Russian Economic Reform


Effect of languages (Russian, English, Chinese) on economic and political power

The Russian Liberal Democrat party is reportedly seeking legislation to stop the “conquering march” of foreign words into the Russian language. It wants to punish those responsible for any violation of the norms of the contemporary Russian language”.

But it might be that the Russian language — and economy — needs some help from the Chinese language!

On my first trip to Russia many years ago I realized that I would need to learn Russian if I wanted to seriously understand the Russian economy and its politics. I put more emphasis on learning to read Russian than to speak it.

The Chinese language, however, is a different matter! Learning to read Chinese is extremely difficult and time consuming. Thus, I have concentrated on learning to speak Chinese rather than read. Fortunately, Chinese spoken grammar is simpler than either English or Russian grammar.

For example, the simple Chinese expression “wǒ” (written 我 ) is equivalent to “I” and “me” in English, and equivalent to each of “Я”, “меня”, “мне” and “мной” in Russian.

In reality, except for the rules of grammar, the English “I” and “me” are completely interchangeable – ie they mean exactly the same thing. The Russian case system means that “Я”, “меня”, “мне” and “мной” do often convey different meanings, but in my view Russian could be somewhat simplified (particularly in the presence of prepositions). For example, instead of “У меня” could have “У Я” !!!

What are the consequences (economic and political) of language differences?

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Published on February 21 2013

Russian “middle class” psychology

David Brooks (“The New York Times”) and Gillian Tett (“Financial Times”) have each produced a useful article on the relationship of individual psychology (or personality) to the wider world of government policy – although the articles do it by heading in different directions from essentially the same starting point. The Brooks article suggests that not enough attention is presently paid to the effect of individual psychology (personality) on leadership decisions – and thus on personality when choosing leaders. The Tett article, largely based on the work of Prof. Dennis Smith (a “historical sociologist”), relates individual psychology (personality) concepts to the whole populations of countries. Taken together, the articles act almost like a circle with the two directions eventually meeting each other and encompassing a lot of wisdom that is all too often overlooked when considering issues of public policy.

The motivation for the Brooks article seems to have been the US presidential election, while the motivation for the Tett article is the Euro-crisis and the effect of subsequent policies on the populations of countries such as Greece.

To some degree, the concepts covered in the Brooks and Tett articles might also be applied at the intra-country group level.

For example, the humiliation that Putin and Co. are willingly to attempt to inflict on the aspiring Russian “middle class” (for want of a better word) may result in some of the responses mentioned by Tett:
“Typically, it occurs in three steps: first there is a loss of autonomy, or control; then there is a demotion of status; and last, a partial or complete exclusion from the group. This three-step process usually triggers short-term coping mechanisms, such as flight, rebellion or disassociation. There are longer-term responses also, most notably “acceptance” – via “escape” or “conciliation”, to use the jargon – or “challenge” – via “revenge” and “resistance”. Or, more usually, individuals react with a blend of those responses.”

But Tett also wrote that Prof. Smith believes that “Ireland already has extensive cultural coping mechanisms to deal with humiliation, having lived with British dominance in decades past. This underdog habit was briefly interrupted by the credit boom, but too briefly to let the Irish forget those habits. Thus they have responded to the latest humiliation with escape (ie emigration), pragmatic conciliation (reform) and defiant compliance (laced with humour).”

Thus, the responses of the “national psychologies” of Ireland and Greece to their “humiliation” resulting from the Euro-crisis may exhibit significant differences.

The Russian “middle class” is certainly using Irish-style escape, pragmatic conciliation and defiant compliance to cope with its humiliation—- but in the longer term the coping mechanism could become more “pathological”. If this were to happen, I suspect Putin’s response would largely be determined by his personality.

Read more at:

Published on October 22 2012

APEC, Russia and Australia

Both Russia and Australia are experiencing some sort of increase in official interest in Asia. There is nothing cultural in this, as Russians would in their hearts prefer to look toward Europe and Australians would prefer to look toward the US and UK.

Despite the fact that in many ways Russia is geographically better placed to take advantage of the economic growth of China, Australia is likely to continue to outperform Russia in taking advantage of the economic rise of Asia. But with one proviso – which I will address later!

In Russia, the most obvious manifestation of the interest is the huge spending (and often stupidly excessively, a la bridge to Russky Island) on the APEC Summit in Vladivostok and recent creation of a “Far East” Ministry.

In Australia, the most obvious manifestation of the interest is an “Australia in the Asian Century” report being prepared by a team led by former head of the Australian Treasury, Dr. Ken Henry. See:

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Published on September 09 2012

Serdyukov and Medvedev — normal?

Russian language “Vedomosti” carried an article, “Пострадал за городки”, last week which was quite informative in a banal sort of way.

The article covered internal Medvedev-headed cabinet discussions on 26 June about transferring unused military property – social infrastructure and housing – to local government and regional authorities. This infrastructure is generally not in good-shape and the meeting discussed the transfer of money to local and regional authorities for its maintenance. Medvedev has earlier directed that a methodology for the calculation of these subsidies be prepared by 15 June.

«Есть методика?» Medvedev asks if there a methodology, but is told by Vice-Premier Dmitry Kosak that there are only some proposals from the Ministry of Finance that have not been agreed with others.

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Published on July 01 2012

“Decorative” Dvorkovich

Jim O’Neill, of Goldman Sachs and coiner of the BRIC acronym,  struck a positive note on Russia at a recent conference in London, saying: “There are some good faces in the new cabinet. Arkady Dvorkovich is a natural reformer.”

