In Which I Opine On Various Matters Of Great Importance

A collection of news stories and my take on them from the past month or so.

1. Bribes are growing quickly in Russia. Their average sizes, that is. It was reported by the MVD that they increased by 5x from a year earlier to $10,000. The usual Russophobe suspects wasted no time declaring this to be further evidence of the uncontrolled, unstoppable Blob-like growth of corruption in Russia. But let’s use common sense for a minute. If average bribe amounts are increasing by such huge percentages, surely it means one or both of two things: (1) Investigations are moving higher up the chain of command, where quantities are bigger; (2) Paying bribes is becoming riskier, so – as with illegal drugs – the margins providers demand also increase. Either are good developments, no?

2. Russian readers, e.g. at Inosmi, were shocked to discover Russia renting out agricultural land to Asian farmers to grow food. Talk of “colonial takeovers”, “resource appendages”, etc. What many studiously ignore is that colonialism in the true sense consists of settlers with guns taking over the lands of aborigines with spears. This is patently not the case with Russia. To the contrary, it is a relatively easy and excellent way to earn foreign currency and create development in rural places – and a practice that will become increasingly prevalent in the decades ahead as agricultural yields in the south plummet due to the advance of climate change.

3. Did Russia experience a uniquely disastrous collapse in the 2008 crash, thus proving its unfitness for BRIC’s and the G8? Not really. According to this recent chart in the Economist, by the most objective measure taking the whole period of the global recession into account, Russia doesn’t actually do too badly. In fact it outperforms every single developed country, with the exception of Taiwan, Korea, and Poland. The -7.9% GDP drop in 2009 looks big, except when you consider that most of Russia’s recession was packed into that single year. It’s growth for the past decade as a whole is also entirely respectable, coming 27th out of 179 countries.

5. The Russian government respects and listens to opinion polls. The horror! Real democracies only listen to lobbyists.

Seriously, they might be derided as fickle, etc. – I remember some newspapers bizarrely lauding Tony Blair for his ” bold leadership” in taking the UK to war in Iraq against the will of the British people – but the fact is that opinion polls are the best proxy of the people’s voice that we have and as such a political leadership that orients itself towards opinion polls is the most purely democratic one absent rule by referenda.

This logic is highly disturbing to Westerners. Its implication is that Russia, or even China – which is experimenting in several regions with “deliberative dictatorship”, in which policies and spending are determined on the results of opinion polls – may be more democratic than, say, the United States, where priorities are distorted by moneyed special interests. For instance, multiple polls show that vast majorities of Americans favor tax increases on the wealthy as part of any attempt to balance the budget, but one of the two parties of power is adamantly opposed to this. So any such an initiative is dead in the water.

6. Further food for discussing Russia’s prospects in the next global crisis.

One of the main themes seems to be that its economy isn’t as leveraged as it was before, so a block-up in credit wouldn’t be so critical now.

7. REPORTING THE BRITISH RIOTS. Highly recommended post by Alex Mercouris.

8. Huge Chavez is moving Venezuela’s gold reserves back home. This is a wise move. The West has a proclivity towards seizing the assets of countries they dislike, using human rights abuses real and alleged as fig leaves – sometimes, human rights abuses in response to disturbance their intelligence agencies foment themselves. In his years of power, Chavez has proved that an alternate route of more equitable development is both possible and preferable to neoliberalism. So the West hates him.

He is also moving Venezuela’s cash reserves out of Western nations to China, Russia, and Brazil. This is just common sense under current conditions. Despite massive fiscal stimulus and monetary loosening, much of the Western world appears to be slipping into recession again. Even Germany. This will keep revenues depressed, torpedoing any hope of solving the massive budget deficits throughout the US and Europe. The time will approach sooner or later when mainstream investors come to view their debts as worthless.

9. The spread of Four Hour Workweek ideas into Russia? As reported, many Muscovites are beginning to rent out their apartments in the high-priced capital while living and traveling across South-East Asia or Central America. If they work, they do so through the Internet, for Russian (or Western) salaries.

That said, I’ve no doubt the Russophobes will seize on this as yet another apocalyptic wave of emigration and further proof of Russia’s rottenness.

10. Russia’s demography results are out for the first half of 2011. I’ll have a more detailed post out in a while, seeing as Russia’s demography is one of S/O’s interests, but in summary: birth rates and death rates both fell by about 3%. The rate of natural decrease improved slightly from 142,000 to 138,000. Net immigration increased from 90,000 for the first half of last year to 144,000 for the first half of this year. So the population is basically at a standstill this year so far (after small growth in 2009, and small decrease in 2010). If the trends remain similar, and in the light of a non-repetition of the 2010 heatwave that artificially increased mortality, this year will probably eke out a small population increase.

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