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On March 29, the High Court in London has decided that the sanctity of Eurobond debt trumps Ukraine’s special pleading to treat the Russian $3 billion loan to the late Yanukovych regime as odious debt and wave it away on account of Russia’s supposed “aggression” against it.

This is not the final judgment, which is still a few weeks away, but Ukraine’s chances of winning have now diminished to the purely theoretical.

Once that happens, Ukraine will be found to be in default on its loan to Russia, and since Russia belongs to the Paris Club of major creditor countries, the IMF will be prohibited from any further lending to Ukraine.

At that point, the IMF will have to decide whether it is willing to bend its own rules to continue to lend to Ukraine. On the one hand, Western countries – the United States, the EU countries, and Japan – hold a narrow majority of the voting power in the IMF, so perhaps a pro-Ukrainian decision could be lobbied through.

However, I agree with Alexander Mercouris that this is unlikely. The Ukraine has made zero to negligible progress on combatting corruption, and with the recent transport blockade of the Donbass and the nationalization of Ukrainian enterprises in the LDNR, a huge chunk of Ukraine’s foreign currency earnings are now going to go up in smoke. The IMF decision to forego a planned $1 billion tranche on March 20th cannot augur anything very good for the Ukraine.

At that point, the Ukraine could either comply with the court decision for IMF lending, or it could not.

The former will be politically risky, especially given that Poroshenko’s position now seems to be far more fragile than it was even a few months ago, with the Kolomoysky-Turchinov-Tymoshenko alliance flouting his authority with apparent impunity, from the Donbass blockade to the ejection of Russian banks from Ukraine. The alternative would be to live without the IMF, but could the Ukraine manage that?

The economy, at least until the Donbass blockade, showed signs of finally turning the corner, recently clocking up 4.7% growth by the end of the year (albeit from an extremely depressed base). The loss of the LDNR enterprises means will force the Ukraine to make deeper than planned cuts this year, and will sink its current account deep into the red just as the positive effects from its post-Maidan devaluation begin to wear off. Even in 2015, Ukraine’s government debt to GDP ratio was at 79% – anything over 60% is considered to be the danger zone for emerging economies (Russia defaulted at 75% in 1998) – and it will be worse today. Meanwhile, its war chest of $15 billion in foreign currency reserves, though a great improvement over its nadir at $5 billion in 2015, could drain away rapidly if shorn of IMF support.

The markets agree that the situation is fraught. 5 year credit default swaps for Ukraine are currently at 628 basis points, which implies that the default risk for Ukraine is higher than for any other major country bar Venezuela.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Economy, Ukraine 
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More info against the Department of Russia Only Produces Oil and Vodka: Here are some graphs of Russian aerospace manufacturing courtesy of the Reality vs. Myths blog. (2013 figures are projections).

russia-helicopter-construction-gloriaputina

Total helicopter construction has now basically converged with the levels of the late RSFSR.

russia-aircraft-construction-gloriaputina

Aircraft construction is only halfway there, but its state is nonetheless leagues better than it was in the depths of the post-Soviet freefall. As the blogger points out, its poorer performance via-a-vis helicopters can be explained by the fact that the technologies used in Soviet civil aircraft was outdated, so the Russian industry essentially had to start over from scratch. Nonetheless, it seems to have reached the point of a rapid further up-trend, presumably driven by the Sukhoi SuperJet 100 as it enters mass production. The United Aircraft Corporation, the holding company into which independent Russian aircraft companies were consolidated in 2006, projects production increasing to 160 units by 2020.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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See data. For real, this time.

russian-gdp-overtakes-germany

While it is perhaps a big strange to start thinking of Russia as a high-income economy, it’s not so surprising when looking at concrete statistics such as vehicle consumption, Internet penetration, etc. – all of which are now at typical South European and advanced East-Central European levels (even if there’s still some way to go to converge with the likes of France or the US).

In per capita terms, this means that the average Russian is now about as rich in terms of real goods he can buy on domestic markets as a typical citizen of Portugal, Greece, Estonia, Poland, or Hungary (though with the caveat that most of the latter places have a lot less income inequality). Below is a table showing the GDP per capita, PPP (current international $) of Russia and comparable countries:

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Czech Republic 25,885 25,645 25,300 26,209 26,426
Portugal 24,939 24,892 25,547 25,586 25,305
Slovak Republic 23,210 22,546 23,149 24,112 24,896
Greece 29,604 29,201 27,539 25,859 24,667
Russian Federation 20,276 19,227 20,770 22,408 23,549
Lithuania 19,559 16,948 18,120 21,554 23,487
Estonia 22,065 19,470 20,092 21,996 23,024
Chile 16,435 16,190 18,607 21,001 22,655
Poland 18,021 18,796 20,036 21,133 21,903
Hungary 20,432 20,249 20,734 21,455 21,570
Latvia 18,090 15,928 15,944 19,103 21,005
Croatia 20,215 19,158 18,546 19,817 20,532
Turkey 15,178 14,578 15,965 17,242 17,651
Brazil 10,393 10,357 11,187 11,634 11,909
China 6,202 6,798 7,569 8,408 9,233
Ukraine 7,311 6,312 6,691 7,215 7,418

Furthermore, it’s looking as if Russia might have a real chance of overtaking Portugal next year. Just as Putin promised in 2003! (Double GDP; overtake Portugal in 10 years). But even if that fails, at least overtaking Greece is all but assured, so even if Russia misses out on Portugal it will still get to say it is no longer the poorest “proper” European country.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for VoR/US-Russia Experts panel. Hope you like the title. :)

The political fragmentation of the Soviet Union was one of the major contributing factors to the “hyper-depression” that afflicted not only Russia but all the other constituent republics in the 1990′s. The Soviet economy had been an integrated whole; an aircraft might have its engines sourced from Ukraine, its aluminium body from Russia, and its navigational ball-bearings from Latvia. Suddenly, border restrictions and tariffs appeared overnight – adding even more complexity and headaches to a chaotic economic situation. Although the region was in for a world of hurt either way, as economies made their screeching transitions to capitalism, disintegration only served to further accentuate the economic and social pain. In this respect, Putin was correct to call the dissolution of the Soviet Union one of the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical tragedies.

It is no longer possible – and in some cases, even desirable – to restore much of the productive capacity lost in that period. Nonetheless, renewed economic integration across the Eurasian space – with its attendant promise of less red tape (and hence lower opportunities for corruption), significantly bigger markets offering economies of scale, and the streamlining of legal and regulatory standards – is clearly a good deal for all the countries concerned from an economic perspective. There is overwhelming public support for the Common Economic Space in all member and potential member states: Kazakhstan (76%), Tajikistan (72%), Russia (70%), Kyrgyzstan (63%), Belarus (62%), and Ukraine (56%). The percentage of citizens opposed doesn’t exceed 10% in any of those countries. A solid 60%-70% of Ukrainians consistently approve of open borders with Russia, without tariffs or visas, while a further 20% want their countries to unite outright; incidentally, both figures are lower in Russia itself, making a mockery of widespread claims that Russians harbor imperialistic, “neo-Soviet,” and revanchist feelings towards “their” erstwhile domains.

This I suppose brings us to Ariel Cohen, neocon think-tanks, Hillary “Putin has no soul” Clinton, and John “I see the letters KGB in Putin’s eyes” McCain. They studiously ignore the fact that the Eurasian Union is primarily an economic association, and not even one that insists on being exclusionary to the EU. They prefer not to mention that the integration project has strong support in all the countries involved, with Russia not even being the most enthusiastic about it – which is quite understandable, considering that as its richest member it would also be expected to provide the lion’s bulk of any transfer payments. In this respect, it is the direct opposite of the way the Soviet Union was built – through military occupation, and against the will of the vast majority of the Russian Empire’s inhabitants. Though expecting someone like McCain, who one suspects views the “Tsars” and Stalin and Putin as matryoshka dolls nestled within each other, to appreciate any of that is unrealistic and a waste of time.

Enough with entertaining the senile ramblings from those quarters. Integration makes patent economic sense; it enjoys broad popular support throughout the CIS; and there are no global opponents to it – official China, for instance, is supportive – barring a small clique of prevaricating, anti-democratic, and perennially Russophobic ideologues centered in the US and Britain. Neither the West nor any other bloc has any business dictating how the sovereign nations of Eurasia choose to coordinate their economic and political activities.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It is now a staple of “common wisdom” to such an extent that there is little point in digging up specific news items. Bound up in red tape and crushed by the weight of state regulations, the argument goes, the Russian economy is doomed to years of renewed Brezhnevite stagnation – with the government increasing repressions and anti-Western rhetoric to divert attention away from its failure to raise living standards.

But is this actually a valid viewpoint? Russia’s rate of GDP growth has plummeted relative to 2010, when it was emerging out of a deep recession. In 2010 and 2011, it was typically at around 4% to 5%; by Q1 2013, it was just 1.6%.

russia-gdp-growth-to-2013

Now yes, that looks pretty bad – even though its far from being an outright recession (aka two consecutive quarters of negative growth, crudely defined). But one could credibly make the argument that a middle-income economy that still has much room for productivity increases, like Russia, should be growing considerably faster. But while that is true enough, it should nonetheless be pointed out that to the extent that Russia is in stagnation – so is the entire world, bar China.

global-gdp-growth-to-2013

See the similarities between the two graphs? Now imagine China were removed from the second one. In that case, they would virtually be mirrors of each other. Or how about simply comparing Russia’s growth rate to comparable CEE countries that are widely considered to be much “freer” and less corrupt:

russia-cee-gdp-growth-2010-2013-compared

The rather banal reality is that Russia is far from alone in experiencing a big slowdown among its middle-income peers: Especially in comparison to many of the Central-East European countries, some of which are in outright recession, but also fellow BRICS members Brazil and South Africa – not to mention Mexico, South Korea, Turkey, Argentina, and most other emerging markets – which have likewise seen slowdowns to the low single digits in the past few months or year.

As such, the question isn’t so much “Why is the Russian economy stagnating?” but more like “Why are pretty much all developed countries and emerging markets, except China, stagnating if not in outright recession?”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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According to several experts, Russia may be facing a period of protracted low growth rates now that its GDP per capita has recently exceeded $16,000. Vedomosti’s Olga Kuvshinova has the details.

Russia may Experience Minimal Growth in the Next 10 Years

A variety of reasons are brought up to explain the Russian economy’s slowdown to 1.6% growth in the first quarter by experts and officials: A stalling in investment, private consumption, weak external demand. But there is a one factor that is more critical, according to Ivan Chakarov of Renaissance Capital. It is, in fact, quite typical for quickly growing economies to slow down once they exhaust their “advantage of backwardness” – that is, the possibility of obtaining high profits thanks to low costs. After this, countries collide against barriers to growth, falling into a so-called “middle-income trap.” This is precisely what is occurring in Russia now, according to him.

This trap is typical set off when a country’s GDP per capita approaches $16,000. This year, according to Chakarov’s calculations, it will constitute $16,016.

The countries of Western Europe slowed down in a big way in the 1970s, South Korea – in 1995, Singapore and Hong Kong – at the start of the 1980s, Taiwan – at the end of the 1990s. All of these cases, according to Chakarov, were simultaneous with the crossing of the $16,000 per capita mark (in 2005 prices).

Russia is the first of the BRICs to fall into this trap, notes Chakarov. China will hit this problem in 2020, Brazil – in 2024, and India – in 2038.

Countries that fall into this trap typically lose almost two thirds of their previous levels of yearly growth, says Chakarov, citing research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the US. As regards Russia, this could mean that our previous rate of growth of approximately 4.5% (adjusting for the recession in 2009) may fall to 1.6% – that is, exactly the same as the figure for the first quarter.

Russia may be entering a decade in which rates of growth do not exceed 2% a year, with the rate of growth incomes per capita falling to just 1.9% relative to 5% for the previous decade. Chakarov worries that this could compel politicians to increase borrowing to consolidate their authority, as Greece did during 1980-2010. The U-turn regarding rgw pension and other reforms that could have forestalled the trap indicates that as regards Russia, such a scenario cannot be excluded. “Russia may become a new Greece,” he believes.

Greece reached an income level of $16,000 per capita at the start of the 1980s. In the next decade, quick growth turned to stagnation and recessions, with unemployment increasing by a factor of 2.5, inflation increasing by a factor of 1.6, and industrial growth plummeting from 10% to 1%. Greece started to increase its national debt, which went from approximately 20% of GDP at the start of the 1980s to 170% by 2011, and in so doing became the focal point for the Eurozone debt crisis.

According to NBER experts, a slowdown in growth rates typically happens at a GDP pre capita level of $15,000-16,000, but it doesn’t necessarily have to occur suddenly. It is less likely in countries with a relatively high level of secondary and higher educational attainment, as well as in those countries which have a high share of hi-tech products in their exports. Moving up the “technological ladder” is one way to escape the middle-income trap.