Once again, Jim has demonstrated his shallow knowledge of Russia (See also my posting of 3 December 2011 entitled “BRIC Jim O’Neill’s simplistic thick-brick thinking on Russia!” under “Expert Group 1:  New model of economic growth. Securing macro-economic and social stability” in the right-hand column.)

Dvorkovich is little more than a “decorative” feature in the new cabinet.

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Published on May 27 2012

Putin’s shocking “tank-maker” promotion!

President Putin’s appointment of Igor Kholmanskikh, the head of a military tank assembly line, directly to the position of presidential plenipotentiary (representative) in the Urals district (one of 8 in Russia) is a small disaster for Russia at the PR level and a waste of an opportunity to pursue economic reform.

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Published on May 20 2012

Small steps sometimes better than “strategic” decisions.

The last weeks of Vladimir Putin’s time as prime minister have been filled with a flurry of meetings and statements which might suggest “economic reform” will begin to rapidly accelerate in the weeks after the May 7 presidential inauguration (and presumed return of Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister).

But what is “economic reform”?  Or more precisely, what is sensible economic reform? Is “strategic” economic reform always the best? And, how effectively will reform be implemented?

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Published on May 01 2012

Strategy 2020 Final Report

The final “Strategy2020” Report (of 864 pages), which was completed in December, has finally been released and I will attempt to cover some of the most interesting “economic” issues over the next few weeks as part of my commentary on unfolding economic developments. Many of the Report’s main recommendations have already been aired in the media, either as direct reporting or as part of coverage of the discussions of policy makers as they try to decide what course to set over coming years.  

Apart from the introduction the Report is divided into six main parts, but there is also a so-called “budget maneuver” section at the end which makes “suggestions for restructuring the expenditure side of the budget”. The six  main parts are: 1) “new model of economic growth”; 2) “basic macro-economic conditions for growth”; 3) “new social policy and development of human capital”; 4) “infrastructure, including balancing development and good living environment”; 5) “efficient government”; and 6) “external economic issues”.

These main parts encompass the work of all of the 21 Expert Groups listed on the right-hand side of this page. The whole report (in Russian) can be accessed by clicking on “” in the top right hand corner of this page.

The first main part of the Report, “new model of economic growth”, is divided into three sections: “securing macro-economic and social stability”; “strategy for improving the business climate and increasing investment attractiveness with the aim of moving to more stable growth”; and “stimulating innovation”.

In this “post/blog/article” I will concentrate on the “securing macro-economic and social stability” section. Anyone familiar with the Russian economic policy debate will aware of most of the issues. So, I will only mention what I think are the most important or interesting issues and, occasionally, add some commentary.

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Published on March 18 2012

President Putin and his Prime Minister

In terms of political and economic reform, the next six years of Vladimir Putin presidency will not be particularly eventful for Russia. The trend will not be “stagnation”, but a slow crawl progress in both political and economic terms. Thus, much of Russia’s huge potential to become a wealthier, smarter and more powerful country will be wasted.

Putin will serve his full 6 years. He will not quit early as it is not in his character, and he will feel that the “majority” who voted for him have vindicated his own belief that Russia needs him. And, there is no-one to tap him on the shoulder and say it is time to go. Moreover, the historical examples of someone in his position — much power over a prolonged period of time — tell us that he will stay while he can.

In some ways Putin reminds me of a CEO of a “business association” that I worked for some years ago. This man – I will call him Peter – had been a prominent sportsman and worked hard to maintain his fitness in his late fifties. He was, in many ways, a well organized and efficient administrator. He had been employed to bring order to an organization that was seen to have under-performed because the previous CEO was a somewhat whimsical man who was more interested in pursuing often unrealistic ideas than in tight administration.

However, it quickly became clear that Peter would be able to do little more than bring a sense of order to the organization. What he lacked was not intelligence, but the necessary personal characteristics that were needed in a leader to take the organization forward once some order was established.

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Published on March 11 2012

BRIC Jim O’Neill’s simplistic “thick-brick” thinking on Russia!

Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs who originated the BRICs slogan has published a book, “The Growth Map”, which suggests his knowledge of Russia is quite shallow and unsophisticated (sometimes “thick as a brick” economiсs, with too little feeling for psychology or sociology).

Good analysis of a country’s economic prospects requires more than anecdotes and an ability to handle data. Demographics, the presence of technology, education levels etc – mentioned by Jim in his prognosis for Russia – are not particularly difficult issues to deal with, or even measure.

The really difficult issue to assess is how effectively a society will bring these, and other, things together to maximize productivity increases. The optimal way to do this will vary between countries, and over time for any one country. There are few general hard-fast rules, and a lot of judgment must be applied.

According to Stefan Wagstyl, in articles in the Financial Times, Jim argues that “that political ‘antipathy’ blinds western critics to Russia’s advantages, such as its strong position in technology and education. He concedes Russia does badly on corruption and the rule of law, but claims that Italy’s economy has ‘rolled along for years’, despite having weak rule of law for a long time.”

There is some truth in each of the points, but Wagstyl also wrote that Jim “has little time for western criticism of Russian authoritarianism or one-party rule in China. He quotes an American businessman recounting a line from a Chinese person, who had said: ‘What’s the big deal about voting? In the US everyone can do it and only half the people do. If voting were that great a thing, like sex for example, everyone would do it.’” According to Wagstyl, Jim argues that “a lack of democratic development does not seem to concern most Russians”.

This is childish simplicity – at least in regards to Russia!

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Published on December 03 2011

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