1. The borders of the former DDR are very cleanly delineated. The AfD’s share of the vote there ranged from 19% in Mecklenburg-Vorprommern to 27% in Saxony. In contrast, they only got 12% in Bavaria, the most nationalist Wessie state.
2. While the share of the vote for the Nazis in March 1933 did indeed rise from the west and south to the north and east, it was a gradual incline, not a cliff.
Share of the Nazi vote in March 1933.
And even this map is to a large extent an artifact of the bloc voting habits of German Catholics, most of them concentrated in the south and west, and of whom almost half traditionally voted for the Center Party.
And there was also the Bavarian People’s Party locking away 28% of the vote in Bavaria.
Meanwhile, Saxony – the most pro-AfD state in Germany today – was actually far more Leftist than average in 1933. Communists and Social Democrats got a combined 48% of the vote there, relative to the national average of 37%.
So yes, I’m pretty skeptical of the Jaymannian notion that there are deep-grained HBD differences that massively predispose East Germans to far right politics.
Specific circumstances explain things far better.
In 1933: Poorer, non-Catholic, less industrialized, possibly less bright (Saxony seems to have a higher IQ than northern East Germany) regions voted for the Nazis.
In 2017: The territories of the former DDR that were not exposed to decades of Hollywood diversity propaganda voted for the AfD.
In other words, the Ossies are politically just like the Visegrad nations (Poland, Hungary, Czechia, etc.) on this particular question. Even though the social differences within this general region – e.g. atheist in the DDR and Czechia, with nudism and a penchant for porn thrown in, respectively; highly prudish and conservative in Poland – are otherwise quite considerable.
The evidence seemed to indicate that German IQ was fairly uniform across Germany, once you took the immigrants out.
However, soon afterwards I got the following curious email from one Carolin:
I stumbled upon a few studies (one done by the German military, when there was still a mandatory draft), that put the regional differences at much higher values than a few IQ points. Basically, there were many regions, where the AVERAGE recruit was in the best/worst 10%, which would dwarf even the black-white-gap.
On November 23 the European parliament adopted a non-binding resolution on fighting Islamist propaganda and “information warfare” against the EU.
I was surprised too but no, apparently by that they didn’t have in mind jihadist shill Julian Roepcke, and the Lügenpresse that did more than anyone else to discredit the EU by remaining silent on the Rape of Cologne for days after the event.
Just kidding. It was predictable as clockwork. Of course Russia is to blame.
The geographic distribution is quite curious – it correlates almost perfectly with the German sphere of influence (as estimated by the German Foreign Office a decade ago).
The North German empire – now, after Trump and Brexit, perhaps the world’s standard-bearer of Atlanticism – and its quasi-satellites have the most decidedly anti-Russian positions. Notably, Fidesz is part of this grouping, for all the alarmed rhetoric about Orban as Putin’s Trojan horse in Europe.
Instead, the real division in Europe, in attitudes towards Russia as in economics, is between the Hanseatic North and the Roman core – Orthodox Greece and Cyprus, Italy (about to vote “No” in their referendum and land the next big blow against globalism), France (where the two leading candidates for the Presidency are both notable pro-Russian), and Bulgaria (which recently replaced its Russophobe President).
What makes this all the more ironic is that throughout his reign Putin has devoted the most attention to and expressed the warmest attitudes to Germany.
He should have paid more attention to what his own favorite philosopher, the “fascist” Ivan Ilyin, wrote on the matter more than half a century ago: “We must part with sentimental illusions. After the Bolsheviks, Germany is the main enemy of Russia… It is an instinctive dream of several German generations – to move to the East and [to] transform it into a “historical pile of manure” – cannot and should not be considered now extinct: It will be reborn as soon as the right political conjuncture appears.“
With the sole exception of Berlin, which is close to rock bottom, the former GDR states along with Bavaria were consistently at the top of the ratings. 50-60 points difference correspond to two years’ worth of learning progress.
Saxony, home of Pegida and known in the Cold War as the “valley of the clueless” because its specific geography hampered Western radio and TV broadcasts, is at the very top.
This is confirmed by the regional PISA results for 2009.
What could possibly explain this?
Who could have imagined?
In reality, East Germans are nothing special academically; they are about mid-range compared to the average ethnic German elsewhere in Germany.
The key difference is that East Germans had yet to be really enriched back when these tests were carried out. The map above shows the percentage of immigrants in the German districts as of 2011.
On a historical note, it’s possible that the roots of the South German – that is, Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg – dominance on the German cognitive scoreboard are pretty old.
Thirty years after the printing press first appeared in Europe, you could already begin to discern three distinct clusters of concentration – Northern Italy, the Low Countries, and South Germany. (The first two, of course, were famous for their respective Renaissances). Back then, there was no independent Protestant pro-literacy effect, so we might expect to see a considerable correlation across Catholic Europe between literacy rates and IQ (though back then climatic factors would had a much bigger influence in suppressing literacy rates in the colder, less urbanized areas of Northern Europe). And it is reasonably to suppose that there was likewise a good correlation between literacy rates and the adoption of the printing press.
Furthermore, unlike the Low Countries and Italy, South Germany is a hilly inland area, an environment that tends to depress IQ (iodine deficiency – the European alpine areas used to be known for having many cases of goitre and cretinism), so their achievement in quickly accumulating such a high density of printing presses nonetheless must have already hinted at a very respectable genotypic IQ.
I seem to recall reading in National Literacy Campaigns and Movements, as in Sweden, there were ecclesiastical reglaments making marriage more difficult for illiterate people in southern Germany from the 18th century. If so this would have been a eugenic policy that helped maintain or increase further those high IQ levels, though the effect would have been attenuated by the Bavarians having one of Europe’s highest illegitimacy rates (something like 27% IIRC).
One of the problems critics of mass immigration face is that there aren’t that many concrete statistics on their crime rates (substantially thanks to European institutions being in the habit of forbidding the gathering of said race/ethnicity data).
But things do leak through every now and then and more often than not they tend to confirm the hateful stereotypes.
Latest example: The German Federal Criminal Office compiles data on “nationality of suspect” across different criminal categories current up to 2014 (see Table 62). In the last year before the Great Migration, immigrants – accounting for less than 10% of the population – were responsible for 18% of rapes and 30% of murders. One enterprising fellow who presumably prefers to remain anonymous compiled a big infographic combining the criminal and demographic data to produce estimates of criminality rates by different crime categories and country of origin. (The infographic is attached at the bottom of this post, which the stats for perhaps the two most important/topical indicators, homicide rates and rape rates, are reprinted).
Murder / 100,000
Country of Origin
Sexual Assault/Rape Rates / 100,000
Country of Origin
Sexual Assault/Rape Rates
Frankly even I was rather surprised by some of these figures – perhaps not so much the figures on rape, but I do find the killer performance of the likes of Lebanon, Tunisia and Algeria in the homicide rates to be unduly impressive. After all, according to international homicide rate statistics, the Maghreb is actually rather civilized – 2.2/100,000 in Tunisia and Morocco, and a mere 0.7/100,000 in Algeria (lower than in Germany itself at 0.8/100,000). Lebanon for all its chaos is also at 2.2/100,000. Homicide rates are the one major type of crime that can be reliably measured across countries, so that actually makes them safer than large chunks of Eastern Europe, including Poland before the 2000s. But for some reason when they come to Europe their homicide rates soar by an order of magnitude.
What could be the cause? Lower migrant quality relative to their average population? Being overwhelmingly drawn from ethnic groups with a higher relative proposensity towards violence? (hbd*chick noticed that a disproportionate number of Muslim terrorists in the Paris Attacks had Berber backgrounds; does this extend to “ordinary” criminal violence?). Or perhaps this is one case where it is not so much a case of ethnicity as of culture – namely, traditional and/or authoritarian societies being better at keeping a lid on violent crime than the dissolute anomie of Western urbanism? I don’t know, but this discrepancy has to be explained.
Note that 70% of prisoners in French jails are Muslim. Of course most French Muslims are from the Maghreb. Originally I thought there might be some scintilla of truth to liberal claims that this proves that France is structurally racist towards its Muslim minorities because I was aware that the countries where French Muslims come from aren’t that violent overall so it’s strange so many of them would be in jail. But if they acquire the criminological profiles of American Negroes on coming to Europe, then the preponderance of French Muslims in orange becomes perfectly explainable.
It also becomes easier to see why the latest wave of immigration has been such a shock to Europe and elicited such strong headlines in the right-wing press. The current wave of migrants into Germany and Europe tend to have rape rates around 5x the native German norm according to its own police statistics. Moreover, this refers to presumably established migrant communities – with relatively more women and older people – whereas the current influx has generally been acknowledged to be primarily composed of young males. This means it is entirely plausible for even relatively “small” numbers of those immigrants (the million or so who came into Germany in 2015) to have a hugely disproportionate impact on crime rates that would be noticeable even in a country of 80 million.
Laws banning incest between brothers and sisters in Germany could be scrapped after a government ethics committee said the they were an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination.
“Criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo,” the German Ethics Council said in a statement. “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
This is a one up even on the Muslims who at least stop at first cousins.
Which of course brings us to recent events in Cologne.
Cousin marriage, especially the father’s brother’s daughter type, is extremely prevalent across the Muslim world. It is also almost unheard of in Christian Europe. It is pretty well known even from perusing MSM outlets that these cousin marriages result in high levels of genetic defects.
Venturing into the twilight realm of what is and what is not politically correct, it is well established in the literature that the children of close cousins take massive hits on IQ. That less intelligent people are more impulsive and more likely to commit crimes is also well established.
Finally, and most germane to the newly flourishing rape culture of Cologne, are the social accoutrements of the mass cousin marriage institution.
What happens if a very large percentage of the girls and young women in a society have their choice of potential future marriage partners tightly circumscribed, and indeed, largely predetermined?
It means that women will be kept out of the public sphere – veiling, segregation, accompaniment by male guardians. You don’t want some young strapping village lad throwing a wrench in the family arrangements.
It means a severe shortage of their own women, especially for younger Muslim males. What to do if your cousin is slated to marry off some older cousin in Pakistan, and you don’t have the gold or the seduction XP to game the loosely dressed and unsupervised local women? You resort to the rape game, as we have seen from the institutionalized grooming in Rotherham and other UK cities to the recent wave of mass enrichment in Cologne to mark the new year.
It need hardly be said but the usual SJWs and feminists have gone crickets, and apart from the ritualistic expressions of outrage, the German state shows no signs of abating on its policy of closing the blinds and pretending the train is still moving. The female Green mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker went one further and suggested German women adopt a code of conduct to prevent future assault.
The suggested code of conduct includes maintaining an arm’s length distance from strangers, to stick within your own group, to ask bystanders for help or to intervene as a witness, or to inform the police if you are the victim of such an assault.
Why not go the full hog straight away and put on a burqa while you’re at it.
The radical feminists have alwaysbeen just fine with it, and in the end, it will become a matter of practical safety anyway, as it has amongst Christian communities in the Middle East.
When should we expect that?
Now to be sure, there are still good reasons to be be skeptical of the “Eurabia” thesis. After all, to keep the focus on Germany, 1, 2, or even 5 million new immigrants would still be relatively minor compared to the German population of 80 million. Fertility rates will converge; Merkel will flip-flop again, or be voted out of office; and walls will go up again.
This is a mistaken view, according to a recent argument by Adorján F. Kovács, a German surgeon and publicist.
The gist of the argument is that number we should be looking at is not so much 80 million as 800,000 – the typical number of yearly births Germany has had since the mid-1970s. And of which a consistent 10%-20% accrued to immigrant parents even back then.
Suddenly, when compared against the much diminished size of the youngest German cohorts, what at first might seem like a trickle becomes a flood. Put another way, the 1 million or so immigrants that were officially registered in Germany this year represent one a half year’s worth of the younger ethnic German cohorts.
A much more accurate picture of the influx can be obtained when it is compared to the already existing German population within this same age group, Professor Kovács says.
In other words, the current native—European—German population aged between 20 and 35, excluding the new wave of invaders, stands at 11.5 million people.
Working on a rough figure of around a million invaders coming to Germany every year for the next few years—and the real figure may be higher—it is perfectly reasonable to expect a total “asylum-seeking” population in Germany of between three and four million by the year 2020.
This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg. Presuming, Professor Kovács says, that only half this number will actually be granted asylum and stay in Germany, this means that there will be around two million successful applicants by 2020.
“The fact that the majority of so-called asylum seekers are men, means that in almost all the cases, a successful bid for family reunification will be made.
“This will add between three and eight extra persons per successful asylum seeker, which means that by 2020 the total number of this group will be in excess of eight million.”
