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Now that I’m done with the Necessary Caveats, it’s time we had a look at why exactly HBD/IQ theories are both valid, and relevant to the real world. As I see it, their main import (as interpreted by me) can be distilled into a few logically consecutive, falsifiable statements:

  1. IQ tests are a valid, culturally fair measure of cognitive ability.
  2. It is hereditary.
  3. Race is real.
  4. There are racial/ethnic differences in average IQ that cannot be explained merely by reference to socio-economic or cultural factors.
  5. The US is an excellent “laboratory” to ascertain the average genetic IQ ceiling of different races and ethnicities.
  6. Average IQ influences prosperity, and general living standards.
  7. Consequently, knowing the racial constraints on average IQ’s – i.e., the IQ ceilings – we can estimate the relative development potential of different countries and regions.

All of them have have acquired a great deal of supporting evidence, even though they – or in particular, their linkage – remains taboo for the media and wider public discussion. By the numbers:

1. There is typically a large degree of correlation between various IQ tests, and academic achievement scores (1, 2). Nobody has yet discovered a test which has a negative correlation with a battery of other tests. This implies that there is a common “g factor” behind all types of cognitive ability.

Obviously this allows for very big variations within a single person. But within a group, someone who does well in one test will most likely also do well in another.

The argument that IQ tests are culturally biased is frequently made on the basis that they show differences in performance between racial/ethnic groups. This is a fallacy. In any case, there are IQ tests designed to be culturally fair insofar as they eschew words and test pattern recognition, such as Cattell Culture Fair III and Raven’s Progressive Matrices. These tests have a high correlation with the battery of other tests, i.e. they are valid reflections of g.

2. The scientific literature converges on a range from 40%-80% for IQ heritability. (1, 2) The correlation in scores between twins reared apart is around 75%-80%.

3. Is race a social construct? The commonsense answer is no. Consider that beyond the “my lying eyes” stuff (e.g. skin color/melanin content; epicanthic folds, etc.), there is also evidence of genetic differences in: Physical abilities (west African sprinters; Kenyan marathoners); conformity (Asians); lactose tolerance (whites); alcohol intolerance (Asians); even average penis size (large – Africa; Latin America; small – East Asia). The latter example isn’t nearly as… flippant as it seems, since testosterone levels have a large effect on behavior. There are multiple genetic disorders that only affect certain races or ethnicities, and race specific drugs are now coming online.

But ultimately, this is one of those cases where a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is a genetic map of Europe, superimposed on a geographic map (remarkable how it works out almost perfectly). Note that although there is some degree of overlap between European ethnicities, there are still clear clusters and centers of gravity corresponding to particular nationalities.

Now look at this genetic map (click to enlarge). See that dark blue oval to the center-left? That is Europe. Recall that even within that tiny space there are distinct clusters, with virtually zero overlap between, say, Greeks and Germans. Now note the vast distance that separates Europe from East Asia (center-right), and the three African clusters (bottom).

So it’s really just a minor matter of semantics. Some people shy away from using the word “race”, instead speaking of “genetic clusters”, “population groups”, “groups of common geographic ancestry”, etc. “Race” is short and convenient.PI

4. There is a vast body of global IQ scores (e.g. Lynn). They follow a consistent pattern: East Asian countries tend to score 105, European and Euro-settler countries 100, and sub-Saharan African countries 65-80.

The internationalized standardized PISA tests display the same pattern (as expected, since they load on the same g).

(Internationally, I think the culture argument makes some interesting points. E.g., the Protestant work ethic – reflected even now in the fact that the world’s richest and highest-IQ white countries tend to be Protestant. But there are two problems. First, possible narrative fallacy, e.g. Confucianism, with its connotations of traditionalism and conservatism, was once used to explain why Asian countries lagged behind Europe; but with their success in the past generation, the respect for learning, rule of law, etc. that it supposedly instilled is now sometimes used to explain their success! Can’t have it both ways. Second, what applies in one period can wane in another. Yes, Protestantism fostered human capital development by emphasizing independent Bible reading (i.e. more literacy!), which in turn helped early industrial growth. But today this effect seems to have receded into the past – see the success of south Germany, north Italy, France, Ireland.)

5. The US is an excellent “laboratory” to estimate the average genetic IQ ceiling of different races and ethnicities by virtue of its diversity; standardized education system that produces results that, when broken down by race, are superior to almost every other country in the world; decent equality of educational opportunity; no nutritional deficit among any population group; and post-Flynn effect status.

Within the US, all tests of cognitive ability – IQ, PISA (1, 2), SAT – replicate the global pattern. Though there is variance from test to test, but as a rule, the intelligence hierarchy is as follows: Asian-Americans; whites; Hispanics; blacks. The gaps between Asian-Americans and whites are narrowed than internationally (because Asian-Americans also include medium-IQ peoples like Filipinos and Vietnamese); and the gaps between whites and blacks are narrowed (because, unlike African or Haitian blacks, African-Americans enjoy better nutrition and education.

It must also be noted that whereas most of these tests indicate that Asians closed gaps (in reading, writing) and overtook whites (in math) over the years, there has been no sign of any significant convergence for blacks.

Is it because schools in poorer areas (inner city, where NAM’s cluster) are badly funded? No, per student funding tends to be broadly similar for both inner city and suburban schools. Besides, education funding doesn’t play a major role in results. In Italy, there is no correlation between school funding and performance by province. China gets PISA and IQ results higher than America’s despite spending a tiny fraction of the resources that the US lavishes on each of its pupils. Indeed, it probably doesn’t matter much, as IQ tends to be fixed by the age of the 5.

Is it because blacks come from poorer families on average? IQ is a far more persuasive explanation for why people are poor in the first place. Refer to The Bell Curve (Murray & Herrnstein).

US blacks (85-90) get far better IQ scores than Africans (65-80). These two facts are highly important because in Africa, the IQ’s of many populations are currently constrained by poor nutrition and (in some cases) the different psychologies of pre-industrial and illiterate peoples. In practice, and discounting variation (Africa is the world’s most genetically diverse continent, so it is not impossible that there will be some relatively high-IQ subgroups among them), it seems likely that the average IQ ceiling for African blacks is similar to the actual IQ’s of US blacks. I.e., maybe 85 (lower than 85-90, because US blacks have 20% admixture with whites).

US Hispanics score better than Mexicans or Central Americans, displaying IQ’s (or IQ equivalents) in the low 90′s (Mexico: 88-90; Panama: 84-80). Whites are at around 100. Asian-Americans tend to be in the low to mid 100′s, but there is huge variance (East Asians – higher; South-East Asians – lower).

7. Refer to Education as the Elixir of Growth III. There is a 0.43 correlation between the GDP (PPP) per capita of a country with its PISA/TIMMS scores, which rises to a stunning 0.84 once countries with a post-Communist legacy (low outliers), resource windfalls (high outliers), or offshore financial industries that constitute the bulk of their GDP (high outliers) are removed from the same. (Any correlation of >0.5 is an excellent one in social science). This implies a fairly rigid glass ceiling on GDP per capita for any one country in relation to its IQ. It’s largely invisible, as few people appreciate the importance of human capital to growth, but it’s most certainly there.

At the micro level, the g factor tends to be by far the best indicator of job performance (above grades, interviews, references, etc) – not only in “cognitive elite” jobs such as lawyers or physicians, but also to a significant extent even among menial workers. There is a correlation of 0.9-0.95 between employees in a certain profession and prestige ratings of those professions by the general public. The correlation between IQ and income is around 0.4-0.5.

The importance of average genetic IQ ceilings

We have a fairly strong and convincing (to me anyway) theory that average IQ ceilings depends on race, and that IQ (g, PISA scores, etc) are remarkable closely correlated with economic prosperity. Furthermore, it is almost certain that the causation is largely one way, at least once basic nutritional and literacy problems are solved; otherwise, the Chinese and Koreans would not be outperforming US Hispanics or African-Americans.

Following from the graph of Human Capital Index and income above, there seems to be a point past 450 – about 92.5, in IQ terms – at which (market-based) economies transition from middle-income status, to high-income. If Mexico could raise its human capital to about the levels of their compatriots in the US, this would (going by correlations) enable a massive expansion in its productivity.

Unfortunately, the average genetic IQ ceiling for African blacks is 85, maybe 90 at most. Nonetheless, if Africa could consistently raise it to even the former figure, it would then have a degree of human capital equivalent to today’s Brazil. Though true convergence with developed countries is precluded, reaching Brazil’s levels would be a gargantuan improvement for the living standards of the average African.

In general, it should be possible to construct a “potential IQ” (and corresponding potential GDP per capita level) for each country. They would look something like this (PISA/IQ format):

  • US (500/100) – All racial groups are already performing very close to their genetic potential (Asian-Americans (NOT East Asians) – low 100′s, whites – 100, Hispanics – low 90′s, blacks – high 80′s). The challenge will be in maintaining it (due to Hispanic immigration).
  • China (550/108) – It currently has 103(PISA converted into IQ)-105(IQ), but may still eke out a few more points by totally eliminating malnutrition. Should have no problem in becoming as rich as Korea or Japan with one more generation.
  • India (450/92.5) – Very low (and puzzling) 75(PISA)-82. But also malnutrition is still extremely high, as are endemic diseases; the vegetarianism of a significant portion of the population may also have a negative effect (protein aids brain development). My estimate is that average Indian genetic IQ ceiling is similar to Hispanics, but with huge variance due to caste/ethnic diversity.
  • Russia (500/100) – Moderate score at 95(PISA)-97(IQ). Smaller than ethnically similar Poland (99/100), due to 2 possible factors: (1) Academic focus to exclusion of more general g (Russia does much better on TIMMS, PIRLS); (2) Possible effects of highly prevalent alcoholism on the current cohort being tested. Poland’s score may represent a more accurate “Slavic ceiling.” Natural GDP per capita level would seem to be in between the Germanic countries and the Med, but resource windfall would nudge it closer to the former.
  • Brazil (460/94) – Today at 87(PISA)-85(IQ). Capping off the BRIC’s, the potential is derived by taking the estimated genetic ceilings of US blacks (with adjustment for Brazilian blacks having more admixture) with Med Europe ceiling, and weighing by population ratios.
  • Germanic Europe (520/103) – based on current scores, but will face challenge in maintaining it (due to immigration policies).
  • Med Europe (490/99) – based on Spain, Portugal, Italy results. In a way, one can see the Euro crisis – which is mostly affecting the PIGS – as the invisible hand’s way of bumping down the Med countries to a level more in line with their lower human capital (relative to the Germanic countries).
  • Turkey (470/96) – now at 91(PISA)/93(IQ), but potential based on Greece’s current scores; Turks and Greeks genetically similar.
  • Japan (530/105) – as now, no significant change as immigration is low. But economic difficulties due to debt, negative population growth, ballooning elderly dependency ratios.
  • Israel (?) – is globally irrelevant but a really fascinating case study, complicated by the discrepancy between Ashkenazi Euro-Jewish IQ scores (c.115) and Israel’s mediocre performance of 95(IQ)/94(PISA) which is hard to explain as Ashkenazi Jews still make up more than half of Israel’s population. Also lots of demography has to be taken into account. Deserves a separate post.
  • Australia, Canada (520/103) – as now, but will NOT face difficulties maintaining them because of their Cognitive Elitist immigration policies; as they also enjoy resource windfalls, they will probably do economically better than the rest of the developed world.

