Archives for June 2011

Future Superpowers – The World To 2100

future-superpowersMost projections of future trends in national power fail to appreciate the importance of three crucial factors: (1) the declining EROEI of energy resources (including, but not limited to, “peak oil”); (2) the importance of human capital to economic growth, especially in developing countries’ attempts to “catch up” to the advanced world; and (3) the impacts of climate change, which are projected to be more and more catastrophic with every passing year. Disregarding these trends produces predictions such as George Friedman’s (STRATFOR) argument that Mexico – a low human capital country experiencing plummeting oil production and growing water stress – will become a superpower by 2100.

Using my current estimates of Comprehensive National Power as a base (an index of power that attempts to express a nation’s economic, military, and cultural power in a single number), I will specially stress the above factors in my analysis of future global power trends. Some results will look plausible and familiar (e.g. China overtaking the US as a superpower by the 2020’s); others will appear utterly bizarre (e.g. Canada becoming a major Great Power in by the end of the century, while India and Brazil plummet back into obscurity). But they are nonetheless all plausible and even likely outcomes, derived from bringing together worlds that all too often are considered independently of each other: the economy; human capital; geopolitics; energetics; and climate change.

There may of course be unexpected discontinuities – popularized as Black Swans by Nassim Taleb – that unravel these projections (the probability of their happening increasing exponentially over time). This will be covered in greater depth below. In the meantime, bear this caveat in mind as you read the rest of the post.

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Russia’s Brain Drain Abates, Just As Western Media Starts Hyping It

Everything’s going badly in Russia. Medvedev’s reforms are failing. The economy isn’t growing. It is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism (in stark contrast to civilized Western countries), and the motto “We cannot live like this any longer!” once again becomes an article of faith in the land – or well, at least among “the blogs on LiveJournal” and “the sites of the top independent and opposition groups” (who are of course totally representative of Russian public opinion). Citizens are fleeing the country like rats from a sinking ship.

Anyhow, unlike Eugene Ivanov who argues that media coverage of Russia has improved of late, I think the Western punditocracy remains every bit as wrong, idiotic and venal on Russia as it always was, and in this post I’ll use the recent WSJ article “Why Are They Leaving?” by Julian Evans as my foil (it’s illustrated with soc-realist posters of the worker and collective farm girl harkening back to the Soviet era; excusez-moi for crashing the party, but WTF do they have to do with anything in a story about Russian emigration of all things???).

“Russia’s small but educated middle-class is deserting the mother country in search of opportunities and freedoms elsewhere…” Thus from the get go the author makes the strong impression – and one that is decisively reinforced throughout the rest of the article – that Russia has a big emigration problem that is draining it of brains and talent. But let’s consult the statistics (as opposed to anecdotal evidence and online polls at Novaya Gazeta asking Russians whether they want to emigrate; yes, Mr. Evans cites the online readership of a paper written by liberal ideologues in support of his argument). Too bad for Mr. Evans, the statistics reveal his article for the sham it really is.

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Interview with Mark Chapman (The Kremlin Stooge)

Next in our line of Watching the Russia Watchers interviews is Mark Chapman, the fiery Canadian sailor who’s been blazing a path of destruction through the fetid Russophobe ranks since July 2010. That was when he first set up The Kremlin Stooge, after being blocked from La Russophobe, who couldn’t withstand his powerful arguments without resorting to Stalinist tactics. The blog’s name, as he explains below, was bestowed by one of LR’s commentators (“Soviet Goon Boy” was considered, but rejected). Since then, he has expanded his coverage well beyond exposing La Russophobe and now goes from strength to strength: humiliating the self-appointed experts, drawing guest posts, being regularly translated by InoSMI, praised by La Russophobe, and making first place in S/O’s own list of the Top 10 Russia blogs in 2011. Without any further ado, I present you Mark Chapman the Kremlin Stooge, the Rambo of the Russophile blogosphere!

The Kremlin Stooge: In His Own Words…

Why did you start blogging about Russia?

As I’ve mentioned before in various exchanges with commenters, I was invited – hell, the whole world has been invited – to start my own blog by La Russophobe. Most have noticed “she” doesn’t care for dissent or for having her own blog rules used to regulate her conduct, and a common response is “why don’t you go and start your own blog, and see who reads it”. So I did. Of course, the invitation is based on the presupposition that it will be a grim failure which will teach you what a useless worm you really are.

