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hi-reddit-russia A couple of weeks back I had an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with /r/Russia.

Direct link: Hi /r/Russia! Anatoly Karlin, writer for The Unz Review / Анатолий Карлин, “пейсатель” о России, геополитике. AMA!

Thought I would reprint some of the questions and answers there so that they don’t vanish into the digital ether.

***

Politics

You were at the March 26 protests

Can we confidently say that the Kremlin lost young voters forever.

Does Russia have a new protest generation?

For example in the west, there was the contrast between the WWII conservative generation and the young generation of the 60s( this so-called counterculture )

Yes, here’s my account of the March 26 protests.

I don’t think the Kremlin has lost young voters, though some kremlins are definitely trying to. Ultimately, Putin after Crimea still has the steady support of about 80% of Russians, so that precludes any great dip in support amongst young people.

My impression is that paradoxically, both liberal and pro-Putin sentiments might be somewhat higher amongst the younger generations, alongside a melange of other, more idiosyncratic ideologies like monarchism and whatnot. Why? Because Communist sympathies collapse amongst younger Russians. That is, relative to the older generations, there are still plenty of “vatniks,” but many fewer “sovoks.”

If there is going to be a strong youth-based protest movement in the future – which isn’t the case now, 8,000 protesters in a city of 12 million is nothing – I suspect nationalists will play a big role in it.

***

Two questions

  1. In your opinion, what are the most important politcal challenges facing our country and how can those challenges can be adress?
  2. What should the federal government’s top three priorities be in setting a sound foreign policy vital to our interest?

(1) The lack of a clearcut succession mechanism is a serious problem. Putin after Crimea has become sort of what the poli-sci types call a “charismatic leader,” so his own power is quite secure, but you can’t say the same for the beigeocratic bugmen who make up his entourage from Medvedev on down. Hopefully he can groom an adequate replacement in his remaining years as President.

(2) It all boils down to this: Be smarter.

pushkov-need-to-be-smarter

Alexey Pushkov: “Russia invested $200bn in Ukraine’s economy in the past 20 years, the US – $5bn in the “development of democracy.” Looks like we didn’t invest correctly. Important lesson.”

The lack of a clearcut succession mechanism is a serious problem. Putin after Crimea has become sort of what the poli-sci types call a “charismatic leader,” so his own power is quite secure, but you can’t say the same for the beigeocratic bugmen who make up his entourage from Medvedev on down. Hopefully he can groom an adequate replacement in his remaining years as President.

What do you think might happen if Putin fails to produce a successor in time (for one reason or another)? Are there any political elites or oligarchs who might be plotting an aggressive move to be executed against Putin (if his support wanes over time) or shortly after him suddenly stepping down (ill health, death, or something else)? Maybe someone in the military or siloviki? Indeed, the lack of any clear mechanisms will cause chaos, which will be an opportunity for some.

I am just as skeptical about the prospects of an internal coup against Putin as about the prospects of a color revolution (detailed article about this).

Putin’s approval rating hasn’t consistently dipped below 60% since late 1999. Any event or development that brings it down into dangerous territory is likely to be so unexpected and traumatic that little could be meaningfully predicted about it. If Putin steps down due to “life” reasons (e.g. ill health), Medvedev would be the immediate logical successor. He will get by in the short to medium term, I suppose, though being much less popular and charismatic than Putin his position will be shakier.

***

How much of a role did the US have in the Russian troubles in the 90s? Mostly talking about the domestic problems. Aside from their monetary support of Yelstin in the 1996 election, can’t think of any nefarious actions, while some claim that the CIA conspired with the oligarchs to destroy the country, and then with the Chechens to destroy it again, and so on. From what I’ve read, the US (as a whole, with the exception of some officials including presidents) was mostly disinterested in Russian domestic problems, leaving it to its own problems.

Do you think that if the US managed to execute a Marshall plan-style aid for Russia back then, it would have been a better place now?

I think US role in that is overdone in “patriotic” Russian propaganda. Most of the damage was either self-inflicted (the kleptocratic nature of the privatizations), or inevitable (reintroducing markets after 60 years of central planning – you can turn a fish into a fish stew, but turning a fish stew into a fish is harder, as the economists joked).

To be sure, the oligarchs pretty much were Western agents of influence, but I agree with you that the dominant US policy towards Russia was disinterest.

Russian opinion towards the US was extremely positive in the early 1990s, through to the war against Serbia. There were even serious considerations of pursuing NATO membership through to the early 2000s. If there ever was an opportunity to draw Russia within the Euro-Atlantic orbit and preempt a Sino-Russian alliance, it was then. Instead, Washington D.C. considered itself the victory in the Cold War and chose to expand NATO (a policy opposed by both George Kennan and Henry Kissinger).

***

Do you think Lenin will be buried? How do you expect the 100th anniversary of his revolution will be “commemorated” in Russia?

Lenin was a traitor, so if his body has to be disposed of in some way, it should be cremated and scattered to the four winds.

That said, it does have some historical value as the oldest well preserved body in the world, so perhaps it could be moved to an outskirt of Moscow. Maybe the commies could crowdfund a “shrine” of some sort there.

***

If Vladimir Zhirinovsky had a daughter named Martine could she lead the LDPR to power?

Martine Lebedeva would be a good name for a video game anti-heroine.

***

Political Theory

Any favorites among right-wing thinkers from nineteenth century? Do you think that, say, Pobedonostev still holds water today as an actual political philosopher, or he should be read from purely historical POV? Name your three favorite russian philosophers, right-wing or not.

I haven’t studied Pobedonostev in any great depth, but I’m not enarmored with him; too often he seems to adopt egregiously reactionary positions just for, well, the heck of it.

I do recall him having some good thoughts on how the mass media operates, rushing to print anything without fact-checking (#fakenews?). But his proposed solutions tended to be antagonistically authoritarian, and some were outright crazy, like his arguments against mass schooling.