Based on the figures above, we can expect that the BRIC’s nations should in principle be able to converge to developed country levels. However, there are two major groups within the BRIC’s. China and Russia are already at a human capital level that enables convergence (China’s is significantly higher, but Russia is already richer, and also has the added bonus of a resource windfall). In contrast, Brazil and India are not currently at human capital levels that enable convergence; however, they do both have the potential to raise them to just the levels needed to break out of the “middle-income” trap and converge. But for that they have to develop their human capital to its full genetic potential. The quantity of the needed change is very significant and, even under rosy assumptions (e.g. +3 IQ points a decade until equalization with genetic potential), the process will take decades. Until they at least the low 90′s, they will remain stuck – especially Brazil, because it is already very rich for its human capital level – with fairly low long-term growth rates.

Whatever their average genetic IQ ceilings, it is highly advisable for all the poorer and low-IQ nations to: (1) improve childhood nutrition (e.g. free vitamin pills at schools seems especially low-cost/high-impact); (2) anti-vegetarian propaganda, where such applies; (3) study the experience of foreign countries, esp. the US which has had a lot of success with maximizing NAM scores, and Finland which (at least on PISA) manages to maximize white scores; (4) explore pharmaceutical and technological means of bridging their IQ gaps with the developed world (e.g. nootropics).

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
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There is a wide divergence of views on Russia’s economic future. The pessimists project near zero growth (e.g. SWP, Guriev & Zhuravskaya), or even a renewed collapse if Europe goes haywire. The inventor of the BRIC’s concept (and Russia bull) Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs believes it will manage to eke out growth of 7%, nearly recovering the output lost in 2009. The consensus seems to be around 4-5% (World Bank, bne). In this post I’ll describe developments in Russia’s economy since I last did it in a systematic way in December 2008 and give some indicators of what to expect in the next few months and years. Most of this post is based on the information in the World Bank’s Russian Economic Report #22: A Bumpy Recovery.

1. After the sharp -7.9% contraction in 2008, Russia has began to recover at a slower than expected rate, with GDP rising by 2.9% in Q1 relative to the same period last year (in comparison with China’s 11.9%, Turkey’s 11.7%, Brazil’s 9.0%, India’s 8.9% and Mexico’s 4.3%). However, there are indications it accelerated in Q2. The slowness and bumpiness of the recovery is presumed to be due to the waning of crisis stimulus spending and continuing low demand.

The current recession was also significantly deeper and longer-lasting than the 1998 one, though its humanitarian impacts were almost insignificant (see later).

Also, the recovery has been uneven across sectors. Tradables and manufacturing sprang back very quickly in Q1 (as well as transport and comms), but retail stagnated and construction fell by 9%. However, the latest April (and May) figures show an improving performance in retail and construction.

Demand grew slowly on the back of recovering wages, but remains low due to sluggish credit activity and higher unemployment. Investment remains depressed, falling -4.7% relative to the same period last year in Q1 – “most enterprises appeared to be increasing their utilization rate of existing capacity while restocking inventories”.

2. The World Bank’s own summary:

Summary. Amid heightened global uncertainties, Russia is experiencing a bumpy recovery. Domestic demand is rising, but with high unemployment and limited credit and investment activity. Budget execution is better than anticipated due to higher oil prices. Implementing fiscal consolidation is a key medium-term policy objective. Dilapidated infrastructure, especially in transport, could pose serious risks to competitiveness and longer-term growth prospects.

3. Read the Report for the low down on unemployment, current and capital accounts and rollover of external debt obligations by Russian banks and companies. Nothing particularly new or interesting happening there.

4. What is really interesting is the graph of stock of credits to companies and households shown below.

Note how the flow of net credits stopped dead in the water after September 2008, after two years of furious expansion. This suggests that Russian companies had become highly dependent on debt-based growth in the years preceding the crisis. As soon as the spigots turned off in late 2008 and global funds flew to safety, there occurred a sharp drop in demand and investment in Russia.

Not only did this not happen to the Western developed economies, but they also pursued a drastic monetary loosening (while Russia tightened), which may explain why the GDP declines in countries like the US or UK were much more modest than in Russia (despite their much larger stocks of debt relative to GDP).

On the positive side, Russia’s inflation rate has sunk to a record low level of just 6% in its post-Soviet history.

5. Russia’s fiscal position remains strong, as according to Ministry of Finance estimates “the consolidated budget had a surplus of 2.5 percent of GDP” in Q1 2010 (this should be compared to deficits of 10%+ in the US and UK). On the downside, the World Bank notes that the tremors emanating from Club Med may torpedo oil prices yet again, thus widening Russia’s deficit in a few months.

6. Big Russian stimulus spending on social measures such as wages and pensions greatly alleviated the humanitarian impact of the crisis. They are now being phased out.

“The focus on people’s incomes has helped mitigate the social impact of the crisis, but at the expense of greater rigidity in the expenditure structure and infrastructure expenditures”. The World Bank points out that it might have been wiser to direct some of that spending towards addressing “acute infrastructure bottlenecks, [which] could have much larger fiscal multipliers”.

Despite the withdrawal of most stimulus measures, it is predicted that a planned 46% pensions hike by end 2010 will cause the federal budget to remain well in the red at -5.4% of GDP, but slightly lower than the -5.8% of 2009. The downside is that infrastructure spending, especially on roads, is to get deferred again.

The Report has a one page spread on the state of Russia’s infrastructure, which isn’t anything to write home about. Nonetheless, as I argued here, it almost certainly isn’t infrastructure constraints that are going to constrain Russia’s future growth… and in any case it is not clear why spending a lot of money on improving roads at this point in history (of peak oil, climate change, etc) is a great idea.

7. So what will happen if Europe goes haywire? Encouragingly, unlike in the last crisis, the costs of ensuring Russian debt hasn’t been spiking. This may not be a high bar to overcome, but it would be apt to point out that Russia is no longer assumed to be a weak link in the chain like Greece or Spain by global investors. (Indeed as Ben Aris argues in Rerating Russia its credit-worthiness is now higher than most of the developed world’s).

8. What the World Bank thinks will happen in the next two years:

Summary: The debt crisis in Western Europe has sharpened downside risks to global recovery and oil prices. But the impact on Russia is likely to be limited because of Russia’s better fiscal and debt positions and limited trade and financial linkages with the affected countries. Taking into account global developments and assuming no default/restructuring and no broader contagion in Europe, Russia is likely to grow by 4.5 percent in 2010, followed by 4.8 percent in 2011 as domestic demand expands in line with gradual improvements in the labor and credit markets. Employment situation is expected to improve only gradually with attendant reductions in poverty.

Below is a table showing projected growth for different regions.

9. Despite the World Bank’s concerns that Russia may be becoming too free with its wallet – which may put it into a dangerous situation if oil prices collapse and remain depressed for a long time (but which they are unlikely to do because of peak oil) – as things stand Russia is in an enviable fiscal position relative to practically all developed countries.

[Note that Japan, with a debt to GDP ratio of about 220%, is literally off the graph].

Funny, isn’t it, how it is almost all Western countries that are in a fiscal pickle. In contrast, the Russia (of kleptocrats), the China (of bad loans) and Venezuela (of spendthrift populism) are facing a sovereign debt apocalypse really well off comparatively speaking!

10. The World Bank’s Russia forecasts for this year:

Consumption, particularly household consumption, will be the main driver of economic growth in 2010, especially toward the year’s end. A modest contribution to growth is likely to come from inventory restocking in Q2 2010. At the same time, we do not expect large increases in fixed capital investment in 2010 given the excess production capacity and limited credit. So an increase in investment in Q2 will be due mainly to inventory restocking… But the positive contribution of net exports to aggregate growth from 2009 is likely to turn negative in by the end of 2010, as import volume picks up in line with economic recovery…

Below is a graph showing the composition of Russia’s GDP growth drivers.

The World Bank projects a deterioration in the current account as imports pick up and a rise in the capital account “if the European debt crisis has no significant contagion effect”. Furthermore, “an increase in fiscal revenues due to higher oil prices is likely to be partly offset by new expenditure pressures from additional social spending and increases in pensions”. As a result, “we project the fiscal deficit at 4.6 percent of GDP in 2010 and at 3.8 percent in 2011, taking into account additional pensions expenditures.” Inflation will be at 7-8% and “large banks and corporations should be able to finance or roll over their debt obligations in 2010″.

11. I already pointed out that the humanitarian impact of the 1998 crisis was much larger than of the current one: “While the percentage of the population barely making ends meet went up from 29% in July 1998 to 40% in December 1998, this figure remained stable at around 10% throughout the recent crisis”. This is reflected in Russia’s official poverty stats, whose non-rise was “a reflection of the unemployment increasing less than initially feared and likely also due to increased transfers to the population”.

12. The Report concludes with a discussion of how to solve or mitigate Russia’s monotown problem:

Summary: Monotowns present complex challenges for diversification and social and enterprise restructuring in the postcrisis period. Money alone will not solve them. Multipronged market-driven approaches, including active partnerships between the monotown and the private sector, based on good international practice, stand a better chance of success.

The case of the East German Bund–Länder-Program, Pittsburgh USA and Glasgow UK are offered as examples of how to revive ailing post-industrial towns.

13. A compendium of Russia economic stats since 2006.

14. Further thoughts. I do think that the European debt crisis will spill over and that there are already numerous signs of a second dip in the Great Recession – this time centered around sovereigns (1, 2, 3). According to quite a few leading indicators, this will probably occur within a few months, i.e. by this September or November.

Meanwhile, more dynamic and decoupled economies in the World of the Rest – especially China – are rapidly taking over industrial share from the indebted and aging developed world. They still have plenty of room left to grow so I think they will keep oil prices relatively buoyant (especially considering that global oil production is now falling or stagnating).

Russia seems to be in a stronger position than it was in 2008. Though still dependent on foreign debt intermediation, it is now to a lesser degree than two years back, and besides its comparatively excellent fiscal balances will probably mean that global credit flows will not desert it as fully or suddenly as before. The state will remain strong and solvent. Nonetheless, growth will probably slow to stagnation in late 2010-2011 should the events of 2008 be repeated.

One possible consequence is that Russia’s leadership will become disillusioned by the multi-year, post-2008 failure to lift Russia’s GDP any higher than that which prevailed at the peak of Soviet output, and the end result – within a few years – could be an all-out shift to the “mobilization model” proposed by Gregory Khanin, with the state taking a far more prominent role in forcing modernization from above than is the case even today.

Update July 8: It’s worth pointing out that newly released figures indicate that Russian consumer confidence has largely returned to near pre-crisis levels in Q2 2010. This may reinforce the evidence that the recovery accelerated during the period.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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I’ve been accused of being a “Russophile cockroach”, an “amoral Putin lackey”, and overall bad guy. Guilty as charged! Yes, I do like Russia and don’t have much good to say about the Western media’s coverage of it. Yes, I don’t give much of damn for the moralistic posturing that any vapid idiot Kremlinologist can easily excel in. And yes, I do have a positive opinion of Vladimir Putin (as do 75%+ of Russians). Now granted, part of this probably has something to do with the huge amounts of money his FSB minions kindly slip under my door for glorifying their Tsarist godfather on the Internet in my spare time. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that I set my alarm clock to VVP’s speeches, drink prodigal amounts of Putinka for breakfast, and bow before his icon at the Altar of Neo-Stalinism in my basement before logging onto my workstation to fulfill my job description as ein strammer Putin-soldat. In reality, my positive view of Putin is moderate and hedged.

Don’t believe my word as “the dishonest, progangadizing (very, very) little maggot” that I really am? Below I present five major shortcomings of the Putin Presidency.

What Putin did wrong

1. Waiting until 2006, or too little too late.

Since 2006, Russia embarked on a range of policies designed to check its demographic decline, reduce poverty, and recover its status as a Great Power. The main examples would be the National Priority Projects; a revamped industrial policy; health promotion; pro-natality, AIDS containment and anti-alcohol measures; military modernization; and incubation of hi-tech industries such as nanotechnology. Many of these are already bearing fruit – quite literally on the demographic front, where the total fertility rate rose to 1.56 children per woman by 2009, from 1.1-1.3 before 2006. In conjunction with falling mortality rates, this resulted in Russia experiencing its first year of population growth in 2009 since 1994. But why did Putin take so long to start addressing all these issues?