The fact that that are currently only 11.5 million European Germans in the 20- to 30- year-old age group means that by 2020—just four years away—white Germans will be an outright minority in this age category.
“Of the 23 million people in this country who are between 20 and 35 years, approximately 11.5 million people have a migration background within five years,” Professor Kovács says.
Furthermore, the higher birth rate of immigrants “has not even been factored in,” he continued.
“You have to think ahead 30 years. If the majority, that is, more than 50 percent of those now living in Germany are elderly, and will have died within that time, it takes no imagination to get an idea of the composition of the future German population.”
According to PEW estimates, the fertility rate of German Muslims is 1.8 children per woman during 2005-10, versus 1.3 children per woman for the non-Muslims (see right).
And one supposes that as the numbers pile up those women who do not feel Islam is all that congruent with feminist ideals, and those men who are not tempted into living out a polygamous Houellebecqian fantasy, will start to emigrate en masse, further accelerating the process of population replacement.
It is still not too late to turn things around and won’t be for a number of years yet (previously it would have been measured in decades). In my own social networks I am even beginning to observe some formerly enthusiastic #RefugeesWelcome people expressing shock and rage at the events in Cologne (admittedly there’s some self-selection going on here because any of the truly rabid SJWs would have long since DeFriended me). After all, a dozen bad apples, as in the Paris Attacks, are presumably easier to explain away more than a thousand strong “group of people who mostly come from her in appearance from the North African and Arab countries” (to use the least obfuscatory official phraseology).
Still, considering the bizarre and abrupt manner in which Merkel pivoted from calling multiculturalism a failure and openly saying that immigrants are “more criminal” to opening the gates wide open and leaning on Zuckerberg and other social media to stamp out “hate” on social media, it is not beyond plausible reason that there are darker and more powerful designs at work that are fundamentally ringfenced from open debate and democratic choice.
In the present meta-analysis, we show an inverse u-shaped trajectory of IQ test performance changes in a large number of samples (k = 96; N = 13,172) on a well known test for spatial perception (the three-dimensional cubes test, 3DC) in German-speaking countries over 38 years (1977–2014). Assessment of both item response theory-based measures as well as more standard measures of classical test theory showed initial increases and a subsequent decrease of performance when controlling for age, sample type (general population vs. mixed samples vs. university students) and sex. Our results suggest saturation and diminishing returns of IQ increasing factors (e.g., life history speed) whilst negative associations of IQ changes with psychometric g may have led to the observed IQ score decrease in more recent years.
Below is the version of the graph that has been corrected for age, sex, and sample time. The all time peak seems to have occured around the mid-1990s.
The PISA tests have indicated that (ethnic) Germans might have some of the highest IQs in Europe. This is credible in light of their historical intellectual accomplishments in the 19th century through to the 1930s, even though Germans were typically shorter (i.e. probably less well fed) and certainly poorer per capita than the British. The Finns are brighter on average, but have a small standard deviation, hence much fewer geniuses.
However, I suspect that since the 1920s and certainly since the 1970s German fertility has become strongly dysgenic. This has started outrunning the benefits from better nutrition (essentially maxed out by the 1970s) and more intensive schooling. Furthermore, they have been brought down by immigrants, to the extent that in 2012 Germany as a whole was overtaken by Poland in the PISA tests.
Further from Pietschnig & Gittler:
Results from our linear regression analyses suggest decreases of about 4.8 IQ points per decade when controlling for age, sample type, and sex, thus indicating a substantial negative Flynn effect that is even stronger compared to previously observed positive trends (e.g., Flynn, 1984, 1987; Pietschnig & Voracek, 2015). This trend was observed in linear regression analyses, but our results showed that the present changes over time may be even better described as a curvilinear function, thus indicating initial increases, followed by stagnation (with performance peaking around the mid-1990s), and subsequent decreases of task performance.
Incidentally, this is one of the factors you have to bear in mind when looking at historical “human accomplishment” (in science, literature, art, etc) and the puzzle of why East Asians don’t figure largely in it for all their high IQs. Not only were the key countries – UK, Germany, etc – well ahead of the likes of China and Japan in terms of nutrition (related to IQ) and general development (schooling, funding for science) but they also enjoyed a bonus from not yet having fallen on the dysgenic slope. I suspect this will likely remove any need for Jaymannian “clannishness” as a key explanatory factor.
But I digress; this is for another post.
Back to Germany – if you are in the throes of dysgenic decline, you might want to try to at least do some obvious things to slow it down, like not take in millions of 85 IQ Third World immigrants. Obviously this is not happening but I found it curious that the great scientist Heiner Rindermann has been given column space to call for exactly that in the German magazine Focus.
In it, he makes some of the following points:
Unlike the case of the Huguenots, whom the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm welcomed to Prussia in 1685, the wave of immigrants in the past years and months are lacking in human capital.
They perform at ~110 points below US and German standards in the PISA tests, or a difference of three years in terms of schooling age. The gap with Africa is more like four and a half years.
Even “elite” students like engineering students from the Gulf states are two to four years behind their German counterparts.
A recent study in Chemnitz, the city that hosts Rindermann’s university, showed that asylum seekers with university degrees had an average IQ of 93 – that is equivalent to that of Realschule students, i.e. prole children.
He mentions that this gap is not closed in the second generation, and even dares to mention cousin marriage as a contributory factor.
These groups will have higher unemployment, and their cognitive errors in daily life such as in traffic or professional decisions will negatively impact other people.
HE ACTUALLY GOES THERE and mentions the high incidence of violence against dissenters and sexual assaults in places where they congregate, such as immigrant neighborhoods and the refugee camps. He also mentions the statistic that whereas only 12% of the French population are Muslim they constitute 60% of the prison population, and alludes to the Rotherham mass rapes in Britain.
Diversity is associated with more crime and inequality, contrary to the positive rhetoric around it.
Furthermore, the comments to his article are generally positive.
Given the current climate, in which Angela Merkel openly demands that Mark Zuckerberg censor “hate” against immigrants on Facebook and the New York Times approving quotes a former East German apparatchik openly commiserating that anti-immigration activists from a village getting swamped by Third World immigrants are not getting arrested, I will admit to some degree of surprise that Rindermann was allowed his not very PC say. I hope he doesn’t get into trouble on account of this.
1 Hjalmar Schacht 143
2 Arthur Seyss-Inquart 141
3 Hermann Goering 138
4 Karl Doenitz 138
5 Franz von Papen 134
6 Eric Raeder 134
7 Dr. Hans Frank 130
8 Hans Fritsche 130
9 Baldur von Schirach 130
10 Joachim von Ribbentrop 129
11 Wilhelm Keitel 129
12 Albert Speer 128
13 Alfred Jodl 127
14 Alfred Rosenberg 127
15 Constantin von Neurath 125
16 Walther Funk 124
17 Wilhelm Frick 124
18 Rudolf Hess 120
19 Fritz Sauckel 118
20 Ernst Kaltenbrunner 113
21 Julius Streicher 106
As I recall from what I’ve read on Hitler and internal Nazi politics, of the above list, particularly “close associates” of Hitler would include: Goering; Ribbentrop; Speer; and until his “betrayal,” Hess. Their average IQ is 129.
While there was never much love lost between Hitler and the German military establishment, the closest military connection to Hitler from that list would be Keitel, who was infamous for his toadying behavior towards the Fuhrer. His IQ also happened to be precisely 129.
(Incidentally, while Jodl is regarded as far more competent than Keitel – he is the guy who actually made OKW command structure run – it’s interesting to note his IQ was actually lower than that of his boss, if marginally so).
In practice, Goering’s IQ during his time as Nazi bigwig might have actually been lower, due to his morphine addiction. On the other hand, there are suspicions that Speer was in fact considerably cleverer than his test scores indicated, because he was playing the “dumb dreamer architect” type so as to pretend ignorance of the death camps and avoid execution (if so he was successful). So these two factors might cancel out.
Adjusting for the Flynn effect – but only modestly, since the most useful (not rules-dependent) forms of intelligence haven’t improved all that radically, and we have an IQ of around 125 for Hitler normed to today’s Greenwich standards.
I think this is essentially accurate. He was a high school dropout and failed to get into the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. He was a brilliant orator, but oratory skills have low g loadings.
Hitler did write a famous book. But Mein Kampf is a very badly written book, even ideology outside. Here is one particularly egregious example that I still recall reading a dozen years later by virtue of just how bad it was:
THE EXTENT of the fall of a body is always measured by the distance between its momentary position and the one it originally occupied. The same is true of nations and states. A decisive significance must be ascribed to their previous position or rather elevation. Only what is accustomed to rise above the common limit can fall and crash to a manifest low This is what makes the collapse of the Reich so hard and terrible for every thinking and feeling man, since it brought a crash from heights which today, in view of the depths of our present degradation, are scarcely conceivable.
And this was after Hess – with an IQ of 120 – had labored on Mein Kampf long and hard to make it at least minimally suitable for publication.
On the other hand, Hitler was always near the top of his class academically, which puts a lower limit of about 120 on his IQ. Here is is a quote from a book b y a childhood friend of Hitler’s via Pumpkin Person:
From school sources there is abundant authentic material describing his school performance. In primary school he was always near the top of the class. He learned quickly and made good progress without much effort.
Hitler has some major geopolitical successes early on, but these were probably more a result of aggression and blind luck than intelligence (had France decisively reacted anytime at Munich or beforehand, the Nazis would have been finished. Not even necessarily due to the allies. The generals were interminably planning a coup throughout the 1930s, to be put into action should Hitler’s plans have blown up).
These geopolitical victories were in any case completely reversed later on – thanks in significant part to Hitler refusing to listen to and heed the advice of his generals (in contrast, Stalin realized he was hopeless on military matters after 1941, and with a few costly exceptions like the Third Battle of Kharkov, largely left the technical details to his generals thereafter).
Against that, it should be admitted that the Nazi leadership was more or less uniformly of the opinion that Hitler had a very high intellect, and was possibly a genius. Apparently, this included Hjalmar Schacht, the brightest of them all:
He read an enormous amount and acquired a wide knowledge. He juggled with that knowledge in a masterly manner in all debates, discussions and speeches. He was undoubtedly a man of genius in certain respects. He had sudden ideas of which nobody else had thought and which were at times useful in solving great difficulties, sometimes with astounding simplicity, sometimes, however, with equally astounding brutality. He was a mass psychologist of really diabolical genius…
However, there are two potential confounds here. First of all, Hitler was a brilliant orator, which expressed itself not only in his speeches but his casual “table talk.” Even very intelligent people can easily mistake this for genius, especially if they are lacking in the rhetorical/charismatic department themselves. Second, the Nazis at Nuremburg had a vested interest in presenting Hitler as a “diabolical genius” type of character in order to diminish their own share of responsibility for war crimes (and their risk of being hanged).
My (very rough) impressions/recollections from reading Nazi histories is that Hitler was certainly a step above the likes of feckless-schoolboy type Hess or the infamously callous Kaltenbrunner, but decidedly below Franz von Papen, Doenitz, and Schacht. To the contrary, his intellectual ability seems to fit right in besides that of Speer and Ribbentrop (also personal friends), and of Rosenberg (the Nazi “philosopher”).
Finally, the 125 estimate for Hitler’s IQ broadly tallies with Pumpkin Person’s estimates of a verbal IQ of 120 and a Performance IQ of 133. Hence, I think it is credible.
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:
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.
The Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN organize yet another topless action. Life in plastic ain’t fantastic – and they will try to prove it through the power of their boobs. Sasha Pyatnitskaya covers the story for Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Topless FEMEN protest against Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin
The restless maidens of FEMEN, a Ukrainian feminist group, staged yet another of their topless protests. This time their ire was aroused by the Barbie doll museum that had just opened at Alexanderplatz in the center of Berlin. Stripping down to the waist, the scandalous Ukrainian gals shouted slogans as they set a cross on fire and pinned a hapless doll to it. One had inscribed text on her body: “Life in plastic ain’t fantastic.”
Fortunately, they did not manage too draw too much of the attention of those girls who’d come to look on Barbie’s house, as they were soon detained by police, according to Reuters.
The movement’s motto is “I came, I disrobed, I conquered.” FEMEN’s activists organize scandalous topless protests not only in their homeland, but across the whole world. One of the biggest pranks of the ignominious feminists happened during the GOGBOT art festival in the Dutch city of Enschede, when they cut down crosses erected by the organizers of the event. They announced that the crosses were “splinters on the body of civilization,” while their chainsaw was the surgeon’s scalpel.
In early April, the topless girls had jumped towards President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Hanover Trade Fair. They were quickly led away, with Putin joking that the girls should be thanked for drawing attention to the fair.
“Thank God the homosexuals didn’t strip here,” he added.
The Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov in his turn said that the feminists should be punished for their antics.
Guest 25: Once my grandma told me that at the end of the world Satan will reign, hence we see all this Satanic spawn, we don’t have much time left…
Guest 1686: They should have done it fully naked.
Hmm…: Our guys would have already long given them a dvushechka.
Gerpes: Pool, unsatisfied girls. But at least they found a profitable activity, managing to get money for their own exhibitionism! But Ukraine is completely discredited – now everyone things that all their khokhlushki have unshaved armpits and dirty panties. Ukraine, have a care for your reputation, pick someone like Ani Lorak!
Guest 1893: The boobs are nice enough, but the faces are clearly wanting.
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.
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.
At least if you take Michael Bohm’s arguments in his latest Moscow Times missive on how Russia Is Turning Into Iran to its logical conclusion.
Look, I’m not a fan of blasphemy laws. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and something that makes the US truly great… even exceptional, to an extent. Although it should be noted that there are limits even in the US: Some quite appropriate in my opinion, others ridiculous such as the taboo on boobs on TV.
Still, if Russia’s moves to criminalize blasphemy brings it “another step closer to becoming like Iran and other Muslim theocracies”, then we have to admit that the likes of Germany, Poland, Israel, and Ireland are already long there – and contrary to what Bohm claims, it doesn’t seem that any of those countries have ended up in “chronic economic stagnation, decline and high poverty rates.”
Just look at the Wikipedia article. About half the Western world has blasphemy laws on the books. In Germany, a man was sentenced to one year in prison (suspended) in 2006 for insulting Islam. In Poland, the singer Doda was fined 5,000 złoty for the fairly innocuous comment, made well outside church, that the Bible was written by “people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”
Yet no Western commentator thinks to compare those countries to Islamic societies where apostasy is punishable by death and mobs demand the deaths of 12 year old girls who (supposedly) burn the Koran. And quite rightly so. Regardless of one’s view on the precisely where the boundaries between free speech and protecting religious feelings and social order are, it is intuitively obvious there are stark and clear lines separating today’s Christian civilization from a large chunk of the Dar al-Islam.
Russia on the other hand has yet to even sign the blasphemy bills into law, but shills like Michael Bohm are already rushing in to bracket it in with Iran. If this isn’t double standards then I really don’t know what is.
PS. I am not even going to comment on Bohm’s bizarre and absolutely illiterate musings regarding GDP.
Two weeks back, the distinguished Estonian poet and linguist Jaan Kaplinski in a comment on this blog linked to his article in the Russian-Estonian paper День за Днем lamenting the state of Estonian – Russian relations, especially as they were apparently really good back in the Tsarist days. In that article from От противостояния к примирению (From Confrontation to Reconciliation), which is translated below, Jaan argues that it is long past time to bury the hatchet.
In my view, it is a very good article as it avoids the moral preening and victimization complexes typical of Baltic nationalists while also decisively calling out hardcore Russian Stalinists for their lies and mendacity. I also note with approval that he uses the historically correct term “annexation” to describe the coercive incorporation of the Baltics into the USSR as opposed to the propagandistic term “occupation”.
From Confrontation to Reconciliation
I know of no Estonian who defected to the Germans during the First World War. On the other hand, I do know the names of many senior Estonian officers, who fought valiantly against the Germans in the ranks of the Tsar’s troops.
Later many of them became commanders in the newborn Estonian Army. Without their knowledge, acquired in the Imperial Nicholas Military Academy and other higher military schools, Estonia’s victory against the Red Army and the German Landeswehr would have hardly been possible.
I remember a conversation long ago with an old man, who participated in the Liberation War. He told me that when it came time for Estonian guys like him to fight against the Reds on Pskov territory, they did so without enthusiasm, and sometimes even expressing discontent: It had nothing to do with them, fighting Russians in Russia. At that time there was no Russophobia among Estonians. There was however an age-old hatred towards the German landlords, about which, by the way, one can read aplenty in the memoirs of the Estonian-Finnish writer Hella Wuolijoki. This hate flared up in 1905, when Estonian peasants burned down many German myzy [AK: Gutshof, or manor houses, specific to the Baltic region].
Memories of these events were still very fresh in 1919, when Estonian formations clashed with Landeswehr elements formed from local Germans and “soldiers of fortune” from Germany. Some historians believe that these clashes began spontaneously, against the wishes of the Estonian high command: The Estonian soldiers couldn’t wait to open fire and wreck vengeance on the “barons”. And as these soldiers routed the German troops, they sang, “The manors are burning, the Germans are dying, the forests and lands will be ours…”
There was no anti-Russian sentiment, let alone pro-German, on the home front either. My mother, then a schoolgirl at the erstwhile Pushkin Gymnasium in Tartu, told me the girls in her class corresponded with Russian frontline soldiers, knitted them woolen socks, and visited the wounded in Tartu’s infirmaries to sing them Russian songs and read poems. When I was a child, she too sang to me the “Cossack lullaby” in Russian on some of the evenings. How then could I not get mad at the words of the current President of Estonia, who says that Russian is the language of the occupation!?
Summing up these examples, which are far from singular, one begins to appreciate that pre-revolutionary relations between Estonians and Russians, and in fact all the way up to Estonia’s annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940, were friendly, and that Estonian attitudes to the Russian Empire were loyal. And the Estonians had perfectly good reasons to be loyal subjects: The reforms of Alexander III greatly reduced the power of the German nobility here, and the introduction of Russian language instruction made it possible for Estonian youth to have a career, learn, and get good jobs in Russia, where, in contrast to the Baltics, there were no racial prejudices against them. Not a few prominent members of the nascent Estonian intelligentsia were educated in St.-Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev, where they often lived and worked.
It’s clear that since then a lot of things have changed in Russian – Estonian relations, and not for the better. These changes continue to strongly influence bilateral relations. How and why did this happen?
From a historical point of view, the mail culprit behind the current tensions is, of course, the “brilliant” policies of Stalin, as a result of which for many Estonians the Germans went from being hated oppressors and invaders to liberators from the Bolshevik nightmare. For before that time, even as conservative a politician as Jaan Tõnisson was trying to query Soviet diplomats on whether Estonia could get military aid from Soviet Russia against Nazi Germany…
In 1940-41, the Estonians received confirmation of what Russian writers such as Ivan Bunin, Ivan Shmelev, and Lev Gumilev were already convinced of, not to mention the mutinying Kronstadt sailors, the Tambov peasants, and the Izhevsk workers: Russia was ruled by a gang of fanatics and terrorists. Almost everything that came after flowed on from this.
In my opinion, there are a lot more commonalities in our history, than many politicians and journalists in both Estonia and Russia want to admit. In both those information spaces there are too many myths, distortions, and attempts to artificially create enemies. Few write about the parallels in our histories, and sometimes, they do not even know about them.
True, many Estonians fought in the German SS. But the vast majority of them were conscripts, and they found themselves in the SS because only German citizens could serve in the Wehrmacht. And on this note: How many Russians and Ukrainians fought in the ranks of the German troops? About 200,000 men, and they all voluntarily entered the ranks of the Russian Liberation Army and other similar units. Yet during the First World War, there were no Russian formations fighting under the German banners, just as there were no Estonians or Latvians. On the other hand, there was a Polish Legion and Finnish Riflemen [AK: fighting for the Whites]…
One conclusion we can draw: The Stalinist regime, as opposed to the Tsar’s reign, itself very much contributed to what was considered treason in Soviet times. There is a lot of food for thought here. And people do think – as in Estonia, so too in Russia, where one can also hear voices saying that perhaps the Vlasovites too were fighters for a free Russia…
They also write about the Estonian “forest brothers” – most often portraying them simply as bandits, stymieing the restoration of civil life after the war. This so-called banditism is considered justification for the deportation and exile of 10,000′s of peaceful citizens into Siberia. The deportation is called “resettlement”. I dare ask, were the Tambov peasants who rose up against the Bolsheviks also bandits? Were the families of Russian kulaks likewise “resettled” on the empty banks of some big Siberian river, where they had to live – and often, die – without food and shelter?
Reconciliation is impossible without knowledge
Nonetheless, despite all these distortions, Estonia’s portrayal in the Russian media isn’t anywhere near as simplified and tendentious as Russia’s image in the Estonian media. Among those Estonian readers unable to read Russian websites and newspapers – unfortunately, the level of our Russian language skills is constantly decreasing – there appears this impression that there is no freedom of speech and systematic killings of journalists in Russia (that is, “Putin’s Russia”), which it is claimed is ruled by some kind of neo-Stalinist clique.
In our press you will not find positive information about Russia with a torch in broad daylight. Our readers would be shocked to find out that Russian schoolchildren study Solzhenitsyn, Bunin, and Ivan Shmelev’s “The Sun of the Dead”, with its no holds barred depictions of the ruthlessness of the Red Terror in the Crimea. Medvedev’s speech, in which he said that Stalin’s crimes have no justification, was not covered in our press, even though the speech was recognized and honored with an award from the Unitas Foundation, which was founded by Mart Laar.
Attempts to reevaluate the White movement and their leaders (Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel), undertaken in the interests of national reconciliation, are either unknown to our public or interpreted as a manifestation of Great Russian chauvinism. When I watched a documentary film by Nikita Mikhalkov about Kolchak, I could not help but recall that, according to family lore, my great-uncle too fought against the Bolsheviks under the command of the Admiral…
Whether we like it or not, our history is closely intertwined with Russia’s, and it would be reasonable to learn from this, and perhaps, participate in the process of transition from confrontation to reconciliation – as between Estonians and Russians, so too between our two countries. Reconciliation is impossible without knowledge, and knowledge is incompatible with the stereotypes and myth-making that should have long since been rejected.
A few translations of select comments from readers:
ближе к делу: An excursion into ancient history, from the Tsars to the First Republic and the Stalinist period, distracts us from more important issues – the history of the past twenty years and the essence of the current regime and its ideology.
тартуский обыватель (in reply to above): … And do you not think, that this is exactly what the authoritarian powers seek from you: Do not study your past, it is enough to know it in its simplified form from official ideologues: From Mart Laar in Estonia, to multiple Filippovs in Russia? [AK: Filippov is the author of a textbook on modern Russian history, whose controversial "pro-Stalinist" chapter I translated here]
ближе к делу [in reply to above]: You didn’t catch my point. I’m not against studying history. But I am against treating Stalinist crimes as if they occurred just yesterday, and treating those crimes, which occurred yesterday and are still occurring today, being considered fine and dandy. I do not think there should be a difference in attitudes towards the repressed kulak, and the repressed Gray Passporter. [AK: i.e., alien]
12 баллов (in reply to above): Oi-oi, what have we got here, a “victim of repressions”. I’ll cry any minute now! They were so cruelly repressed: Freed from military service, given the opportunity of visa free travel all over the world. Oh, bloodthirsty Ansip, you are so cruel!
ближе к делу (in reply to above): A job in government (in fact,, almost the only place of work that offers decent pay and stability in modern Estonia)? And what visa-free travel prior to accession into Schengen are you talking about? In the 90′s a great many countries flat out refused to give visas to Gray Passporters (due to documents status). Apart from that, if its so good having a Gray Passport, why did you Estonians personally not take it, and that same Ansip? If that were the case then your story, about how we live so well, would be a bit more convincing.
т.о (in reply to ближе к делу, a few comments later): Listen, when we are talking of millions of lives destroyed because of differing views, origins, faith, and nationality, and equating it with restrictions on Russian language instruction – only a person who principally refuses to know his own history would do this. Furthermore, what Stalin didn’t finish, his successors attempted to. Recall, what was implied in the realization of the concept of the “one Soviet people”. Thank God oil prices fell, otherwise they’d have brought this into fruition. In that case, to your satisfaction, there would be no questions about the status of Russian language education in Estonia whatsoever. Is that so? Or am I still misunderstanding you?
ближе к делу (in reply to above): … The concept of “one Soviet people” didn’t envision remaking Estonians into Russians, neither did it envision the destruction of higher education in the Estonian language or the transition of middle school education to 60% in Russian neither by 1980, not 2000, nor 2020, nor any other year. Not a single Estonian became Russian and rejected his language. The mergence of nations was envisioned in the far future, under Communism, that is after 500 years. That is a theoretical construct, no practical measures to this end were envisioned. Therefore, to equate this with Estonian neo-Nazism (in which the destruction of education really was embodied) is impossible.
бла-бла-бла: Russians never made Estonians second-class citizens. But the Estonians do this to Russians – AND CONTINUE TO INSIST ON THIS. Is it really that this holds no significance for the “thinker” Kaplinski?