Favorite 3 Russian philosophers:

  1. Ivan Ilyin
  2. Vladimir Vernadsky
  3. Nikolay Berdyaev

***

What’s your take on classic Moldbug writings from 2008-2013, and separately, on current state of neoreactosphere?

I am not a big fan of Moldbug.

For instance, he not only denies AGW, but also seems to be under the impression that this makes him some sort of dissident against the “weaponized memeplex of Hypercalvinist Atheo-Oecumenic conspiracy,” as opposed to just subscribing to one of the tenets of Conservatism Inc. (USA).

As for his big idea, neocameralism – dividing up sovereignty into shares to be bought up by Silicon Valley oligarchs? Congratulations, neoreactionaries – you’ve just handed the SJWs absolute political power on a platter.

My view on NRx (in its original formulation) is that it was just libertarians trying to deal with the fact that the average person has an IQ of 100. Since I was never a libertarian, it never appealed to me all that strongly, despite certain sympathies for it. To be sure, there was also an “ethnonationalist” strain in NRx, but my impression is that it has since pretty much merged into the Alt Right (as Michael Anissimov predicted a couple of years back).

***

Let me just say that I greatly value your blogging over the years. It’s a breath of fresh air. Western coverage of Russia is 100% propaganda but the simpletons over at RT are not much better. I realise your biases – you’re open about them – but I much prefer that over feigned ‘neutrality’ which always end up in a monotone demonisation.

Now to my question. Putin strikes me as less of a nationalist than an imperialist . An imperialist believes in a larger, over-arching idea. Rome went from being a nation-state to an Empire, and being “roman” moved from an ethnic concept to a universal concept. Same is true with America.

In my view, if you’re a Russian nationalist, then you should be against imperialism. This isn’t to say that you don’t want Russia to be strong(which is often confused with being an imperialist by naïve people). Because only nationalism will preserve the Russian nation(see the Central Asian immigration problem).

So, with such a large preamble, do you A) agree with my characterisation of Putin and B) what do you think are the chances of purely ethnic Russian(with some allowances for other ethnicities, as long as they meld into the larger Russian core) nationalism? I’m thinking post-Putin mostly given that he is in his mid-60s and is unlikely to change.

I am a Russian nationalist, but I subscribe to the concept of the triune Russian nation – i.e., of Great Russians, Little Russians, and White Russians – as the nation-building core of a prospective “Big Russia.”

This implicitly demands the eventual reunification of the Russian lands – not as an imperial project, but a nation-(re)building one.

The most “imperial” aspects of Russia are (1) Chechnya/Ingushetia/Dagestan and (2) Central Asia, both of which were only brought within the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century. And I am indeed lukewarm about whether or not the former should remain within Russia, and am certainly opposed to any significant degree of integration with the latter (not least for demographic reasons: There are about now as many young Central Asians as there are ethnic Russians).

With that out of the way, to answer your specific questions:

(A) Putin is an imperialist, a nationalist, as well as a conservative, a liberal, a liberal-conservative, a patriot, a sovok, an opportunist, and so forth. His modus operandi has always been to balance between different political and ideological factions.

(B) Support for this strain of nationalism is certainly growing – as of the latest polls, “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” enjoys about 50% support, and that viewpoint is relatively far more prevalent amongst the younger generations.

***

Geopolitics

Who will take power next in Ukraine? Do you think the Kremlin’s decision to take a passive approach will be vindicated? My impression is that Ukraine is a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment, which will make anyone who steps inside regret it. But then, vigorous action might have and might yet restore the status quo ante of a reasonably large and friendly buffer state (minus west Ukraine).

I speculated about developments in Ukraine here. There’s a possibility that Tymoshenko is mounting a slow-motion coup against Poroshenko with the help of Turchinov, Kolomoysky, and his pet far right batallions.

I unenthusiastically supported Minsk II at the time, however I think since then its detractors have been proven right – as of Q4 2016, the Ukrainian economy was growing by close to 5% (after all, even Ukraine has to hit bottom at some point). That said, Trump’s election victory is an unexpected wild card that may yet rescue the day, and Ukrainian nationalists have proved to be reliably helpful.

restore the status quo ante
friendly buffer state

Pick one. Pre-Maidan Ukraine was not friendly.

Yes, this is true. Yanukovych only turned to EEU at the last moment, right after running an extensive pro-EU campaign. Genius!

The demographics in Ukraine are also very unfavorable in terms of attitudes towards Russia. The Far West is growing vigorously – it has some of the highest fertility rates in Europe – whereas the Donbass was in a true death spiral even before the war.

Moreover, even I can sympathize with Ukrainians who don’t want their country to be a buffer state. While both the EU and Russia can sell tantalizing (if unrealistic) visions of what is possible – TyschaVDen’ to the west, space race victory to the east – literally like, nobody, wants to be a “buffer” between a bunch of gayropean degenerates and sovok cretins. :)

***

What is your opinion on the syrian intervention and how much longer in your opinion will we stay in the country?

I initially supported it on the theory that its goals were to provide cheap real life training for the Russian Air Force; secure itself a couple of useful bases in the MENA region; use it as a bargaining chip with the US in future discussions about spheres of influence in Eurasia.

I have since become more skeptical about it. There is now a much larger degree of involvement, including ground involvement, and it seems like Russia is taking its own rhetoric about fighting the terrorists in Syria so as not to have to fight them in Russia itself seriously. That said, I still support it, though I now have major reservations about the dangers of overextension.

If there is no further substantial US intervention, I expect Syria to be eventually divided between the Syrian government west of the Euphrates, and Kurdistan east of it, maybe by 2019-20. They will come to some kind of confederal arrangement. If however the neocons win out and move forwards with HRC’s no fly zone ideas, who knows what will happen. Nothing good, that’s for certain.

***

What’s the general sentiment towards Germany? What do Russians think about Germany today and how much did the feelings towards Germany change after our relations took a change for the worse recently? Also, what do you think would need to happen to better the German-Russian relations?