Though there are several possible explanations, I think the most accurate is that at the time Putin was simply too preoccupied with stabilizing the Russian shell of the collapsed Soviet empire. Each functioning state rests on its monopolization of legitimate violence, of tax collection, and of the issuing of money. All three monopolies were under grave threat by the late 1990′s. Homicide rates were sky-high, organized crime infiltrated state structures, and Chechen bandits raided Russia proper. The state was too weak to collect taxes from the oligarchs, producing chronic budget deficits that culminated in the 1998 default. Inflation raged unchecked, most transactions were in dollars or in kind, and many analysts were starting to describe Russia as a failed state. Therefore it cannot be surprising that Putin in his first term devoted most of his attention towards containing and mitigating these mortal threats to the Russian state. The invasion of Chechnya, the political subjugation of the oligarchs, the strengthening of the “power vertical” – all these were intended to restore some modicum of state control over the Russian Federation.

Yet as the political struggle went on at the top, the “real Russia” remained largely stagnant. With the inflow of ethnic Russians from the Near Abroad largely exhausted, demographic decline accelerated in the 2000-2005 period. In contrast to the broad-based growth after 2005/2006, in the early Putin years manufacturing remained depressed, while more than a third of economic growth accrued to the recovery in oil extraction. Little new infrastructure was built. The rate of military procurement dropped even below the miserly levels of the Yeltsin era. Thanks to the Putin government’s myopic negligence or administrative inability, Russia’s manifold, deepgrained socio-economic problems only began to be seriously addressed within the past few years.

Strike 1 – Contrary to most fans and critics alike, Putin didn’t do too much. He did too little, and too late. Under the first few years of his watch, Russia lost historical time just as it did under Yeltsin. On many socio-economic indicators, the RF in 2010 has only caught up to what the RSFSR achieved back in 1990.

2. Red tape and corruption, or the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of an expanding bureaucracy.

Corruption remains “public enemy number one”, according to President Medvedev. This can be confirmed by any number of horrific anecdotes: the absurdly inflated Moscow housing market, bureaucrats owning property worth hundreds of their yearly salaries, entrepreneurs losing their businesses to well-connected thugs. Apart from a few cosmetic house-cleaning campaigns under the Putin President, the state’s efforts to control this scourge have been decidedly lack-luster, and Russia continues to be perceived as one of the most corrupt nations on Earth.

[Sources: Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index"; Transparency International's "Global Corruption Barometer", answers to the question, "In the past 12 months, have you or anyone in your household paid a bribe in any form?" (% saying "yes"); World Bank's "Worldwide Governance Indicators" (Control of Corruption), country percentile].

This corruption is directly related to the arbitrary power of Russia’s bureaucracy, and the labyrinth of regulations that “justify” its existence. Love them or hate them – and yes, most Russians hate them – bureaucrats are indispensable for running a modern state. However, in Russia bureacrats are neither accountable unlike in most developed nations nor held under close scrutiny unlike in the USSR or today’s China. Furthermore, their numbers are well in excess of necessity. In contrast to a few post-Soviet nations like Estonia and Georgia which fired many of their bureaucrats, the Russian bureaucracy grew rapidly under Putin.

[Source: Rosstat].

The extractions of rent-seeking bureaucrats stunt the development of small and medium businesses. Furthermore, corruption indirectly kills people (e.g. grocery pharmaceuticals are expensive and unreliable) and fosters a destructive social mentality in which anything and everything is considered exchangeable for money and the privileged and connected can act with impunity.

As the man at the top of the pyramid, Putin was responsible for perpetuating this system during his Presidency. Sensational rumors of foreign villas and multi-billion dollar offshore accounts to the contrary, there is no evidence that Putin is personally corrupt*. However, controlling corruption within one’s circle and further down is extremely hard; no Russian ruler, except the most steely and despotic, has ever managed to rein in his bureaucrats. Now you could go down the neo-Stalinist route, but executing corrupt bureaucrats is now politically incorrect in most places outside China. Perhaps Putin should have simply axed this Gordian knot, like Saakashvili in Georgia**? That might have worked, – no regulation, no bureaucrat, no problem. But something stayed his hand. Maybe he feared chaos, since the bureaucracy is one the forces gluing a nation together. Maybe they were considered necessary to reconsolidate the state and rebuild the power vertical. I don’t know.

Maybe Putin shouldn’t have suppressed Russia’s civil society and media outlets if he was serious about checking corruption? But this is a false narrative. It is not the federal government or Putin, but unreformed institutions such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the FSB, the Prosecutor-General, etc, that pose the greatest hazards to Russia’s nascent civil society. It is not VVP who runs around killing and harassing journalists, but the “stationary bandits” in government and/or business taking advantage of Russia’s culture of impunity. The ultimate proof of the pudding is Ukraine – despite its pluralistic politics and journalistic freedoms after the Orange Revolution, corruption there remains at least as bad as in semi-authoritarian Russia***. No matter the personal integrity or ability of Russia’s (or Ukraine’s leaders), the entire post-Soviet state system remains unacceptably opaque and unaccountable.

Strike 2 – Putin could have mitigated Russia’s corruption and culture of impunity by: 1) stripping away the reams of red tape that create opportunities for rent-seeking, 2) decimating the ranks of the bloated bureaucracy, traffic police, etc, or 3) increasing the penalties for, or the “costs” of, corruption. In reality, there was some improvement in 1) and 3), and massive backtracking on 2). It is only under Medvedev that government and citizenry are beginning to show signs of taking corruption more seriously.

3. Inequality, or oiligarchs & their little adults.

Russians are not Americans. Though most accept the capitalist system, a majority of Russians believe the state has a duty to narrow down inequality between rich and poor and assure everyone a decent standard of living. Opinion polls indicate that around 63% of Russians are essentially “statists”, while only 25% are economic “liberals” and an insignificant 4% are small-government libertarians. Thouh there has been impressive progress on lifting all boats in the past decade – poverty rates were slashed, consumer goods became much more affordable – the Putin regime also presided over an era of slowly rising inequality****. This does not sit well with many Russians, especially the elderly who put great stock in egalitarian values.

[Source: Rosstat].

It is no great exaggeration to say that Russia’s government is by the rich and for the rich. Though perhaps at first necessary as the most reliable way for a broken state to combat tax evasion, the 13% flat tax on incomes now perpetuates inequalities. A much bigger burden falls on productive companies in the form of (highly regressive) social security contributions, which are set to rise from 26% to 34% of the first 400,000 rubles of income this year to help correct the budget deficit. However, Putin had no problems with reducing taxes for oil companies, so that they could either extract and sell off Russia’s oil the faster, or pocket the extra change.

Worst of all are the effects on social cohesion. All Russian oligarchs earned their wealth through their connections with the state – there is not a single Sergei Brin or Bill Gates amongst them. The inheritance tax was abolished in 2006, and now more than a hundred Russian children, or “little adults“, are set to acquire billions without earning a single ruble. Sure, these “new Russians” get to experience the shallow thrills of conspicuous consumption, and take power in their sleazy connections with state structures to run over ordinary Russians with impunity (sometimes literally). The price Russia pays for tolerating these historyless elites is a perpetual bankruptcy of social capital, the cooperative spirit that welds a nation together. Amongst other things, this dearth of social capital manifests itself in society’s tolerance for petty corruption. After all, why should a simple traffic policeman, doctor, or other low-paid state worker refrain from taking bribes, when oligarchs make off with billions in cahoots with the state?

There has been no effort to check or reverse the growth of inequality under either Putin or Medvedev. Even as the Fair Russia opposition party calls for progressive taxation and a luxury tax, Roman Abramovich is indulging himself to his biggest yacht so far, armed with a missile defense system and laser shield.

Strike 3 – Putin presided over an increase in inequality, made all the more unholy by money’s marriage with socio-political privilege. Though neither the trend towards nor the magnitude of inequality is exceptional by global standards, it clashes with Russian popular sentiments and undermines social capital.

4. Economic mismanagement, or stationary bandits who don’t know or care about limits to growth.

First, the “Muscovite” rent-granting political economy over which Putin presided is both economically inefficient and socially unjust. Take the Russian oil industry, in which politically subservient oiligarchs are given free rein to manage their own companies. This combines the worst of both private and state ownership. Lacking security over their assets, the oiligarchs are loath to plow too much of their own money into maximizing long-term oil extraction and revenue. Far better to maximize short-term extraction by overexploiting their oil fields, pleasing the Tsar with generous rent payments, and to make off once these fields go into premature decline. In the meantime, astronomical profits are diverted into a few oiligarch hands instead of going to the Russian state. Now granted, Putin’s “purgatory”, run by clans of “stationary bandits”, might be an improvement over Yeltsin’s “hell” of asset-stripping “roving bandits”… but they are all still bandits nonetheless.

Yet when all is said and done, it is not entirely clear that Putin could have realistically done better on any of these issues. He inherited the “Muscovite system” from Yeltsin and can be credited with actually making it workable, in the sense that the oligarchs were forced into paying their taxes and Russia’s chronic budget deficits were finally eradicated. Reversing privatization and trying to create a Russian version of Statoil, the efficient state-owned Norwegian energy company, was entirely unrealistic given the institutional rot of the Russian state. The other extreme, a full-scale liberalization of the oil sector, would have probably been counter-productive because of that same weakness of the Russian state. For proof, look no further than how Khodorkovsky used YUKOS’ resource wealth to mount a direct political challenge to the Kremlin… would the Russian people really have been well served if their state had been hijacked by the Menatep bandits?

Second, even accounting for its being a cold, landlocked country with a lot of heavy industry, Russia remains very energy inefficient. There are serious uncertainties over its ability to meet future domestic and European gas demand, and its oil production will soon peak and go into decline. However, by world standards, Russia is supremely well-endowed with energy resources. Thus, it makes manifest sense to use the earnings from foreign hydrocarbons sales to aggressively implement energy efficiency measures and build a green energy infrastructure. The World Bank estimates that investing 320bn $ into energy efficiency could save Russian consumers 80bn $ and generate more than 100bn $ in extra export revenues annually. Putin prefers to go the much more expensive route of greatly expanding generating capacity, e.g. by building many nuclear power plants, while less glamorous but cheaper options like insulating housing, upgrading utilities, or reducing natural gas flaring are neglected. So yes, Russia’s policies on energy are short-termist and “cornucopian”, – but the very same could be said for almost any country one cares to name. Only a bare handful of nations, like Sweden or Germany, have made serious commitments to sustainable development (and none acknowledge the concept of Limits to Growth).

Third, the main reason Russia experienced such a deep recession during the 2009 global financial crisis was because its banks and corporations had become dependent on infusions of Western credit. Once this system throttled up in late 2008, emerging markets were the first to be cut off. Unfortunately, Russia under Putin’s watch had failed to develop the deep indigenous credit systems that enabled countries like Brazil or China to weather the storm in good shape, and it saw a massive GDP decline of 7.9% in 2009. But it’s not exactly clear how Russia could have prepared better. The main reason Russia’s financial system was starved of capital was because instead of reinvesting the proceeds from hydrocarbon sales into the economy, the government bought up foreign currency reserves in order to prevent an excessive ruble strengthening from short-circuiting the revival of Russia’s manufacturing base. Ironically, by trying to reduce its resource dependency, Russia actually increased its exposure to the Western financial system, whose weaknesses only became obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Nonetheless, despite the severity of the GDP drop in 2009, the Russian economy is now showing signs of mounting a vigorous recovery.