вениамин: So what’s the issue about. All these wars are long ended. But Estonian agitprop still hasn’t died down, they still haven’t realized, that we fought and made up, and it’s time to go forwards. Again they start ranting on about their integration… What a bunch of vomit.
Hayduk (in reply to above): True, in that case integrate with the Tajiks, Chechens, if Estonians make you vomit. [AK: I.e., go back to Russia]
….: On the matter of kulak families. Does the author know what the Bolsheviks did to the kulaks? Complete dekulakization, and either shootings, or exile to Siberia! Russians suffered a lot more at the hands of the Georgian mafia of schizophrenics. No need to make oneself out to be the most downtrodden and miserable victims!
бабарашка: Why isn’t this article in the Estonian press? Why in the Estonian language press we can only find the “pearls” of Anchutka Iegokodla?
In the wake of Putin’s article on national security for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, there has been renewed interest in Russia’s ambitious military modernization plans for the next decade. I am not a specialist in this (unlike Dmitry Gorenberg and Mark Galeotti, whom I highly recommend), but I do think I can bring much-needed facts and good sources to the discussion.
1. This is not a new development. In fact, the massive rearmament program was revealed back in 2010 (I wrote about it then). Russia’s armed forces were neglected in during the 1990′s and early 2000′s, and enjoyed only modest funding until now; relative to Soviet levels, they are now far degraded. The main goal is to create a mobile, professional army equipped with modern, high-tech gear by 2020.
2. To recap. With oil prices high and Russia’s fiscal situation secure, it IS affordable; it’s not like the old USSR (or today’s US for that matter) spending money it doesn’t have. I also don’t necessarily buy the argument that most of the additional funds will be swallowed up by corruption or inefficiency. Massive new procurement can create temporary bottlenecks, which raises prices, but on the other hand it also allows for economies of scale. The real question is whether Russia absolutely needs to retain the hallowed One Million Man Army, which would appear far too big for the modest anti-insurgency or local wars it may be called to fight in the Caucasus or Central Asia. (There is no possibility of matching NATO or Chinese conventional strength in principle, so that consideration is a moot point).
3. Putin argues for 700,000 professional soldiers by 2017, with the numbers of conscripts reduced to 145,000. This is a huge change, as today – with the failure of the attempt to attract more contract soldiers under Medvedev – conscripts still make up the bulk of the Russian Armed Forces. Many are ill-trained; even things like dedovschina aside, it is impossible to create a good soldier capable of fighting in modern wars in one year’s time. So if successful this will undoubtedly be a change for the better.
4. Will this effort be successful? Based on the results of the previous attempt, Streetwise Professor argues not. I disagree. The previous attempt was marred by the inconvenient fact that salaries were ridiculously low; few reasonably bright and successful people would want to make a career of the military. But since January 1, 2012 military salaries have been radically increased, so that whereas before they were below the average national wage, they are now about twice as big. According to this article this is how the new salaries look like in international comparison.
Lieutenant salaries (pre-bonus)
NATO East-Central Europe
When one also bears in mind that living expenses in Russia tend to be lower than in most developed countries, it emerges that the new pay scale is only slightly below West European standards. Furthermore, whereas the West European rates are similar to their prevailing national average salaries, the average salary of the Russian lieutenant will be twice higher than the average national salary, which was $800 as of 2011. Remarkable as it may seem based on current culture*, but it’s quite possible that the military will come to be seen as an attractive career choice in Russia.
Below is an infographic from Vzglyad which gives you some idea of the extent of the increases. There are three rows of figures for each rank. The third one represents the average salary (including bonuses). The dark column represents 2011, the lighter column represents post-Jan 1st, 2012.
5. The total cost of the program to 2022 is 23 trillion rubles: 20 trillion for modernization, 3 trillion for defense plants.
According toVesti, 1.7 trillion rubles will accrue to the additional costs of higher salaries and military pensions in 2012-14 alone. Extending this to 2022 gives a figure of 4.2 trillion rubles. However, we can expect the costs after 2014 to increase further, because of the growing share of contract soldiers and probable further increases in military salaries. So in practice that would probably be something like 7-10 trillion rubles on personnel costs.
So while the rearmament program which focuses on “hardware” is gargantuan, the increases in spending on “software” are very substantial as well.
6. Another myth is that the increased military spending will bite hard into social spending, education, and healthcare. After all, the projected federal budgets show declines in the share of education and healthcare spending, while military spending increases. I bought into it, until I found this article by Sergey Zhuravlev, a noted Russian economist.
This is because of the changing structure of government spending. First, under Medvedev there was a big increase in spending on anti-crisis measures (which are temporary and have now ebbed away), then on big increases on social spending in the run-up to the elections. So naturally, as revenues grow, there will develop room to increase military spending without decreasing social spending, e.g. on pensions. The sum total of the increase in military (and general security, police) spending is not going to be more than 1.5% points of GDP.
In practice, most of the increased spending will accrue at the expense of declines in spending on the national economy and (a very modest) amount of new debt. The former is substantially associated with the end of spending on the Sochi Olympics. So the picture, as Zhuravlev argues, isn’t so much “guns instead of butter”, as “guns instead of Sochi.” As for the debt, it will only constitute an additional 3.5% points of GDP to 2014, which is an insubstantial sum, especially considering Russia’s minimal aggregate levels of sovereign debt.
It is true that as a share of GDP, spending on education and healthcare will fall; this isn’t too desirable, since – especially on the latter sector – they aren’t high in the first place. But it is important to note that this refers to the federal budget, and that the total GDP is projected to increase substantially to 2014; in practical terms, federal spending on education and healthcare will remain flat. But most healthcare and education spending occurs at the regional level. Regional spending in turn will not be under the constraints imposed on the federal budget by rearmament, so in real terms aggregate total education and healthcare spending will continue increasing.**
* Even here I need to make a caveat. Whereas the Army is very unpopular in intelligentsia, Moscow, and emigre circles (of which I am, admittedly, a part) this isn’t quite the case at the all-Russia level where opinions are on balance ambiguous, NOT negative. A majority consistently approves of the Army, and as shown in this Levada poll, even opinion on conscription is typically split 50/50. Only 21% think that Army service is “a waste of time.” The lesson is not to make general extrapolations from unrepresentative samples.
** This is assuming that the whole military spending thing isn’t just pre-elections braggadocio that will be quietly dropped in favor of boring, useful stuff like transport, education, and healthcare as argued in a recent Vedomosti article citing anonymous government sources. I guess that’s a possibility, but I doubt it will happen; the big military spending rises have been in the works far too long to be just dismissed this May.
In terms of new cars, they now are. According to 2011 statistics, Russians bought 17.6 new automobiles per 1000 people. This indicator is still quite a bit below most of Western Europe, such as Germany’s 38.5, France’s 33.4, Britain’s 31.9, Italy’s 30.1, and Spain’s 20.0. However, it has already overtaken most of East-Central Europe, whose figures are: Czech Republic 17.0, Slovakia 12.5, Estonia 11.7, Poland 7.2, Hungary and Ukraine both 4.5, Romania 3.7. Likewise, some countries that by the 1990′s came to be regarded as natural parts of affluent Europe are now behind Russia on this measure: Portugal 14.4, Greece 9.0.
Now this is just one example, and the market for one consumer durable good isn’t going to be perfectly reflective of the overall situation. The crises in the PIGS may be temporarily dissuading nervous consumers from making large purchases; another factor to consider is that their overall car fleets are bigger and newer than Russia’s, so there is not as much of an incentive to get new cars. And taking into account a much larger basket of goods, the World Bank estimates Russia’s GDP per capita (at PPP) to be $20,000, which is still considerably behind $25,000 in Portugal and the Czech Republic, and $32,000 in Spain.
What’s all the better is that the current improvements in Russia’s relative position are happening against the background of extremely benign debt dynamics; aggregate debt is only 74% of Russian GDP, compared to 184% in China, 280% in the US, and more than 300% in most of Europe. This leaves it with a great deal of fiscal and monetary wiggle room in the event of a renewed global crisis that is no longer available to the developed world or lauded emerging markets such as Brazil, India, Poland, Turkey, and Poland. While the affluence gap between Russia and the most developed nations remains large it is nonetheless being steadily and sustainably closed.
It’s been a great year! To recap, in rough chronological order, 2011 saw: The most popular post (with 562 comments and counting; granted, most of them consisting of Indians and Pakistanis flaming each other); Visualizing the Kremlin Clans (joint project with Kevin Rothrock of A Good Treaty); my National Comparisons between life in Russia, Britain, and the US; my interview with (now defunct) La Russophobe; interviews with Craig Willy and Mark Chapman; lots of non-Russia related stuff concerning the Arctic, futurism, Esperanto, and the Chinese language; possibly the most comprehensive analyses of the degree of election fraud in the Duma elections in English; TV appearances on RT and Al Jazeera; and what I hope will remain productive relationships with Al Jazeera and Inosmi. Needless to say, little if any of this would have been possible without my e-buddies and commentators, so a special shout out to all you guys. In particular, I would like to mention Alex Mercouris, who as far as I can ascertain is the guy who contributed the 20,000th comment here. I should send him a special T-shirt or something.
In previous years, my tradition was to review the previous year before launching into new predictions. I find this boring and will now forego the exercise, though in passing I will note that many of the defining traits in 2010 – the secular rise of China and of “The Rest” more generally; political dysfunction in the US; growing fissures in Europe, in contrast to Eurasian (re)integration; the rising prominence of the Arctic – have remained dominant into this year. The major new development that neither I nor practically anyone else foresaw was the so-called “Arab Spring”, as part of a pattern of increasing political stress in many other states: Occupy Wall Street and its local branches in the West; the Meetings for Fair Elections in Russia; Wukan in China and anti-corruption protests in India. I don’t disagree with TIME’s decision to nominate The Protester as its person of the year. However, as I will argue below, the nature of protest and instability is radically different in all these regions. I will finish up by reviewing the accuracy of my 2011 predictions from last year.
1. There is little doubt that Putin will comfortably win the Presidential elections in the first round. The last December VCIOM poll implies he will get about 60%. So assuming there is no major movement in political tectonics in the last three months – and there’s no evidence for thinking that may be the case, as there are tentative signs that Putin’s popularity has began to recover in the last few weeks from its post-elections nadir. Due to the energized political situation, turnout will probably be higher than than in the 2008 elections – which will benefit Putin because of his greater support among passive voters. I do think efforts will be made to crack down on fraud so as to avoid a PR and legitimacy crisis, so that its extent will fall from perhaps 5%-7% in the 2011 Duma elections to maybe 2%-3% (fraud in places like the ethnic republics are more endemic than in, say, Moscow, and will be difficult to expunge); this will counterbalance the advantage Putin will get from a higher turnout. 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. If Prokhorov and Yavlinsky aren’t registered to participate, then Putin’s first round victory will probably be more like 65%.
2. I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway. Despite the much bigger publicity surrounding the second protest at Prospekt Sakharova, attendance there was only marginally higher than at Bolotnaya (for calculations see here). So the revolutionary momentum was barely maintained in Moscow, but flopped everywhere else in the country – as the Medvedev administration responded with what is, in retrospect, a well balanced set of concessions and subtle ridicule. Navalny, the key person holding together the disparate ideological currents swirling about in these Meetings, is not gaining ground; his potential voters are at most 1% of the Russian electorate. And there is no other person in the “non-systemic opposition” with anywhere near his political appeal. There will be further Meetings, the biggest of which – with perhaps as many as 150,000 people – will be the one immediately after Putin’s first round victory; there will be the usual (implausibly large) claims of 15-20% fraud from the usual suspects in the liberal opposition and Western media. But if the authorities do their homework – i.e. refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, and successfully reduce fraud levels (e.g. with the help of web cameras) – the movement should die away. As I pointed out in my article BRIC’s of Stability, the economic situation in Russia – featuring 4.8% GDP growth in Q3 2011 – is at the moment simply not conductive to an Occupy Wall Street movement, let alone the more violent and desperate revolts wracking parts of the Arab world.
3. Many commentators are beginning to voice the unspeakable: The possible (or inevitable) disintegration of the Eurozone. I disagree. I am almost certain that the Euro will survive as a currency this year and for that matter to 2020 too. But many other things will change. The crisis afflicting Europe is far more cultural-political than it is economic; in aggregate terms, the US, Britain and Japan are ALL fiscally worse off than the Eurozone. The main problem afflicting the latter is that it suffers from a geographic and cultural rift between the North and South that is politically unbridgeable.
The costs of debt service for Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain are all quickly becoming unsustainable. They cannot devalue, like they would have done before the Euro; nor is Germany prepared to countenance massive fiscal transfers. The result is the prospect of austerity and recession as far as the eye can see (note that all these countries also have rapidly aging populations that will exert increasing pressure on their finances into the indefinite future). Meanwhile, “core Europe” – above all, Germany – benefits as its superior competitiveness allows it to dominate European markets for manufactured goods and the coffers of its shaky banking system are replenished by Southern payments on their sovereign debt.