The theory of comparative advantage can vary according to a country’s level of developments, says Dmitry Belousov 0f the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting (CMASF). He believes that Russia has already left behind the first stage, that of competitiveness based on cheap resources. The second stage revolves around price competitiveness on the consumer markets, and attractiveness on the capital markets. The third stage is about advantages in the sphere of innovation. “I wouldn’t fetishize GDP per capita,” Belousov says. Russia is now likewise leaving the stage of price competitiveness, as energy and labor converge to European levels while energy efficiency and labor productivity continues to lag far behind. “Right now, our overriding priority is investment. We have to change a lot in the institutional sphere, so as to increase our investment attractiveness. The launching of the investment process will create the groundwork for the development of innovation, but we still have a long way to go until we reach that stage,” Belousov says. He considers that Russia will not be able to grow at 1.5% a year for a long time: So many commitments have been made, and so many expectations created, that under such a slow rate neither the government, nor business will have sufficient resources.

Though it’s possible to grow by increasing debt, it is not a long-term solution, notes Belousov; under today’s consumption levels, such a road will end in a balance of payments crisis – even if oil prices remain high – and, eventually, the start of an inflation-devaluation spiral. The last devaluation actually had a similar character, but it was concealed under the cover of the global crisis, “just as a good collective farm manager hides a shortfall in the harvest by blaming it on a wildfire caused by lightning.” But lightning won’t always strike at such opportune times, warns Belousov. “If we build up competitiveness – not on account of price levels, but via an acceleration in investment, then there is a chance that we could bypass this stage,” he concludes.

There is a chance of Russia sporadically falling into recessions even without shocks due to accumulated internal problems, according to Valery Mironov of the Higher School of Economics: The rapid growth of labor costs, and capital flight in the face of repressed internal competition. Fighting these problems by pumping money into the economy is meaningless. The April consensus forecast from the Center of Development (27 experts from investment banks, companies, and research centers) suggests that Russia’s growth rate will not exceed 3.5% all the way up to 2019. The Ministry of Economic Development however forecasts that the economy will accelerate to 4.1% growth by 2015-2016.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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The latest US-Russia.org Experts Panel discussion was about Russia’s burgeoning partnership with China. I especially recommend Mercouris’ contribution which – although unfortunately titled by VoR’s editorial staff)) – is otherwise quite brilliant. My own effort follows below:

First of all, let me preface that I’m one of the biggest China bulls around. Its economy in real terms will overtake that of the US by the mid-2010’s, if it hasn’t already. It’s already bigger in a range of industries, from traditional heavy industry (steel, coal) to consumption (car sales, e-commerce). Its manufacturing wages have caught up with Mexico’s, which is a quintessential middle-income country. If the average Chinese is now about as prosperous as the average Mexican, then the PRC’s total GDP – taking into account its vast population – is now well ahead of America’s.

Nor is it a house build on sand, as many Sino pessimists would have you believe, but on solid, steel-reinforced concrete. Its economic growth is NOT dependent on cheap exports. And fantasies about its “exploited” cheap labor force, which will become increasingly uncompetitive as it develops, belie the fact that the average Chinese now scores higher in international standardized tests than the OECD rich country average. Given the centrality of human capital to economic growth, China’s rise to the top tables of world power is all but assured.

It would be very worrying if China’s ascent was accompanied by the bellicose rhetoric and militaristic posturing adopted by other rising Powers of the past, like the Kaiser’s Germany. But “yellow peril”-type hysteria aside, this does not seem to be the case. China spends a mere 2% of its GDP on its military, i.e. about twice less in proportional terms than both Russia and the US. This is a most fortunate confluence of events, especially for Russia, as competing with China is unrealistic in the long-term – not when its economy is an order of magnitude bigger. On the other hand, deep engagement with China hold out a number of benefits.

First, China gets access to Russian energy resources, bypassing the vulnerable routes past the Strait of Malacca (either overland via Siberia, or across the top of the world via the thawing Northern Sea Route), while Russia gets access to Chinese capital and technologies – much of the latter purloined from the West, true, but so what? Second, both countries secure their frontiers, allowing them to focus on more troubling security threats: The Islamic south and possibly NATO in Russia’s case, and disputes with Vietnam, Japan, and a USA that is “pivoting” to the Pacific in China’s case. Third, resources can be pooled to invest in Central Asia and root out Islamist militants and the drug trade – an issue that will assume greater pertinence as the US withdraws from Afghanistan.

Frankly, the West is too late to the party. It had an excellent chance to draw Russia into the Western economic and security orbit in the 1990’s, but instead it chose the road of alienation by pointedly welcoming in only the so-called “captive” nations of East-Central Europe. Putin’s reward for his post-9/11 outreach to the US was a series of foreign-sponsored “colored revolutions” in his own backyard. While in rhetoric both he and Medvedev continue to affirm that Russia is a European country, in practice attitudes towards them have come to be based on practicalities, not lofty “values” that they don’t even share. So it is only natural that with time Russia came to be more interested in pursuing a relation with the BRICS (“The Rest”) in general, and China in particular.

The West’s response hasn’t been enthusiastic. The BRICS are written off as a bunch of corrupt posers with divergent geopolitical ambitions that will stymie their ability to act as a coherent bloc. Russia and China come in for special opprobrium. While there’s a nugget of truth in this, it misses the main point: The BRICS might be poorer but by the same token they are growing faster and converging with the West, or at least China and Russia are; and while they don’t see eye to eye on all things, they agree on some fundamentals like multi-polarity, a greater say for developing nations in the IMF and World Bank, and the primacy of state sovereignty.

Here is a telling anecdote from an online acquaintance of his recent experiences with the European news channel, Euronews: “A feature of this site is that there’s a world map with happy and sad smileys on it to indicate good news and bad news. And there on Moscow I spotted a sad smiley, so I focused on it, thinking there would be a report on the already day-old and forecast to last another day blizzard that is raging right now across the Ukraine and European Russia… And the “bad news” that I read? The meeting between the Russian president and his Chinese counterpart together with a report and an analysis of the increase in trade between those two states. That’s really bad news, it seems, for some folk.”

And this is not so much an isolated incident, but a metaphor for the general state of West – Russia relations: While the former expects a certain degree of respect and even submission from the latter, it doesn’t tend to make reciprocal gestures, and then acts like a jilted lover when Russia gives up and goes to someone else’s bed. But that’s the reality of a globalized world, in which the West isn’t the be all and end all, and countries have choices. It is high time that the West mustered the humility to finally accept that it has been dumped.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most reliable indicators of influence is access to cars. They are the standard symbol of affluence and middle-class status the world over. They are also far more understandable at the everyday level than things like the PPP GDP per capita, or the number of burgers your national McWage will buy.

Following on my last post, which focused on production, let’s now examine another indicator: The number of cars bought in any given year per 1,000 people.

auto-sales-russia-cee

As we can see from the graph above, Russians (22/1,000 as of 2012) are now buying more new cars per person than any other Central-East European country. Now, this is NOT to say that they are richer than the Czechs (18/1,000), or even the Poles (9/1,000) and Estonians (18/1,000). The latter countries’ markets are already substantially saturated and close to Western levels of auto ownership, while Russia still has some catching up to do; furthermore, they don’t have tariffs on imported second-hand cars, whereas Russia’s are quite substantial. It is also probably true that on average Czechs buy higher quality and more expensive cars than Russians. Nonetheless, the difference between Russia and countries like post-crisis Latvia (7/1,000) and Hungary (7/1,000) are now so wide that it’s hard to argue that the latter are still substantially more prosperous.

auto-sales-russia-and-other-countries

The difference is of a similar magnitude to today’s Greece (6/1,000), in the wake of its economic depression – and has also gained on other countries that were part of developed Europe but hard-hit by the crisis like Spain (17/1,000), Portugal (11/1,000), Ireland (20/1,000), and Italy (26/1,000). In a very real sense, the fact that ordinary Russians can now more readily afford relatively big-ticket items like automobiles than citizens of some countries long considered to be past of the developed world is quite a momentous affair. In fact, not only are they being overtaken by Russia, but by Brazilians (20/1,000) and the Chinese (14/1,000) too, even if the last BRICS member India (3/1,000) continues to be mediocre. That said, there is still a very considerable gap between Russia and the truly front-tier countries like Germany (41/1,000) and the US (47/1,000).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One common trope about the Russian economy is that it has virtually no manufacturing to speak of and lives off “oil rents” that can collapse any day.

Whiles there is a small nugget of truth to this assertion, but by and large it is simply false. It is true that a great chunk of Russian exports do accrue to hydrocarbons and metals, because that is its comparative advantage in trade. That said, there are plenty of Russian products on the domestic market. The automobile industry is a good and representative example of this because they it’s a stalwart of many national economies and there exist reliable and easily accessible statistics on it.

Car Production Car Sales Autos self-sufficiency
Czech Rep. 1,178,938 193,795 608%
Mexico 3,001,974 987,747 304%
South Korea 4,557,738 1,530,585 298%
Poland 647,803 328,532 197%
Japan 9,942,711 5,369,721 185%
Germany 5,649,269 3,394,002 166%
Turkey 1,072,339 817,620 131%
China 19,271,808 19,306,435 100%
Argentina 764,495 832,026 92%
Brazil 3,342,617 3,802,071 88%
South Africa 539,424 623,921 86%
France 1,967,765 2,331,731 84%
Russia 2,231,737 3,141,551 71%
USA 10,328,884 14,785,936 70%
UK 1,576,945 2,333,763 68%
Sweden 162,814 326,441 50%
Italy 671,768 1,534,889 44%
Ukraine 76,281 263,604 29%
Australia 209,730 1,112,132 19%

As such, I decided to compile a representative list of countries, with data on production and sales for 2012 drawn from OICA, in order of the ratio of their auto production to new auto sales – that is, their degree of self-sufficiency in cars.As we can see above, while Russia is perhaps rather lower than average, its domestic auto manufacturing industry nonetheless manages to satiate 71% of demand for new cars.

This is quite comparable to France, the US, and the UK, and is vastly higher than a similarly resource-dependent rich country, Australia. Quite a lot of other resource-heavy countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Norway don’t produce cars at all. Mexico is a huge exception, but the reason for that is that it borders the US and the US has outsourced quite a lot of its auto industry south of the border to take advantage of lower labor costs – a situation analogous to the Germans’ outsourcing of car production to Spain in the 1980′s, and Central-East European countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland in the 2000′s.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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If you ever manage to get a troupe as diverse as Latynina, Mark Adomanis, the Cypriot Communist Party, virtually every financial analyst, Prokhorov, and Putin united in condemning your crass stupidity and cack-handedness, it’s probably time to stop and ponder. But it’s safe to say that’s not what the Troika – the European Commission, European Central Bank, and IMF – tasked with managing the European sovereign debt crisis is going to be doing any time soon. They seem to be living in la la land.

Here is the low-down. Contrary to German/ECB propaganda, Cypriot public finances, while nothing to write home about, are not in a catastrophic state. The debt to GDP ratio, far from ballooning out of control like Greece’s, was actually lower than Germany’s as late as 2011! This was despite Cyprus being steadily hammered by the global financial crisis and the massive explosion at a naval base in 2011 that cost it about 10% of its GDP.

cyprus-debt-dynamics The main problem was in its financial sector. Although it should have been safe on paper, Cypriot banks had the bad fortune to have had many operations in Greece – which hemorrhaged money as Greek debts were restructured under EU guidance. These involved painful austerity, but the principle that bank deposits would be inviolable held across the PIIGS. But for Cyprus, the Eurocrats – egged on by Schäuble in particular – decided to make an exception, demanding a “bail-in” as part of any financial rescue package. For the ultimately trifling sum of $6 billion, they were prepared to erode basic principles such as sanctity of property that the EU is founded on.

According to Edward Scicluna, the Maltese Finance Minister, his Cypriot counterpart Michalis Sarris was for all intents and purposes brow-beaten into accepting the deal – a 6.75% levy on deposits of less than 100,000 Euros, and 9.9% on everything above that – that the country’s parliament would later decisively reject. The Europeans, according to him, were dead-set on “downsizing” Cyprus’ supposedly overgrown financial sector and in particular its status as a tax haven and alleged center of Russian money laundering. After 10 grueling hours of discussions, Sarris finally conceded, and as soon as that happened, “Schäuble demanded that all wire transfers to and from the Cypriot banks would cease forthwith.”

In other words, they wished to destroy Cyprus’ financial system, and it seems certain that they have succeeded in this. As soon as the banks reopen (now delayed until at least May 26th), who exactly will continue to keep their deposits in a Cypriot bank?