(1) Were generally good until 2014. I can’t find polls on Levada, but I would imagine Russian opinion of Germany tracks that of the EU, which was consistently higher than opinion of the US, but converged after 2014.

(2) AfD comes to power in Germany. Khodorkovsky comes to power in Russia.

More realistically, if the US goes full neocon and goes gallivanting on Middle East adventures again. There are committed Atlanticists in Germany like Julian Roepcke, but they are still a minority. German assessments of US trustworthiness have already plummeted from ~60% under Obama to close to 20% after Trump (similar to the current figures for Russia), and especially if the SPD takes back power and anyone other than Macron or Hamon win in France, I could just about see the reformation of the Paris/Berlin/Moscow bloc that opposed the Iraq War. Still, it’s a huge longshot.

Thank you! Military misadventures of the US are the most realistic possibility for an improvement in my eyes, too. But such an outside influence wouldn’t be a very substantial one and also may only be short lived.

Still, it’s a bit paradox that while the “West” seems to be united in its condemnation of and mistrust towards Russia, Germany is building NordstreamII and some german lower rank politicians like Seehofer keep traveling to Moscow, seemingly to keep relations from dropping too low. I think Germany is caught in the middle, having to appease its main and most influential ally, the US, while trying to maintain some contact with Russia and access to the Russian market on which can be build upon in the future, if the situation improves and allows for it.

A last note on why I asked my question… I was very moved by Putin’s speech at the German Bundestag in 2001 and felt like the vision of a shared EU/Russian market, common security policy and general cooperation between the EU and what is now the EEU would have been a true path to stability and prosperity for our region and most of the world and it saddens me very much that this vision is more or less dead now.

***

What do you think of use of military force to achieve Russian goals? Syria seems to me to be a success, regardless of many possible concerns, however instances like Georgia and Ukraine seem to be very much a mixed bag. In short – was it worth it, and was there a viable alternative?

Georgia – Russian peacekeepers were directly attacked, no choice but to respond forcefully.

Ukraine – Crimea was an undisputed success that saved it from Donbass’ sad fate. If anything, a timely Russian large-scale intervention in early 2014 would have resulted in far fewer overall deaths and suffering.

Syria – See here.

***

Technology

Will Russia return to the cutting edge of space exploration (and/or exploitation, colonization, etc.) technology in the near future?

How does the Russian military stack up against the US and China when it comes to the space domain?

No. In fact, I expect Russia to continue slipping behind.

Ultimately, there is only so much $3.5tn economy and $3bn Roskosmos budget can sustain versus a $20tn economy (USA, China) and a $35bn NASA budget/$6bn and rapidly growing Chinese space budget.

That said, I don’t expect space colonization to occur on any substantial scale in this century, Musk’s rhetoric regardless.

***

As a transhumanist myself I don’t really understand how transhumanism and nationalism mixed together in you. The idea of transhumanism transcends the ideas of nations, races and even the human nature. Technological evolution should unite the humanity and as long people become more and more connected today with each other – the ideas of national goverments and nations will be rendered oblosete with time.

Good question.

Very legitimate one, of course. I am sure that once we get to computer superintelligence or CRISPR ourselves up to 175 average IQs, the world will become thoroughly cosmopolitan (support for tolerance, open borders, free trade, etc. tends to increase with IQ).

Problem #1 – developing those technologies takes brains. Elite brains. “Smart fractions,” as they’re known in the psychometric literature. As well as the appropriate technological growth-friendly institutions, which again need a certain level of average national IQ to maintain.

Problem #2 – the evidence suggests that mass immigration from the Third World has negative effects on average national IQ. There is also good recent economic research that suggests that immigrants tend to carry over their home country cultural attitudes, with negative impacts on the quality of institutions in the host countries. See Garett Jones.

Can you envision the US or Japan (average IQ ~100) launching a singularity? It doesn’t seem entirely implausible.

Can you envision Brazil or Indonesia (average IQ ~85) launching a singularity? Sub-Saharan Africa (average IQ ~70)? Seems rather less likely.

As the neoreactionaries say, you can’t cultivate gardens without walls. We don’t know what kind of smart fraction ingenuity would be necessary for the biosphere to complete its transition into a disembodied noosphere. As such, it makes sense to play it safe.

Thank you for broad answer! Technological singularity is my dream. I wish would live long enough only to see the start of it. I have limited knowledge about general AI and even less about gene alteration technology, but guts of the computer engineer say that achieving artificial or virtual intelligence is faster way to help humanity to solve difficult problems. Only after development of such system humanity would reach the level when they will “gene-engineer” the humanity itself. Putting it simply – be smart enough to become smarter first and use this knowledge later.

Sometimes I think that sometimes society and technology develops way ahead of human basic behavior – eat, dominate and multiply – and that creates problems we have worldwide.

***

Economics

Russia’s economic growth 2000-2008: how much is luck and how much is sound fiscal management/ macroeconomic policy? I find this to be a fundamental question when it comes to assessing Putin’s legacy.

Russia’s future economic growth: will Putin be able to deliver solid numbers or do you agree with me that the preferable route for Russia going forward would be to be led by liberal reformists such as Medvedev/Kudrin?

EEU: Does it make sense for Russia economically? Should it continue to be pursued for geopolitical purposes? Bonus: should Russia seek closer ties with Europe or do it’s own Eurasian thing?

Also, do you share my assessment that Putin’s domestic policy since 2008 of increased authoritarianism etc has been a bad thing and that there is a need for a change in direction?

(1) Russia did about average for the ex-Soviet region – much better than Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, most of the Central Asian states; about the same as two of the “Baltic tigers,” Latvia and Lithuania; and worse than Estonia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.

Oil production in the latter two greatly increased relative to the peak Soviet period, whereas Russia’s only recovered to where they were. It might have done better without hasty corruption-wracked privatizations; even star reformer Poland didn’t rush with them, and they did very well. Even just doing what Belarus did would have probably been better. Their GDP stopped falling around 1995. OTOH, it wasn’t a total disaster like Ukraine. I don’t know if the Estonian example is extendable to Russia given its status as a tiny entrepot.