Finally, Putin should be given big props for protecting Kudrin – the main architect of Russia’s macroeconomic stability – from the attacks of the spendthrifts and siloviki in his circle. This did nothing to benefit him politically, but as a result Russia today is “one of the world’s most fiscally secure nations”, according to Liam Halligan, chief economist with Prosperity Capital Management.

Strike 4 – under Putin, Russia remained economically unproductive, socially unjust, energy inefficient, and acquired a dependence on Western credit. These problems are deep and are unlikely to go away without intelligent intervention by the state.

5. White elephants, or Siberian bridges to nowhere.

The Russian state has always liked “white elephant” solutions to complicated problems. Putin continued in this proud tradition. Perhaps the best example of this were Russia’s wild-eyed plans to construct six aircraft carriers during the giddy heights of its pre-crisis boom. Let’s look at the problems with this scheme:

  1. The global hegemony of the United States rests on the power projection capabilities of its 11 aircraft carrier battle groups. Russia is a regional land power whose strategic interests do not extend far beyond its Near Abroad.
  2. Russia’s economic base is seven times smaller than America’s.
  3. Even the “structurally militarized” USSR never had much success with aircraft carriers. Russia’s military-industrial complex is now almost an order of magnitude smaller and no longer has access to the big drydocks in Ukraine.
  4. Russia can’t even build a decent helicopter carrier, and eventually took the rational decision to order Mistrals from France.
  5. The days of the aircraft carrier may well be numbered due to the development of cheap carrier-killing weapons systems.

This particular white elephant never was to be. But far too many are real enough, such as the bridge to nowhere near Vladivostok that will connect the Russian mainland to a small island populated by a few thousand residents, projected to cost more than 1bn $ and intended as a showpiece for the 2012 APEC summit. Meanwhile, the roads from the Urals to Vladivostok remain little more than dirt tracks.

Now admittedly, white elephants are minor nuisances relative to the first four problems. Their attractions are hardly unique to Russia, and it could even be argued that some, like the Sochi Olympics, are a net positive thanks to their impact on national morale. Nonetheless, I still think improving Russia’s energy efficiency or networking its clunky armed forces is somewhat more important than erecting suspension bridges in Siberia or dreaming about multiple carrier battle groups patrolling the Russian Arctic.

Strike 5 – Putin is sometimes too influenced by the traditions of Soviet gigantism to consider humbler, more cost-effective ways of solving problems.

What Putin did right

But what about that KGB spy’s ruthless suppression of freedom and democracy? False narrative. The majority of Russians approve of Putin and his system – as of 2008, some 75% of Russians felt that they either had “enough” or even “too much” freedom. Today’s Russians feel much happier and freer than in either the late Soviet Union or Yeltsin’s Russia.

But hasn’t Putin suppressed the free media and brainwashed Russians into worshipping him? Yet if that were the case, one would presumably expect most Putinistas to be old, sour-mouthed Stalinists, whereas in fact support for Putin (and disillusionment with the West) is highest amongst young, university-educated Muscovite men – the very segment of the Russian population that is most exposed to the West through the Internet and foreign travel! (Of course, to the Western chauvinist, this must mean that the Russian people are ignorant, nationalist sheeple… since nothing can be allowed to challenge their faith, there is little point in talking to them).

What about Putin’s hatred of the West? Again, false narrative. Putin the KGB operative is inseparable from the Putin who served under Sobchak, the liberal mayor of St.-Petersburg in the 1990′s, or the Putin who favored the “civiliki” clan (Surkov, Medvedev, “patriotic liberals”) over the FSB-connected “siloviki” in his choice of successor. But why then does Putin antagonize America by maintaining relations with freedom-haters like Ahmadinejad and Chavez? Newsflash! This is Realpolitik, practiced by all sane and sovereign nations. Bending over backwards to advance Washington’s national security interests is not part of Putin’s job description. Not can it reasonably be expected, due to US support for states hostile to Russia (e.g. Georgia) in its Near Abroad.

One of Putin’s greatest strengths is that he recognizes the immense harm Russia suffered from single-minded past pursuits of abstract ideals, and rejects mindless idolization of the West as surely as he rejects the old Marxist-Leninist dogmas. He is a national figure of post-ideological reconciliation, a leader who sees no paradox in defending the Soviet Union against politicized attempts to equate it with Nazi Germany while honoring Russians like the dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or the White general Anton Denikin.

Zhou Enlai may have been exaggerating when he said the impact of the French Revolution was “too early to tell”, but nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that we must wait at least a few decades before we have any hope of objectively determining Putin’s legacy. Based on the criticisms I’ve made in this post, some analysts would rush to dismiss Putin as an incompetent idiot or malicious enemy of the Russian people. After all, it doesn’t take much to pronounce judgment from the comforts of one’s armchair… Yet none of us have been in Putin’s boots. We didn’t experience his early struggles with the oligarchs, the contraints and frustrations he faced trying to rule Russia through an unwieldy and corrupt bureaucracy, the pyramid of cards he has to build and maintain to balance the warring Kremlin clans. I can do no better than quote a great speech by Theodore Roosevelt to illustrate this point:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Putin’s critics, knowing neither victory nor defeat, are nothing more than the dust at the feet of that great man who continues struggling, striving, and spending himself as Russia’s humble servant.

* To the best of my knowledge, all these allegations of Putin’s 40bn $ of personal wealth originate from Stanislav Belkovsky, a professional purveyor of kompromat and creature of Sechin’s silovik clan.

** Georgia’s success at controlling corruption shouldn’t be exaggerated. In recent years, the Saakashvili regime acquired the habit of pressuring independent businesses to provide “voluntary contributions” in return for not bankrupting them under corruption prosecutions.

*** Russia’s corruption should be viewed in perspective. Is it a serious problem that reinforces privelege and blights the lives of many people? Certainly. Apocalyptic? Not at all. First, Russia is not excessively corrupt by the standards of most middle-income countries, and there is evidence that “everyday” corruption (as opposed to business corruption) fell under Putin’s watch. See here, here, and here. Second, corruption does not seriously affect Russia’s growth potential. Italy was systematically corrupt in the 1970′s-80′s (and still is), as exposed in the short-lived mani pulite investigatations of the early 1990′s. But that did not stop Italy from overtaking Britain’s GDP back in 1987 in the so-called “Il Sorpasso”. Likewise, Russia’s myriad strengths – the strong education system, energy wealth, and macroeconomic stability – means that its systematic corruption is unlikely to constitute an insurmountable barrier against its convergence to Western levels of development.

**** Russia’s levels of inequality shouldn’t be exaggerated, however. The Gini index of income inequality has been stable at around 40 since the early 1990′s, and is only high by European standards. (The US and China are at 45, most Latin American countries exceed 50).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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I have long noted Russia’s resurgence back into the ranks of the leading Great Powers; I predicted that the global economic crisis will not have a long-term retarding impact on the Russian economy; and within the past year I have bought into Stratfor‘s idea that the defining narrative now in play in Eurasia is Russia’s intention to reconstruct its empire / sphere of influence / call-it-what-you-will in the post-Soviet space. This “resurgence” is advancing along several major fronts: geopolitical, economic, demographic, military, and ideological. In this post I will cover recent major news on the first four.

Ukraine Returns to the Empire?

The most consequential big event is the electoral victory of Viktor Yanukovych (35%) in the first round of the Ukrainian presidential elections, followed by Yulia Tymoshenko (25%), Serhiy Tihipko (13%), Arseniy Yatsenyuk (7%), and Viktor Yushchenko (5%) – a result that I called 100% accurately. Disillusioned with the incompetence, economic decline, and “anarchic stasis” of five years of Orange rule, polls indicate three times as many Ukrainians now favor a “strong leader” over a “democratic government”, so no wonder that the liberal ideologue Yushenko, though the only major Ukrainian politician who is consistent and sincere in his views, suffered a crushing defeat as the last true representative of the Westernizing “Orange” movement. This marks a threshold in the accelerating “regathering of the Russian lands”*.

Below is an electoral map of the first-round Ukrainian presidential elections. As is always the case, the urban, Russophone / Surzhyk-speaking, Russian Orthodox Church-affiliated south and east voted for the pro-Russian Yanukovych, head of the Party of Regions, while the more bucolic, Ukrainian-speaking, Kyiv Patriarchate-affiliated / Uniate center and west favored Tymoshenko.

[Click on map to enlarge].

This reflects the civilizational fault-line riveting Ukraine in half – commonly assumed to be along the Dnieper River, but more accurately, dividing the country into a pro-Russian south and south-east, the independence-minded Ukrainian center, and the pro-Western south-west.

Back in 2004, there was a clearly defined pro-Russian (Yanukovych) and pro-Western (Yushscenko) force. Yushscenko prevailed thanks to incompetent vote rigging on the part of the Party of Regions and a Western-supported popular uprising known as the Orange Revolution. The oranges are now regarded as rotten and nothing of the same sort can happen in 2010, since both Presidential contenders are now, for most purposes, beholden to Russia.

Yanukovych supports closer political and economic ties with Russia, would renounce NATO and EU accession plans, and enjoys the support of the Donbass oligarchs (including Ukraine’s richest man and king-maker, Rinat Akhmetov) and the senior managers of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex. There has been talk of a possible political union between United Russia (Russia’s “party of power”) and the Party of Regions, which will lay the institutional foundations for closer union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, involving joint membership in Eurasec, a customs union, and even the CSTO. Finally, there have been rumors that Yanukovych will retain Yushenko in some minor political position, as a placebo for the west Ukrainians in order to nip secession movements in the bud and to undercut Tymoshenko’s support in a crucial region.

Tymoshenko is the unprincipled, chameleon-like politico par excellence, repeatedly reinventing herself from hard-hitting gas oligarch / robber baroness, to Lesya Ukrainka-inspired Orange liberal nationalist, to Putin-friendly aspiring Czarina. She has negotiated a well-publicized gas deal with Russia, took part in the sale of the major Ukrainian steelmaker, the Industrial Union of Donbass, to a Kremlin-friendly Russian industrial group, and publicly backed away from NATO membership. In doing this, she has tried to ride the geopolitical and emotional wave of the Russian resurgence, and succeeded in gaining the firm support of the central regions. However, although singularly charismatic in the gray world of Ukrainian politics, she has been unable to significantly penetrate into the Party of Regions electoral base. Coupled with low voter turnout in Ukraine’s western regions, due to their disillusionment with her newly-discovered Russophilia, this means that she will almost certainly lose out to Yanukovych in the second round of elections scheduled for February 7th** (assuming no extralegal interference from the 3000 strongarm Georgian “election observers” who are in Ukraine just for the girls, supposedly).

Geopolitically, this Ukrainian reversal marks declining US influence in the region and the imminent resurgence of Russia as a Eurasian hegemon. This is producing reverberations, with independence-minded countries throughout the region – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, even Georgia – now accepting their eventual reintegration into Eurasia, or attempting to reach a new accommodation with the new reality of Russian power. Here is Peter Zeihan (Stratfor) on Ukraine’s Election and the Russian Resurgence:

These are all important factors for Moscow, but ultimately they pale before the only rationale that really matters: Ukraine is the only former Russian imperial territory that is both useful and has a natural barrier protecting it…. Without Ukraine, Russia is a desperately defensive power, lacking any natural defenses aside from sheer distance… The (quite realistic) Russian fear is that without Ukraine, the Europeans will pressure Russia along its entire western periphery, the Islamic world will pressure Russia along its entire southern periphery, the Chinese will pressure Russia along its southeastern periphery, and the Americans will pressure Russia wherever opportunity presents itself…

Ukraine by contrast has the Carpathians to its west, a handy little barrier that has deflected invaders of all stripes for millennia. These mountains defend Ukraine against tanks coming from the west as effectively as they protected the Balkans against Mongols attacking from the east. Having the Carpathians as a western border reduces Russia’s massive defensive burden. Most important, if Russia can redirect the resources it would have used for defensive purposes on the Ukrainian frontier — whether those resources be economic, intelligence, industrial, diplomatic or military — then Russia retains at least a modicum of offensive capability. And that modicum of offensive ability is more than enough to overmatch any of Russia’s neighbors (with the exception of China).