This wanton destruction however seems to have been based not so much on any sense of pan-European fairness or social justice as misconceptions about the nature of the Cypriot banking system, or even more mercenary motives such as a desire to help Merkel win the upcoming elections or encourage capital flight from the PIIGS to German banks (the latter possibility was raised, only half in jest, by Craig Willy). As we see above, Cyprus’ sovereign debt situation was manageable. While it is true that it had a huge financial sector relative to its GDP, this is not atypical for a nation of its small size and location (consider Luxembourg, or London were it independent from the UK), and this sector did not experience any critical difficulties until the EU-spearheaded restructurings of Greek debt into which C ypriot banks were heavily invested, as a natural result of their geographic and cultural position.

How Cypriots see the Cyprus crisis.

How many ordinary Cypriots see the Cyprus crisis.

Nor is it even true that the Cypriot banking system mainly serviced dodgy offshore aristocrat types. Of the €68 billion in deposits as of end-January 2013, some 63% were held by Cypriots, and 7% were held by citizens of Eurozone countries, while 30% were held by nationals of other countries *. Although according to honored representatives of the Eurocrat class like Jean Pisani-Ferry, it is the Cypriots’ own fault for banking in their own damn country as opposed to Germany:

And of that 30%, not all was held by Russians, as Cyprus is popular among Chinese and Iranians too (indeed, an acquaintance who was there recently saw far more signs in Chinese than in Cyrrilic). As for the notion that all or even the majority of Russians with money are “oligarchs”, “mafiosi”, and “Chekists” (interchangeable terms, to many of the people who engage in this kind of rhetoric)… well, no way to statistically prove it one way or another, so anecdotes will have to suffice. Ironically enough, the only Russian I know with a bank account in Cyprus is actually a fairly anti-Putin liberal, and as far as I know not an oligarch or a mafiosi – unless you consider journalists to be such. The commentator JLo also reports a liberal acquaintance with money in Cyprus. No doubt those two will be thrilled to hear from former Economist Russia journalist Edward Lucas, whose Russophobia is frankly pathological, that as Russians with money in Cyprus they should be automatically expropriated.

This is not of course to argue that having such a large segment of the Russian economy “offshore” is a good thing. Many Russians really do have accounts in Cyprus because of its perceived benefits such as the local (English-based) legal system, greater financial security, greater ease of capital movement around the world, and yes, tax evasion or “tax optimization” as it is euphemistically called – and productively utilized by entirely respectable Westerners like Mitt Romney. It would undoubtedly be a good thing if there was less of that and ironically the Troika’s ham-fistedness will have only helped Russia in its struggles to de-offshore its economy. But what is entirely mendacious is to start throwing around terms like “money laundering” as if they were synonymous with offshore banking, or “the Russian mob” as if it was synonymous with “oligarchs”, “Russian politicians”, “Russian bureaucrats”, and all Russians in Cyprus in general for that matter. There is of course some overlap between all these categories but to conflate them all as the Lucas types insist on doing is pathologically Russophobic, and frankly driven by the very same Bolshevik spirit that they profess to despise but actually embody.

Many Western papers even went so far as to hint that the reason Russia was so “concerned” about Cyprus was because Putin and other members of his inner circle had money in Cyprus. This was echoed by the (viciously anti-Putin) Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, which alleged that “it is hard to believe, but it appears as if European politicians are ready to risk a lot in order to pressure a certain influential politician secretly hiding money in Cypriot banks.” They did not have the courage of their convictions to say it outright, but the hidden subtext is obvious to all. We call these conspiracy theories. Were this true, in fact, it would be indicative of severe schizophrenia on Putin’s part – that is, if he actually DID have quadrillions parked in Nicosia – considering that previous discussions on Russian loans to Cyprus had been linked to Cyprus becoming more proactive about revealing the identities of Russians with bank accounts there to the Russian tax authorities.

How the Western media/political class see the Cyprus crisis.

How the Western media/political class see the Cyprus crisis.

At this point it hardly bears mentioning that, as an institution that so regularly and pompously lectures Russia about things like rule of law and sanctity of property rights, it is quite hilarious that the Troika would “demonstrate” those concepts by doing things like retroactively abrogating European-wide deposit insurance of 100,000 Euros and freezing and confiscating the savings accounts of the very Russians whom they expect to listen to their pontifications.

But as these recriminations and general debility went gone back and forth, Nicosia burned. The initially proposed “medicine”, it seems, will turn out to be the deadly pill that kills the Cypriot financial system. It is hard to imagine anyone, be they foreigner or even Cypriot, now willingly leaving their money in Cypriot banks; trust has been destroyed, and short of capital controls, massive bank runs and capital outflow seem to be all but inevitable whenever the banks open again. The original $15 billion that could have nipped this problem in the bud is probably no longer sufficient. I don’t pretend to have any precise idea of how things will develop now – Will Cyprus hurtle out of the Eurozone? Will contagion spread to Spain and Portugal? Will Gazprom get exploration rights to the recently discovered oil fields in return for loans? Will China get involved? – but a few things I think we can be pretty sure of: (1) The ECB/Eurocrat class are either utterly, frightfully oblivious, or have altogether darker ulterior motives; (2) The Cypriot banking system is finished; (3) It will be a reality check for Russians who firmly believe their assets are automatically safe abroad and will help the de-offshoring process, though I don’t expect any sudden radical changes because there are still plenty of alternatives like Latvia which I hear is getting pretty hot with Russian money nowadays.

PS. For further reading (and people who influenced my perception of this) consult Mercouris, Dmitry Afanasiev (Russian version at Vedomosti), and Craig Willy’s Twitter.

*UPDATE: The commentator Temesta links to an article by Paul Krugman in which he points out that “Cypriot residents” very likely directly include foreigners:

I’ve done some asking around, and cleared up something that was puzzling me. Officially, only about 40 percent of the deposits in Cypriot banks are from nonresidents, which would imply resident deposits of almost 500 percent of GDP, which is crazy. But the answer is that I do not think that word “resident” means what you think it means. Some of the money is from wealthy expats living in Cyprus; much of it is from rich people who have resident status without, you know, actually living there. So we should think of Cypriot deposits as mainly coming from non-Cypriots, attracted by that business model.

That said, speculation is one thing, concrete numbers are another: “Cyprus Central Bank Gov. Panicos Demetriades, in an interview published Thursday in Russian newspaper Vedomosti, offered more specifics. “The deposits of Russians range from €4.943 billion to €10.225 billion, depending on how you count them,” he said.” Even if the highest estimates of $20 billion are correct, it would still mean that the total value of Russian deposits there account for less than 25% of the total.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Okay, I promise this will be the last post on the matter. But some of the tropes that come up time and time again in coverage of Chavez’s legacy, from neocons and faux-leftists alike, just have to be addressed for me to rest easy. Note that this is NOT meant to be comprehensive; just some things that continuously get slipped in on the side and tend to get taken for granted.

Chavez rigged elections. Look, I like to think I’m objective here. Some politicians I like rule countries where electoral fraud is widespread. But Venezuela isn’t Russia in this respect. Not only are election results consistent with pre-elections, unbiased polls, but Venezuela’s voting technology makes fraud extremely difficult. See Mark Weisbrot:

In Venezuela, voters touch a computer screen to cast their vote and then receive a paper receipt, which they verify and deposit in a ballot box. Most of the paper ballots are compared with the electronic tally. This system makes vote-rigging nearly impossible: to steal the vote would require hacking the computers and then stuffing the ballot boxes to match the rigged vote.

Unlike in the US, where in a close vote we really have no idea who won (see Bush v Gore), Venezuelans can be sure that their vote counts. And also unlike the US, where as many as 90 million eligible voters will not vote in November, the government in Venezuela has done everything to increase voter registration (now at a record of about 97%) and participation.

Chavez closed down critical TV stations. And yet the old case of the failure to prolong RCTV’s broadcasting license continues to be cited as the main evidence of this media “suppression.” E.g. from the faux-liberal Daily Beast:

And yet Latin America’s new democratic leaders rarely spoke against the excesses of Chávismo, turning a blind eye when he canceled the operating license of independent broadcaster RCTV in 2007…

What typically goes studiously unmentioned is that RCTV gleefully and one-sidedly supported the foreign-backed coup attempt against the legitimately elected Chavez administration in 2002. In many other countries, this would have been considered treason, with the attendant penalties of long-term imprisonment or even execution. In humane Venezuela, however, you just lose your broadcasting license.

Electricity blackouts. Guardianista presstite Rory Carroll, who clearly has an agenda:

He leaves Venezuela a ruin, and his death plunges its roughly 30 million citizens into profound uncertainty.

Because that exactly describes an increase in GDP per capita from $4,105 in 1999 to $10,810 in 2011 (according to his own newspaper). As Craig Willy says:

But particularly hilarious is this statement:

Underinvestment and ineptitude hit hydropower stations and the electricity grid, causing weekly blackouts that continue to darken cities, fry electrical equipment, silence machinery and require de facto rationing.

Because of course they never happen in pro-Western, investor-friendly countries.

Chavez stole $2 billion. These are rumors that keep slithering about in the comments from various neocons, although they rarely pop up into mainstream media texts outright. Apparently this claim comes from some right-wing law firm in Miami that claims the Castro brothers of Cuba are billionaires too. I find it about as credible as claims about Putin’s $40 billion fortune (or is it $70 billion now?), initially made by some non-entity Russian political scientist, and Gaddafi’s $200 billion fortune, probably spread by the CIA or somesuch in the course of NATO’s assault on the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (very ironic, coming from thieves who had seized Libya’s foreign-based assets). Funny how it’s always those who dare stand up to Western imperialism who get accused by their flunkies of massive corruption, no? I wonder if one causes the other?

Oil dependence. A lot of the presstitutes have accused Chavez of increasing Venezuela’s oil dependence, e.g.:

Former minister Gerver Torres points out that in 1998 oil represented 77 percent of Venezuela’s exports but by 2011 oil represented 96 percent of exports. That means today only around 4 percent of the goods that Venezuela exports are non-oil products! The Venezuelan economy relies almost exclusively on the price of oil and the ability of the government to spend oil revenues.

That’s kind of what happens when the oil price goes from being $11.91 per barrel (in 1998) to $87.04 (in 2011)! Funny how they harp on about how rising oil prices “unfairly” helped Chavez but then instantly shut up about it when making THIS particular point.

Higher violent crime. Not a myth. In fact, as I made clear, it’s one of the Chavez administration’s very biggest failings. Then ago, we also have many of the presstitutes claiming he was a dictator – even though the precise opposite happens with real dictators (they don’t tolerate alternate sources of violence, and they don’t bother with legal niceties; they just put all the suspected mafiosi up against a wall – put the two together, and violent crime almost always plummets under the rule of real dictators. The Sicilian Mafia actually provided help to Allied troops against the Mussolini regime).

He was friends with Ahmadinejad. Plenty of Western politicians are friends with Saudi prices. Drop the double standards.

He was anti-American. Well, what can you expect if you plot a coup against someone and then incessantly demonize him for not respecting democracy? Like Castro, incidentally, he actually started out fairly pro-American. It didn’t have to be this way.

He didn’t build skyscrapers. This has to be read to be believed. From AP’s Pamela Sampson:

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

The author’s agenda speaks for itself. (Not to mention her ignorance – while Venezuela remains fiscally sound, Dubai’s big tower remains 80% unoccupied and needed a $10 billion bailout. Had Chavez listened to people like these then Venezuela would have gone bankrupt for real, not just in their sordid, bitter like imaginations).

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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As I write the book, I create a lot of graphs. Here is one of them.

russia-automobile-production

So in manufacturing terms, as far as cars are concerned, the “deindustrialization” era is decidedly over.

Of course it’s also important to note that in 1985 they were producing this whereas today they are producing this as well as various foreign brands. Plus for every two cars produced and sold in Russia today, one is imported, for total yearly sales of 2.9 million in 2012 (about the same as in Brazil – 3.6 million, Germany – 3.3 million, and India – 2.7 million).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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By the usual standards of Guardian reporting on Russia, this one by GQ Russia editor Andrew Ryvkin is… well, about par for the course.

Citing a recent PwC report that Russia will overtake Germany to become Europe’s biggest economy in 2030, he asks, “Should we believe them?

Well, the PwC is just repeating predictions made almost a decade earlier by Goldman Sachs, which has thus far proved very accurate on the growing prominence of the BRICs in general, and of Russia in particular (regardless of repeated attempts to kick it out of that grouping, against the judgment of Jim O’Neill, the inventor of the BRICs concept himself).

So in effect Ryvkin is asking us whether we should trust a range of organizations with a great predictive record on the issue to the uninformed ravings of a Guardian hack.