(2) What does “reform” even mean? Russia is now 40th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ratings. I call that successful reform.

Then there is the “cult of reform” which involves installing pro-Western yesmen into power for a temporary bump to the stockmarket in return for selling state assets for pennies on the dollar, unilateral geopolitical concessions, etc.

Kudrin once went on record calling on Russians to drink more vodka for the good of the budget. Vodka bingeing is the leading cause of premature mortality in Russia. I don’t think Russia needs “economic geniuses” like that, regardless of the opinions of Davos bugmen.

(3) I supported the EEU when it appeared to be something around which Russia could return to its older borders through peaceful economic integration. Since then it has started to look more like a mechanism to send cheap labor to Russia, styming automation, suppressing wages, helping Central Asian sovok dictators stay in power, and perhaps eventually turning Russia into Greater Turkestan. I support a wall with Central Asia and the regathering of the Russian lands.

(4) “Bonus: should Russia seek closer ties with Europe or do it’s own Eurasian thing?”
Meaningless question. Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong. Europe is a geographical expression. – Bismarck. For instance, even today there are huge differences in attitudes towards Russia, from Russophobic Swedes to Russophilic Italians.

(5) I don’t have any cardinal disagreements with the setup of the Russian political system, though there are certainly many specific points of disagreement (e.g. the lack of a clear succession mechanism; the undeniably high levels of corruption within the elites; etc).

Thank you for the reply.

1) This does not really answer my question. Basically, how much credit can Putin take for Russia’s fast economic growth? His critics would say he simply “got lucky” as he was able to export expensive oil and gas.

2) I have noted the progress in the “doing business” ranking. However, how significant is this in practice? By “reform”, I mean modernisation and diversification away from energy dependence. The govt seems to have largely failed in this regard – would you agree?

4) Andrei Tsygankov divides Russia’s political class into three ‘schools’: Westernisers, statists and civilisationists. Westernisers (Medvedev, Kudrin etc) perceive Russia as a “European” country and argue that Russia should join the ranks of Western countries and seek closer ties with the EU and disregard Eurasian integration initiatives – essentially, become as “normal” a European state as it can.

5) What about heavy state ownership of the media? On corruption – is it fair to say that Putin does not appear to have done enough? Are you familiar with any of the intricacies of it – ie how difficult would it be to actually “clean up” Russia and get it to Northern European levels of corruption? Saakashvili appears to have managed to do something like this in Georgia, for all his flaws.

(1) The point that I tried to make, perhaps unsuccessfully, is that this is a very hard question that might be impossible to answer without rewinding history. Perhaps Russia could have done a bit better – though not necessarily through “Western approved” methods, as Belarus showed – but it’s also easy how it could have gone considerably worse (see Ukraine).

(2) The ease of business rankings seem to be pretty important in that (a) they are objective, unlike many other indices, such as the CPI; (b) businesspeople pay a lot attention to it; (c) n=1, but it syncs with my own impressions that the Russian bureaucracy has improved, if from a very low base.

Consider diversification practically, instead of as a slogan. Since Russia produces as much oil as Saudi Arabia, diversification away from it is not easy, just as it is not for, say, Norway, or Australia (both fully developed countries with large natural resource sectors). Unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, Russia does have a substantial manufacturing base – comparable in scope to that of France, Italy, India, and Brazil. In my opinion, the problem with the Russian economy isn’t so much that there’s no diversification beyond oil and gas – there is – but that it tends to be technologically underdeveloped.

(4) There is a difference in becoming a “normal European country” (which is good, and something that Russia has been doing anyway, not unsuccessfully as was pointed out by Treisman & Schleifer as early as 2003) and pursuing European integration, which right now is akin to boarding a sinking ship, and was never a realistic option for Russia anyway.
(5) “What about heavy state ownership of the media?”

The (realistic) alternative is ownership by oligarchs who wish their own and pro-Western agendas. Here’s the famous quote on this from Pelevin (only in Russian, unfortunately):

“On corruption – is it fair to say that Putin does not appear to have done enough? Are you familiar with any of the intricacies of it – ie how difficult would it be to actually “clean up” Russia and get it to Northern European levels of corruption?”

Yes, that’s fair. He is far too easy on corrupt members of his entourage. Which, frankly, is most or all of them.

That said, I am very skeptical that Russia can “solve” corruption for a variety of historical (both Tsarist Russia and USSR failed to), comparative (Italy, Greece, etc. haven’t come anywhere near Northern European standards, despite decades of institutional convergence by dint of EU membership), and cultural/biocultural (see hbdchick’s theories on the Hajnal Line) reasons.

Obviously we should aim to become better, but expectations should be kept realistic. I am pretty sure that liberal appetites for corruption are constrained only by their own lack of access to power, not ethics, and besides, Ukraine next door has now – twice! – demonstrated that color revolutions do nothing for improving corruption.

“Saakashvili appears to have managed to do something like this in Georgia, for all his flaws.”
Commented on this here:

“6% of Georgians reported paying a bribe in the past year in 2004, the first year of Saakashvili’s Presidency, and before his reforms could reasonably be expected to have taken effect; in 2013, the last year of his President, it was 4%. An improvement, sure, but not a particularly radical one. Actual opinion polls by Transparency International suggest that lowlevel corruption was not a big problem in Georgia pre-Saakashvili, and its reduction under him could just as easily have been a simple matter of the general withering away of the state’s regulatory agencies under his libertarian reforms. For instance, the near wholesale removal of university tuition subsidies – essential for democratic access to higher education in a country as poor as Georgia – led to a plunge in tertiary enrollment by almost a third relative to the early-to-mid-2000s. Fewer students automatically translates to fewer bribes for grades. These examples can be extended indefinitely: Less contact with the state automatically leads to “lower” corruption. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “good” in all cases.”