I stumbled upon the La Russophobe blog during a search for early souvenirs of the Olympic Games in Sochi – I was looking for a backpack as a present for my wife. La Russophobe ran a post mocking the Russian souvenirs at the Olympics then in progress in Vancouver, because they were allegedly tacky and cheap. An exchange took place between us, and eventually I was banned from commenting. I invented a new ID – snooty Englishman Francis Smyth-Beresford (so as to have the initials FSB, and it was amazing how quickly otherwise-clodlike Ukrainian/Australian La Russophobe devotee Bohdan caught on). I tried hard to keep the criticism subtle, but eventually I was banned under that name as well. After that, I started The Kremlin Stooge, adopting the name from one of Bohdan’s favourite insults.

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Edward McMillan-Scott, Lord Of Western Tropes On Russia

Standing up to Putin.

Standing up to Putin.

Over the years, I have come across my fair share of liars and incompetents writing about Russia in major Western media outlets. But rarely have I encountered such heights of self-righteous arrogance and clownish, pathetic ignorance as Edward McMillan-Scott displays in his latest screed for The Guardian: “David Cameron must stand up to Putin“, where he uses Elena Bonner’s recent death to argue for a harder line against Russia.

Time to go grenade fishing again, i.e. fisking Russophobe articles – it’s as easy as it is ultimately pointless. As I’m banned from the Guardian‘s pond (for drawing attention to its mendacity and plagiarism) it will have to take place on my own blog.

Assume we’re discussing, let’s pick a totally random scenario, a British humanitarian intervention in 2014 to liberate Venezuela’s oil reserves oppressed citizenry from Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial regime. (Somewhat implausible true, as Britain will have the aircraft carriers but not the planes, but let’s indulge ourselves a bit). Activists are planning protests in London. Then an MP in the Duma’s ruling party, Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov, writing on the necessity of standing up to Cameron for a national Russian newspaper, argues that only George Osborne will decide whether there will be kettling and preemptive arrests of demonstrators. Now considering that Osborne is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, responsible for economic and fiscal matters, would you retain much respect for the paper or Mr. Ivanov after this?

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La Russophobe Strikes Back

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day. Even fan mail from La Russophobe!

Letter to the Editor: Reply to “Given Free Publicity On NTV, Khodorkovsky Only Incriminates Himself Further” (06/11/2011).

In a recent blog post, you touted a report about Mikhail Khodorkovsky on state-owned Russian TV channel NTV. Your post, which implied the Russian Kremlin is being open about its prosecution of Khodorkovsky, was grossly misleading.

You failed to notice that this reporting came only after Khodorkovsky’s conviction. You also failed to notice that public ignorance about the trial itself increased dramatically from 2005, clearly showing that the Kremlin hid the entire proceeding from the public when it counted.

By contrast, you grossly mischaracterize Western reporting of the recent EHCR verdict relating to Khodorkovsky. Contrary to your false claim, a vast number of Western outlets touted the court’s refusal to find Khodorkovsky’s conviction political.

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Are Russian Elections Rigged?: Opinion Polls Speak Louder Than Western Rhetoric

The notion that Russian elections are systemically rigged to keep the “party of power” in, well, power is so prevalent and accepted in journalistic, political, and academic discourse in the West that it has little need of supporting documentation. Taking the 2007 Duma elections as an example, they were described as “not fair” by OSCE, “managed” by the head of the PACE observer team, and (possibly) “neither free nor fair” by the British Foreign Office. A German government spokesperson flatly stated that “Russia is not a democracy.”

The storm of condemnation in the media, unrestrained by any need to respect even a bare minimum of diplomatic protocol, was all the more shrill (e.g., The Economist claimed there was “[no] doubt that the poll was rigged”). As for established academia, suffice to say that a standard cornerstone of recent Kremlinology was an article titled “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model: How Putin’s Crackdown Holds Russia Back”, published immediately after that election. Its author, Michael McFaul, was recently appointed to be US Ambassador to Russia.