The only way to resolve this contradiction is through a full-fledged fiscal union, with big longterm transfers from the North to the South. However, the best the Eurocrats have been able to come up with is a stricter version of Maastricht mandating limited budget deficits and debt reduction that, in practice, translates into unenforceable demands for permanent austerity. This is not a sustainable arrangement. In Greece, the Far Left is leading the socialists in the run-up to the April elections; should they win, it is hard to see the country continuing on its present course. On the other side of the spectrum, the Fidesz Party under Viktor Orbán in Hungary appears to be mimicking United Russia in building a “managed democracy” that will ensure its dominance for at least the next decade; in the wake of its public divorce with the ECB and the IMF, it is hard to imagine how it will be able to maintain deep integration with Europe for much longer. (In general, I think the events in Hungary are very interesting and probably a harbinger of what is to come in many more European countries in the 2010′s; I am planning to make a post on this soon).
Maybe not in 2012, but in the longer term it is becoming likely that the future Europe will be multi-tier (not multi-speed). The common economic space will probably continue growing, eventually merging with the Eurasian Union now coalescing in the east. However, many countries will drop out of the Eurozone and/or deeper integration for the foreseeable future – the UK is obvious (or at least England, should Scotland separate in the next few years); so too will Italy (again, if it remains united), Greece, the Iberian peninsula, and Hungary. The “core”, that is German industrial muscle married to Benelux and France (with its far healthier demography), may in the long-term start acquiring a truly federal character with a Euro and a single fiscal policy. 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). The other PIGS may straggle through the year, but they too will follow Greece eventually.
I expect a deep recession at the European level, possibly touching on depression (more than 10% GDP decline) in some countries.
4. How will Russia’s economy fare? A lot will depend on European and global events, but arguably it is better placed than it was in 2008. That said, this time I am far more cautious about my own predictions; back then, I swallowed the rhetoric about it being an “island of stability” and got burned for it (in terms of pride, not money, thankfully). So feel free to adjust this to the downside.
The major cause of the steep Russian recession of 2008-2009 wasn’t so much the oil price collapse but the sharp withdrawal of cheap Western credit from the Russian market. Russian banks and industrial groups had gotten used to taking out short-term loans to rollover their debts and were paralyzed by their sudden withdrawal. These practices have declined since. Now, short-term debts held by those institutions have halved relative to their peak levels in 2008; and Russia is now a net capital exporter.
I assume this makes Russia far less dependent on global financial flows. Though some analysts use the loaded term “capital flight” to describe Russia’s capital export, I don’t think it’s fair because the vast bulk of this “flight” actually consists of Russian daughters of Western banking groups recapitalizing their mothers in Western Europe, and Russians banks and industrial groups buying up assets and infrastructure in East-Central Europe.
The 2008 crisis was a global financial crisis; at least *for now*, it looks like a European sovereign debt crisis (though I don’t deny that it may well translate into a global financial crisis further down the line). There are few safe harbors. Russia may not be one of them but it’s difficult to say what is nowadays. US Treasuries, despite the huge fiscal problems there? Gold?
Political risks? The Presidential elections are in March, so if a second crisis does come to Russia, it will be too late to really affect the political situation.
Despite the “imminent” euro-apocalypse, I notice that the oil price has barely budged. This is almost certainly because of severe upwards pressure on the oil price from depletion (i.e. “peak oil”) and long-term commodity investors. I think these factors will prevent oil prices from ever plumbing the depths they briefly reached in early 2009. So despite the increases in social and military spending, I don’t see Russia’s budget going massively into the red.
What is a problem (as the last crisis showed) is that the collapse in imports following a ruble depreciation can, despite its directly positive effect on GDP, be overwhelmed by knock-on effects on the retail sector. On the other hand, it’s still worth noting that the dollar-ruble ratio is now 32, a far cry from what it reached at the peak of the Russia bubble in 2008 when it was at 23. Will the drop now be anywhere near as steep? Probably not, as there’s less room for it fall.
A great deal depends on what happens on China. I happen to think that its debt problems are overstated and that it still has the fiscal firepower to power through a second global crisis, which should also help keep Russia and the other commodity BRIC’s like Brazil afloat. But if this impression is wrong, then the consequences will be more serious.
So I think that, despite my bad call last time, Russia’s position really is quite a lot more stable this time round. If the Eurozone starts fraying at the margins and falls into deep recession, as I expect, then Russia will probably go down with them, but this time any collapse is unlikely to be as deep or prolonged as in 2008-2009.
5. Largely unnoticed, as of the beginning of this year, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan became a common economic space with free movement of capital, goods, and labor. Putin has also made Eurasian (re)integration one of the cornerstones of his Presidential campaign. I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space. EU membership is beginning to lose its shine; despite that, Yanukovych was still rebuffed this December on the Association Agreement due to his government’s prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine can only afford to pay Russia’s steep prices for gas for one year at most without IMF help, and I doubt it will be forthcoming. Russia itself is willing to sit back and play hardball. It is in this atmosphere that Ukraine will hold its parliamentary elections in October. If the Party of Regions does well, by fair means or foul, it is not impossible to imagine a scenario in which accusations of vote rigging and protests force Yanukovych to turn to Eurasia (as did Lukashenko after the 2010 elections).
6. Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly (regardless of the secular trend towards an increasing TFR, the aging of the big 1980′s female cohort is finally starting to make itself felt). 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.
7. Obama will probably lose to the Republican candidate, who will probably be Mitt Romney. (Much as I would prefer Ron Paul over Obama, and Obama over Romney). I have an entire post and real money devoted to this, read here.
The US may well slip back towards recession if Europe tips over in a big way. I stand by my assertion that its fiscal condition is in no way sustainable, but given that the bond vigilantes are preoccupied with Europe it should be able to ride out 2012.
8. There is a 50% (!) chance of a US military confrontation with Iran. If it’s going to be any year, 2012 will be it. And I don’t say this because of the recent headlines about Iranian war games, the downing of the US drone, or the bizarre bomb plot against the Saudi ambassador in the US, but because of structural factors that I have been harping on about for several years (read the “Geopolitical Shocks” section of my Decade Forecast for more details); factors that will make 2012 a “window of opportunity” that will only be fleetingly open.
Despite the rhetoric, the US does not want to get involved in a showdown with Iran due to the huge disruption to oil shipping routes that will result from even an unsuccessful attempt to block of the Strait of Hormuz. BUT…
While a nuclear Iran is distasteful to the US, it is still preferable to oil prices spiking up into the high triple digits. But for Israel it is a more existential issue. Netanyahu, in particular, is a hardliner on this issue.
The US has withdrawn its troops from Iraq. In 2010, there were rumors that the US had made it clear to Israel that if it flew planes over Iraq to bomb Iran they would be fired upon. This threat (if it existed) is no longer actual.
The US finished the development of a next-generation bunker-busting MOP last year and started taking delivery in November 2011. But the Iranians are simultaneously in a race to harden and deepen their nuclear facilities, but this program will not culminate until next year or so. If there is a time to strike in order to maximize the chances of crippling Iran’s nuclear program, it is now. It is in 2012.
Additionally, if Europe goes really haywire, oil prices may start dropping as demand is destroyed. In this case, there will be an extra cushion for containing fallout from any Iranian attempt to block off the Strait of Hormuz.
Critically, the US does not have to want this fight. Israel can easily force its hand by striking first. The US will be forced into following up.
The chances of an Azeri-Armenian war rise to 15% from last year’s 10%. If there is any good time for Azerbaijan to strike, it will be in the chaotic aftermath following a US strike on Iran (though the same constraints will apply as before: Aliyev’s fears of Russian retaliation).
9. Though I usually predict oil price trends (with great and sustained accuracy, I might add), I will not bother doing so this year. With the global situation as unstable as it is it would be a fool’s errand. Things to consider: (1) Whither Europe? (demand destruction); (2) What effect on China and the US?; (3) the genesis of sustained oil production decline (oil megaprojects are projected to sharply fall off from this year into the indefinite future); (4) The Iranian wildcard: If played, all bets are off. But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.
If investing, I would go into US Treasuries (short-term) and gold to hedge against the catastrophic developments; yuan exposure (longterm secular rise) and and US CDS (potential for astounding returns once SHTF). Property is looking good in Minsk, Bulgaria, and Murmansk. Any exposure to Arctic shipping or oil & gas is great; as the sea ice melts at truly prodigious rates, the returns will be amazing. I do think the Euro will survive and eventually strengthen as the weaker countries go out, but not to the extent that I would put money on it. Otherwise, I highly agree with Eric Kraus’ investment advice.
10. China will not see a hard landing. It has its debt problems, but its momentum is unparalleled. Economists have predicted about ten of its past zero collapses.
11. Solar irradiation was still near its cyclical minimum this year, but it can only rise in the next few years; together with the ever-increasing CO2 load, it will likely make for a very warm 2012. So, more broken records in 2012. Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.
12. Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government. According to polls, 75% of Egyptians support death for apostasy and adultery; this is not an environment in which Western liberal ideas can realistically flourish. Ergo for Libya. I can’t say I have any clue as to how Syria will turn out. Things seem strange there: Russia and Israel are ostensibly unlikely, but actually logical, allies of Assad, while the US, France, the UK, and the Gulf monarchies are trying their best to topple him. These wars are waged in the shadows.
I’ve got some ways to go before I reach Navalny’s demagogic stature.
13. As mentioned in the intro, 2011 has been a year of protest. As I argued in BRIC’s of Stability, in countries like China, Russia, or Brazil they will remain relatively small and ineffectual. Despite greater scales and tensions, likewise in Europe (though Greece may be an exception); these are old societies, and besides they are relatively rich. They won’t have street revolutions. I do not think Occupy Wall Street has good prospects in the US. By acting outside the mainstream (as part of a “non-systemic opposition”, to borrow from Russian political parlance) it remains irrelevant – the weed smoking and poor sartorial choices of its members works against its attaining respectability – and municipalities across the US are moving to break up their camps with only a few squeaks of protest. (This despite the arrests of 36 journalists, a number that had it been associated with Russia would have cries of Stalinism splashed across Western op-ed pages). I say this as someone who is broadly sympathetic with OWS aims and has attended associated events in Berkeley.
The nature of protest in the Arab world is fundamentally different, harkening back to earlier and more dramatic times: Bread riots, not hipsters with iPhones; against cynical and corrupt dictators, not cynical and corrupt pseudo-democrats; featuring fundamental debates about reconciling democracy, liberalism and religion, as opposed to weird slogans like “Occupy first. Demands come later.” Meh.
14. The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.
What about the 2011 Predictions?
1) My economic predictions were basically correct: “Today I’d repeat this, but add that the risks have heightened… The obvious loci of the next big crisis are the so-called “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), and Ireland, Belgium and Hungary.”
2) Neither the Iranian war (chance: 40%) or an Azeri-Armenian war (chance: 10%) took place. If they don’t happen in 2012, their chances of happening will begin to rapidly decline.
3) Luzhkov still hasn’t been been hit with corruption charges, but merely called forth as a witness. Wrong.
Prediction of 3.5%-5.5% growth for Russia was exactly correct (estimates now converging to 4.0%-4.5%).
With headlines this December cropping up such as “End is nigh for Russia’s ‘reset’ with US“, my old intuition that US – Russia imperial rivalry couldn’t be set aside with a mere red plastic button may have been prescient: “In foreign policy, expect relations with the US to deteriorate.”
4) Pretty much correct about the US and the UK, though I didn’t predict anything drastic or unconventional for them.
5) “Oil prices should stay at around $80-120 in 2010 and production will remain roughly stable as increased demand (from China mostly) collides with geological depletion.” Totally correct, as usual.
6) China will grow about 9.4% this year, well in line with: “China will continue growing at 8-10% per year. Their housing bubble is a non-issue; with 50% of their population still rural, it isn’t even a proper bubble, since eventually all those new, deserted apartment blocs will be occupied anyway.”
7) 2011 was the warmest La Nina year on record, so in a sense thermometers did break records this year.
“Speaking of the Arctic, as its longterm ice volume continues to plummet and sea ice extent retreats, we can expect more circumpolar shipping. I wouldn’t be surprised to see up to 10 non-stop voyages along the Northern Sea Route from Europe to China, following just one by MV Nordic Barents in 2010.” If anything, I low-balled it. 34 ships made the passage this year! Sea ice cover was the second lowest on record, and sea ice volume was the lowest. So in the broad sense, absolutely correct.