Forget Russia’s very reasonable and respectable growth rates compared to the other Central-East European countries. According to Ryvkin, Russia’s downfall will be because it is “politics”, and not “strict economic policies”, that “rule these wintry lands.” What is the primary example he uses to demonstrate this?

One should also have sedatives close to hand while reviewing the figures. Russia has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is barely making an effort to hide it. For instance, one of the Sochi 2014 Olympic projects – a 50 km road – costs nearly $8bn.

This meme was popularized by Julio Ioffe in the Western press on Russia back in 2010. It has also long since been long debunked, including on this very blog – although it continues to float around as a cliche among Russian liberal and journalist circles.

The only problem with looking at Russia through this failed state prism, without bothering to corroborate sources, is that in no sense can the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana route be described as just a “roadway”. Intended to be completed within 3 years in an area with a poorly developed infrastructure, this so-called “road” also includes a high-speed railway, more than 50 bridges, and 27km of tunnels over mountainous, ecologically-fragile terrain!

Then there’s this bizarre statement: “Germany, is currently associated with its policy of austerity, Russia is known for precisely the opposite.” That’s certainly news to me, as Russia has run balanced budgets for the past 2 years* – in stark contrast to, well, pretty much the rest of the developed world (including Germany for that matter).

And here you’re inevitably faced with a question: how would the Russian government act if it became a leading European economy and faced a crisis like the one in we have now in the eurozone, considering that this government has allowed the construction of a $160m/km road?

That is an extraordinarily remote possibility, seeing as Russia has fiscal unity and no significant sovereign debt (i.e. the lack of which define the European crisis). The very question is not only based on a faulty premise (the so-called “caviar road”) but essentially meaningless.

After some of the usual moralizing and content-free platitudes about the absence of Russian democracy, as well as the further extremely bizarre idea that the Chinese economy is not politicized like Russia’s**, Ryvkin wanders back on track with the usual spiel about how Russia is Nigeria with snow.

Here’s a question: who would want a Russian-made car, when even Russians don’t want them? Another one: who wants to fly Russian aeroplanes, when even in Russia people choose to fly on a Boeing or Airbus? But these huge industries still exist, resembling Frankenstein’s monsters of Soviet industrial might, brought to life by heavy injections of oil money and created by businesses that ultimately cannot produce a competitive product.

It goes against almost every aspect of economic, market-oriented logic, but it has nothing to do with the economy, because it aims to keep the workforce loyal to the government and project an image of a neo-Soviet industrial power. So is securing votes at the cost of your country’s economic development today a strategy worthy of someone who is going to lead the European economy in seventeen years? Is the strategy even smart?

Back in the world of hard facts and statistics, Russian car production was at 2.0 million units in 2011 (increasing by a further 15% in 2012) compared to 1.2 million units in 2000. Many foreign automakers have moved manufacturing into Russia, but that one presupposes is a good thing; that indigenous Russian brands haven’t done as well doesn’t mean much (which British brands are doing well apart from Rolls Royce?). There are few countries in which automobiles are a major export staple – incidentally, China with which Ryvkin incessantly compares Russia with isn’t one of them – and there is no good reason to expect Russia to become a major exporter of cars under any government, be it Putin’s or “even [a 10-year-old] (as long as he was smart enough not to stop the flow of oil and gas).”

That is because hydrocarbons are Russia’s comparative advantage, a concept which likewise explains why say Australia and Norway do not export much manufactured goods either. Ironically, the surest way to solve this “resource dependency” would be to get Ryvkin’s 10 year old President to ACTUALLY stop the flow of oil and gas.

That is also the reason why Ryvkin doesn’t work as an analyst at PwC but writes articles for the Guardian.

* Actually latest estimates show that 2012 had a deficit of 0.02% of GDP, but that’s of course basically a rounding error.

** Where to even begin here? For a start, consider the fact that the HQ’s of all the major Chinese companies have a “red machine” with a telephone link to Party functionaries

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I just remembered I’d made some in 2012. It’s time to see how they went, plus make predictions for the coming year.

Of course I failed to predict the biggest thing of them all: The hacking that made me throw in the towel on Sublime Oblivion (remember that?), but with the silver lining that I could now split my blog between my interest in Russia and my interest in many other things. After all tying my criticism of the Western media on Russia with topics like climate change and futurism and HBD was never a very good fit. Overall I am very satisfied with the new arrangement.

Predictions For 2013

(1) Russia will see slight positive natural population growth (about 50,000) as well as significant overall population growth (about 400,000). Do bear in mind that this prediction was first made back in 2008 when a Kremlinologist who did the same would have been forced into a mental asylum.

(2) The life expectancy will reach 71.5 years, the total fertility rate will rise to 1.8. The birth rate will reach a local maximum at about 13.3-13.5 (it will then remain steady for a couple of years, and then begin to slowly decline) while the death rate will go down to about 13.0-13.2). Net immigration should remain at about 300,000.

(3) Putin will not be overthrown in a glorious democratic revolution. In fact, things will remain depressingly stable on the political front. As they should!

(4) Currently Russia is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries. While it’s certainly not at the level of Zimbabwe, as claimed in the Corruption Perceptions Index, it’s not like having the Philippines, Romania, or Greece for neighbors on an objective assessment is anything to write home about. I believe that Russia missed a great opportunity to undermine the rotten culture of official impunity that exists there by refraining from prosecuting former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov with his Montenegrin villa, billionaire wife, and his VP Mayor Resin who wore a $500,000 watch following his dismissal in 2010. Today a similar opportunity presents itself with blatant evidence of large-scale corruption on the part of former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his female hangers-on (see the comments threads here, here at the Kremlin Stooge for details). There are conflicting signals as to whether charges will extend to the very top, i.e. Serdyukov himself. Having incorrectly anticipated a Luzhkov prosecution, I am now once bitten, twice shy. So I’ll take the lame way out and call it a 50/50.

(5) Needless to say, the economy remains as uncertain as ever, and contingent upon what happens in the EU and the world. In the PIGS the economic contraction is finally starting to slow down, but Greece is something of a disaster zone, and Spain is raiding its pension fund to keep afloat. If this becomes unsustainable this year then the EU member states will have to make some fundamental choices: Fiscal union? Or its division into a “Hanseatic” core and Mediterranean periphery? Which of these three things will happen I find impossible to even begin to foretell… As applied to Russia, under the first two scenarios, it will continue plodding along at a stolid but unremarkable pace of 3-4% or so GDP growth; if things come to a head (as they eventually must) and Germany decides to toss the Latins overboard, then the divorce I assume is going to be very, very messy, and we can expect Russia’s economy to fall into recession.

(6) No special insights on foreign policy. Ukraine may join the Customs Union; however, I suspect that’s more likely to happen in 2014 or 2015, as Yanukovych faces re-election and has to make a choice between continued prevarication between it and the EU, and encouraging his Russophone base. The creeping influence of the Eurasian Union will likely keep US-Russian relations cold; whatever the current disagreement that’s talked about (Magnitsky Act; Dima Yakovlev Law; Syria; Libya…) I lean to the “Stratfor”-like position that at heart the US just does not want what it sees as a “re-Sovietization” of the region – which the Eurasian Union is, in geopolitical terms, if under conditions much softer than was previously the case – and will thus be driven, almost by force of instinct, to oppose this trend.

How did I do for 2012?

Here is the link again. In short, this wasn’t the best year for my predictions.

1. “So that’s my prediction for March: Putin wins in the first round with 60%, followed by perennially second-place Zyuganov at 15%-20%, Zhirinovsky with 10%, and Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov and Grigory Yavlinsky with a combined 10% or so.I later ended up refining this, and running a contest. My predictions for the five candidates were off by an aggregate error of 14%. The heroic winner was Andras Toth-Czifra (who has yet to get his T-Shirt – my profound apologies dude, it will be done…) Half a point.

2. “I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway.” Correct, although this was self-evident to anyone not afflicted with Putin Derangement Syndrome (which admittedly doesn’t include 90% of Western Russia journalists). Full point.

3. Here I made general points that I still think fully apply. That said, my own specific prediction turned out to be false. “But specifically for 2012, I expect Greece to drop out of the Eurozone (either voluntarily, or kicked out if it starts printing Euros independently, as the former Soviet republics did with rubles as Moscow’s central control dissipated).” Wrong! I am perhaps foolhardy to do so, but I repeat this prediction for this year. I really don’t know why the Greeks masochistically agree to keep on paying tribute to French and German banks when they know full well they have no hope of ever significantly bringing down their debt-to-GDP ratio without major concessions on the parts of their creditors. Zero points.

4. Last year I made no major predictions about the Russian economy; basically, unexciting but stable if things stay normal – a downswing if the EU goes down, albeit not on as big a scale as in 2008-2009. I was basically correct. One point.

5. “I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space.” Nope. To activate their Russophone base, they decided to go with the language law. Zero points.

6. “Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly… Deaths will continue to fall quite rapidly, as excise taxes on vodka – the main contributor to Russia’s high mortality rates – are slated to rise sharply after the Presidential elections.” Too pessimistic on births, albeit understandably so because Russia’s cohort of women in their child-bearing age has now begun to decline rapidly (the echo effect). Although ironically enough however I am one of the most optimistic serious Russia demographers. In reality, as of the first 10 months of 2012, births have soared by a further 6.5% (which translates to a c.8% increase in the TFR, bringing it up from 1.61 in 2011 to about 1.74 this year – that’s about the level of Canada and the Netherlands – while deaths have fallen by 1.5%, implying a rise in life expectancy from 70.3 years in 2011 to about 71 years in 2012 (which is a record). Most remarkably the rate of natural population growth is now basically break-even, with birth rates and death rates both at about 13.3/1000; the so-called “Russian cross” has become a rhombus. Still, considering that my predictions were basically more optimistic than anyone else’s (even Mark Adomanis’), I still feel justified in calling this n my favor. One point.

So, that’s 3.5/6 for the Russia predictions. I will be very brief on the non-Russia related ones, as this is a Russia blog.

7. Wrong, Romney did not win LOL. Although later I did improve greatly, coming 12th out of 66 in a competition to predict the results of the US popular vote. I now owe a few bottles of whiskey to various people.

8. US did not attack Iran, but I gave it a 50% chance anyway. So, half point?

9. “But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.” Too early to tell.

10. “China will not see a hard landing.” Correct.

11. “Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.More like 46 vessels, and completely correct on extreme new sea ice lows.

12. “Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government.” I think that’s basically correct.

13. Protests will not lead to any major changes outside the Arab world – yes.

14. “The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.” Correct, we’re now living in a simulation, the real world having ended as I predicted.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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This guy isn’t as clear-headed as Eric Kraus, is he? But does have company in the form of Andrew Miller, Jeffrey Tailer, “Streetwise Professor”, and Ed Lucas. H/t Mark Adomanis.

—– Original Message —–
From:
Dmitry Alimov
To:
dalimov@mba2004.hbs.edu
Sent:
Friday, September 12, 2003 11:28 PM
Subject:
Conversation with Jim Rogers – HILARIOUS

Jim Rogers, a famous international investor and writer attended HBS this Wednesday. In his speech, he badmouthed Russia (in his usual style) and quoted several “facts” that were completely bogus. As you would expect, I could not let him get away with lying about our country and publicly disputed his factual claims. He basically told me I was a moron and left. In response, I sent an email to him with facts and references disputing his claims (sending a copy to my HBS classmates). What ensued is quite amazing – read attached emails. Start with the first email and read from the end (my original email), then read his response and finally my rebuttal in the second email. This will be worth your time I promise. This has already been circulated all over HBS, several other universities and in the investment community in New York. Since this is already in public domain, feel free to forward on.

Dima
__________________________________________________

Dear Mr. Rogers: I am the “lad” who disputed your factual claims with regard to Russia today. First of all, I would like to thank you for speaking to us at the Harvard Business School. I think I speak for my fellow HBS students when I say that we enjoyed your original views and interesting stories today. However, I must address the unfortunate reality that your facts about Russia are plain wrong. You made three principal inaccurate claims today – I will deal with all of them in sequence.

Claim #1. People are leaving Russia

Wrong. In fact, according to Financial Times, your favorite newspaper, Russia turns out to be the second largest recipient of immigrants after the US (see attached FT article). Oops. While it is true that Russia’s population is declining but the reasons for that have nothing to do with people leaving the country, it is things like low birth rate (only 1.2 per woman), which is an issue that confronts many European states.

Claim #2. Russia’s production of oil is declining, oil companies do not reinvest in production

Wrong and wrong. Russian oil production has increased for the fifth year in a row (see attached Reuters article), and Russian oil majors are reinvesting in production (many of them have US GAAP accounts audited by Big Four firms you could easily have access to if you chose to look).