Share of exports does not equal level of dependency. Natural resources may make out a large part of Norwegian exports, but they siphon only a very small percentage​ of this income into the state budget (<4% per annum). Russia has clearly taken a bigger hit from the recent crisis than many other energy exporters.

It seems I may have fallen prey to the myth of Saakashvili’s ingenuity on this front. How come Georgia’s level of corruption was already so low? Did they not go through the same decade of looting during the 90′s? In any case, does Georgia’s relative similarly to Russia (in terms of history and culture) not suggest that Russia should be able to reach a similar level?

The revelations by Navalny suggest something bordering on complete apathy towards corruption on the part of the Russian elites, wouldn’t you agree? You don’t really see the same level of – let’s face it – looting among the leaders of less corrupt countries. This leads me to suspect they are ultimately responsible for the high levels of corruption.

On the topic of inequality – I assume you agree it is a significant problem in Russia. Do you see any remedies for it? Would you favour additional Khodorkovsky-style, let’s call it, “acquisitions” by the state? Russia appears to be in quite a unique position in that it could massively improve its level of inequality by dealing only with a few select individuals. Again, my suspicion is that the political elite much prefers the current situation, wherein it enjoys free access to these looted assets.

I wasn’t aware there was any unified consensus on what exactly constitutes oil & gas dependency (i.e. share of the budget, share of exports, share of GDP, or some combination of the three).

But speaking of the budget… The share of oil & gas in the consolidated budget is now 21%, so I don’t think the situation is exactly catastrophic. Ultimately, despite the recent collapse in oil prices, the Russian budget has avoided slipping deep into the red.

I don’t think Georgia is similar to Russia at all. It is Orthodox Christian, but otherwise they speak a totally different language, belong to another (older) civilization, are genetically distinct, etc. It is also much more rural. Don’t think its very extendable to Russia at all.

Re-corruption. Mostly agreed. I would also note that there are different kinds of corruption, e.g.:

  • Everyday corruption – high by European standards though not an outlier (not only Ukraine but Romania, Hungary, Lithuania are similar); seems to be constant under Putin.
  • Business corruption (e.g. pay to get construction permit) – high by European standards though not outlier; massively improved according to World Bank Enterprise Surveys under Putin.
  • Elite corruption – very hard to measure – not exactly like you can poll them on this, like you can random individuals and businesses – but seems to be very high; trends hard to ascertain, though my guess would be that the situation is modestly better than in the 1990s, but hasn’t seen any major improvement under Putin.

Re-inequality. The political elite as such, though wealthy, doesn’t enjoy access to most of those “looted assets.” They mostly belong to the oligarchs who became rich off the 1990s privatizations, and who were explicitly told to stay out of politics (Khodorkovsky disobeyed).

Should those oligarchs be expropriated? I don’t know. On the other hand, it might frighten businesspeople and discourage longterm investment (the standard economists’ argument). On the other hand, it’s not as if they don’t deserve it, and so long as this issue remains unresolved, the consequences of privatization will remain a potential source of political illegitimacy.

I wasn’t aware there was any unified consensus on what exactly constitutes oil & gas dependency (i.e. share of the budget, share of exports, share of GDP, or some combination of the three).

I don’t think one exists, hence my objection to going simply by “share of GDP”.

But speaking of the budget… The share of oil & gas in the consolidated budget is now 21%, so I don’t think the situation is exactly catastrophic.

That doesn’t seem too bad. However, I wonder what the number would be if you included indirect income from the oil and gas sector – ie payroll taxes on employees and even the economic activity generated by their spending (this isn’t measurable, but I’m sure some estimates could be generated). This could be quite significant simply given how much more profitable this sector is than other sectors of the Russian economy.

I don’t think Georgia is similar to Russia at all. It is Orthodox Christian, but otherwise they speak a totally different language, belong to another (older) civilization, are genetically distinct, etc. It is also much more rural. Don’t think its very extendable to Russia at all.

I can see how there are certain differences, but I don’t see why they should result in such a disparity re corruption levels. You also have to factor in the 70 years spent as part of the same union. IQ levels and GDP per capita also point in Russia’s favour in this sphere (though the latter point may be negated by the “resource curse” argument).

I find your distinction between different types of corruption useful. This leads me to believe that “elite corruption” (what I guess you could also term “inequality”) is the real problem here. This, coincidentally, appears to be the domain over which Putin should be able to exert the most influence.

I’m not sure if this is so much about the political elite, in general, as about the small clique surrounding Putin. As Navalny’s most recent work revealed, the oligarchs’ assets appear to be largely at the disposal of this inner circle. For example, Usmanov gifted Medvedev his personal homes and allowed him to stay in his residence​ in Italy. Why give that up?

Even if Putin did want to break the piggy bank this would be an extremely risky (even potentially lethal) project, as the remaining guys would do anything they can to protect their assets. However, desperate times call for desperate measures and Putin will need to maintain his “performance legitimacy” somehow.

It will be interesting to see how Putin’s popularity develops going forward. Any ideas? I assume it can only go so low post-Crimea, but the lacklustre economic predictions are not very reassuring. Absent regular foreign policy victories (which is hardly a reliable political strategy despite recent successes), I suspect there may be clouds lining up in Putin’s horizon. If there’s one thing Navalny’s documentary showed, it’s that people are eyeing the oligarchic piggy bank and they may grow increasingly unhappy with Putin if he does not let more of its contents flow into their pockets.

I kind of do and kind of don’t buy the economic argument against re-acquisition of assets. On the one hand, I believe it could be done in a way that would clearly single out the top 6-7 cats. These would be distinct from foreign investors in that they will be natives and their assets will have formerly belonged to the state and often be related to natural resources. On the other hand, I guess you can always trust clueless foreign investors with zero local knowledge to completely fail to understand what’s going on and proceed to get their panties in a twist.

