Instead of speculating about what Navalny’s program involves, let’s just look at his website: https://2018.navalny.com/platform/
I summarize the main points and provide some brief comments on each of them:
A Satisfactory Life for All, and Not Riches for the 0.1%
- Oligarchs that live on reselling oil and resources should pay a windfall tax (as in the UK in 1997).
- Massively reduce bureaucracy
- Individual entrepreneurs with small incomes should be freed from taxes, regulations, and accounting requirements.
- Minimum wage of 25,000 rubles per month. [~$400]
- Removing construction regulations will hugely decrease housing prices. Subsidize mortgage rates.
This mostly sounds good, since Russia does genuinely have too much bureaucracy and regulations, but Navalny is having his own work out for him. Russia is now 40th in the World Bank’s Ease of Business rankings, sharply up from 112th in 2013 (the first full year of Putin’s third term).
A high minimum wage is a great idea both out of economic justice concerns and to disincentivize low skilled labor migration. Russia’s current minimum wage is entirely symbolic.
The UK’s Windfall Tax produced £4.5, almost pocket change by national standards, so this is probably just a way to legitimize past illegal privatizations under the mask of populism.
Time to Fight Corruption, and Not to Make Peace with Thievery
- Bureacrats should live in accordance with their salaries. If there’s a mismatch, either they explain it, or they answer it in court.
- Anti-corruption processes should be public and transparency, not hushed away like with Serdyukov and Vasilieva. [The Defense Minister dismissed for corruption]
- Transparency in state corporations.
- If MSM publishes facts about a bureaucrat’s corruption, he should refute them or give up his post and be prosecuted.
- Uncovering the end owners of all companies that provide goods and services to the state and to state companies.
Navalny claims that even his detractors recognize him as the leading anti-corruption expert in Russia, which gives him the qualifications necessary to root it out.
I agree that if anything will improve under Navalny, it will likely be corruption.
However, there are good reasons doubt it will be the revolutionary change he promises for two reasons. Russia is “naturally” corrupt, like most of the rest of South/Eastern Europe; places like Italy and Hungary remain considerably more “corrupt” than the countries of “core Europe” despite decades of institutional convergence under the EU. This goes back to millennial factors revolving around culture and possibly selection for beyond-kin altruism in core Europe, that didn’t operate so much outside it.
Second, Navalny is not going to be able to pick his cadres from scratch. He will have to draw heavily from the ranks of the liberal elites, and they are only less corrupt than the people currently in power to the extent of their own distance from the feeding trough. Whenever they did have access to power, the likes of Kasyanov, Belykh, Ponamarev, etc., proved adept at translating it into wealth for themselves.
Time to Trust People, and Not to Decide Everything in Moscow
- All but the smallest decisions are made in Moscow… All of Russia should develop, not just Moscow.
- More taxes should be kept in local budgets, instead of going to Moscow
- Local administrations should receive more rights and resources for solving the problems of people “on the ground.”
This is just a mix of things that have already been done and unworkable populism.
Moscow is central to Russia, and is much more developed, primarily because it has by far Russia’s highest concentration of human capital – not because it concentrates resources (it is a massive net donor).
Second, responsibility for education and healthcare has long been largely under the purview of local authorities. In fact, Navalny’s demand that the federal government should be responsible for not only guarding the borders and maintaining order, but also “building roads and hospitals,” would be a move towards centralization. I.e., his rhetoric is not even internally consistent.
Perhaps Navalny means decentralization more in a political sense. This will be a disaster, since Russia has no substantive experience of local self-government devoted to the commonweal. This is a product of Anglo civilization that it spent centuries developing and that has no chance of working in Russia. When local bigwigs acquire too much autonomy, as in the 1990s, corruption and nepotism increase, if anything.
Economic Development, Not Political Isolation
- Russia should use its unique location between Europe and Asia to become a respectable partner for everyone.
- The hundreds of billions thrown away on the wars in Syria and Ukraine, and on helping far-off countries, are better spent on improving life at home.
- Our country would profit from moving politically and economically closer to European countries.
- Visa regime with Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Labor migrants should come on work visas, and not in an uncontrollable flood, like today.
- Russia should be the leading country of Europe and Asia, expanding its influence through economic might and cultural expansion, including worldwide support for the Russian language.
Navalny has been consistently strong on immigration, much more so than Putin, if less so than Trump. That said, he does not clarify his stance on illegals currently in Russia, nor even on precisely how many work visas he intends to give out to Uzbeks and Tajiks, nor details on how those long borders would be secured. Nonetheless, apart from his record on corruption, the immigration question is Navalny’s other major ace against Putin, especially now that the recent terrorist attacks in Saint-Petersburg and Astrakhan have brought it out into the limelight.
Navalny’s foreign policy is a trainwreck that will unilaterally any influence Russia still has over Ukraine and rule out the reunification of the Russian nation, the largest divided nation on the planet, most likely forever. This should be read in conjunction with his public statements on holding a second referendum on Crimea’s status. Even though the pro-unification side will undoubtedly win under a fair vote, this will still functionally be a retreat from the Russian government’s position that the incorporation of Crimea is a fait accompli and non-negotiable. With Donbass unilaterally surrendered to the tender mercies of the anti-Russian regime in Kiev, the status of the peninsula will become a leverage point against Russia by a vengeful Ukraine, and possibly even by the West as a whole, if Navalny’s hoped for “reset” with Europe and the US doesn’t pan out.
Navalny’s comments on global economic and soft power are populist nonsense that a quick glance at Russia’s share of global GDP should instantly dispel.
Justice for All, or Impunity for Siloviks
- Justice reform. Courts must be respected and truly independent.
- The police should be trusted, not feared; service there should be prestigious and well compensated.
- Siloviks should be stripped of excessive authority, which allow them to enact levies upon entrepreneurs.
All well and good, though short on details, which we absolutely need to know if we are to assess whether the rate of improvement under Navalny is likely to be higher than under Putin.
For instance, according to the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys, the percentage of Russian firms expected to give gifts in meetings with tax officials fell from 55% in 2002 to 7% by 2012, which hardly hints at soaring silovik banditry that he implies is happening under Putin.