Claim #3. Investors are leaving Russia

Wrong again. Equity indexes (US Dollar denominated) are trading around their all time highs (see attached Barrons article), Russian bond yields are at historical lows. As an experienced investor, surely you will recognize these as pretty convincing signs of investor confidence.

Overall state of the economy

Finally, I would like to quote World Bank’s recent report on Russia: “The Russian Federation has made remarkable progress in tackling crisis and moving towards sustainable development between 1999 and 2002. With a much more stable political environment, the government has been able to build on experience gained in the 1990s and implement a sound reform agenda, in addition to maintaining macro-economic stability. Since 1999, assisted by high commodity prices, the economy has recorded strong growth, business confidence has revived, and poverty has declined. Russia’s sovereign credit rating has improved, although it has yet to reach investment grade. The speed and extent of recovery has taken most observers by surprise. Between early 1999 and end 2001, GDP grew by 21 percent, inflation fell from 86 percent to 18 percent, the fiscal situation turned around from a deficit of 5 percent of GDP to a surplus of 3 percent of GDP, and barter and arrears largely disappeared.”

Source: http://www.worldbank.org.ru GDP growth of 21%? Hardly a picture of total collapse, don’t you think?

Conclusion I believe the facts speak for themselves. I have no time or desire to try to convince you to invest in Russia. However, I do kindly ask you to abstain from spreading inaccurate information. You are a public figure and many people including future leaders at Harvard Business School listen to you; it would be very unfortunate if they were misled by your inaccurate statements. Finally, if nothing else, it is not good for your own public image.

Kind regards,

Dmitry Alimov, CFA MBA Class of 2004
Harvard | Business | School
dalimov@mba2004.hbs.edu
Ph 617.491.7332

P.S. I took the liberty of sending a copy of this email to my fellow students so that we can set the record straight.____________________________________________________

Thank you for coming and for writing.

I rarely suffer fools gladly and even more rarely bother with chauvinistic know nothings, but since you sent this ludicrous canard:

[1] My goodness. Not only do you have no idea about what you are speaking, we now know you cannot read. The “immigration study” you mention was a bunch of estimates for the years 1970 to 1995. What the hell does that have to do with Russia in the past 8 years? Many were forced to go into Russia from the Soviet Republics under the Communists, but that was hardly free immigration as in the other countries. Even if people were going into Russia in the early 1990s, they were Russians being forced to leave the old USSR republics as the USSR dissolved in the early 1990s and those Russians fled back into Russia.

You have demonstrated you cannot read nor analyze nor have any concept of what is happening in Russia today, but do you not at least know a little Russian history?

[2] Oh my. You really should have kept your mouth shut and stopped long ago. This is not from “Reuters”. It is from the Russian government – the same group which claims to have had a balance of trade surplus for the last 9 years. The same group of bureaucrats and charlatans who became a laughing stock with their “facts” under the USSR. The same who say that the Russian balance of trade in that period has been among the largest in the world. I did not think even B school students fell for that claptrap any more. But then you are the one who says the ruble is a good buy and that “it is a strong currency”. I suggest you check your facts on what has happened to the ruble in those 9 years when Russia “had the strongest balance of trade surplus in the world”. And that was a period when huge sums were also flowing in from the World Bank, IMF, etc, etc. “Inflows from the strongest balance of trade in the world and billions from the World Bank, etc” yet the currency kept declining. I and most others find that extremely strange.

Somehow or another the currency kept falling since most of us realized the same old bureaucrats were spewing out the same old garbage. I guess you were buying rubles all that time. No wonder you are in school rather than making it in the real world. You must have gone broke buying all those rubles.

And if Russian oil production is really up so much, why is the price of oil still so high? So you are indeed a gullible lad, but fortunately the market knows a lot more than you and your wailing into the wind.

You might read the section of my book about Russia’s reported figures – especially the trade figures. Or get some one to read it to you and explain it to you.

I know you said you have driven across Russia from the Pacific to Europe, but I’d like to know your route and which border crossings you used and who you found out there counting all this stuff.

[3] You really should have kept your mouth shut, but since you opened it: What balderdash. Now we know you have no understanding of markets in addition to being unable to read or comprehend. The Russian “market” is tiny and is insignificant compared to GNP so it is meaningless. Even your article points out that the few big hydrocarbon companies account for 70% of the stock market. [a] The price of oil more than doubled in the period the article discusses and [b] those stocks went up because of that and because of the manipulation by the oligarchs. Perhaps you did not notice your article mentioned the “murky” dealings in Russia?

I hardly consider 2 mutual funds and 4 or 5 manipulated oil stocks “as pretty convincing signs of investor confidence”.

But if you really believe all this codswallop, why are you in business school? Why aren’t you there making your fortune?

I presume you are long the Russian stock market?

For what it is worth, I was short the ruble and the Russian market in the summer of 1998 and back in the earlier bubble in the mid 1990s when Russia and its bureaucrats were going on and on with the same absurdity. Go back and look up what happened both times. Or perhaps you were long then too and got wiped out which is why you had to go to b school.

[4] “Overall state of the economy”: Now we are getting really embarrassed for you! The World Bank also praised Russia in 1998 just before the last collapse and in the mid 1990s just in time for that collapse. They also wrote in rapturous terms about all the Asia Tigers in mid 1997 just in time for the Asian Crisis [I was short Hong Kong back then too right into the World Bank’s rapture.] And the World Bank could not give Argentina enough money in the summer and fall of 2001 because of “its progress” when I was getting all my money out. [All this is very much on the public record so you do not need to fret about my image.]

Need I go on? No one has ever stayed solvent much less made money listening to the World Bank [except business school professors who “consult” for them].

Oh dear, you get your information from the Russian government and the World Bank!? Are you mad? I know you say you have driven across Russia, but who do you really think is out there in those 11 time zones and tens of thousands on kilometers of Russia collecting all this “reliable data”?

And thanks for your advice about my analysis, facts and my “public image”. If you had done your homework, you’d know the public was and is extremely aware that I had shorted the ruble in 1998 and back in the mid 1990s [when I guess you were long]. It was the same kind if misinformation back then too that gullible souls like you swallowed.

And the public is extremely aware of my record of investing in many markets all over the world for many years. You might read John Train’s Money Masters of Our Timeor one of several other books. I do not worry about it, but you should worry about yours.

But as for public image and inaccurate statements, you have demonstrated quite publicly and vocally that you can neither read nor comprehend what you read nor can you analyze anything in front of you and that you fall for anything someone tells you and that you have absolutely no knowledge of even recent Russian history. I was terribly embarrassed for you when you stood there babbling on in front of the others about the strong ruble – a currency which has been nothing but a catastrophe for a decade [despite your painfully absurd statements], but now you have shouted your hopelessness from the roof tops for all to see.

I hope your classmates will pull you aside and pass on this word of advice: It is better to remain silent and have people wonder if you are an idiot rather than to open your mouth and prove to everyone in sight that you are an idiot beyond all doubt. And one should never, ever go shouting from the rooftops when one is a total idiot because then the entire school knows it.

_____________________________________________________

Mr. Rogers:

I see that you prefer the language of personal insults instead of informed polite discussion. Well, this is your choice and I hope this is not consistent with your sense of style – you are a successful individual (as you mentioned many times) and it would be a shame to tarnish that with this sort of attitude. Also, apologies for getting you a little riled, I didn’t mean to, nor did I expect you to. I am enjoying the discussion and would like to just rebut some of your remarks.

Thank you for coming and for writing. I rarely suffer fools gladly and even more rarely bother with chauvinistic know nothings, but since you sent this ludicrous canard:

[1] [immigration] My goodness. Not only do you have no idea about what you are speaking, we now know you cannot read. The “immigration study” you mention was a bunch of estimates for the years 1970 to 1995. What the hell does that have to do with Russia in the past 8 years? Many were forced to go into Russia from the Soviet Republics under the Communists, but that was hardly free immigration as in the other countries. Even if people were going into Russia in the early 1990s, they were Russians being forced to leave the old USSR republics as the USSR dissolved in the early 1990s and those Russians fled back into Russia.
You have demonstrated you cannot read nor analyze nor have any concept of what is happening in Russia today, but do you not at least know a little Russian history?

For your viewing pleasure, below are the actual numbers of net migration (immigration less emigration) through 2001. As you can see, there is a net inflow in every single year for the past two decades. This does not even include an estimated 1-1.5 million of illegal immigrants to Russia.

Net Migration and Natural Increase in Russia, 1980–2001

(Abridged)

Source: State Committee of the Russian Federation on Statistics, Goskomstat Rossii

As you correctly point out, much of the immigration comes from the states of the former Soviet Union (although a very large part of the immigrants are Ukrainians and other CIS nationals). However, the fact remains that before and after 1995, immigration to Russia far exceeded emigration from Russia, which is the opposite of your original claim.

[2] [oil production] Oh my. You really should have kept your mouth shut and stopped long ago. This is not from “Reuters”. It is from the Russian government – the same group which claims to have had a balance of trade surplus for the last 9 years. The same group of bureaucrats and charlatans who


The quote below is taken directly from US Department of Energy website (I hope you at least believe your own government):

“A turnaround in Russian oil output began in 1999, which many analysts have attributed to rising world oil prices during this period (oil prices tripled between January 1999 and September 2000), as well as a number of after-effects of the 1998 financial crisis and subsequent devaluation of the ruble in August. Today, Russian oil fields are maintained using modern technologies from around the world, and many of the old command economy institutions have been streamlined. The rebound in Russian oil production has continued since 1999, resulting in 2002 total liquids production of 7.65 million bbl/d (7.4 million bbl/d of which was crude oil)–a 26% increase over the 1998 level. Accordingly, Russia is now the world’s second largest crude oil producer behind only Saudi Arabia.

(Abridged)

Source: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/russia.html#oil

Or do you think the US government is also lying?

became a laughing stock with their “facts” under the USSR. The same who say that the Russian balance of trade in that period has been among the largest in the world. I did not think even B school students fell for that claptrap any more.

I don’t think my fellow students deserve this condescending treatment. You should also know that my other Russian speaking HBS classmates were appalled by your comments in and after class. In addition to misstating the facts, you also characterized the country in an offensive manner. We are all rational people and are prepared to discuss the Russian economy and culture on merits (clearly, there are many negative things, particularly in the recent past) but it’s a very different matter when someone starts insulting a nation.

But then you are the one who says the ruble is a good buy and that “it is a strong currency”.

This is not quite the statement I made, but nice try at remembering. What I said was that this year, Russian currency appreciated and I stand by my statement. From 31.7 rubles/US$ at the end of 2002 it appreciated to 30.7 rubles/US$ now. I did
not say it is a strong currency and I certainly don’t think that any currency is a good investment given that currencies are not interest bearing.

I suggest you check your facts on what has happened to the ruble in those 9 years when Russia “had the strongest balance of trade surplus in the world”. And that was a period when huge sums were also flowing in from the World Bank, IMF, etc, etc. “Inflows from the strongest balance of trade in the world and billions from the World Bank, etc” yet the currency kept declining. I and most others find that extremely strange. Somehow or another the currency kept falling since most of us realized the same old bureaucrats were spewing out the same old garbage. I guess you were buying rubles all that time. No wonder you are in school rather than making it in the real world. You must have gone broke buying all those rubles.

And if Russian oil production is really up so much, why is the price of oil still so high? So you are indeed a gullible lad, but fortunately the market knows a lot more than you and your wailing into the wind.

I find it amusing that you would ask this question. Surely you know that market prices are determined by many factors including demand (which, as you correctly pointed out in your speech, is on a secular upward trend), supply by other players (think Latin American and Middle East supply problems). Russia is one of the global energy suppliers and certainly cannot by itself control world energy prices. Surely you must know this?

You might read the section of my book about Russia’s reported figures – especially the trade figures. Or get some one to read it to you and explain it to you. I know you said you have driven across Russia from the Pacific to Europe, but I’d like to know your route and which border crossings you used and who you found out there counting all this stuff.

[3] You really should have kept your mouth shut, but since you opened it: What balderdash. Now we know you have no understanding of markets in addition to being unable to read or comprehend. The Russian “market” is tiny and is insignificant compared to GNP so it is meaningless. Even your article points out that the few big hydrocarbon companies account for 70% of the stock market. [a] The price of oil more than doubled in the period the article discusses and [b] those stocks went up because of that and because of the manipulation by the oligarchs. Perhaps you did not notice your article mentioned the “murky” dealings in Russia?
I hardly consider 2 mutual funds and 4 or 5 manipulated oil stocks “as pretty convincing signs of investor confidence”.