Sure, the indirect effects of the oil & gas sector certainly has positive downstream effects – certainly inflates consumption to some extent – though of course similar considerations would apply to all large per capita oil & gas exporters.

Pretty much agreed with everything you say about corruption here. that seems to describe reality.

I am actually quite optimistic about economic growth in the next 5 years, barring any major political or geopolitical shocks. We’ve had a two year period of gloom, but this period also saw a tight monetary and fiscal policy, the taming of inflation, and a demographic shock as the numbers of workers entering the labor force plummeted (minimum fertility in Russia was in 1999). But the negative aspects above should attenuate soon, while the positive ones stand the Russia economy in good stead for a strong recovery in the near future.

I’m not categorically against re-appropriation. As you say, it’s not entirely obvious that the reaction will be all that bad, and certainly few people would feel sorry about the likes of Usmanov or Abramovich getting their (belated) just desserts.

I did not think of the demographic factor. I wonder if it will be sufficient to bring about decent growth figures. I wish I shared your optimism, but I feel like significant structural changes are needed to see anything above 2% growth.

***

Which sectors you believe are likely to become future drivers of Russian economy?

Probably the current mainstays: Oil & gas, steel, the military-industrial complex.

I am actually pretty pessimistic on the long-term prospects of the Russian economy, though not for the usual reasons such as demographics and corruption. Automation in manufacturing is extremely low, scientific output is minimal however you try to measure it, on virtually any hi-tech metric from numbers of supercomputers to numbers of high-thoroughput sequencers, Russia is on the level of small European countries like Sweden and Switzerland.

Despite a few areas of excellence such as nuclear power, Putin’s preference for football stadiums (and the Rotenbergs’ wallets) over R&D funding is increasing Russia’s technological lag, and I’m concerned even the MIC will simply be unable to compete with the likes of the US or China past c.2025.

Considering Putin’s past job of “acquiring” foreign technology in the DDR, he must be aware of Russia’s technological weakness.

What are the prospects of reindustrialisation and foreign investment in Russia considering the collapse in oil prices, Western sanctions as well as more positive economics aspects such as a cheaper Ruble and turning to non-Western sources of investment.

Edit: How well will raising trade barriers work for encouraging domestic manufacturing like how agriculture is benefitting now.

He’s no doubt aware of it, and has even said as much (recall the nanotech initiative back around 2008? Or his promise of 20mn (?) hi-tech jobs in 2012? There was also, of course, Skolkovo. But none of these seem to have been particularly successful to my knowledge. Rosnano was handed over to Anatoly Chubais (LOL), who I think preceeded to invest most of it in Western startups, perhaps after skimming some off for himself.

I don’t know what Russia can do to change to radically improve the situation. Even the East-Central European states that have integrated with the EU haven’t developed strong hi-tech sectors; neither has Mediterranean Europe. It’s something that remains largely confined to the US, North-West Europe, Japan, and increasingly, China. Maybe its just a combination of superior human capital and/or institutions.

However, less money on show-off sporting events and more money for R&D would surely be a good start. There’s also a huge amount of bloat and corruption in Russia higher education, from university rectors to paid-for dissertations (they constitute approximately 10% of the total according to the Dissernet plagiarism detection organization). This must be tackled, but with Putin himself being the recipient of a fictive PhD, not to mention a good percentage of the Russian elites, that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

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• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Nationalism, Neoreaction, Politics, Russia, Ukraine 
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vsevolod-ivanov-man-and-bear

Artwork by Vsevolod Ivanov.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of participating in an “Ascending the Tower” podcast produced by neoreactionary luminaries Surviving Babel and Nick B. Steves.

We talked about foreign policy, especially as it pertains to Russia, modern European and American history, the rise of Western universalism, neocons, and the Ukrainian Conflict in the context of neoreactionary geopolitical theory. Despite the length of time it took to get this podcast organized, the discussion in it has lost none of its relevancy.

Below are the links to the podcasts – due to their length, Surviving Babel split them in two – together with a copy of their “table of contents” and show-related hyperlinks.

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Episode VII, Part 1: “This Kaleidoscope Of Truths”

Notes:
4:44 – Introducing Anatoly Karlin
7:17 – Putin and his perception in the West
16:26 – Gradual erosion of Russian respect for the US
22:10 – Russia Today vs. Western media outlets
28:05 – Brief thoughts on Alexandr Dugin
32:05 – Mid-19th c. burgeoning Cathedral foreign policy

Related show links:
Opening Music (excerpt): “Thirst For Truth” by Sons of Northern Mist
https://www.jamendo.com/en/track/1174735/thirst-for-truth

Closing Music (excerpt): “You is Light” by KORDYUKOV
https://www.jamendo.com/en/track/1207353/you-is-light

Anatoly Karlin’s Blog
http://www.unz.com/akarlin/

Discussion of 19th c. Russian liberal-conservatism
http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/putins-philosophy/

More on Russian attitudes towards the US
http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/14/chapter-1-the-american-brand/

Ofcom and Russia Today
http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/02/russia-today-anti-western-ukraine-crosstalk-kremlin

Gregory Hood on Dugin
http://www.radixjournal.com/journal/2014/6/23/why-the-conservative-movement-needs-dugin

Russian involvement in US Civil War
http://www.voltairenet.org/article169488.html

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Episode VII, Pt. 2 – “The Worship of the West”

Notes:
1:03 – Woodrow Wilson, progenitor of the Cathedral
5:46 – Family structure and its influence on political ideology
11:30 – The failure of the League of Nations
15:13 – The post-WWII East-West polarization
19:58 – Competing visions of the nature of Ukraine
29:32 – Euromaidan and the Russian reaction
38:41 – Forecasting the near future of Ukraine
44:04 – Out of Left Field — Impact of the EAEU

Related show links:

Opening Music – “Opening Game” by aktarum
https://www.jamendo.com/en/track/1134793/opening-game

Closing Music – “The Gardener” by Mister_Even_Steven
https://www.jamendo.com/en/track/1245965/the-gardener

Anatoly Karlin’s blog
http://www.unz.com/akarlin/

Anatoly discusses Apollo’s Ascent
http://akarlin.com/2015/01/blogging-at-unz-review/

Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations (warning: Cathedral source)
https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/fourteen-points
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp

hbdchick’s posts on Emmanuel Todd’s family formation theory
https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/tag/todds-family-systems/

Eurasian Economic Union (officially EAEU in English)
http://www.eaeunion.org/?lang=en

Sponsorship:

If you are interested in sponsoring Ascending the Tower, e-mail me at Surviving Babel at gmail dot com. Sponsorships start at $10 an episode, and all proceeds will either go back into the podcast or provide some compensation for your most grateful host. You can purchase a mention or short message, or you can choose to sponsor the Out of Left Field question or even an entire episode.