Incidentally, this episode brings to mind what the late political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote about the future of the “Orthodox civilization” in his well-known work The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He predicted that Western attempts to orchestrate an artificial divide between these two members of the same civilization would have only deleterious results, perhaps resulting in a “Great Split” – quoting a Russian general, “Ukraine or rather Eastern Ukraine will come back in five, ten or fifteen years. Western Ukraine can go to hell!” Yet the more stable and likeliest arrangement would be the following:

The third and most likely scenario is that Ukraine will remain united, remain cleft, remain independent, and generally cooperate closely with Russia… Just as the [Franco-German relationship] provides the core of the European Union, the [Russian-Ukrainian relationship] is the core essential to unity in the Orthodox world.

With all major Ukrainian political blocs re-orientating themselves to Russia and the two countries increasing their cooperation in spheres ranging from politics to the military-industrial complex, Huntington’s prediction could be said to have been fulfilled.

PS. The (relative) silence about the total collapse of the Orange party in Ukraine on the part of normally Russophobic outlets has been deafening. Since everyone loves the West and liberal ideologues, how on Earth could this have happened? It’s like a bad dream. ;)

The Eurasian Energy Map Redrawn

Russia, China, Iran redraw energy map by the always-insightful Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar.

The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran’s northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan’s vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is “apocalypse now” for the Islamic regime in Tehran. The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony? …

Second, Russia does not seem perturbed by China tapping into Central Asian energy. Europe’s need for Russian energy imports has dropped and Central Asian energy-producing countries are tapping China’s market. From the Russian point of view, China’s imports should not deprive it of energy (for its domestic consumption or exports). Russia has established deep enough presence in the Central Asian and Caspian energy sector to ensure it faces no energy shortage. What matters most to Russia is that its dominant role as Europe’s No 1 energy provider is not eroded. So long as the Central Asian countries have no pressing need for new US-backed trans-Caspian pipelines, Russia is satisfied.

During his recent visit to Ashgabat, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev normalized Russian-Turkmen energy ties. The restoration of ties with Turkmenistan is a major breakthrough for both countries. One, a frozen relationship is being resumed substantially, whereby Turkmenistan will maintain an annual supply of 30bcm to Russia. Two, to quote Medvedev, “For the first time in the history of Russian-Turkmen relations, gas supplies will be carried out based on a price formula that is absolutely in line with European gas market conditions.” Russian commentators say Gazprom will find it unprofitable to buy Turkmen gas and if Moscow has chosen to pay a high price, that is primarily because of its resolve not to leave gas that could be used in alternative pipelines, above all in the US-backed Nabucco project.

[Click on map to enlarge].

Third, contrary to Western propaganda, Ashgabat does not see the Chinese pipeline as a substitute for Gazprom. Russia’s pricing policy ensures that Ashgabat views Gazprom as an irreplaceable customer. The export price of the Turkmen gas to be sold to China is still under negotiation and the agreed price simply cannot match the Russian offer. Fourth, Russia and Turkmenistan reiterated their commitment to the Caspian Coastal Pipeline (which will run along the Caspian’s east coast toward Russia) with a capacity of 30bcm. Evidently, Russia hopes to cluster additional Central Asian gas from Turkmenistan (and Kazakhstan). Fifth, Moscow and Ashgabat agreed to build jointly an east-west pipeline connecting all Turkmen gas fields to a single network so that the pipelines leading toward Russia, Iran and China can draw from any of the fields.

Indeed, against the backdrop of the intensification of the US push toward Central Asia, Medvedev’s visit to Ashgabat impacted on regional security. At the joint press conference with Medvedev, Berdymukhammedov said the views of Turkmenistan and Russia on the regional processes, particularly in Central Asia and the Caspian region, were generally the same. He underlined that the two countries were of the view that the security of one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other. Medvedev agreed that there was similarity or unanimity between the two countries on issues related to security and confirmed their readiness to work together.

The United States’ pipeline diplomacy in the Caspian, which strove to bypass Russia, elbow out China and isolate Iran, has foundered. Russia is now planning to double its intake of Azerbaijani gas, which further cuts into the Western efforts to engage Baku as a supplier for Nabucco. In tandem with Russia, Iran is also emerging as a consumer of Azerbaijani gas. In December, Azerbaijan inked an agreement to deliver gas to Iran through the 1,400km Kazi-Magomed-Astara pipeline.

The “big picture” is that Russia’s South Stream and North Stream, which will supply gas to northern and southern Europe, have gained irreversible momentum. The stumbling blocks for North Stream have been cleared as Denmark (in October), Finland and Sweden (in November) and Germany (in December) approved the project from the environmental angle. The pipeline’s construction will commence in the spring.The $12-billion pipeline built jointly by Gazprom, Germany’s E.ON Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall, and the Dutch gas transportation firm Gasunie bypasses the Soviet-era transit routes via Ukraine, Poland and Belarus and runs from the northwestern Russian port of Vyborg to the German port of Greifswald along a 1,220km route under the Baltic Sea. The first leg of the project with a carrying capacity of 27.5bcm annually will be completed next year and the capacity will double by 2012. North Stream will profoundly affect the geopolitics of Eurasia, trans-Atlantic equations and Russia’s ties with Europe.

To be sure, 2009 proved to be a momentous year for the “energy war”. The Chinese pipeline inaugurated by President Hu Jintao on December 14; the oil terminal near the port city of Nakhodka in Russia’s far east inaugurated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 27 (which will be served by the mammoth $22-billion oil pipeline from the new fields in eastern Siberia leading to China and the Asia-Pacific markets); and the Iranian pipeline inaugurated by Ahmadinejad on January 6 – the energy map of Eurasia and the Caspian has been virtually redrawn.

And from Pipe dreams come true (bne):

Putin ordered construction to start on Nord Stream at the end of last year after the pipeline got the last environmental permits from Germany. And in January, Gazprom started building the first pumping station at the mouth of the first of two parallel pipes, which is supposed to be operational by 2011 with a capacity of 27.5bn cm/y. Thanks to Nord Stream, 2009 should be the last episode of the Russo-Ukraine “Gas for Cash” soap opera, which usually ends with Europe freezing. [AK: see also What difference would Nord Stream mean to European energy supply?].

South stream, the other pipeline project, will close the circle, but this pipeline has had a harder time getting off the drawing board and is competing with the EU-sponsored Nabucco pipeline, which is supposed to source Caspian region and Middle East gas and send it to Europe without crossing Russian soil. The problem is that there’s probably only enough demand to support one pipeline.

The R of the BRIC’s Remains Solid

Many of the economic predictions I made in Decoupling from the unwinding and Russia Economic Crisis are coming to fruition. See RUSSIA 2010: Slow build over first half to boom in 2011 (bne):

Russia was undoubtedly far more affected by the international crisis that started in September 2008 than anyone had expected – especially the Kremlin. It also stands out as the only one of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to show negative growth, leading to calls from the likes of analyst Anders Aslund to remove the “R” from BRIC.

This is rubbish, so Jim O’Neill, the man that coined the term in the first place, told bne at the 2009 International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference. “The only reason that Russia was hurt so badly was unlike the others, it borrowed heavily on the international capital markets and, of course, it is dependent on the price of oil.”

This was one of my major themes. When the Western financial system ground to a standstill in late 2008, the first countries to be cut off were the emerging markets. Having access to deep indigenous credit systems, the likes of Brazil and China were understandable far less affected than Russia, whose corporations had come to rely on Western intermediation of their credit inflows.

And in the longer term, excluding Russia from the BRIC’s makes little sense given its major growth potential (educated workforce, resource windfall, modernization policy, economic gains from global warming).

The Russian economy contracted by a bit less than 9% in 2009, but as the year came to a close it was already starting to recover – six months later than analysts were predicting at the start of the year. However, despite the pain of the crisis, the prospects for 2010 are looking much better than many had dared hope.

One should also note that this “pain” was insubstantial compared to the 1998 crisis, which is what many analysts were (unfavorably) comparing it to. While the percentage of the population barely making ends meet went up from 29% in July 1998 to 40% in December 1998, this figure remained stable at around 10% throughout the recent crisis. The main shift occurred amongst Russia’s “consumer class” (the ones who buy cars, PC’s, etc), whose percentage of the population tumbled by a quarter from 19% to 14%, and perhaps explains the reason for its large drop in GDP for 2009, i.e. the drop in large purchases. The silver lining is that this implies inequality has decreased during the crisis.

bne’s annual survey of investment bank outlooks suggests that growth will return to at least 4% and possibly go as high as 6% by the end of 2010. Inflation will remain low at about 5% while overnight rates at the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) will become real for the first time, finally giving the central bank a second tool to manage the economy and so be able to tackle Russia’s twin perennial headaches of inflation and ruble appreciation more effectively. …

The much discussed problems of the reappearance of a budget deficit will be much milder than appears now, coming in at something under 5% of GDP. This means the Kremlin will drastically reduce its international borrowing and has already cut the amount it needs to raise from $18bn to $10bn, but this could fall to $5bn or even nothing at all if oil prices rise to around $80 per barrel, which most of the banks bne surveyed believe will be the average price for 2010. Indeed the state will be able to raise all the money it needs to plug the deficit at home and pave the way for a return of private issuers to the international capital markets.

I predicted an oil price of around 90$ for 2010 (“oil prices in H1 will remain at 70-90$, and will rise to 90-110$ in H2″), so this is completely realistic considering my stellar record on oil price forecasting.

Finally, the RTS had a spectacular performance, rising over 120% in 2009 from its spring lows to end the year at about 1400. Unlike last year, the investment banks all agree that the index will end 2010 at around 1900-1950 and some say that it will reach and pass its all-time high of 2600 by 2011.

The themes for 2010 include: a turning inwards to growth driven by domestic demand, a push to introduce some real bottom-up economic reforms, a new focus on improving Russia’s productivity, increased inter-regional crediting, a shift towards closer ties with China, consolidation within many sectors and most important a gradual reassessment of Russia’s risk.

Again, much of this will not be new to S/O readers. I’ve already called the consolidation of Russia’s financial system, the shifting emphasis on domestic manufacturing, its decoupling from the insolvent Anglo-Saxon system, the imminent purge of corrupt siloviki, etc…

The collapse of the Russian economy in 2009 was dramatic, but emerging market crises are intrinsically less “sticky” than those in the West, largely because of the shallow penetration of debt in all its forms into the economy. As Liam Halligan, chief economist at Prosperity Capital Management, points out Russia’s fundamentals remain extremely strong and stand out from the rest of emerging Europe. And despite spending $200bn on rescue packages, the Kremlin still have $400bn in the bank, which was increasing again towards the end of the year, and remains the third richest country in the world after China and Japan, against the US and UK, which are 18th and 19th with a bit more than $80bn each. As the story going forward for the next several years will be all about the credit worthiness of countries, Russia finds itself, along with its newest buddy, China, in an enviable position.

Feel free to read the whole article.

Russia’s Population Grows in 2009

Russia registers its first year of population growth in 2009 since 1994.