If the stock
and bond market three year rally is not sufficient evidence for you, what about the fact that scores of major Western companies made significant capital commitments to Russia in the past few years? Here is just a sample of recent investments:

Pepsi $1 bn
Coca Cola $750 mln

Metro (Germany) €1 bn

United Technologies Corp. $400 mln

Mars LLC $500 mln

Procter & Gamble $150 mln

Boeing $1.3 bn

ExxonMobil $1.4 bn

BP $3 bn

If this is not a reliable sign of investor confidence, I don’t know what is. But you probably think these companies are lying, too? Or are they also being manipulated by evil oligarchs?

But if you really believe all this codswallop, why are you in business school? Why aren’t you there making your fortune?

Let me know if you desire to see my bank statements and resume, I’ll email them to you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, maybe even compare them to yours when you were my tender age, for a real awakening. Maybe we can do the same when I am your age now, and we can revisit this cute discussion.

Rest assured, I certainly plan on continuing my career in Russia because I love the place, I am good at what I do and I will have a positive impact on the country. Surely, there are challenges and problems (name a place in the world that does not have a set of problems to deal with) but the opportunities are amazing. I find it extremely satisfying to be able to effect real change in the largest country in the world.

I presume you are long the Russian stock market? That’s correct.

For what it is worth, I was short the ruble and the Russian market in the summer of 1998 and back in the earlier bubble in the mid 1990s when Russia and its bureaucrats were going on and on with the same absurdity. Go back and look up what happened both times. Or perhaps you were long then too and got wiped out which is why you had to go to b school.

[4] “Overall state of the economy”: Now we are getting really embarrassed for you! The World Bank also praised Russia in 1998 just before the last collapse and in the mid 1990s just in time for that collapse. They also wrote in rapturous terms about all the Asia Tigers in mid 1997 just in time for the Asian Crisis [I was short Hong Kong back then too right into the World Bank’s rapture.] And the World Bank could not give Argentina enough money in the summer and fall of 2001 because of “its progress” when I was getting all my money out. [All this is very much on the public record so you do not need to fret about my image.]

While one may or may not agree with the World Bank’s adjectives and characterizations, there are objective facts and figures that speak for themselves. Do you think that 21% real GDP growth is a sign of total collapse of the economy or do you think that the government and international finance organizations are lying about the figures?

Need I go on? No one has ever stayed solvent much less made money listening to the World Bank [except business school professors who “consult” for them]. Oh dear, you get your information from the Russian government and the World Bank!? Are you mad? I know you say you have driven across Russia, but who do you really think is out there in those 11 time zones and tens of thousands on kilometers of Russia collecting all this “reliable data”?

And thanks for your advice about my analysis, facts and my “public image”. If you had done your homework, you’d know the public was and is extremely aware that I had shorted the ruble in 1998 and back in the mid 1990s [when I guess you were long]. It was the same kind if misinformation back then too that gullible souls like you swallowed.

Every “babushka” shorted ruble during that time period; it was a highly inflationary currency.

And the public is extremely aware of my record of investing in many markets all over the world for many years. You might read John Train’s Money Masters of Our Timeor one of several other books. I do not worry about it, but you should worry about yours.

But as for public image and inaccurate statements, you have demonstrated quite publicly and vocally that you can neither read nor comprehend what you read nor can you analyze anything in front of you and that you fall for anything someone tells you and that you have absolutely no knowledge of even recent Russian history. I was terribly embarrassed for you when you stood there babbling on in front of the others about the strong ruble – a currency which has been nothing but a catastrophe for a decade [despite your painfully absurd statements], but now you have shouted your hopelessness from the roof tops for all to see.

I hope your classmates will pull you aside and pass on this word of advice: It is better to remain silent and have people wonder if you are an idiot rather than to open your mouth and prove to everyone in sight that you are an idiot beyond all doubt. And one should never, ever go shouting from the rooftops when one is a total idiot because then the entire school knows it.

I will leave it up to my classmates to make characterizations in this case. Again, I will not dignify your insulting comments with a response. If you are interested in what impression your email made on my classmates, please read this sample email – one of many similar emails I received today:

“Dmitry, I was shocked by the letter that Jim wrote you. I am sorry that you had to read that. It was totally ridiculous. I thought you wrote him a respectful and well argued letter and for some reason he decided to tear into you. I am not sure who is on the right side of the facts, but I do know that I talked to the top guy at Morgan Stanley Private Client last week and he said that Russia is one of their top picks going forward. All the best, John”(name is changed for privacy reasons)


Respectfully yours,

Dmitry Alimov, CFA MBA Class of 2004
Harvard | Business | School

dalimov@mba2004.hbs.edu
Ph 617.491.7332

***

The funny thing is that Jim Rogers is now an adviser to an agricultural fund run by Russian state-owned banking group VTB.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Editorial note: This article was first published at Arctic Progress in February 2011. In the next few weeks I will be reposting the best material from there.

The Arctic to become a pole of global economic growth? Image credit – Scenic Reflections.

Behold! Far north along the shores of the Arctic a quiver of upspringing settlements fringes the coast. Boats swarm around canning factories, smoke flutters above smelters, herds of reindeer dot the prairies… And here or there, on every street-corner, glimmer out the lights of theaters where moving-pictures entertain white people through the sunless weeks of the midwinter dancing-time, the singing-time, the laughing-time of Eskimo Land.

- Northward ho!: An account of the far North and its people.

In 2003, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill wrote the now famous paper Dreaming with BRIC’s, predicting that Brazil, Russia, India and China would overtake the developed G8 nations within a few decades and make astounding returns for faithful investors. The BRIC’s concept entered the conventional wisdom, spawning a host of related acronyms (BASIC, BRICSA, etc) – and if anything, realizing its promise well ahead of schedule. Last year, China’s real GDP possibly overtook America’s, and Russia’s approached Germany’s.

Yet for all their successes, the BRIC’s may not fulfill their expected roles as the stars of the global economy in the 21st century. The level of education is horrid in Brazil and atrocious in India; without the requisite human capital, these two countries will find it difficult to rapidly “converge” to developed world standards. China is much better off in this respect, but its high growth trajectory may in turn be disturbed by energy shortages and environmental degradation. China produces half the world’s coal, which is patently unsustainable given its limited reserves. But since coal accounts for 75% of China’s primary energy consumption and fuels the factories that keep its workforce employed, there is little it can do to mitigate this dependence. Meanwhile, China’s overpopulation, pollution and climate change predicament is so well known as to not require elaboration. Many other countries flirting around the edges of BRIC status – Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, etc. – face serious challenges in the form of low human capital, uncertain energy and food supplies and a rising incidence of AGW-induced droughts, floods and heatwaves.

There is one global region that may hold the key to resolving these intertwined problems – and even to become a major pole of global growth in its own right. For the most part, it is now an empty wilderness, but climate change is opening it up as potential living space. Its exploitation has the potential to halve the length of global freight transport routes while increasing their security, uncover sizable to gigantic new sources of hydrocarbons and minerals, and stabilize global food prices through the expansion of arable land. Its experience of management and conflict resolution may inspire a global model of cooperation – or it may degenerate into an economic, legal, or even military battlefield over shipping routes and sub-sea resources.

This global region is the Arctic Rim, and its adjoining ARCS: Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. The ARCS of Progress in the 21st century.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 1, 2010 – both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage are clearly open. Image credit – The University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.

From North Pole to Growth Pole

The core reasons behind the Arctic Rim’s bright prospects are global macro-trends: climate change; peak oil and resource nationalism; overpopulation in the South. These “push” and “pull” factors will induce a decades-long Arctic boom, starting with shipping, energy and mining, and culminating in a fundamental northwards shift of the center of the world economy. Let’s examine each of these in turn.

Breaking Ice For Shipping

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a northwest passage to the sea.

- Northwest Passage song, Stan Rogers, 1981.

Typically, the cryosphere – the frozen part of the world – remains stable, because its snow and ice reflect much of the Sun’s heat, thus cooling itself. This process is called the ice-albedo feedback.

However, when the high-albedo ice melts, it leaves behind darker-hued earth, flora or sea that absorb far more heat. Local air temperatures soar and inhibit the reformation of the ice during cold seasons. From working to keep the system stable, beyond a critical threshold the ice-albedo feedback begins to reinforce a runaway dynamic of melting and warming.

The ice-albedo feedback largely explains why the Arctic is warming about twice faster than in the world as a whole.

In summer 2007, Arctic sea ice extent fell 38% below average since records began – an area the size of six Californias. The next year saw both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route clear of ice for a short period in late summer. As of December 2010, sea ice extent was the lowest for the month on satellite record, even surpassing the 2007 melt.

While the relentless fall in sea ice extent over the past three decades is remarkable enough, what’s stunning is the 55% decline in summer sea ice volume. Once the thick, multi-year ice is gone, then it’s really gone – the low albedo of the ocean water will raise local temperatures, preventing all but a thin film of sea ice from reforming during the cold winters. It is thus a near certainty that Arctic sea ice is already deep in its death spiral.

Inland, earlier snowmelts enable the ground to absorb more heat, while dark-hued shrubs and boreal forests encroach on the tundra.

Many of the effects will be negative. The polar bears will probably go extinct, either drowning for lack of sea ice, or starving, or migrating south and merging with their grizzly cousins. Invasive species from the south will drive out Arctic flora and fauna off the top of the world. Global ocean and air currents will be interrupted as the temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics shrinks.

But the new Arctic merchants will be making a killing.

Shipping routes during ice-free Arctic summer . Image credit – Laurence C. Smith.

In 2010, the Baltica became the first high-tonnage tanker to sail with petroleum products by the Northern Sea Route, steaming from Murmansk to China. This was followed by the voyage of the MV Nordic Barents, the the first vessel to sail from one non-Russian port to another through the Arctic, cutting 5,000km off the traditional Suez route. It carried 41,000 tons of iron ore from Kirkenes, Norway to feed the steel mills of China. One upping them all, the year ended with the first round-trip voyage without icebreaker assistance via the Northern Sea Route. The Norilsk Nickel-owned ship Monchegorsk carried the metal from the north Siberian port of Dudinka to Shanghai, taking just 41 days of steaming (the Suez route would have lasted as long as four months).

The opening of the Northern Sea Route and rising demand for metals and petroleum products from China and other emerging markets is set to continue spurring the development of Arctic shipping. In January 2011, a Sovcomflot executive said the Russian shipping company has already received 15 requests for icebreaker assistance in the Arctic for this year, compared to just four in 2010*. The governor of Murmansk, Dmitry Dmitriyenko, predicts that cargo transport through the Northern Sea Route will increase tenfold by 2020. This expansion will be sustained with private investment funding: both Sovcomflot and the Port of Murmansk are to be partially privatized in the coming years.

Similar trends are in play with the opening of the Northwest Passage across Canada. It has been conquered by cruise ship in 2006 and the commercial ship MV Camilla Desgagnés in 2008. Exploitation of the Northwest Passage will likely go slower than of its north Eurasian counterpart, because of lower demand and the (relative) underdevelopment of Canada’s icebreaker fleet. But there is still a wealth of opportunities there.

Black Gold or Fool’s Gold at the Top of the World?

Use it or lose it is the first principle of Arctic sovereignty.

- Speech by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 2007.

Our first and main task is to turn the Arctic into a resource base for Russia in the 21st century.

- Speech by Russian President Medvedev in September 2008.

Global oil production has now either peaked or is close to peaking, and will now either continue on its present “undulating plateau” – or begin to decline at an accelerating pace. The specifics are intensely argued over and the debate is far too extensive to detail here. But suffice to say, the “cornucopian” position that technological ingenuity and market forces will always conjure more and more resources out of a finite planet is untenable.

Any number of factors – global production exceeding new discoveries since the mid-1980′s; the world’s inability to significantly ramp up oil production despite soaring prices for the commodity; the rising costs of oil production due to the falling EROEI of the remaining oil sources; massively inflated reserves numbers from OPEC members; growing resource nationalism – militate against a business-as-usual future of increasing production in the oil industry.

These mounting challenges are the reason the big oil majors are pushing into the deepwater drilling that produced the Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, and partnering with Russian state oil companies to develop offshore gas deposits in the Kara Sea, and sinking millions of US dollars on prospecting off Greenland despite no returns to date. They need to maintain their reserves numbers to prevent their stocks from tanking – but to do so, the oil majors are forced into taking escalating financial, environmental and political risks.

The Arctic’s natural resources. Image credit – Global Research.

In 2008, the US Geological Survey estimated that the Arctic may hold as much as 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil (90 billion barrels) and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas. Unsurprisingly, the Arctic is rapidly becoming central to oil exploration. That said, capitalizing on these resources – even assuming they are as big as estimated above – will be exceptionally difficult. For a start, some 84% of these sources are likely to be offshore. Second, according to more recent USGS calculations, developing them will be prohibitively expensive: “Assuming production costs of up to $100 per barrel, only 2.5 billion barrels of oil could be lifted… and only with a 50% probability.” For perspective, an average oil price of $92 per barrel broke the world economy in 2008.