***

A Gentle Introduction to NRx

Kickstarted by the Jewish Silicon Valley-based programmer Mencius Moldbug in the late 2000s, neoreaction – or NRx, as it is commonly abbreviated – is a radically new look at our social and political systems through the prism of Human Biodiversity, the theory of private government, and the writings of dead white male reactionaries such as Thomas Carlyle and Julius Evola. This set of theories and ways of thinking has been termed the “Dark Enlightenment” by the British philosopher Nick Land. Since the days of Moldbug, NRx has branched off into three distinct directions: The (original) elitist, philo-Semitic, technophilic, and cognitively elitist wing, basically disillusioned libertarians who realized that the average person is a 100 IQ idiot who shouldn’t be trusted with democracy; the more populistic, Semitic-neutral traditionalists, ethnonationalists, thede-preservers, and old-school Christian conservatives who will never have any truck with gay marriage (I believe my interlocutors in this podcast largely belong to this category); and the wave of nationalists, Internet trolls, anti-Semites, and overt Nazis who have been making their way into the movement in more recent months. The entrance of the latter has been especially traumatic, producing a lot of drama and hysterics. Many of the Nazis wanted to overthrow NRx outright – some of them call it JRx, you can guess what that stands for – and sweep up the fragments into White Nationalism. But they haven’t met with success, since by and large the NRx OG’s – the techno-commercialists and the traditionalists – have resisted the assaults of the stormfags. And despite the recent political jitters, a lot of quality work continues to be written under the NRx umbrella.

This is a barebones summary. I will probably write more about neoreaction in the future, but for now, readers who want to find out more about this movement are directed to the following articles.

Personally, I agree with maybe 60% of the NRx platform – heck, check my blog name – but I should stress that I do not identify as NRx. Not out of any misplaced concern for respectability and employability; that ship has long sailed. Just that some of their ideas I disagree with, and quite cardinally so – for instance, the viability and desirability of private government. I don’t really adhere to any ideology but I do generally sympathize with Left positions economically. Like virtually any other ideology, they prefer narratives over facts. Their narrative (I think) happens to be closer to reality than the mainstream SWPL Liberal or Cuckservative narratives, but it contains predictable blindspots like rejection of climate science and statistically questionable claims denying the longterm decline in violence. Plus, they have a solid stance against entryism. That is their right and I will respect it.

PS. Administrative note -

As you may have noticed, my blog has been reduced from three slots to one slot on the front page. This is temporary, and was done by my own request. Basically, for various personal-related reasons, I will be very busy until about mid-August. Hence, my blogging will likely be very infrequent during this period. I will get much more free time come late August and September, when I will return to my regular blogging schedule and the old front page arrangement.

 
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The benevolent dictator, much like Communism, seems to be one of those semi-mythical things that seem to be good in theory but rarely if ever pan out in practice. But every so often there occurs an exception. If there was one man who embodied the archetype, it was Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away earlier today at the age of 91. The only other leader in today’s world who even begins to approach his stature is Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

Under Lee’s 50 years of formal and informal rule, Singapore went from being a Third World backwater with no natural resources to a gleaming technopolis and the world’s third major financial hub after London and New York. GDP per capita increased by several orders of magnitude. It refuted the modern idea, or rather dogma, that democracy and individual liberties are indispensable components of economic modernization. A clever foreign policy enabled great relations with both the US and China. Visible corruption is all but non-existent; the story might be apocryphal, but apparently Lee once even went as far as allowing the execution of a friend for stealing from the state. This kind of severe, impartial justice is all but unimaginable under Putin, whose top political elites enjoy literally palatial lifestyles, or even under Xi Jinping, where the anti-corruption campaign is real but has to take into account that some political clans must remain untouchable.

He was famously disdainful of democracy – “with few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries… What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value.” That this might not be taken well by Singapore’s more Americanized youth was of minimal concern to the elder statesman: “It’s irrelevant to me what young Singaporeans think of me. What they think of me after I’m dead and gone in one generation will be determined by researchers who do PhD’s on me.”

As Michael Anissimov’s and [AK: Redacted on request]‘s NRx blog More Right points out, “Lee Kuan Yew was the living politician that most exemplified the neoreactionary philosophy.” I would also argue that he is also now the dead politician who most exemplifies neoreaction, right down to his son inheriting the Prime Ministership. On this, they are absolutely correct; it is very much worth pointing out that Singapore’s political culture is defined not only by authoritarianism and clean, effective public service, but by an unapologetic elitism that is quite shocking to Westerners used to politicians who pander to the masses.

Example: Singapore is a small state, a city-state, and space is at a premium. So new cars face exorbitant taxes so that only the superwealthy can afford them. In this sense, it is heavily regulated and unapologetically pro-oligarchic. But that doesn’t preclude Singapore’s ordinary citizens from enjoying one of the best public transport systems on the planet. It is also rated by the World Bank as the world’s easiest country in which to do business, so at least getting rich is perfectly within everyone’s reach – provided he has the requisite ability, of course. Not everyone does, as Lee pointed out with brutal honesty:

If I tell Singaporeans – we are all equal regardless of race, language, religion, culture. Then they will say,”Look, I’m doing poorly. You are responsible.” But I can show that from British times, certain groups have always done poorly, in mathematics and in science. But I’m not God, I can’t change you. But I can encourage you, give you extra help to make you do, say maybe, 20% better.