“Likewise, expect the Arctic to become a major locus of investment.” This year, plans were announced to double the capacity of the Port of Murmansk by 2015.
8) Wrong on the Wikileaks prediction. The insurance file was released by The Guardian’s carelessness (whose journalists, David Leigh and Luke Harding, then proceeded to mendaciously lie about it), not by Assange. And the extradition proceedings are taking far longer than expected, though my suspicions that his case is politically motivated is reinforced by US prosecutors’ apparent pressure on Bradley Manning to implicate Assange in the theft of the State Department cables.
9) On Peter’s enthusiastic reminder, I did get my Russia Presidential predictions for 2012 wrong. Or 75% wrong, to be precise, and 20% right (those were the odds that I gave for Putin’s return back in May). I did however cover it separately on a different post, here. That said, I do not think the logic I used was fundamentally flawed; many other Kremlinologists ended up in the same boat (and most didn’t hedge like I did).
In the aftermath of the 2011 Duma elections, the Russian blogosphere was abuzz with allegations of electoral fraud. Many of these were anecdotal or purely rhetorical in nature; some were more concrete, but variegated or ambiguous. A prime example of these were opinion polls and exit polls, which variably supported and contradicted the Kremlin’s claims that fraud was minimal. But there was also a third set of evidence. Whatever problems Russia may have, a lack of highly skilled mathematicians, statisticians and programmers certainly isn’t one of them. In the hours and days after the results were announced, these wonks drew on the Central Electoral Commission’s own figures to argue the statistical impossibility of the election results. The highest of these fraud estimates were adopted as fact by the opposition. Overnight, every politologist in the country – or at least, every liberal politologist – became a leading expert on Gaussian distributions and number theory.
While I don’t want to decry Churov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, for making subjects many people gave up back in 8th grade fun and interesting again, I would like to insert a word of caution: lots of math and numbers do not necessarily prove anything, and in fact – generally speaking – the more math and numbers you have the less reliable your conclusions (not making this up: the research backs me up on this). Complicated calculations can be rendered null and void by simple but mistaken assumptions; the sheer weight of figures and fancy graphs cannot be allowed to crowd out common sense and strong diverging evidence. Since the most (in)famous of these models asserts that United Russia stole 15% or more of the votes, it is high time to compile a list of alternate models and fraud estimates that challenge that extremely unlikely conclusion – unlikely, because if it were true, it would essentially discredit the entirety of Russian opinion polling for the last decade.
In this post, I will compile a list of models built by Russian analysts of the scale of electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. I will summarize them, including their estimates of aggregate fraud in favor of United Russia, and list their possible weak points. The exercise will show that, first, the proper methodology is very, very far from settled and as such all these estimates are subject to (Knightian) uncertainty; but second, many of them converge to around 5%-7%, which is about the same figure as indicated by the most comprehensive exit poll. This is obviously very bad but still a far cry from the most pessimistic and damning estimates of 15%+ fraud, which would if they were true unequivocally delegitimize the Russian elections.
The long-time elections watcher and phycist Sergey Shpilkin (podmoskovnik) has probably written the most popular article on the use of statistical analysis to detect electoral fraud. The first piece of evidence of fraud is that as turnout increases, so does United Russia’s share of the vote; the effect is not observed for the other parties, whose share remains constant or even declines. Below is the graph for Moscow.
And below, courtesy of Maxim Pshenichnikov (oude_rus), is the same graph as a “heat map” for all Russia.
But that’s not all. A second problem is that turnout in Russia does not follow a normal, or Gaussian distribution. The laws of probability dictate that if you throw a coin 100 times, it is fairly unlikely that the “heads” will turn up exactly 50% of the time; however, as you repeat this experiment a dozen, a hundred, and then a thousand times, the average should converge to 50%. A graph of all these experiments should be in the form of a bell curve, with a peak at the midway point and falling away rapidly on either side. Theoretically, this should also hold for turnout, and this is in fact what we see in for elections in countries such as Mexico, Bulgaria, Sweden, Canada, Poland, and Ukraine. As we can see, there are suspicious peaks at 100% turnout in some of the less developed democracies like Ukraine, Bulgaria, and even Poland; and Ukraine’s Gaussian distribution breaks down beyond about 90% turnout altogether. Nonetheless, the overwhelming indications are that all these countries conduct almost fully free and fair elections.
But these laws do not seem to apply to Russia, including for the most recent Duma elections. Not only does the normal distribution break down on the right hand side of the graph, from about the 60% turnout point, but there begin to appear consistent peaks at “convenient” intervals of 5%, as if the polling stations with 70%, 75%, 80%, 90%, and 100% turnout were working to targets! Though the most recent election seems marginally better than the 2007 Duma election and the 2008 Presidential election, the overall indication is one of rampant shenanigans and fraud.
Graphing the number of polling stations, as done by Pshenichnikov, at which every party got a certain percentage of the votes, exposes United Russia as the black sheep of the political family. Regular spikes at 5% intervals begin from 50% onwards, at which point the Gaussian distribution breaks down and is stretched away into oblivion – producing what is now jocularly referred to as “Churov’s beard.”
And in Moscow, United Russia’s curve looks even more ridiculous. The twin peaks that Yabloko has are either because their vote was stolen at some places and not at others, or they did not have a proper Gaussian to begin with. (Note how practically all the Moscow polling stations with machines cluster at around 30% for United Russia, strongly indicating that the second, bigger peak at around 50% is falsified; see these two clusters in more graphic form here).
Then there’s the matter of abnormal turnout patterns. Cui bono? Quite clearly, United Russia. Returning to Shpilnikov’s work, as you can see below, the higher the turnout, the greater the relative discrepancy between votes for United Russia and the opposition parties.
The author then proceeds to “normalize” United Russia’s results, making the blanket assumption that the correlation between high turnout and higher votes is entirely due to fraud and that it is valid to extend the correlation between votes for United Russia relative to the other parties observed for stations will turnout lower than 50% to every other polling station. Its adjusted results vastly differ from its official results, with the numbers of falsified votes soaring once turnout at any individual polling station exceeds 50% and rapidly converging to near total falsification once turnout rises to 70% and above.
At this point, it is possible to “integrate” the adjusted results curve, to calculate United Russia’s real result. The conclusions are devastating. According to Shpilkin’s final calculations, cited by GOLOS, out of 32 million votes for United Russia, only half of them – some 16.2 million – are “normal”, whereas the other 15.8 million are “anomolous.” This means that in reality it only got 33.7% of the vote, as opposed to the official 49.3%, implying a 15.6% degree of fraud.
Real Duma seats
Patriots of Russia
This would clearly make the Duma elections illegitimate, as the will of the Russian electorate – a truly multi-party parliament – is not reflected. If the elections were fair, United Russia would lose its majority and have to rely on coalitions with other parties to pursue its legislative agenda. It would appear that the non-systemic opposition has a clear mandate to demand a rerun.
Not so fast. This claim of 15% fraud is contrary to the entirety of Russian opinion polling, which generally predicted United Russia would get 50%, and to the results of the most comprehensive exit poll, which gave it 43%. Furthermore, as other bloggers rushed to point out, Shpilkin makes many highly questionable assumptions that challenge the credibility of his estimates, for instance, he doesn’t back up his claim that the correlation of higher turnout with more votes for United Russia (and is in fact contradicted by electoral patterns in advanced democracies like Germany and the UK).
The mathematician Sergey Kuznetsov wrote a long piece at eruditor.ru attempting to rebut Shpilkin’s conclusions. He starts off by pointing out that the Gaussian distribution achieved by conducting multiple coin tossing experiments is artificial because conditions remain identical. The same cannot be said if some of the experimenters continue tossing coins, while others of their kind begin to favor using dice with “heads” on five of their faces. Likewise, in a country with many socio-economically and culturally idiosyncratic regions such as Russia, Gaussian distributions are not inevitable.
As for the peaks at 5% intervals, they are products of elementary number theory. There must be a jump at 50% because the fraction 1/2, among other fractions n/m, appears more frequently than any other. The same can be said for other “nice” fractions: 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, and so on. Not only fraudsters like these “beautiful” fractions; its an intrinsic property of number theory itself. This is demonstrated below by Ruslan Enikeev (singpost), who built a frequency distribution of the natural outcome of multiple elections with 600 participants; as you can see below, there are very prominent spikes at all the “nice” fractions.
And guess what? If we are to build Pshenichnikov’s graph in “The Magical Beard” but at much finer resolutions, like Kuznetsov did, we get the following. Note how the other parties also get their spikes at “nice” fractions!
So you say that a correlation between higher turnout and more votes for United Russia means mass electoral fraud? If that’s the case, Britain must be a banana republic. Below is the relation between turnout and votes for the Conservatives and New Labour in the 2010 general elections (and this pattern is common to every British region).
Nor are British voters big fans of the Gaussian distribution either.
PS. At this point, I should also note that I observed lots of small peaks for the 2007 Ukraine elections (i.e. after its Orange Revolution) in this blog post.
That said, it should be noted that Kuznetsov acknowledges that the fat tail, and some of the 5% intervals that cannot be explained by number theory – e.g., 65%, 70%, 85%, 90%, 95% – means that a lot of fraud probably did happen.
The programmer Sergey Slyusarev (jemmybutton) also gave his two kopeiki on election fraud. He pointed out that as in the UK, the turnout for the 2002 Bundestag elections did not follow a perfect Gaussian either; in particular, a lower turnout in East Germany contributed to a second, smaller peak to the left of the main one. He also notes that higher turnouts correlated with more votes for the conservative alliance and fewer votes for the social democrat / green alliance.
Just as Kuznetsov above, he also discussed how pure number theory can explain most of the peaks along 5% intervals. However, even after making adjustments for it, there remained peaks at 75%, 85%, and the fat tail in general that he could not explain as being natural.
I would add that that is understandably so, if we consider this graph of North Ossetia’s results from Pshenichnikov. The biggest irony is that they didn’t even HAVE TO do it to ensure a big United Russia win. The “natural” Gaussian for UR (from the few free and fair stations) seems to be only a few percentage points short of the artificial peak. There’s idiots and then there’s bureaucrats.
He goes into further really wonky elections stuff later on in his post. There are no firm insights or conclusions arising from it, so I’ll refrain from summarizing it.
Trust Me On Arabs In Israel
The blogger, and aspiring Sinologist Vitaly Shishakov (svshift) doesn’t have original models, but does have a lot of useful links. He gives further examples of countries where higher turnouts result in more votes for certain parties and of where turnout does not follow Gaussian distributions. One example is Israel, where Arab turnout in local elections is consistently, stunningly higher than in Jewish ones. As both are still in significant part traditionalist societies, one wonders if the same applies to the Caucasus states (a possibility I raised in my Al Jazeera article). Read him here and here.
Revealing The Real Israel
The blogger levrrr does not believe that there is significant electoral fraud in Israel; and he agrees with Dmitry Kobak that this is patently not the case in Russia. Nonetheless, the curious patterns observed in the 2009 elections in that socio-culturally diverse society are a good reminder that just because it looks strange doesn’t necessarily mean surreptitious activities are afoot.
Unlike in many other countries, the distribution of voting stations by the percentage of votes each party obtained in them is most definitely not standard. Yisrael Beiteinu is log-normal; Likud is a Gaussian with two peaks (like Yabloko in Moscow); Kadima is kind of Gaussian but with a huge plateau; and the two fundamentalist parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) have a weirdly long and fat tail. So no wonder Avigdor Lieberman is virtually the only foreign statesman to approve of Russia’s elections!
Comparing it to Pshenichnikov’s graph of Russia, there are striking comparative resemblances: Yabloko resembles Shas; the LDPR and Fair Russia resemble Yisrael Beiteinu; the KPRF resembles Likud; and apart from the spiked tail, United Russia looks like Kadima.
Like United Russia, the higher the turnout, the more votes Kadima gets, as in the graph below. The effect is neutral for Likud (as for the Russian opposition parties), and it is negative for Yisrael Beiteinu.
Nonetheless, Israel’s turnout is an indisputable Gaussian; there is no separate peak for the Arabs. (I would note that they have ultra-high turnouts only for local elections, not national ones). Less than 0.1% of polling stations saw a turnout of more than 95%, whereas this figure is more than 5% for the recent Russian elections. I assume that’s almost all fraud, as there are only so many barracks in Russia where everyone goes to vote en masse.