Talk of the Arctic becoming the next Saudi Arabia is unrealistic. Its oil reserves are smaller, more dispersed, more remote, of worse quality, and far more challenging to exploit. But this isn’t to say that its black gold is fool’s gold. Technological progress on Arctic drilling, as well as a lack of better options elsewhere, will draw Western oil majors and National Oil Companies north.

The Arctic isn’t only of interest to shippers and oilmen. Confronted with inexorable rises in demand from China, the global mining industry is rushing to add metals and minerals production capacity wherever they can. Just to take a few Arctic examples, there are plans to start or expand iron ore production on Canada’s Baffin Island, Norway’s Kirkenes and the Kola Peninsula. Coal production is resuming at Svalbard. Just in case the whole oil thing doesn’t work out, Greenland is looking to exploit its potentially vast mineral resources. The Coeur d`Alene Mines Corporation recently opened a gold mine near Juneau, Alaska ahead of schedule. Though volumes remain small, this will change as depletion becomes as evident for minerals as it is now for oil.

Towards an Arctic Civilization?

… Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.

- James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia hypothesis.

Beginning with the shipping and energy industries, the influence of the Arctic will eventually come to encompass the entire world. Assuming that efforts to quickly cut greenhouse gas emissions are unsuccessful, and that geoengineering is either not attempted or doesn’t work, then many of the middle regions will become too hot and dry for sustained agriculture (and maybe human survival), and masses of climate refugees will try to migrate north. The center of global economic growth, politics, and perhaps – in the far future – population, will come to rest within the Arctic Circle.

The North Pole may become the spatial center of the world. Image source – Trausti Valsson.

This process will likely be accompanied by mass upheavals, societal collapses, famines, border conflicts, maybe even bigger wars. But as usual misery contains the seeds of opportunity. It is not impossible that the farsighted individuals who are now buying up Hudson Bay territories or Siberian riverside lands are positioning themselves or their heirs for lordships and kingdoms in 2200.

But let’s focus on just the next three decades. The opening of the Arctic by various “push” factors (overpopulation, global warming) and “pull” factors (shipping routes, resources) will create demand for infrastructure, housing, associated services, etc. Buying up strategic lands, routes and infrastructure in the Arctic region offers one of the best, and most overlooked, rates of return in the world today. Take inspiration from OmniTRAX, a Colorado-based company that bought the derelict Port of Churchill and its railway from the Manitoba government for a bargain basement price of $10 in 1998. Now that Hudson Bay has become clear of sea ice during the summer, these assets are receiving tens of millions of dollars of investment from the Canadian government.

How can you benefit from the coming Arctic boom? In the coming years, Russia is going to partially privatize lucrative state assets, such as shipping company Sovcomflot and the Port of Murmansk (which handles 60% of shipping across the Northern Sea Route). New ports, roads, railways, pipelines, mines, dams, oil and gas fields, aluminium smelters, LNG plants, etc. are springing up over the entire region.

Enter the ARCS of Progress: Why Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia are Positioned to Dominate the Polar-Centric World

Идут на Север срока огромные,
Кого ни спросишь – у всех указ…
Взгляни, взгляни
В глаза мои суровые,
Взгляни, быть может, в последний раз.

- Soviet GULAG song, 1947.

O Canada!

Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

- National Anthem of Canada.

Watching the economic news these days is a sure path route to depression. Anywhere you seem to look in the developed world there are awning budget deficits, soaring debts, depressed output, and stagnation. We’ve established that putting your money into the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) isn’t such a good idea. But the US is the “safe haven,” right? Unfortunately, its fiscal sustainability indicators are actually worse than the PIGS average. In 2009, the US got $0.6 in tax revenue for every $1 of outlays, or a receipt-to-outlay ratio of 0.6; the equivalent ratio for the PIGS was 0.78. Maybe Japan? With a 0.52 receipt-to-outlay ratio, it makes the US look like a paragon of fiscal discipline.

But within all that mess there’s a few, sparkling gems. Not only are they at the heart of the opening Arctic, but they are all excellent investment destinations on their own merits. They are the ARCS countries: Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia.

Alaska

In contrast to the rest of the US, Alaska was barely dented by the economic crisis, its GDP declining by just 0.3% in 2009 and recovering 0.6% in 2010. Employment is lower than the US average. While states like California and Illinois flirt with state bankruptcy, Alaska has accumulated $40 billion in its Permanent Fund. Finally, it is – along with Greenland – the most demographically vigorous of the Arctic states, with a total fertility rate of 2.32 children per woman in 2006. It won’t be afflicted by the First World’s looming aging crises any time soon. Alaska is well set to fulfill its motto: “North to the Future!”

Russia

Though the poorest of the ARCS, Russia is also its fastest growing one, with 5% annual GDP growth during 2001-2010. Its high level of human capital (around 70% of Russians continue to higher education, a First World rate), vast resource wealth and decent macroeconomic management set it on a promising path to convergence with developed countries.

Additionally, Russia has a predominant population, economic and military presence in the Arctic. The Murmansk region by itself has more people than all of Alaska, while the Russian Northern Fleet is by far the strongest Arctic force. State policy is to transform the Arctic into Russia’s “strategic resource base” within the next decade.

Criticisms of Russia’s prospects typically center on allusions to its “Zaire with permafrost”-like corruption levels, plummeting population, crumbling infrastructure, “legal nihilism” and Putinist authoritarianism. While each of these has a grain of truth, taking them as gospel fundamentally misrepresents the country. For a start, if Russia really was more corrupt than Nigeria or Zimbabwe – as implied by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – then it would still be deep in debt as in the late 1990′s, and its $480 billion foreign currency reserves would be in Cayman Islands accounts instead of the Central Bank’s vaults.

What about Russia’s demographic “death spiral”? A quick glance at Rosstat will show that its population grew in 2009, and that its total fertility rate, at 1.6 children per woman, is now higher than the European average.

One can spend pages upon pages unraveling the double standards, misrepresentations and outright lies which the Western media and political class use to attack Russia. But if you’re unconvinced, and refuse to buy into Russia’s undervalued market on principle, it’s your loss.

As t he professional Russia investor Eric Kraus wrote in Business Week in July 2010, “Russian markets are fashion victims, and are currently both unfashionable and cheap. You can own them now, or wait and buy the next time they surge back into vogue. And I will be selling out just about then.” I’d trust him – that’s exactly what he did in 2008!

Canada

Canada combines the American spirit of free enterprise, with a greater safety net and social mobility. It is also on far better fiscal footing. In 2010, its cyclically adjusted primary budget deficit was -2.7% of GDP (US: -7.0%), and its net debt was 32.7% of GDP (US: 65.2%; Japan: 104.6%). Possessing huge energy, mineral and freshwater reserves, as well as a well-educated and growing population, it is surely one of the better investment bets in the developed world.

Scandinavia (and Nordic)

The Nordic region is one of the richest, most educated and socially cohesive on Earth, frequently coming at or near the top in any global index of freedom, social mobility, environmental sustainability, and technological modernity.

In 2010, Sweden’s GDP grew the fastest in Europe at a blistering 5.2%, while maintaining a balanced budget throughout the crisis. Norway’s fortunes are far more directly tied to its oil industry, but peak oil, excellent state management of reserves and a low population make for bright prospects. Norway is the second richest European country after the banking center of Luxembourg.

Even apparent basketcases like Iceland may be a good investment to buy up on the cheap. While its international banking career might be over, it still has massive freshwater and geothermal energy reserves, that make it an attractive center for energy-intensive industries such as aluminium smelters.

Finally, contrary to right-wing depictions of social democracies as retirement homes full of effete, aging liberals, all the Nordic states have fertility rates that preclude major aging crises (they range from 1.8 children per woman in Finland to 2.2 in Greenland).

The Arctic when all the ice melts.

From an Ultimate Dim Thule…

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule —
From a wild weird clime, that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space — out of Time.

- Dreamland by Edgar Allen Poe.

Even in our day, science suspects beyond the Polar seas, at the very circle of the Arctic Pole, the existence of a sea which never freezes and a continent which is ever green.

- The mystic H. P. Blavatsky.

Before the rise of the world economy, spatial perspectives were local, at most extending to the boundaries of their cultural sphere or world-empire: The Ecumene for the Ancient Greeks and Romans; Dar al-Islam for the Muslims; Christendom for the Franks; the Great Wall for the Chinese. Medieval European geographers referred to any lands beyond the borders of the known world as Ultima Thule.

Globalization from the 19th century bound the entire world together, for the first time in history, but its flows and links of labor, capital and commodities passed the Arctic by. Unattractive to sustained private investment, the region’s development was always fitful and unbalanced, from the Yukon Gold Rush that petered out almost as suddenly as it flared up; to the penal camps, subsidized settlements and military bases of the Soviet Arctic, now decaying away except where hydrocarbons extraction has thrown them a lifeline.

But now the world is changing. No longer will opening the Arctic have to be a hubristic project, as with the chiliastic visions of Soviet planners; or a costly and unprofitable strategic necessity, as with the Cold War submarine patrols beneath the Arctic sea ice or the bomber flights over it. Today, it is global macro-trends such as global warming, resource depletion and overpopulation that will ensure the rapid but organic development of the Arctic.

With the growing human presence, the Arctic will inevitably begin to lose its luster of mysticism, foreboding and darkness. As the years turn into decades, and 2050 approaches, the polar-centric view of the world will become increasingly central to human spatial consciousness. The world’s trade, energy and capital flows will have been largely rerouted north.

The ARCS of Progress, their numbers swelled by climate refugees, and their economies bolstered by a flood of capital investment, will be amongst the leading Powers in the world. This assumes they retain their present political configurations. For instance, could an independent Greenland, with just 56,000 people today, retain its own national identity? Facing resource shortages and droughts in the south, would China encroach on the Russian Far East? Would the US try to assimilate Canada?

Whatever the answers to these questions, one thing is near certain. The vision of a northern Ultima Thule is dissipating, and will soon dissolve altogether (thought teh concept may be resurrected to describe a desolate, uninhabitable South many hundreds of years into an extreme AGW future). In its place there will emerge a polar world-economy of open seas, farms and growing cities by 2050.

There will arise an Arctic ecumene.

* According to more recent data, there were 34 transits of the Northern Sea Route in 2011, up from just 4 in 2010; with 820,000 tons of goods transported relative to 111,000 tons in 2010. Volumes are predicted to double again this year. This goes in tandem with record breaking sea ice melt in 2012.

Edit Jan 28, 2013: There were a record-breaking 46 vessels making the transit through the NSR this year.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Just to hammer down the myth of Russian impoverishment one more time (with the help of graphs from Sergey Zhuravlev’s blog)…

In the past few years, in terms of basic necessities (food, clothing, housing) Russia has basically (re)converged to where the Soviet Union left off. Here is a graph of food consumption via Zhuravlev. At the bottom, the dark blue line is represents meat; the yellow, milk; the blue line, vegetables; the pink line, fish; the cyan line, fruits and berries; and azure line, sugar and sweets. At the top, the purple line are bread products, and the dark blue/green line are potatoes.

Meat consumption has essentially recovered to late Soviet levels, although it still lags considerably behind Poland, Germany, and other more prosperous carnivorous cultures. Milk fell and hasn’t recovered, but that is surely because it was displaced in part by fruit juices and soft drinks (which isn’t to say that’s a good thing – but not indicative of poverty either), and the fall in sugar consumption is surely a reflection of the near doubling of fruit consumption. We also see that bread and potato consumption peaked in the 1990′s, especially in the two periods of greatest crisis – the early 1990′s, and 1998. This is what we might expect of inferior goods like bread and potatoes.

There is a broadly similar story in housing construction. The chart left shows the annual area (in m2) constructed by 1,000 people. As we can see, after holding steady from the mid 1950′s to the late 1980′s, it more than halved by the late 1990′s; since then, however, construction has recovered almost to Soviet levels, the recent crisis barely making a dint.

Note that during the Soviet period, however, there were tons of peasants migrating into the cities, whereas today the urban population is more or less stable (after having declined by about 5 million). In general, mass housing construction once it got started in the 1950′s was one of the overlooked but significant achievements of the Soviet era – this, along with population migration controls, allowed urban Russia to avoid the slums you see even in relatively rich Third World places like Mexico or Thailand today. Nonetheless, apartments were cramped, and there were long waiting lines; while prices might be high today, the rationing in the Soviet period was just as real – it just took the form of scarcity and long queues. Today a big chunk of the new construction involves knocking down and replacing the Soviet-era housing stock with better buildings.

