Juche idea”) are usually just a thin helping of Marxist ideology, half-digested and slathered in some local tradition. They bear approx. the same relation to Western Marxism as do various syncretic religions formed on a Christian base do to traditional Christianity.

                Anyway, my overall point still stands I think: the sentimental, indulgent attitude to the “Third World” is more a result of post-colonial guilt and cultural exhaustion than of any active admiration of Third World cultures and ideas.

                BTW, I like that Ostler book, PC or not.

            • Prestowitz could have and would have, say, if he was writing The European Miracle, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wealth_and_Poverty_of_NationsWealth and Poverty of Nations, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, etc. Prestowitz is in fact very much counter-consensus.

              I’m not qualified to comment on the history of science and mathematics, however I’d note that:

              (1) Until at least the 16th C (and many cases the 17th C), European advances were presaged by Asian developments, e.g. for calculus (Newton & Leibniz) by Mādhava of Sañgamāgrama.

              (2) In its early takeoff stages, the Scientific Revolution was actually pretty incidental to the Industrial Revolution. Only in the age of the huge metal-working, electricity and chemicals industries that began to appear later in the 19th C did a systematized science base become necessary.

              (3) On some technological channels, Asia was well ahead. E.g. agricultural science; crops yields were far higher than in Europe (keeping land and labor inputs constant) until the late 19th century when the industrial fertilizer industry came into being.

              Again, simplifications abound. To the best of my knowledge, Taoism never played a major role in Chinese political culture. It was dominated by Confucianism, dude, with the result that China acquired a professional, meritocratic civil service about two thousand years ahead of the West. And what Christianity lacked in Taoism’s supposed apathy is surely more than made up by its frequent bouts of fundamentalism that retarded progress.

              • “Mādhava of Sañgamāgrama.”

                This is a true story: I once met a Danish guy who was a graduate student in history. I’ve always loved history, so of course I asked him what period he specialized in. He said he specialized in ancient and medieval East Indian mathematics. Knew several Indian languages, worked with primary materials. OK. What to ask…

                I asked him if he was aware of any ancient or medieval Indian mathematical knowledge that wasn’t known to ancient Greeks. His answer was “no.” Just reporting what I heard.

                I know that Archimedes also came close to calculus, though the modern terminology and notation are Leibniz’s.

                In the book “Empires of the Word” by Nicholas Ostler I saw the following quote by the British historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay:

                “I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one of them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”

                Mr. Ostler is very PC, so he presented that quote solely to horrify his readers. But I ended up thinking of that Danish guy instead.

                Of course one can say that Macaulay’s world was biased too. But I have a feeling that his view was closer to the truth than the modern PC view.

              • yalensis says:

                I don’t have a problem with cultural syncretism, borrowing good ideas from various sources, etc. I do kind of understand of glossy is trying to say, though. There is a section of western intelligentsia which rejects European cultural heritage and scientific tradition in favor of, e.g., eastern mysticism. One thinks of hollywood actors who idolize the Tibetan Dalai Lama (heir to one of the most cruel and despotic feudal systems ever devised).
                More seriously, the greatest intellectual contribution to humanity in recent centuries has been European Enlightenment and development of scientific methodology, and to be sure, many of the core ideas came, syncretistically, from other regions of the world as well. One should also not overlook the influence of the Jewish Diaspora to the ferment of Western enlightened thought. In fact, without the presence of certain key Jewish intellectuals, maybe it would not have happened when it did.
                As with all major advances for humanity, it was the right people fortuitously coming together at the right time and bouncing ideas off each other.

            • China had its great time until the Sung reign ended in terms of technological advancement and philosophy that developed with methodological standards still valid today. There was a short renaissance during the Ming, but it already had the problem of ossification of knowledge that became worse during the Manchu reign.