Russia has registered the first population increase since the chaotic years which followed the fall of the Soviet Union, bucking a long-term decline that has dampened economic growth projections, officials said on Tuesday. Russia’s population increased by between 15,000 and 25,000 to more than 141.9 million in 2009, the first annual increase since 1995, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told a meeting in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev. …

Russia’s dire population forecasts — some of which predict sharp declines over the next few decades — are a key function of economic predictions which see Russia growing much slower over the next 20 years than the other BRIC countries; China, Brazil and India.

a) None of this should be too surprising to my readers, given that back in mid-2008 I predicted:

I will make some concrete, falsifiable demographic predictions (something Russophobes going on about Russia’s impending demographic doom wisely avoid doing).

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest.

I was totally correct, and even better, a year early! (well, just about). Meanwhile, the Russophobe commentariat continues their happy life in la la land.

b) Russia’s approaching demographic doom is a major staple of pessimist and Russophobe assessments of its future prospects in areas like economic modernization and geopolitical power. To the contrary, far from the steep fall produced by most demographic models, a more realistic scenario is for Russia’s population to stagnate or grow very slowly in the next two decades, as a fall in the numbers of women in child-bearing age is balanced out by rising fertility rates and falling mortality rates. See 10 Myths about Russia’s Demography for my detailed exposition of Russia’s demographic prospects.

The Volatile Caucasus

Saakashvili’s megalomania probes new depths, so no wonder the opposition – who are no Russophiles, it should be said – are holding their noses and reaching out to their erstwhile enemy. Taking a cue from the Party of Regions:

The leader of Georgian opposition party the Movement for a Fair Georgia, former Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, said Jan. 26 that his party would like to form a partnership with United Russia, the ruling party in Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

See also this Russian-language report, Танки августа (“Tanks of August”) analyzing the buildup to, chronology, and course of the 2008 South Ossetian War, which is called “The Five Day War” in this publication. This is no pro-Kremlin propaganda, the Russian Army receives acerbic criticism for its performance.

However, most interesting, at least for me, was the chapter “Настоящее и будущее грузино-российского конфликта. Военный аспект” (pp. 85-109), a serious analysis of post-war dynamics in the balance of power between the two countries, is worth checking out. I’ll summarize it here.

a) Though Georgian military spending has fallen somewhat from its 2007-08 high of 8% of GDP, its military potential has continued growing at a fast rate and now exceeds its level in August 2008. Anti-partisan training has been deemphasized in favor of preparation for a hot conventional war against Russia, especially emphasizing the anti-tank and air defense aspects; battle-hardened troops have been returned from Iraq, the reserves system is being reformed, and military contracts concluded in 2007-08 are now bringing in masses of new Soviet and Israeli military equipment from abroad. The authors believe it is not unrealistic that Georgia will make another attempt at a military resolution of the Ossetian issue after 2011.

b) Counter-intuitively, the authors believe that though the revolutionary reforms now being implemented by the Russian Army will enhance its long-term potential, in the short-term there will be a certain loss of effectiveness due to the ouster of experienced officers, a shortfall which will not be immediately made up by the extensive NCO-training program which is only now getting started. The effective number of Motor Rifle and Tank battalions in the Caucasus military region has fallen from 65 in August 2008 to just 40 at end-2009, albeit their quality has been somewhat improved thanks to the rapid acquisition of modernized tanks and helicopters. Furthermore, their forward-positioning in Abkhazian and S. Ossetian bases will give them an advantage missing in 2008.

c) Finally, the authors also note the growing military superiority of Azerbaijan over Armenia. The two countries hold a long grudge over Armenia’s occupation of the ethnically-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Revenues from the BTC pipeline have enabled Azerbaijan to massively increase its military potential, acquiring a panoply of modernized late-Soviet and Israeli weapons systems. Azerbaijan’s military budget now exceeds the entire Armenian state budget. However, Armenia is allied with Russia through the CSTO, hosts a big Russian base, and receives subsidized weapons systems from Russia, as well as some old Soviet stocks for free. The authors note that due to ethnic majority-Armenian unrest in the southern Georgian province of Samtskhe-Javakheti (which I noted in my post on the possibility of a new Russia-Georgia war), Russia would be wise to increase its military presence in Armenia and accelerate the modernization of the Armenian armed forces in order to be able to exploit Georgia’s soft southern underbelly in a new war***.

Power Projection & Military Modernization

Two more military things. Frustrated with the sorry state of Russian military shipbuilding, the Kremlin is considering the French Mistral, a helicopter carrier & amphibious ship. Such an acquisition will enhance two important Russian capabilities.

First, if deployed in the Barents Sea, it will reinforce its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, which are growing in importance with its increasing strategic interests in the Arctic linked to the region’s oil-and-gas deposits and potential trade opportunities as the sea-ice melt accelerates. Second, these vessels would enable Russia to insert crack military forces behind enemy lines much quicker than had previously been possible. In the event of a potential conflict with Georgia or the Baltics, this capability will be incredibly valuable.

EDIT to add PAK-FA news: Second, Russia unveiled the PAK-FA prototype fighter, the first 5th-generation fighter to be produced outside the US. Below are some informative articles on the subject.


Despite delays and questions over its effectiveness, Russia being the 2nd nation in the world to test a 5th generation fighter after the US does prove that elements of the Russian MIC, especially military aviation, remain robust and capable of innovation. (Besides, one shouldn’t neglect to mention that the American MIC also has its own problems: cost overruns, questions over the JSF’s real utility, etc). As pointed out in earlier posts, Russia’s main challenge is now rooting out corruption and modernizing the MIC’s machine tools and management culture to enable high-volume production of state-of-the-art military equipment such as the PAK-FA, so as to modernize its armed forces by 2020 without returning to a Soviet-style militarized economy.

* To forestall criticism, this is not, of course, an expression of “Great Russian chauvinism”, but a historical reference to the state centralization and “gathering of the Russian lands” undertaken by Muscovy from the time of Ivan III (1462-1505). This formed the palimpsest for all future restorations of Russia’s empire, including the current one.

** Why Yanukovych will almost certainly win the Ukrainian Presidency – just a matter of beans-counting. In the first round, he got 35%, Tymoshenko got 25%. Yanukovych will net many of the Tihipko voters (13%), while Tymoshenko will get support from some of the Yatsenyuk (7%) and Yushenko (5%) voters. The rest of the electorate will split roughly in half, most likely. But even if Tymoshenko gets very lucky, it is hard to see her closing the awning 10% gap separating her from Yanukovych in the first round.

*** I would also add that though unlikely, it is not impossible that Armenia and Azerbaijan will fight a new war in the near future, as the Azeris despair of their long-term chances of ever reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh in the face of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and the hard reality of rising Russian power over the Caucasus. They could yet make a desperate gamble, perhaps in the context of the chaos unleashed by a US-Israeli war with Iran and its proxies. That said, the far likelier possibility is that the realistic-minded President Aliyev will reconcile himself to Russia’s growing power over the Caucasus.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Thesis. The current capitalist-industrial System is incapable of surmounting the limits to growth on planet Earth because markets and technology, today’s salvation gospel, are no deus ex machina to the energy-and-pollution predicament of industrial civilization. Nor is this System in principle capable of preventing ecological overshoot because growth in physical throughput is the very basis of its existence. As such, we need to transition to an entirely new way of thinking about politics, society, and the economy – Green Communism. This is a system based on technocratic planning using the latest tools of operations research and networking; political control based on ubiquitous 2-way sousveillance to detect corruption and free-riding; and spiritual succor from transcendental values linked to ecotechnic sustainability, instead of today’s shallow materialist values embodied in the System’s “myth of progress”.

By repressing the economic potential of eastern Europe and China throughout much of the 20th century, one of Marxism-Leninism’s greatest legacies is to have indirectly postponed humanity’s reckoning with the Earth’s limits to industrial growth in the form of resource depletion and AGW. Had Eastern Europe and Russia become industrialized, consumer nations by the 1950′s-1960′s instead of the 2010′s-2020′s; had China followed the development trajectory of Taiwan; had nations from India to Brazil not excessively indulged in growth-retarding import substitution, it is very likely that today we would already be well on the downward slope of Hubbert’s curve of oil depletion, and burning coal to compensate – in turn reinforcing an already runaway global warming process.

Though one might refrain that socialist regimes tended to focus on heavy industries and had a poor environmental record, this pollution tended to be localized (e.g. acid rain over Czechoslovakia, or soot over industrial cities); however, CO2 per capita emissions – which contribute to global warming – from the socialist bloc were substantially lower than in the advanced capitalist nations. Furthermore, it should be noted that the overriding spur to heavy industrialization in the first place was the encirclement by capitalist powers, which created a perceived need for militarization (most prominent in the USSR from the 1930′s, and now North Korea). This process also distorted other aspects of those regimes, e.g. the inevitable throwing aside of universal pretensions (in practice, though not in rhetoric) in favor of nationalism, and what could be called a reversion to the “Asian mode of production” with industrial overtones, which could be used to describe Stalinism, or the militarized neo-feudalism of the Juche system of North Korea. So one cannot point to those countries as “proof” of the superiority of capitalism; to the contrary, we should take away the lesson that any anti-capitalist transition should be universal if it is to survive.

The Real Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalism was a viable and successful system when there was still plentiful land, labor and cheap resources to be exploited (even Engels acknowledged the primacy of nature in powering history’s march forward, for it “supplies [labor] with the material that it converts into wealth”). The cheap resources are now ending, so a system predicated on debt-financed perpetual growth is no longer tenable; this became visible in Japan from the early 1990′s, and is now becoming clear in Europe and the US too, where economic collapse in 2008-09 was only checked thanks to a massive transfer of private losses and bad debts onto the public account (socialism for the elites, capitalism for the rest). The neoliberal era underwritten by cheap oil, global finance, and the US Navy is coming to an end.

Given that oil production peaked in 2008, and the decreasing EROEI of other energy sources, willingly or not we are going to return to the zero-growth of pre-industrial times: then we can either 1) successfully get out of our overshoot predicament and restart conventional development (unlikely), or 2) we can effect a “sustainable retreat” to lower levels of physical throughput and increased efficiency, or 3) we can with ever more coercive state efforts, with the help of modern cybernetics and electronic technology, use the tools of the industrial era to try to maintain the industrial infrastructure and its associated institutional-cultural superstructure.

Most likely we will choose the latter, but it will almost certainly fail; all the Limits to Growth models all suggest that both markets and technology – Mammon and the Machine – are powerless to solve the fundamental predicament that a limited world can support unlimited growth, and they don’t even take further negative feedback loops such as the debilitating effects of political populism and geopolitical competition; nor do those models incorporate the observation that the technological base is dependent on the economic-industrial base for its support, so once the latter fails, technologies from plant bioengineering to energy efficiency also go into retreat.

Thus we see the emergence of capitalism’s real contradictions – not so much the impoverishment of the workers (that, too, will come eventually as industrial civilization approaches collapse), but ecology. Throughout the pre- Industrial Revolution era, peasants all over the world have traditionally viewed merchants with suspicion, since capitalism’s profit motive undermined the egalitarian village social relations and support mechanisms necessary to guarantee community survival in a Malthusian world predating modern economic growth (K. Polanyi, 1957). These attitudes will resurge with a vengeance in the coming neo-Malthusian future. Capitalism will have dug its own grave by eating away the basis of its own existence.

Socialist Sustainability

To avoid collapse, by far the safest route is to kickstart a transition to sustainability – not sustainable development, because it’s far too late for that (we should have started on that during the 1970′s), but sustainable retreat – cutting down on real “living standards” (or at least as measured by the deeply flawed measure of GDP, which counts prisons and environmental cleanup as wealth), to transition to a way of life that is compatible with Gaia.

In practice, this will probably imply a transition to a roughly Cuban way of life. The tropical island is, by one measure (developed level of HDI, low ecological footprint per capita), the world’s only sustainable society.

Predictably enough, there will be several heated objections to living like Cubans, but they can all be effectively countered.