Dangerous Curves (5%-6% fraud)
The economist Sergey Zhuravlev (zhu_s) argues that the correlation between higher turnout and higher votes for United Russia is meaningless because of the “silent majority” effect. Voters for the opposition can be expected to turn out in full force, whereas people without any specific grievances against the “party of power” – who expect it to win with or without their participation – can turn out at varying rates in different regions, depending on their satisfaction with its performance and its success at mobilizing its supporters. As for United Russia’s unusually long tail, that can be explained by the very fact of its getting many votes. A party like Yabloko whose support base hovers in the lower single digits can be expected to have a very narrow peak at the beginning; a party like United Russia, which enjoys a great deal of supports with large geographic variation, will naturally have a far wider spread.
He outlines an alternative method that involves plotting the growth of each party’s share of the vote against the numbers of polling stations giving them a certain level of support. In a society where there are no regional differences in voting preferences and no falsifications, the graphs for each party can be expected to converge to a vertical center. In real life, regional differences flatten out this “ideal” vertical form, especially at the top and bottom. This is because both many stations with little support for a particular party, and the few stations with high support for a particular party, contribute only a small share of the votes to that party; most of its votes accrue to the many stations where support for that party is not far from the national average. This method eliminates the “flattening effect” observed in Shpilkin’s work where the mere fact of high popularity makes United Russia’s spread look unnaturally wide. As we can see below, all parties have substantial spreads in regional support; they are just on different scales.
From the graph above, United Russia is seen to enjoy an “S-effect”, in which stations where they got more than 70% – concentrated in the ethnic minority republics – contributed one fifth of its total vote; the kinks observed in that region are especially suspicious and indicative of mass fraud. This “S-effect” took away votes from the Communists and LDPR, creating an analogous “J-effect” at the bottom of their graphs. Yabloko too has an “S-effect”, if much lower in overall scale relative to United Russia, due to its relatively good performance in the two capitals; elsewhere, it is now just a forgotten relic of the 1990′s.
Whereas there is much evidence of fraud in Moscow, Zhuravlev has some of the strongest evidence against it as shown in the graph below. United Russia has a very natural curve, with no kinks observed at the at the top-right; instead, it has a “J-curve” at the bottom, presumably in the hipster Moscow districts with high support levels for Yabloko (a thesis corroborated by Yabloko’s prominent S-curve).
To resolve the possible falsifications arising from the S-effects and J-effects (with the caveat that they are not always indicative of fraud – e.g., Moscow with its Yabloko-friendly hipster districts), Zhuravlev suggests taking the median: i.e., the party voting shares such that half the polling stations have lower numbers and the other half have higher numbers. This effectively cuts out the S-effects and J-effects. The result is that United Russia loses 6% points relative to its official results, leaving it marginally below a Duma majority with 220 seats.
Of course, this approach too has its problems. It seems to me that kinks are only going to be observed where results are “drawn to plan” (as in some of the ethnic minority republics); where fraud is decentralized, the degree of fraud will itself be a wide spread, and as such not reflected in kinks or S-curves. His conclusion that fraud in Moscow was minimal contrasts with a whole heap of contrary evidence.
Zhuravlev expands on his thoughts on falsifications and the economics of political choice in a follow-up blog post.
Churov’s Defense (minimal fraud)
The Election Results: An Analysis of Electoral Preferences by Vladimir Churov. This isn’t the first time the head of the Central Elections Commission, a physicist with some Petersburg connections to Putin, has had to dodge incoming bullets from the election nerds and LJ malcontents. In response to criticisms of the last round of elections, in 2008 he co-authored an article in an attempt to rebut the critics.
His basic approach is to explain the idiosyncrasies of Russia election patterns in terms of voter behavior. At the beginning, he brings forth the standard criticism against the view that voter behavior must necessarily conform to normal distributions, i.e. it’s not a uniform series of experiments but the choices of a heterogeneous population we are talking about. The authors then proceed to build a model of electoral preferences for Russia’s different population groups in a quest to see how well it conforms with reality. Unlike everyone else on this list, he is analyzing the Presidential election of 2008, but that’s fine because according to Shpilkin it was one of the most falsified.
As shown in the graph above, rural polling stations and urban polling stations reveal starkly different voting patterns. I can see that the latter is described by an (almost internationally standard) log-normal curve; rural voters are the ones who create the fat tail. The other polling stations are various special ones, e.g. in closed institutions or the military, but only account for 1% of the total voters so their overall effect is small. The difference between turnout in the cities and the country is explained “deeper and stronger mutual relations” existing in the latter, whereas urban dwellers are a more amorphous mass. And I would remind the reader at this point that United Russia is more popular in the countryside.
At some level this does make sense – anybody who has lived in a Russian village (or even a small town) can confirm that people there know each other far better than in a big city or a metropolis like Moscow. I can easily imagine a social activity like voting will logically draw a higher participation. He makes a further interesting argument regarding the relation between turnout and the size of the voter list at polling stations (see “Size Matters, Baby” below for a nice graph by Pshenichnikov illustrating this). Basically, turnout at urban polling stations with smaller voter lists begins to converge to converge with results from rural polling stations with bigger voter lists; but unlike in towns, the vast bulk of votes in rural areas accrue to polling stations with small voter lists, where turnout is very high.
And though there are fewer rural voters than urban voters, the number of polling stations is about evenly split between the two – because the average rural polling station has a smaller voter list than the average urban polling station. Adding the results from city stations and rural stations together produces the fat tail on the turnout graphs.
In summary, the overall turnout distribution by polling station is merely the sum of how different Russian population groups vote: urban voters, rural voters, institutional voters (e.g. soldiers).
Worried about the “cragginess” of the graph? Just the result of ordinary fluctuations. It increases when you analyze it at higher resolutions and fades away to nothing at the lowest resolutions.
Plotting the voter turnout distribution not against the number of polling stations but against the number of voters voting in places at any particular turnout will naturally diminish the fatness of the tail (because as pointed out above the polling stations with small voter lists will have the highest turnouts).
As before, the same general turnout pattern is observed in terms of rural and urban voting patterns when plotted against voter numbers.
Churov further argues that the proportional votes for each candidate are NOT huge affected by the turnout. What tendency Medvedev has to win more votes relatively at higher turnouts is down to the increasing influence of the rural vote. A close up of the voting figures for the 75%-100% is presented.
As far as I can see, Churov makes an important point (and in large part convincing) point about the different voting patterns that describe rural and urban voters, and especially the effect of the size of the polling station’s voter list on the turnout. However, he patently fails to address the main concerns of his critics for one simple reason.
He only analyzed the results from 25 regions of European Russia. Which ones? They are not even identified (apart from Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Arghangelsk oblasts, and the Nenets autonomous region, which are mentioned in passing as included). If there is a link telling us what the other 21 are, I cannot find it. And the biggest problem is that, of course, fraud is highly variant by Russian regions. For instance, see Aleksandr Kireev‘s (kireev) map of his estimates of election fraud. Note that three of the four regions actually cited by Churov are green, i.e. indicating that they had little or no fraud in the 2011 elections. As Russian political culture hasn’t changed much in the past three years, they presumably looked similar in 2008.
I strongly suspect that for his analysis Churov merely handpicked the most electorally honest regions he could find and worked from there. Why else include only the 25 regions, with 21% of Russia’s voters and 23% of its voting stations, when he obviously has access to the Central Election Commission’s entire database just like any other blogger? These suspicions are further reinforced by the lack of spikes at regular 5% intervals that everyone else who compiled turnout distributions at the federal level found. He makes some good arguments but the overall conclusions that there is no or minimal fraud is not credible.
Separate The Wheat From The Chaff (5%-7%; 6.6% fraud)
The computer programmer hist_kai takes a relatively simple approach. He plots the number of people voting for United Russia under every 0.1% point interval to get the graph below.
Then he removed all voices for United Russia at 5% intervals, in a 0.5% swathe left and right. This gives a level of fraud of 0.7%.
Then he removes all polling stations where United Russia got more than 75%. This gives a total fraud level of 7.3%.
This is highly unscientific, of course. Some polling stations where United Russia got less than 75% would have been dirty, and some where it got more than 75% would have been clean. Still, it’s a useful way to demonstrate that even removing all the places where it got huge amounts of the vote would have only modestly impacted United Russia’s total tally and would have still clearly left it as the biggest winner.
A group from Samarcand Analytics (Alex Mellnik, John Mellnik and Nikolay Zhelev) issued a study using the a similar method to hist_kai, though they cut off the top quintile of turnout as opposed to all stations registering more than 75% support for United Russia. They justified this on the basis that it was only the quintile with the highest turnout that voted for United Russia in a spectacularly non-Gaussian distribution.
Because of the aforementioned observations that higher turnout correlates with more votes for United Russia, its score after this adjustment is reduced to 42.7%. This implies a possible fraud of 6.6%. The adjusted results for all parties are as follows:
Percent of the vote
Percent without high-turnout polling stations
A Just Russia
Patriots of Russia
Despite the methodological problems with this relatively crude method, it’s worth noting that the adjusted results by party are highly congruent with the results of the FOM exit poll, the most comprehensive one.
Rise of the Machines (6%-7%; 17% fraud)
There are very significant and suspicious discrepancies between polling stations with machine voting and polling stations were counted by hand. The former, on average, are a lot lower.
According to graphs compiled by Sergey Shpilkin, the turnout looks a lot more Gaussian in polling stations equipped with machines; those without feature very fat tails, rising to a much sharper spike at 100%. Compare the turnout graph below for polling stations with machines with the average turnout graph in the section “The Magical Beard.”
Across the same territorial electoral commissions, United Russia got an average of only 36.6% at polling stations equipped with voting machines; this is compared to its 54.2% result elsewhere. This would seem to indicate huge fraud, as machines are harder to tamper with. But this is only assuming that there is no consistent difference between polling stations with and without voting machines.
But this may not be merited as urban, more accessible areas can generally be expected to have a higher likelihood of hosting voting machines, and they are also precisely the places where United Russia has done less well in these elections. On the other hand, if both machines and hand ballots are falsified – e.g. as seems to be the case in Karachay-Cherkessia – this indicator would be a false negative.
In a joint project, Maxim Pshenichnikov and Dmitry Kobak (kobak) compiled a list of disparities between machine and hand ballot results in each of Russia’s cities. They return substantially smaller estimates of overall fraud, albeit there are huge differences between regions. The average calculated by Pshenichnikov is 6.3%. This figure he termed “коибатость”, i.e. which we may translate as “machination.” As you can see in the graph below, the city with the highest measure of fraud – as measured by the machine / hand ballot discrepancy, which has its methodological problems – is Astrakhan, with more than 30% fraud in favor of United Russia. In third or fourth position follows Moscow, with slightly less than 20% fraud in favor of United Russia.
The average calculated by Kobak is 6%-7%. His method is slightly different from – and more rigorous than – Pshenichnikov’s, because whereas the latter calculated “global” machination he confined himself to “local” machination, i.e. he only used the statistics from those polling stations which had at least one voting machine for his comparison with the results from voting machines. Apart a histogram similar to the one above also produces this stunning map of machine and hand ballot voting in Russia’s urban regions: The “green meteors” are results from hand voting, the “red meteors” (which aren’t usually near as trail-blazing) are the results from machine voting.
Kobak is unsure as to why the big discrepancy with Shpilkin’s figures. He emphasizes that Shpilkin’s 37% figure for United Russia cannot be taken at face value because machines tend to be present in larger cities where United Russia does less well; but does consider the 17% figure (the federal average) an important estimate, despite its being much different from his own 6%-7% estimate (the average by region).
One theory he suggests is that in even in those regions where United Russia has a high results, there are few machines and many individuals sites are without them; there, the difference between hand voting and machine voting results is modest at 7%. But when counting up these results on the federal level, these high-United Russia support regions only contribute a little to the aggregate total at well below their true weight (because few of them have machines and can be counted); while contributing a lot to the hand voting totals. Hence the possible source of the huge (and “misleading”) 17% discrepancy.
Meteors of Mendacity (11% fraud)
Dmitry Kobak (kobak) is another big skeptic of the official results. Like Shpilkin, he considers the turnout / voting correlation in favor of United Russia damning, and has some nice graphs to illustrate it. For an election to be fair, the meteors have to be flying to the left and their trails have to be horizontal – a condition that United Russia fails to fulfill. See above for extensive criticism of this assertion.
He calculates the real result by cutting away all the data from polling stations with “suspiciously high turnout”, which he puts at anything bigger than 60% or 50%. Due to United Russia getting far fewer votes in places where turnout is low, that has the effect of reducing its result from 49.3% to 36% and 34%, respectively.
Needless to say his graphs look nice, but they hide a very crude method. Cutting off at 60% essentially dismisses half the entire electorate. He addresses this concern by taking the minimum of United Russia’s voting curve in relation to the turnout, then sums the results up to get a real score of 38%. This implies 11% fraud.