              Concerning the self-hating West, we got past that years ago, but somehow people have missed that. This has more or less to do that we are all proud of our multicultural soccer teams and show proudly our national colours when they play. This may seem a small thing, but it literally means a profound change of self-identirty and expression.
              The old group of third world “I know what you need so you get better” is still around and we Westeners are sure critical about the economic role that agricultural subsidies paly and that the money should have rather different purpose in science and education that make us and the Africans profit.
              The misconception is that you misjudge numbers by how loud people are. Generally louder people have strong opinions about everything, but think less and know little. The Western haters of the West have long been a minority, but it was difficult to express a different view in public because this was not considered chic.

  8. donnyess says:

    The Medvedev blog should be subtitled: “Welcome To My Latest Tail-Kicking…Does It Hurt Yet?”

    Any commander and chief that lets a foreign leader like “Napolean” Sarko interfere with a military operation before it’s completion is not fit to lead a nuclear power. The Georgian leader should have been pulled out of his ghetto mole-hole and shackled to a table, stripped naked with his boxer shorts fitted to the top of his head, and forced to sign non-use of force and reparation agreements with the military high command running the PR show.

    • yalensis says:

      @donnyess: Agree that DAM should not have listened to “petit napoleon” Sarko and should have continued more operations to degrade Gruzian military potential. But fact is, Putin was also in those meetings, and “napoleon” brags that he talked Putin out of his own plan for Saak (=hanging by gonads). So Putin also at least partially guilty of listening to “napoleon” too much. But, unlike DAM, Putin is quick study and only needs one tap on the head to learn needed lesson.

      • Perhaps they also talked about buying the Mistral-class ships, do you really believe politics is not a complex intertwining of bargains to achieve goals?

  9. About moving downtown Moscow:

    For many centuries now Moscow has grown in concentric circles. This sideways lurch would be such a break with tradition.

    Just to translate this into my current reality: like lots of New Yorkers I work in Manhattan, which is located more or less centrally within the metro area. Going in from the south (Brooklyn) it takes me about an hour to get to work. I have coworkers who commute from the north (the upstate suburbs), also in about an hour. But what if my bosses suddenly went bonkers and moved our offices into the upstate suburbs? Well, the commute of my upstate coworkers would be cut down to a few minutes, but my commute time would increase to 2 hours. I’m guessing that the commuting time for most employees would increase because, unless I’m hopelessly confused, most points on a hypothetical map are closer to that map’s center than they are to a particular point on one of the map’s edges.

    • That’s logical enough, but the problem is that when the center becomes too crowded overall commuting efficiency for everyone begins to plummet.

      With its population now at c. 15mn (including unofficial), I’d say that Moscow is approaching the point where it becomes more efficient in the long-term to start creating alternate centers of development, despite the short-term disruptions.

      As it stands, if Moscow continues going the way it is, expanding in concentric circles with developed concentrated in one center, the commuting situation for people located on the outer rim will become increasingly unmanageable.

      • I can think of many fine alternatives to this plan.

        More subway lines could be built into the center of Moscow.

        Here in NYC we’ve been hearing about the potential for driverless (computer-driven) subway trains to increase the passenger per hour rate of each existing line. You can let trains run closer together if their movement is tightly controlled by an algorithm.

        The government could spur economic development in other Russian cities for less money than it would take to build a new downtown for Moscow.

        Going back to the propiska system, and enforcing it to the max. I’m not trendy or liberal enough to be able to look at that with horror. As far as I’m concerned, it worked. And I don’t remember seeing any scenes of cruelty associated with it. Everyone knew what the law was, everyone went about his daily business with that in mind.

        If I had any artistic talent, I would draw the following cartoon:

        A cross section of a tree would show Moscow’s concentric circles of historical development (the Kremlin, the Boulevard Ring, the Garden Ring, the subway and inner railroad rings, the MKAD) as tree rings. Attached to the south-western side of the trunk, there would be a huge parasitic fungus in the shape of Medvedev’s head, which will represent the proposed new addition. The president’s facial expression would imply cluelessness.