1) Poverty. Don’t they try to swim to Florida? Yes, some do. But Cuban poverty is in part the result of US sanctions, and their punishment of foreign companies doing business in Cuba. Furthermore, it is still far more comfortable than any Malthusian-age, pre-industrial society (or any conventional Third World society). The perception of poverty is created by the “international demonstration effect”, in which images of Western consumerism (based on unsustainable exploitation of Gaia) create false needs and frustrations in poorer societies, a false consciousness hoisted upon all humans connected to the System.

If the rest of the world embraced the concept of sustainable retreat and accepted Cuba as a valid example, then it will become to look much more attractive as 1) it regains access to leading global technologies technologies and know-how, and 2) because its people will no longer be encouraged to judge success by the standards of how new and how big their SUV’s are, but by their ecological wealth, social harmony, and cultural output.

2) Political repression. Yes, Cuba locks up dissidents and is, in Western terms, an unfree society. However, note that the US has been fighting a decades-long information war against Cuba, that the Western media has an incentive to exaggerate its human rights abuses, and that Cuba’s rulers themselves have to fight against this information war and international demonstration effect to maintain Cuban sovereignty. Given that they are much poorer and less influential, the tools at their disposal are much cruder.

Furthermore, as argued by Zizek, the main impact of the communist idea (a secular successor to Christianity’s chiliastic fantasies of salvation) so far was not so much the perfection of the societies acknowledging the idea, as the elucidation of the historical laws (dreams?) by which the perfect society is to appear.

As Alain Badiou pointed out, in spite of its horrors and failures, the “really existing Socialism” was the only political force that – for some decades, at least – seemed to pose an effective threat to the global rule of capitalism, really scaring its representatives, driving them into paranoiac reaction. Since, today, capitalism defines and structures the totality of the human civilization, every “Communist” territory was and is – again, in spite of its horrors and failures – a kind of “liberated territory,” as Fred Jameson put it apropos of Cuba. What we are dealing with here is the old structural notion of the gap between the Space and the positive content that fills it in: although, as to their positive content, the Communist regimes were mostly a dismal failure, generating terror and misery, they at the same time opened up a certain space, the space of utopian expectations which, among other things, enabled us to measure the failure of the really existing Socialism itself. What the anti-Communist dissidents as a rule tend to overlook is that the very space from which they themselves criticized and denounced the everyday terror and misery was opened and sustained by the Communist breakthrough, by its attempt to escape the logic of the Capital. In short, when dissidents like Havel denounced the existing Communist regime on behalf of authentic human solidarity, they (unknowingly, for the most part of it) spoke from the place opened up by Communism itself – which is why they tend to be so disappointed when the “really existing capitalism” does not meet the high expectations of their anti-Communist struggle. Perhaps, Vaclav Klaus, Havel’s pragmatic double, was right when he dismissed Havel as a “socialist”…

The difficult task is thus to confront the radical ambiguity of the Stalinist ideology which, even at its most “totalitarian,” still exudes an emancipatory potential. From my youth, I remember the memorable scene from a Soviet film about the civil war in 1919, in which Bolsheviks organize the public trial of a mother with a young diseased son, who is discovered to be the spy for the counter-revolutionary White forces. At the very beginning of the trial, an old Bolshevik strokes his long white mustache and says: “The sentence must be severe, but just!” The revolutionary court (the collective of the Bolshevik fighters) establishes that the cause of her enemy activity was her difficult social circumstances; the sentence is therefore that she be fully integrated into the socialist collective, taught to write and read and to acquire a proper education, while her son is to be given proper medical care. While the surprised mother bursts out crying, unable to understand the court’s benevolence, the old Bolshevik again strokes his mustaches and nods in consent: “Yes, this is a severe, but just sentence!”

It is easy to claim, in a quick pseudo-Marxist way, that such scenes were simply the ideological legitimization of the most brutal terror. However, no matter how manipulative this scene is, no matter how contradicted it was by the arbitrary harshness of the actual “revolutionary justice,” it nonetheless provided the spectators with new ethical standards by which reality is to be measured – the shocking outcome of this exercise of the revolutionary justice, the unexpected resignification of “severity” into severity towards social circumstances and generosity towards people, cannot but produce a sublime effect. In short, what we have here is an exemplary case of what Lacan called the “quilting point [point de capiton],” of an intervention that changes the coordinates of the very field of meaning: instead of pleading for generous tolerance against severe justice, the old Bolshevik redefines the meaning of “severe justice” itself in terms of excessive forgiveness and generosity. Even if this is a deceiving appearance, there is in a sense more truth in this appearance than in the harsh social reality that generated it.

We must still undergo a trial, a Great March, of sustainable retreat, at the end of which (due to the elimination of materialist thinking) we will transition into what could be called Green Communism – a sustainable, steady-state human existence founded on the (ever-elusive) reconciliation between freedom and equality. How?

Roads to Green Communism

1) The hippies, Green Parties (including Green Party USA), authors of LTG, etc, stress the importance of the grassroots, of Gramscian infiltration, of gradualism – all couched in fluffy, cuddly polar bear-language like “ecological wisdom” or “community-based economics” or “respect for diversity”. The end state is to be a kind of “gift economy”, perhaps in practice encouraged into being through social engineering and widespread psychosomatic therapy. All well and good, but none of this is going to motivate many people to make real change, even in progressive enclaves like the Bay Area (people here mark “Earth Hour” and marginally tone down their CO2 emissions for one hour every 24*365 hours – news flash! it ain’t gonna do much!). Lacking any real drive or force, the elites will ignore these movements at will, and the new Caesars of the coming collapse era will suppress them.

2) The revolutionary extremist road: Alinsky-style activism, propaganda of the deed, catechism of the revolutionist, etc. Problem is that it will not win over the people, and as long as the state remains strong it will take coercive actions against these movements. Unlikely to succeed, but may be the only real chance for change. For capitalism-usury is founded on perpetual growth, by forsaking this tenet the System annihilates itself, so it will not willingly do that.

Second, most analysts are either part of, or suborned by, the System – the sum total of the texts and power relations that make up a society’s set of beliefs. The former category, which includes government policy-makers and corporate strategists, suffers from an “institutional myopia” which gives answers in advance and precludes all questions questioning the legitimacy of their own institutions.

For instance, what can a rational, capitalist state – interested in self-preservation, predicated on unlimited economic growth, and confronted with irrefutable evidence of the dire consequences of business-as-usual greenhouse emissions on the world’s climate – do to resolve these contradictions? The answers are buzzwords like “green growth”, “skeptical environmentalism”, or geoengineering; the forbidden question relates to the efficacy of industrial capitalism as a system to confront the imminent challenges of man-made climate change.

The Gramscian approach of 1) may be doomed by this Bolshevik-Zizek argument that “a political intervention proper does not occur within the coordinates of some underlying global matrix, since what it achieves is precisely the “reshuffling” of this very global matrix”. Yet even if the Revolution is successful, power corrupts; any state formed on the foundations of any such “intervention” may well degenerate into its own nemesis.

3) The laws of history tend to be follow the laws of dialectical materialism – opposites, negation, and transformation – on a route that may lead to a technological singularity, assuming that the ecological base remains intact long enough to sustain the transformation of the industrial System onto a higher plane of existence.

The following extract I found in one of my texts:

The history of the universe is accelerating evolution. A cursory examination of the past reveals growth to be exponential over any sufficiently long period, as can be measured by the frequency of paradigm shifts. Hence, biological life has evolved over a period of billions of years; advanced organisms over several hundred million years. The appearance of intelligent life took place ushered in a technological epoch, which also shows overwhelming evidence of exponential growth – it took ten thousand years from the beginnings of agriculture to catalyse modern economic growth, which has yielded the information revolution in just two hundred years. There are credible prognosesthat posit the appearance of molecular nanotechnology and intelligent machines within the first half of the twenty-first century.

There exist patterns to the evolutionary process itself. According to futurist-inventor Ray Kurzweil, ‘each stage or epoch uses the information-processing methods of the previous epoch to create the next’. Life emerged due to the chaotic interplay of increasingly complex carbon-based compounds. Its DNA-driven evolution eventually gave rise to agents with information-processing capabilities, which culminated in the human ability to create abstract models of reality within their brains. This capacity to conduct mind experiments created the concepts of technology and machines – the bedrock upon which modern material civilization is built. Futurist pundits, extrapolating current trends in computing, predict the coming of a ‘singularity’ that will result from a merger of human and (exponentially expanding) machine intelligence, leading to a universe saturated with intelligent life.

All epochs are based on integrated networks that can be described and mathematically modelled. The first network was based on atomic constituents, governed by physical forces. The universe’s
fine-tuned physical constants made life possible, which was born as the biosphere on planet Earth, which lies in a narrow ‘zone of habitability’. The biosphere (or Gaia) took over the geosphere as the primary architect of its own evolutionary path by evolving a feedback system which seeks to optimize the environment for life. Later, technological growth was able to increase the carrying capacity of the land, leading to demographic growth, greater scope for innovation and therefore faster technological growth in a positive feedback cycle. Agriculture permitted the uneven but inexorable coalescence of complex, stratified societies that in the long-run vanquished the biosphere, be it embodied in forests or hunter-gatherers; the world entered the Holocene, in which the environment – land, and increasing air and water – is shaped by the collective will of the noosphere. Basically, networks in evolution build upon each other. A consequence is that later, more complex superstructures, like intelligence, depends for stability on its biological foundations that regulate the geosphere – something we’re putting in jeopardy via environmental damage.

If we manage to unleash a technological singularity – and avoid its various perils and pitfalls – then the super-abundance produced by self-assembling nanotechnology will eliminate scarcity, the “dematerialization of production” will make classes obsolete, the borders between reality and virtual reality will fade into oblivion as the Earth metamorphoses into Tlön, modern society’s atoms in the iron cage will become avatars of e-Gods in an electronic cage (like on online forums), based on horizontal networks, instead of the power verticals of today. This form of Green Communism is not of the material, but of the cyber-ethereal.

However, the projections suggest that a singularity-driven transition to sustainability may elude us, for both “singularitarians” and “doomers” / “kollapsniks” mostly place their respective events (Singularity or civilizational collapse) in the 2030-50 timeframe.

So which trend will win out? Will we “transcend” just as industrial civilization begins to finally collapse? Or will the world’s last research lab be burned down by starving rioters just as the world’s first, and last, strong AI pops into super-consciousness inside?

What is to be Done?

One idea would be to look at the manifesto of the Collapse Party!, whose goals, essentially, are to ascertain and pursue the optimal road to Green Communism out of those presented above. It is quoted below in full:

The Collapse Party Manifesto

The world is finite, and so the resource stocks and pollution sinks that sustain industrial civilization (“the System”) are limited. We have been in a state of “overshoot”, beyond the “carrying capacity” of the Earth, since the 1980′s (The Limits to Growth, 2004). Limited resources have been drawn down much faster than they could be replenished, and the Earth’s pollution sinks have been overfilled much faster than they could be regenerated.

Elements of this overshoot can already be seen in phenomena as diverse as plateauing crop yields, topsoil loss, accelerating climate change, peak oil, collapsing fisheries, the depletion of higher-EROEI energy sources, dying rivers, global dimming, the proliferation of “failed states”, neo-colonial exploitation, and rising antibiotic resistance. But things are yet going to get much worse…

Based on paleoclimate reconstructions of CO2 levels, an eventual global warming of above 2C is already inevitable. This will set off a cascade of climatic disasters that will speed up the rate of warming, leading to the desertification of much of the world’s land and oceans, the drying of the great Asian rivers, and massive inundations of the low-lying coasts and deltas that harbor humanity’s heartlands. States will collapse into anarchy, spawning Biblical-scale famines and floods of climate refugees.