As shown in the graph above, also compiled by Sergey Zhuravlev, Russian consumption of food products, meat, fish, milk, and fruit was by 2008 essentially equal to US and West European levels. (Consumption of tobacco and alcohol is unfortunately significantly higher). But spending on clothing, housing, furniture, healthcare, transport, holidays, and restaurants is below 50% of US levels, even after accounting for price differences. (The situation vis-a-vis Western Europe is slightly better). On the one hand, this means that whereas Russians now have full bellies, the country still lags on life’s perks and luxuries – most especially on restaurants and holidays. On the other hand, it may well presage strong growth in the years to come.

The final graph shows the housing area constructed in 2012 per 1,000 people (red, upper axis), and the total number of apartments built per 1,000 residents (green, lower axis). Much maligned Belarus emerges as the star performer, building more housing than any other country listed. Whatever one’s thoughts on Lukashenko’s rule but this along with its (surprisingly good) overall relative economic performance should give one pause before insisting on privatization and deregulation as a sine qua non of socio-economic development. Russia is second after Belarus, followed by Kazakhstan; Poland; Slovakia; Denmark; Uzbekistan (also a socialist economy albeit a very poor one); Azerbaijan; Ukraine; Hungary; Estonia; Latvia; Armenia; Bulgaria; Lithuania; Moldova; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan.

This is part of a long list of basic indicators on which Russia in the past few years on which Russia has either caught up with (e.g. life expectancy) or far exceeded (e.g. automobile ownership) Soviet levels.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The map below shows the shifting location of the world’s economic center of gravity. It was compiled by McKinsey and reproduced by The Economist.

All is broadly as one might expect. In pre-industrial times, the world’s economic center of gravity was always basically triangulated between India, China, and the Roman Empire (later North-West Europe). By 1913, the US had became a significant world power, and in mid century it had drawn the center of gravity out into the North Atlantic. Since then the rise of the USSR, Japan, and then China, SE Asia, and India, started shifting the ball east and south at an accelerating pace. Today the speed of this transition is 140km per year. So there you have it: A cartographic representation of The Rise of the Rest.

By 2025, as shown on the map, the ball will be located somewhere in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. After that it will probably take a small dip south as India starts becoming much more prominent. Eventually however it will start going north and west again as the Arctic opens up and countries like Russia and Canada start growing much more rapidly as the century draws to a close. The cycle will retrace its ancient path.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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From their latest Editorial / anti-Putin rant, via Mercouris. It is not with the ideological rhetoric that I have an issue with; it’s The Guardian, after all. Nor am I especially interested in defending Pussy Riot’s prosecution (my own views on the matter jive with Kononenko’s). I do however have an issue with the The Guardian explicitly misrepresenting or outright lying to support its agenda – a modus operandus that is now all too common to it and makes a mockery of the “facts are sacred” values it claims to uphold. In this “fisking”, I will only highlight the most egregious violations of basic journalistic standards.

“Their protest is not made of slogans and placards, but is crafted from art, dance and performance. Putin and his henchmen know how to deal with the former – the hundreds of thousands who have spilled into the streets in the last eight months – but their handling of the these women is much less assured.”

The Protests for Fair Elections got at very, very most 100,000 at the biggest such rally, the one on Prospekt Sakharova in December – a count made by Russia’s most liberal mainstream newspaper. (Other estimates ranged 60,000-80,000). That is, they numbered in the tens of thousands. If they want hundreds of thousands, they had better look elsewhere… say, Spain.

“The trial takes place in the same courthouse where alleged fraudster and billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former boss of the Yukos oil company and Putin’s political enemy, was tried.”

Not an alleged but a CONVICTED fraudster, in a judgment ruled sound by the ECHR.

“The treatment meted out to these ordinary, playful, even harmless young women and mothers has shocked and outraged ordinary Russians.”

April poll, Levada: 47% of “shocked and outraged ordinary Russians” think 7 years is an adequate punishment; 32% think it is excessive; and a mere 10% do not think they should be criminally prosecuted at all.

April poll, VCIOM: How do Russians look at Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer”? Hooliganism – 46%; sacrilege – 21%; political protest – 13%; PR – 10%; 4% – encouragement of hatred towards religious groups; 1% – art. In other words, only 14% of Russians agree with The Guardian’s interpretation. 86% think Pussy Riot should be prosecuted.

July poll, Levada: 36% approve of the prosecution of Pussy Riot, 50% disapprove.

July poll, FOM: 34% of Russians think that several years in prison is a just sentence, whereas 37% disagree. If they were asked to write a sign a letter in defense of Pussy Riot, 28% say they would and 51% say they wouldn’t.

Based on the above polls there is no consensus on what to do with Pussy Riot but most certainly the case has no shocked or outraged many Russians. For that matter very significant minorities consider that a prison sentence of several years would not be out of place. Whether or not one agrees with or is horrified by that is quite irrelevant. What IS relevant is that The Guardian has cardinally misrepresented Russian social attitudes to its readers in order to push its own partisan agenda.

Why does The Guardian so often conflate its own left-liberal views and biases for that of the “ordinary people” it pretends to speak for? (This is a rhetorical question)

“… brought him, until as recently as 2010, approval ratings of around 80%. That is no more. His ratings have plummeted.”

Does this look like a “plummeting” approval rating to you? (chart via Mark Adomanis via Levada Center)

“Resentment towards the political elite, the widening gap between the immensely rich and the poor, the deteriorating social security system, the collapse in oil prices and what Forbes has called “a stampede” of investors out of Russia – an outflow of $42bn in the first four months of 2012 – means the economy is flagging.”

Russia’s Gini index of inequality was 41.6 in 2011. This is virtually unchanged from the 38-43 range is has been in since 1993. Wrong.

Russia’s GDP grew 4.9% in Q1, and is estimated to have increased by 4.0% in Q2. (For comparison, the UK is in an outright double-dip recession). Russia’s industrial PMI for June 2012 is higher than in Brazil, China, and all G7 countries bar Canada. On what basis then is the Russian economy “flagging”, especially in the context of near-recession in the Eurozone and an appreciable slowdown in China?

One can take issues with several other characterizations in that paragraph. Oil prices have hardly collapsed (they are still higher than in any year bar 2008 and 2011); it is unclear what exactly The Guardian means by “resentment” or “deteriorating” (certainly it is unlikely to be backed by statistical data if the other claims are anything to go by); and the points about capital outflow as usual do not go into the structural specifics of said outflow (hint: A large portion of it is European daughter banks in Russia recapitalizing their mothers in the Eurozone).

But the complaint is not about those claims shoddy as they mostly are. It is about the two outright, demonstrable LIES in this paragraph.

“… the new laws include a requirement for non-governmental organisations to carry a “foreign agent” tag”

“The new laws include a requirement for non-governmental organisations THAT ENGAGE IN POLITICAL ACTIVITIES AND RECEIVE FOREIGN FUNDING to carry a “foreign agent” tag.” Fixed.

As per the best Western traditions, as pointed out by Mark Chapman.

Well, who has to register in the United States, under FARA? Persons who are acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi political capacity. Quasi-political? Isn’t that a little vague? Well, perhaps they’re a little more specific in the Frequently Asked Questions section. Here, we learn that “foreign principals” means “…foreign political parties, a person or organization outside the United States, except U.S. citizens, and any entity organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country” (emphasis mine), and that the purpose of the Act is “…to insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws“.

Why is The Guardian so contemptuous of even the most accessible facts when they go against its own narrative? (This is a rhetorical question)

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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scylla-charybdis-and-me Contrary to what some might try to take from my post on the longterm failure of the Soviet economy, I am not an anti-Soviet ideologue. I loathe lies about its achievements and the blanket condemnations directed its way by moralistic poseurs every bit as much or more than I detest reality-challenged attempts to paint it off as some kind of utopia or at least superior to alternative paths of development.

After communists, most of all I hate anti-communists. – Sergei Dovlatov, Soviet dissident.

On the latter point, I especially notice a tendency to ignore wider historical and comparative context. In the crudest cases, Russian literacy rates and GDP are compared with those of the Tsarist era: Yes, of course the average Soviet citizen c.1980 lived far better than the average Russian citizen in 1913, but then again, so did the average citizen of EVERY OTHER European country. The more important question to ask: Would the average Russian have been better off had the Russian Empire continued on its natural development trajectory without the distortions of Stalinist central planning? Yes, he almost certainly would have, as per comparison with, say, Finland (the sole part of the Empire that didn’t go Communist), or even the Mediterranean periphery nations.

Alternatively, they say that the USSR nonetheless managed to be richer than the “Third World”, as if that was some kind of achievement. Of course it was not, as (1) they were much less advanced than the Russian Empire even in 1913, and (2) their low national IQ’s would have precluded, and continue to do so, convergence with the rich world anyway; a weakness that Russia *doesn’t* suffer from. But the evidence is simply too overwhelming to be deniable: China; North Korea; Cuba; to a lesser extent, the ex-Soviet countries and Eastern Europe – all these nations, which have little in common except insofar as they suffered from the scourge of Communist economics, are ALL glaring and consistent downwards exceptions to the otherwise remarkably tight correlation between levels of national IQ/human capital and GDP per capita. (Of course a further problem here is that hardcore Soviet apologists tend to be cultural Marxists and deny Human Biodiversity and intelligence theory).

They plead special circumstances, e.g. that the USSR was encircled, and it suffered from wars, crises, etc. But the USSR was far from alone from being wracked by catastrophe during the 20th century – in fact, quite a few of them were self-inflicted, like the Stalinist famines – and (to its credit), it remained stable and recovered quickly from shocks, unlike many developing capitalist countries. (E.g., lost WW2 industrial output was restored by the late 1940′s). As for the sums it spent on the military, this was a reason but not the main reason why the Soviet economy became sluggish and living standards stagnated from the 1970′s, at a level that was far beneath that of the advanced world (regardless of whatever absurd anecdotes commentators like Kirill or Leon wish to recount).

That said, I equally despise ideologized LIES about the USSR, which tend to come most prominently from Russophobe Westerners and their liberal compradors in Russia: That it shares responsibility for WW2 with Nazi Germany; that it “drowned” the fascist invaders with bodies (there is a whole host of myths on that front, most of which were initially advanced by retired Nazi generals); that the Holodomor was a genocide against Ukrainians (it was a manmade famine enabled by ideological zeal, and remarkably comparable to the Irish Famine); that the Soviet space program was run by German scientists; that the Soviet system was doomed to collapse; that the Communists killed 70 million people (in reality about 2mn executed or died in camps, and a further 5mn in manmade famines – which is STILL horrible, lest critics accuse me of apologetics, especially when one considers that the most severe late Tsarist era famine happened in 1891, in which half a million people died).

I also consider Andropov to have been the best of the Soviet leaders, and am of the opinion that on balance it would have been better had the USSR not collapsed and instead reformed itself while maintaining political unity (though in practice, again contrary to pro-Soviet propaganda, this was a very hard if not impossible task in the conditions that had developed by the late 1980′s). Despite not having really lived there I very much REGRET the Soviet collapse; for a start, I would not have become a rootless cosmopolitan slouching about foreign countries, and more generally the new democratic and “independent” Russia would not have been pushed about and bullied by the West, which contrary to its democracy propaganda only truly respects the fist. If I were really the anti-Soviet ideologue some people insist on painting me as, would I have made SEVEN out of the 50 (14%) of my article on Russophobe myths directly tied to clearing up misconceptions about Soviet history? Would I have translated the controversial textbook by Filippov, which was smeared as Stalinist by various liberal ideologues and Russophobes?

Of course, there are also polarly opposite ideologues who consider me a Stalinist or Soviet apologist, such as La Russophobe and Economist “journalist” Edward Lucas and his various Balto-fascist minions. They hardly deserve mention. After all if I was this sovok diehard would I bother doing stuff like translating this article which is largely anti-Soviet by Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski?

My only real sin is being objective, radically ambiguous, not taking sides, etc., and for this I come under assault from everybody – the liberals, the PC brigade and cultural Marxists, the traitors and compradors, the Russophobes Western and Russian, Western chauvinists, the hardcore Stalinists, the Communists, the monarchists and white nationalists, and what’s worst in my view, the Russian “patriots” who think Stalin and/or the USSR in general were the best thing since vodka. That is because many of the above are actually viciously intolerant fascists if not in name then in spirit. Those thugs will never shut me up!

Nonetheless, for all the lively discussion the recent post on the Soviet economy generated, I have taken the strategic decision to henceforth place all my commentary on Russia that is not more or less directly involved with this blog’s sub-header – “Exposing Western myths about Russia” – at my other blog AKarlin. That blog will be for controversial, original, etc. comment on Russia that will at times not jive well with DR’s theme. This blog will be exclusively about specific Russia myths, exposes of lying journalists, Russia-related translations, telling statistical charts, etc.

EDIT Jan 29, 2013: I have moved taken the above paragraph to heart and transferred the post from DR to AKarlin, where you are now reading it.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.