All in all fairly damning, no? But statistics speak louder than rhetoric. As I show in this post, the results of opinion polls have historically closely tracked actual Russian election results. This is a powerful argument against elections fraud. If the Kremlin does falsify elections, it is uniquely incompetent at it. Let’s take a closer look at the last four elections.

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Given Free Publicity On NTV, Khodorkovsky Only Incriminates Himself Further

Following the failure of Khodorkovsky’s appeal against his prison sentence for theft and money laundering, state-owned NTV aired a positive segment on his case on national prime time. Most sides of the story were mentioned: Amnesty International’s designation of him as a “prisoner of conscience”, the Kremlin’s view that it was only the criminal justice system at work, the allegations that the judge Viktor Danilkin was pressured into denying MBK’s appeal, etc. You can see the video below.

But I found only one thing noteworthy in particular. When asked in the May 29th program on what he thought about the reduction of his sentence by one year, Khodorkovsky replied: “I’m uninterested in the cosmetic tricks of the judicial bureaucrats. The statement that oil in Siberia has to be sold at Rotterdam prices is too bizarre to comment on.” Read between the lines. Of course it’s rational – as opposed to bizarre – to sell it to your offshore companies at low prices, thus robbing the Russian government of tax revenue, before selling it at world prices and profiting off the difference. That is essentially what he was convicted of and as I see it he so much as admitted it.

He also restated his conviction that his prosecution is politically motivated, thus going against a recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. That story was passed over quickly, as Western pundits continue shilling for Khodorkovsky for all they’re worth.

On The Necessity Of Subjecting Kremlinologists (And Social Scientists) To Market Discipline

I have gone on record with the following odds on Russia’s next President: Medvedev – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%. The first betting site to offer odds on the Russian Presidential election has other ideas. As of June 2011, the British online gambling site Stan James is offering the following odds: Putin 4/7, Medvedev 11/8, Zyuganov 66/1, Zhirinovsky 80/1, Bogdanov 100/1*.

Converted into non-gambler terminology, this means that they view VVP as the clear favorite. Whereas a $100 investment into Putin will yield just $56, betting right on a second Medvedev Presidency will net you $138. All the other candidates are (rightly) considered to be insignificant fry – e.g., correctly betting $1 on a Zyuganov win will get you $66 (with the additional EV-lowering risk that it may be promptly confiscated as a product of speculation if you’re in Russia))). Or from the viewpoint of implied odds, you need to have >63.64% confidence that Putin will win OR >42.11% confidence that Medvedev will win to profitably bet on the respective candidates**. So if I had the opportunity I’d totally bet on DAM, but unfortunately that site is closed to US-based political gamblers.

Bookies structure their odds in such a way that they win most of the time; note that the total implied odds add up to nearly 110%. But you can still win despite the handicap, by having special insight or knowledge of the topic. Needless to say, most “Russia watchers” will no doubt claim they have those, at least implicitly (otherwise, what right do they have to their editorials, salaries, etc?). I have previously exposed the self-appointed Kremlinogist priesthood for being full of cranks hiding their fundamental ignorance behind credentials, citations, post hoc narratives, etc. Here is their chance to prove me wrong, all ye Leon Arons and Ariel Cohens and Loco Lucases of the world! And get fabulously rich into the bargain!!!

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Russia Demographic Update VI

As we’re now approaching mid-2011, I suppose its time to give my traditional update on Russia’s demography. So here’s the lay-down:

1. In February, I predicted a population decline of c. 50,000 in 2010 (after a 23,000 rise in 2009). This was due to the excess deaths of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, and a substantial fall in immigration. The latest figures confirm it: population declined by 48,300. As of January 2011, it stood at 142,914,136 people (this is by the new Census estimates).

2. Three years ago, I predicted – going against 90%+ of “experts” – that the medium-term future of Russia’s demography is stagnation or small increase. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” To give an example, the 2008 World Population Prospects of the UN Population Division predicted Russia’s population would fall to 132.3mn in 2025 and 116.1mn in 2050. As of their 2010 Revision, Russia’s population is projected to be 139.0mn in 2025 and 126.2mn in 2050 (High: 144.5mn in 2025; 145.3mn in 2050). What a difference two years make! In any case, “official” predictions are now beginning to converge with my own (not to mention Rosstat’s).

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