If you think this hints at a dangerously un-PC worldview, you would be correct. Here are some more quotes that you will not see in the glowing obituaries of him in the mainstream press:

On evolution and human biodiversity:

I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that’s the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils… I didn’t start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Against equality:

There are some flaws in the assumptions made for democracy. It is assumed that all men and women are equal or should be equal. Hence, one-man-one-vote. But is equality realistic? If it is not, to insist on equality must lead to regression.

Contempt for demotism:

I ignore polling as a method of government. I think that shows a certain weakness of mind – an inability to chart a course whichever way the wind blows, whichever way the media encourages the people to go, you follow. You are not a leader.

On the necessity of pro-eugenic policies:

If you don’t include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society… So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That’s a problem.

On IQ and black people:

The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more… the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow.

Had he dared express any of these ideas as an American politician, he would have been hounded out of public life by any of the newspapers who now sing his praises. Instead, to the extent racial issues are at all raised, he gets praised for creating a functioning multicultural society, with some of its less “wholesome” aspects, such as a cognitively elitist immigration policy that specifically targetted ethnic Han, getting glossed over. Part of the reason for this is surely the banal fact that he is a non-white foreigner who can says that which is forbidden to others. But an even bigger reason, and one that helps enable the former, is simply success; it is success, not so much cannons, that is the last argument of kings.

But lest you think this is just another neoreactionary ode to Lee Kuan Yew, prepare for disillusionment. Leaving aside the more subjective and ideological factors, such as the restrictions on political and civil liberties, there are at least several spheres in which Singapore’s performance was rather underwhelming.

1) The rise in Singapore’s GDP per capita was no doubt phenomenal, but it was broadly in line with those of the other East Asian tigers. A vast increase in wealth was inevitable even without Lee Kuan Yew, which is not to say that he did not do a lot to help it along. Singapore is now much richer than Taiwan or South Korea, but the latter are proper countries with substantial agricultural hinterlands, and far too populous to specialize as global trading and financial hubs, so the comparison is not necessarily valid. Singapore does not really stand out when compared to other global cities: Its GDP per capita (PPP) in 2014 was $67,000, which is not cardinally higher than that of London, Paris, or Hong Kong, all three of which were at $57,000, and lower than leading American cities such as Boston ($76,000), Seattle ($73,000), San Francisco ($72,000), New York ($70,000).

Moreover, when you adjust for differences in working time – on average, Singaporeans work 2,300 hours a year, relative to 1,800 in the US and as little as 1,400 in most of Western Europe – there develops a very real difference in productivity. This is especially stark when you consider that it almost tops the international PISA tests, suggesting very high levels of human capital.

But two arguments can be made in mitigation. First off, economic underperformance relative to human capital seems to be common to all of East Asia; for instance, Japan “should be” at least as wealthy as the US or Germany per capita by a simple extrapolation of its national IQ, but instead it is only just as wealthy as Italy. Why? Beyond the scope of this post, but there it is. The other argument is that the above cities, especially major national capitals like Paris and London, draw the cognitive elites of those countries, such that their average IQ and economic potential is well above their national averages and thus perhaps similar to Singapore’s anyway. But leaving aside that Singapore is also a magnet for regional cognitive elites, the GDP per capita and especially the productivity data still indicate that Singapore remains unremarkable or perhaps even subpar in its economic performance.

2) The long grind at work might explain why Singapore’s citizens are apparently the least emotional on the planet, according to a 2012 report by Gallup. Even hardened neoreactionaries, I would imagine, would attach some value to people’s happiness, be it out of paternal beneficence or at least concern for the longterm stability of the state.

3) This isn’t a exactly a failure in my opinion because it’s not like Singapore lacks for people. It’s a very wealthy citystate and will easily find more than enough high quality immigrants to make up any demographic gaps. But it’s nonetheless worth pointing out that Singapore, with a total fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman, hardly lives up to neoreactionary natalist ideals.

4) I certainly do not wish to pretend to be any kind of expert on Singapore, so feel free to correct me here if you consider me seriously misguided on this. But it seems to me that – for its respectable GDP per capita and prodigal level of human capital – Singapore is home to remarkably few scientific and cultural accomplishments. No Nobel Prizes, no Fields Medals, etc. This, of course, might also be a general East Asian thing; the achievements of Japan, Korea, and China in fundamental science are all very modest in comparison to what they “should be” compared to the European IQ-innovation correlation curve. Again, a discussion of this is well beyond the scope of this post. Still, speaking of Singapore specifically, at least Japan, Korea, and China all produce tons of patents per capita for their respective levels of economic development. In contrast, Singapore’s patents per capita is an order of magnitude lower than in Japan and Korea, being lower than in China, and wedged in between Belgium and Russia.

Finally, all societies die sooner or later, but they are remembered for the great art and culture that they produce. A valid counterpoint from the onset is that much of Western culture today is crap – Justin Bieber, 90% of modern art, what passes for “literary” novels. But there are still many flashes of genius and true creativity around. Sci-fi is undergoing its second golden age. Game of Thrones. Abandoning the postmodernist dreck that has infected too much older artistic media, the creative types are flocking to new technology-enabled pastures like video games. I am not aware of any major cultural products from Singapore. Hong Kong, much more liberal and freewheeling than Singapore, became famous for Jackie Chan and action movies.

What’s Singapore’s most recognizable cultural achievement? Is it… Lee Kuan Yew?

Above all, neoreactionaries should bear in mind that their Asian idol couldn’t care less for formal ideologies, most likely including their own. He was, above all, practical. “Does it work? If it works, let’s try it. If it’s fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one,” as he told the NYT in an interview in 2007.

 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

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

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

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