This seems more realistic than the 15%+ obtained by Shpilkin, which clashes so badly with the results of exit polls and opinion polls, if still towards their absolutely lowest margins of error. And needless to say the fairness of taking United Russia’s minimum – and assigning anything above it to fraud – is highly questionable. Using the regional turnout and voting data for the 2010 UK general election provided by _ab_, would the same method not “prove” massive fraud in favor of the Tories?
He also reproduces Shpilkin’s normalization method, producing a real result of 34% for United Russia and hence fraud of 15%. However, even he rejects the method as too harsh and simplistic, ignoring local specifics.
Maxim Pshenichnikov points out that the larger the amount of voters at any polling station the lower a result United Russia tends to get there. Is it because fraud is harder when there are more people? Or is because smaller stations would probably tend to be in rural and more remote areas, which are usually more pro-United Russia? He doesn’t comment. You decide.
Questioning Russian Behavior
That the correlation between higher turnout and more votes for United Russia is indicative of fraud has two main arguments against it, as we saw above: First, the logic of the “silent majority”, and second, comparisons with other countries like the UK, Germany, and Israel. The blogger vmenshov attempts to prove that this “silent majority” thesis does not apply to Russia, and that the effect really is down to vote stealing on United Russia’s behalf.
So Is It Time To Get The Barber?
Back in 2007, Churov promised to shave off his beard if the elections were unfair. Should we send him the barber then?
It’s a hard question. That there is statistical evidence indicating some degree of fraud is beyond dispute. What’s at stake is the scale. Much like United Russia’s results in Moscow, there are two big clusters: I will simplify them to the 5% Thesis and the 15% Thesis. (There is also a 0% Thesis, as argued by Churov and Kremlin spokespersons; not as if they have much of a choice on the matter. But I think most of us can agree that just the results from Chechnya alone discredit this group).
The 5% Thesis is maintained by Sergey Zhuravlev and the aggregate regional discrepancies between districts with and without machine voting; it is also the figure suggested by practically every opinion poll and exit poll.
The 15% Thesis, most prominently advanced by Sergey Shpilkin and Dmitry Kobak, has become the banner figure of the opposition. If they are right the current composition of the Duma does not reflect the will of the Russian electorate and as such the elections have to be honestly rerun for the system to win back its legitimacy.
The problem with it is that it relies on three fundamental assumptions about Russian elections which. Kirill Kalinin, writing for Slon.ru, identifies these three assumptions thus:
The lack of a “normal” Gaussian turnout and voting distribution.
Suspicious spikes at regular intervals in the turnout and voting distribution.
A positive correlation between turnout and votes for United Russia.
The problem is that all of these assumptions have been argued to be invalid in the Russian context. That said, there are powerful counter-arguments too. By the numbers:
A heterogeneous population and examples of similar phenomenon from advanced democracies throw doubt on this argument, BUT none have tails quite as fat or spikes quite as sharp as does United Russia.
The spikes may, in part, be a product of number theory. But as turnout rises above 60%, they become too sharp to be attributed to number theory alone; and besides, number theory can only explain spikes at common fractions, not at places like 85% or 95%.
The thesis of the “silent majority” and myriad examples from other countries severely weaken this assumption.
It’s good that this election has inspired bloggers, activists and scientists to delve into the interesting and undeveloped world of electoral fraud analysis. They may well be truly groundbreaking original research on the subject lurking somewhere on Runet.
Nonetheless, there remain huge uncertainties; one must guard against the deceptive simplicity and aesthetic richness of most of these arguments. A further peril is that, understandably, this discussion is extremely politicized. As a rule, proponents of the 15% Thesis are liberals to whom United Russia really is a party of scoundrels and thieves and Putin is a cancer on the nation. Likewise, all proponents of the 0% Thesis and some of the proponents of the 5% Thesis are more politically conservative and sympathetic to the Kremlin’s viewpoint that things are basically alright.
My own view on the matter is that the 15% Thesis is extremely unlikely to be true because if it were valid, it would essentially invalidate the entirety of Russian opinion polling – and the work of hundreds of experienced professionals – for at least the last decade; prior to the 2011 Duma elections, only a single poll gave United Russia less than 49%. And we are expected to believe their actual result was 35% or even less? A claim this extraordinary needs truly extraordinary evidence to be credible, but the evidence that has actually been presented is full of questionable assumptions. Which is, in fact, quite ordinary in the world of social science.
Which is not a bad thing. Let the debate go on. Churov can keep his beard, but a web camera or three to let people know he ain’t hiding anything in it wouldn’t go amiss.
As readers of this blog know, I have long regarded the return of economic crisis as an inevitability (because the core energy and no-growth predicament facing the Western world wasn’t solved in 2008-9 but merely kicked further down the road by increasing debt and printing money). It looks like 2012 will be the crunch year, as a series of inter-related crises are rapidly converging: (1) The European sovereign debt crisis; (2) The continuation of the chronic US inability to balance its books, and of instability in the Middle East; (3) The probable onset of serious declines in global oil production, as new oil megaprojects are no longer able to compensate for accelerating decline from existing fields; (4) heightened risks of a war with Iran, as the narrow window opens between the start of US delivery of the next-generation bunker buster MOP (from November 2011) and the culmination of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and its hardening against air strikes (next year or two).
The European debt crisis dominates headlines, with the Anglo-Saxon media crowing about the lazy, shiftless Meds (as opposed to the diligent and careful Germans) and blaming socialism for their problems. This of course has a number of flaws within it. Greeks work the most hours in the EU – 2000 per year, relative to 1300 in Germany. And the only major EU nations without huge debt and fiscal problems are the Scandinavians, who are about as “socialist” as one gets nowadays.
But this is all sidestepping the fact that debt and fiscal crisis afflict the entire Western world, and it is just that – due to the special political weaknesses of the Eurozone – have manifested first and foremost in Greece, Italy, and Spain. However, a look at the actual statistics reveals that even the “serious” countries are in a great deal of trouble. For instance, in 2010 both the US and Britain had bigger primary deficits (cyclically adjusted) than “basketcase” Greece, whereas Italy’s was actually positive! The Meds’ total net government debt is larger, but on the other hand, if even France is beginning to experience perturbations – a country whose fiscal balances are better in every way than Britain’s or America’s – then it surely cannot be long before the crows come home to roost in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Below are two tables that would be very informative for discussions about the crisis, as they overturn many of the lazy myths and tropes populating the discourse.
Though the US position looks salvageable because of the positive GDP growth less cost of finance indicator (suggesting that its ability to pay back its debts are growing faster than the debts themselves), I am not convinced of the reliability of that indicator. First, it assumes fast growth – growth that has yet to materialize despite massive fiscal and monetary stimulus since 2008. Second, it assumes that interest rates on Treasuries will remain low – but that assumes a US that is becoming rapidly indebted and making signals it is going to inflate it away remains an investor safe heaven. It shows zero ability to make a credible commitment to eliminating the budget deficit, which is only going to be compounded as the baby boomers start retiring.
This chart from Michael Pollaro shows that in some respects the US position is actually worse than those of the PIGS in aggregate. For every $60 it received in revenue, it spends $100, and it would take almost 6 years for the US to repay its debt if the entire budget was devoted to it. In contrast, the average PIGS figure is $78 in revenue for every $100 in spending, and it would take them only 2 years of their combined budgets to repay their debts.
The position of Britain is very weak. It’s economy, and especially its budget, is highly reliant on the City of London. The tanking of the financial system has resulted in zero growth (GDP is still about 5% below peak 2007 levels) and chronically high budget deficits at around 10% of GDP, and the prospect of a second recession with pull the figures even further into the red. Nor has a weaker pound stimulated an export based recovery. Britain’s big trump card is that its bonds have very high average numbers of years to maturity, so refinancing will be easier even if its rates were to suddenly lurch upwards. Now its still over-extended and will probably go bankrupt within this decade, but probably later than the Meds or even the US.
Germany has a strong position, with only a modest budget deficit and reasonable levels of debt. Overall, it is net global creditor, with a net international investment position of 37% of GDP. But this presents another problem. Quite a lot of that is in the forms of loans to and assets held by its banks in the stricken Med region. A meltdown there would send the value of these assets plummeting, necessitating massive bailouts that could in turn threaten even Germany’s solvency. Hence, a possible reason for the recent poor sales of German government bonds.
Despite chronic budget deficits and an astronomic public debt of 220% of GDP, I actually think that Japan may be the country in the least danger in the medium-term future. 95% of its government debt is domestic, largely to Japanese corporations, which lend to the government for social spending in exchange for the understanding that tax rates will be held low. But those same banks and corporations are flush with cash: Japan’s net international investment position is an impressive 56% of GDP. In a way, it’s just a different method of financing a welfare state. It’s still probably unsustainable – domestic investors too may dry up, especially as the Japanese population continues to age and begins to spend rather than save – but I’d wager less so than the US or most of Europe.
Fiscally secure nations include China, Latin America, Scandinavia, and Russia. China has problems with various non-performing loans and municipal over-indebtedness, granted, but these weaknesses are largely mitigated by its phenomenal growth rate and a net international investment position of 36% of GDP. Latin America and Scandinavia tend to have responsible fiscal management and adequate growth rates.
Russia has globally low levels of government debt, its citizens likewise have low debt levels (a feature more of its underdeveloped credit system, granted), and an international net investment position of 17% of GDP. Though the budget deficit is currently balanced thanks to high oil prices, a significant drop can take them into the red very quickly and deeply; however, this is NOT a problem because it is a near certainty that on average oil prices in the next decade will remain high and rise further. What IS a problem is that Russia is a “high-beta” economy, highly affected by developments elsewhere – in 2008, its recession was deeper than in any major Western economy (though compared to them it also had the strongest recovery). The primary reason was the sharp cut-off in Western credit to Russian banks and corporations, resulting in multiple refinancing crises. Today, this problem is less acute, with the Russian banks and corporations having learnt that such dependence may be a problem – nonetheless, a huge sovereign debt crisis in the West can still give Russia a very sharp knock in the short-term.
The exergy crisis
This brings us to another side of the issue: peak oil. Oil reserves are depleting, and global production – after being on a plateau from 2005 to today – will probably begin to consistently fall from 2012 as oil megaprojects sharply fall off. Furthermore, a war with Iran, and its possible capability to blockade the Strait of Hormuz for some time, may cause an extremely disruptive spike in world oil prices, as 25% of world oil supplies transit through the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, China is right now entering the mass automobile age, with the numbers of cars sold per year overtaking the US in 2010. So we will see a rise in demand from China and other emerging markets.
But this is not all. As discussed on other posts in the blog, e.g. here, here, economic growth in general is crucially dependent on net energy availability and the efficiency with which it is converted into useful work. Both indicators have slowed to a crawl, and quite soon the former may well go into reverse. Furthermore, the reality of open global markets with limited global energy supplies means that countries will be more and more competitively bidding for the high-EROEI energy sources that remain (primarily, oil). The US in particular is highly dependent on oil to power its service-based economy, but it simply cannot afford oil to the same degree as can China (see this excellent Oil Drum post A Brief Economic Explanation of Peak Oil for an explanation). This means that the economic pie is now limited, and growth in one place (above all, China) is now to the detriment of growth in other already high-income places (the US, and the less efficient parts of Europe). For a limited time, this issue can be bypassed by the accumulation of debt in the high-income countries – much of which, it should be noted, is loaned out from China and the oil exporters. But poor countries lending to maintain rich country living standards is bizarre at face value, and it is unsustainable in the long-run.
How to survive the coming storm?
From the investment perspective: Keep assets in US dollars, but only those that can be sold off at relatively short notice.
Though dangerous in the short-term, China, Russia, and some countries in Eastern Europe are very good long-term plays. In particular, buying in at the depths of crisis can pay huge dividends in the future. A good bet right now: property in Bulgaria and Minsk.
Natural resources are another excellent long-term play (including gold – a good bet in a time of instability). However, it is probably not a good time to buy in right now, as there is the risk of a sharp (but short) fall once the economic deterioration gathers critical pace.
If you have the means to be an independent financial speculator, try out US CDS. The US will probably never formally default – controlling its own currency, at the most, it will do so via inflation – however, the perceived risk of default WILL be reflected in those instruments. Don’t bet the farm on it, as they’re high risk, but do consider setting aside 10% of your investment poll into this or similar instruments, as the returns have the potential to be mindbogglingly high.
The other two BRIC’s, India and Brazil, I am not so certain of because their low human capital precludes very fast growth.
In terms of specific sectors in the long-term, probably the best bets are IT and medicine because the entire world is aging, and when people are unemployed, they will spend their time on Facebook and playing video games.
Perhaps I’ll have another post on the other aspects of how to keep afloat in the coming era of turbulence. Keep an eye out for it.
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.
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