Thursday, February 20, 2014

Papa Putin's Amazing Stability Machine

An edited email exchange with an American acquaintance about Putin's reign.

His Email: 

How can you dislike a guy who is making Russia better off than in 1998 and is enlarging the middle class? IF the middle get richer, they will clamor for more and better democracy. Putin will be wise enough to step aside when a better leader is called upon by the people.

Given his foreign policy coups, without any military misadventures, I wouldn't be surprised if the old republic defectors slowly come back to the fold. I know the Baltic states never will though.

Putin changed with the times, just like Gorbachev and Yeltsin did. All they want to do is adopt the better parts of western tradition. I know things are much better there, bc when I was a kid you never saw a Russian smile on TV at the Olympics. Now joy is all you see!!!!

My Reply: 

There is a Warren Buffet quote where he said that the perfect company to invest in is one with the structure and the product so good that any idiot can run it and it would still remain profitable because eventually any idiot will run it.

That's what US constitution sort of does and that's what I would want in Russia.

The current concentration of power in the Kremlin makes any idiot who could eventually end up there the option of doing profound -even irreversible- damage.

Under the current constitution, Putin is not the worst choice by far. Glancing at Belarus or Ukraine, it is easier for me to imagine worse leaders than better ones in his place.

I am much more positive on Putin than most of my Russian friends, many Muscovites and a large chunk of Russian expats in America.

The issue is that this top-down, corruption oiled, stability machine that currently rules Russia -while it has done some good- is coming to the end of its potential.

If you have a resource-based economy, corruption -if kept withing limits- is not totally detrimental. People divide the spoils, pay their bribes, develop understandings and oil gets out of the ground and into European cars.

When it comes to high-tech sectors or small businesses, this regime can be crushing. Bribes, bureaucracy, bad judicial system, little respect for copyright. A lot of smart people who could be starting a Russian Google are effectively incentivized to move to the West where they can get all their money without the headaches.Only a love of Russian bread keeps these Slavic nerds from packing their bags.

The situation is even worse in the provinces where business is controlled by criminal clans that stretch from street thugs to governors' residences.

The higher education system is disintegrating with timid salaries and rich kids who got in because of bribes and bring about an atmosphere of entitlement and intellectual malaise.

There has been a depressing Russian poll that showed that majority of Russian teens dream of becoming a government official or work for a state company, effectively dreaming of getting illicit cash while doing little work. This "Russian Dream" presents a cynical nightmare for the future. Smart kids who could do good with the right incentives, salivating over the prospect of becoming a corrupt bureaucrat.

While it is conceivable to me that Putin could step aside, this has not been the pattern in Russian history. He retains his throne because for most average Russians this leader is the best thing since Brezhnev when Russia also occupied that peculiar second world position.

The one thing that Russia never had was a "dictatorship of law". That's actually a Putin expression from his first term. If that was achieved, he would really be a historical, revolutionary leader, as is, he might be remembered as another competent autocrat. A Bismark of the post-Soviet space who won the battles of his day but lay no systemic groundwork for future stability and peace.

1 comment:

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