Meanwhile, the energetic resources that power the System will be coming under severe strain. Oil production has already peaked, and natural gas and coal will follow in a few more decades. The remaining resources are much harder to extract, since the easiest pickings have already been exploited. We will have to divert ever more energy, labor, and capital towards mitigating the effects of both energy depletion (renewables, remote hydrocarbons) and runaway climate change (adaptation, geoengineering).

This will starve agriculture and the consumer sector, ushering in disillusionment, social discontent, and a longing for a strong hand at the helm of power. This will undermine liberal democracy’s political legitimacy, leading either to anarchy (“failed states”) or increasing coercion (authoritarianism). Geopolitical rivalries over the remaining energy resources will intensify, extinguishing the already dim prospects for international cooperation. Long-term thinking will recede into irrelevance, for political leaders will have their hands full with much more pressing issues – building sea walls, feeding the military, and placating (or dispersing) angry mobs.

Our only way to escape this trap is to rapidly effect a global transition towards “sustainable development”. The imperative of such a transition was recognized as early as the 1970′s, but we have yet to see any truly meaningful action. Nor are we likely to, since the defining feature of industrial-capitalist civilization is indefinite growth, based around the taking of loans against (higher) future returns. There’s a reason why Malthusian societies suppressed usury – and should we continue business-as-usual, we will soon rediscover why.

Though the System is very effective in some ways, it cannot foresee its own demise; nor can its servants even ask questions that hint at the unpalatable answer. However, the casual, detached, and informed observer can. Yes, in a purely technical sense, disaster can still be averted if one could convince people to make, or more likely force through, drastic reductions in First World overconsumption, a full-scale retooling of the industrial system towards renewables and recycling, and a global system of “contraction and convergence” on CO2 emissions.

Achieving this, however, is unlikely in the extreme; any transition to sustainability is going to be stymied by social myopia and geopolitical anarchy, as well as innate human psychological features such as the conservative bias, the denial complex, hedonism, and susceptibility to “creeping normalcy” and “landscape amnesia”. Unless we overcome these failings, or discover a technological silver bullet, we will collide with planetary limits to growth sometime around 2030 to 2050.

In that scenario, the System as a whole will become increasingly fragile, such that a large enough perturbation – say, a major war or global climatic disaster – will send it into a self-reinforcing spiral down into chaos. The electrical-industrial infrastructure supporting modern technology, especially the massive repositories of information entombed within cyberspace, will crumble away into oblivion.

After a short period of unprecedented violence, famine, pestilence, and death known as “the Collapse”, the world will get larger once more, and society will retreat back into the comforting blackness of a new Dark Age.

Faced with these grim prospects, we see it fitting to launch a multi-pronged initiative to if not avert a Collapse (as is the purpose of the global Green movement), then at least to attempt to mitigate, as best we can, its catastrophic humanitarian consequences. We do not wish on the demise of technological civilization, for we recognize that for all its ecological obliviousness and social injustices, it has enabled tremendous progress in science and many aspects of culture and human welfare. That said, we recognize that sometimes, the Second Law of Thermodynamics – the tendency for all closed, complex systems to decay – cannot be sidestepped.

We propose a program of “sustainable retreat”, to be characterized by the following policy planks:

  • use the remaining high-EROEI fossil fuel stocks in a crash program to build as large a nuclear and renewable energy infrastructure as possible.
  • clean up radioactive and toxic installations while we still have the technologies and resources to do so.
  • work on fostering global unity and a common human identity to encourage cooperation and discourage competition and resource wars.
  • preserve as much as possible of the world’s stock of technologies, bioresources, and knowledge in dispersed repositories (“lifeboats”) in durable, physical format.
  • retool the education system to disseminate practical skills and democratize it using the power of the Internet (as long as it continues to exist).
  • liberalize copyright laws.
  • promote communal-agrarian values, while ditching the individualist and accumulative mentality that is spelling our doom.
  • unite all social groups under different wings of the Party – conventional Greens, as well as socialists, feminists, right-wing survivalists, etc – that are amenable to the kollapsnik message.
  • eschew militarism, dismantle overseas military bases, and repatriate the troops; but maintain a minimal nuclear deterrent.
  • nationalization and / or regulation of the commanding heights of the economy to optimize resource conservation and pollution control.
  • establish a network of self-contained “resiliencies” across the nation and the world, modeled on the Kibbutzim, that will provide physical, mental, and spiritual nourishment to those who need it.
  • allow mostly-unimpeded free enterprise for small, non-strategic, and low-material throughput businesses, for it will still be necessary to keep the consumerist urgings satiated.
  • the Party is to be aim to operate on a horizontal and democratic basis, in which promotion and honors are to be based on the judgments of peers on one’s competence and commitment to the cause.
  • the winding-down of the prison-industrial complex in a controlled manner; the nature of law and order to be determined in further internal debate.
  • general debt amnesty to wipe the slate clean and start from Year Zero in our quest for sustainability.
  • expand resources into research on areas such as sustainable energy, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence to increase the chances of achieving a technological “silver bullet”.
(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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This is a summary of opinion polls conducted by the Levada-Center, Russia’s Gallup, since February 2009, and continues on from the first post. Along with the original post Lovely Levada, this series constitutes a unique English-language reference for social trends under late Putinism as expressed by the Russian people themselves, rather than the limousine liberals, pro-Western ideologues, and Kremlin flunkies who claim to speak for them. Unless stated otherwise, all opinion poll data refers to 2009.

2009, Dec 28: Around 60% of Russians are against the building of a sleek 400-meter skyscraper, the Okhta Center, in central St.-Petersburg, while only 21% are for. Myself, I’m of two minds about it. Though I like skyscrapers, I don’t want to see any public money going to Gazprom ego-building.

Dec 24: The Western tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25th is not catching on in Russia, with only 4% of Russians saying they will do so this year.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 13 12 17 16 18 18 19 16 6 4 6 6 4

Nor are perceptions of the reform era getting any better. In 2009, only 29% of the population considers the post-1992 period to have been good for the country, whereas 49% disagree. Furthermore, only 23% feel they personally benefited from those reforms, while 50% disagree. However, a majority feel, nonetheless, that some kind of “perestroika” was necessary to reform the Soviet regime.

Today, the majority of the population – 51% – would like to see more state involvement in the economy and social protections, though only 15% would like a return to the Soviet model (down from 20-30% before 2006), and an even smaller 10% favor a course of reducing government and focusing on creating on more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Summing up 2009, although Russians considered the year to be worse than 2007 or 2008, there is no evidence the economic crisis had an inordinate effect on their subjective perceptions of success.

Year Summary 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Successful 36 37 42 47 51 42 47 49 52 46 43
Not Successful 51 51 38 37 34 37 34 29 28 32 37
N/A 14 12 20 16 15 21 19 22 20 22 20

Dec 21: There remains a strong nostalgia for the Soviet past, or what I like to call an “imagined past of a bright socialist future”. Around 60% of Russians still regret its collapse, so no wonder it is returning to its future.

Regret? 1992 1994 2000 2002 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 66 66 75 68 67 61 55 60 60
No 23 19 19 25 26 32 36 30 28
N/A 11 15 6 7 7 7 9 10 12

Furthermore, the majority believe that Soviet collapse was not inevitable (a viewpoint backed by some theoretical work).

Inevitable? 1998 2001 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 24 29 24 27 30 30 28
Could have been avoided 58 58 65 59 56 55 57
N/A 18 13 11 14 14 15 15

Proposed remedies for the future include closer, voluntary ties between the post-Soviet republics (27%), a Eurasian EU-like confederation (22%), a neo-USSR (16%), independent coexistence amongst the former Soviet republics (14%), and the continuation of the CIS in its current state (13%).

Dec 17: Putin and Medvedev continue dominating the political scene, and retain very high approval ratings. On the question of “tandemocracy”, 55% believe Medvedev is merely continuing Putin’s policies, and 48% believe power is shared equally between Medvedev and Putin (while 30% believe Putin is the more powerful player pulling the strings).

Dec 16: A stuffy, but insightful, and non-Kremlin-friendly, essay by Lev Gudkov, Levada’s founder, on The Nature of Putinism (in Russian).

Dec 15: Attitudes towards the West remain in a deep rut, its conduct during the South Ossetian War having left an irreparable cleft. Regarding the US, despite the election of Obama, Russia’s attitudes towards the US are today about as favorable as in November 1999, after the NATO bombing of Serbia (however, the depth of the animosity should not be exaggerated; for real anti-Americanism, one can do little better than stroll through the “Arab street” in the Middle East”).

Attitudes towards the EU are also on a long-term secular decline, though the slope is much less steep than for the US.

Attitudes towards Georgia remain highly negative, which is not surprising given the Georgian President Saakashvili’s deepening megalomania. Equally not surprising is that Belarus under Bat’ka remains far more popular than Ukraine, as demonstrated in this comedic song about “cutting off Ukraine’s gas“.

Dec 7: A majority of Russians support, to some extent, the slogan “Russia for Russians!“, though there hasn’t been any major upward trend in the past decade. So the theme about the uniquely prevalent nature of Russian racism should not be overplayed.

“Russia for Russians”? Aug.98 Nov.01 Aug.03 Dec.04 Jun.05 Nov.06 Aug.07 Oct.08 Nov.09
Yes – it’s about time we implemented this! 15 16 21 16 19 15 14 15 18
It would be a good idea to implement this within reasonable bounds 31 42 32 37 39 35 41 42 36
No – this is real fascism! 32 20 18 25 23 26 27 25 32
I’m not that interested 10 11 7 12 9 12 11 12 9
Haven’t thought on this 5 6 14 5 7 8 -* - -
N/A 7 5 8 4 3 4 7 6 5

Also, 61% believe the state should check unrestrained migration into Russia, and 35% do not feel too comfortable about the influx of foreign laborers from the “Near Abroad”. Neither of these have seen major changes in the past decade.

Nov 26: Very detailed historical information on approval ratings for Russia’s political forces – as of November 2009, President Medvedev had 74%, PM Putin had 79%, and the government had 50%. The economic crisis made nary a dent.

Furthermore, more Russians than not think Russia is moving in the right direction – again despite the crisis. This should all give pose to those who say that Putin’s popularity and Russia’s recent turn towards greater self-confidence was based exclusively on high oil prices and economic growth.

Nov 25: 63% of Russians think the situation in the North Caucasus is tense, but 64% believe it will remain stable during the next year. On the 15th anniversary of the First Chechen War, 43% think the Russian government was correct in its use of force to bring it to heel, whereas 11% believe it should have been granted full independence.

Nov 20: Russia extends its moratorium on the death penalty, despite that most Russians support it.

Death Penalty Feb.00 Feb.02 Mar.06 Apr.07 Jun.09
Should be resumed on early-1990′s levels 54 49 43 39 37
The current state of affairs (moratorium) should be preserved 15 12 23 19 20
Death penalty should be completely abolished 12 12 12 19 14
Death penalty should be expanded 10 19 8 14 16
N/A 10 8 14 10 13

What is the main point of the death penalty for Russians?

Why death penalty? Jul.07
Only as an extreme measure for punishing irredeemable felons 27
To deter others from committing crimes 18
Lawful measure for punishing especially severe crimes 18
To cleanse society of irredeemable criminals 10
Exacting vengeance on the criminal is justice 10
I don’t see any valid justification for the death penalty 7
To heal society and restore moral values 4
Other 6

However, for some classes of crimes support for the death penalty is significantly higher than when the question is asked in a more general way.

Death penalty for… Jul.07
Serial murder? 71
Child rape? 65
Premeditated killing? 48
Selling of drugs? 39
Terrorism, preparation for revolution? 32
Corruption? 16
Treason & espionage in peacetime? 13
Armed robbery? 11
Attempted murder of head of state? 9
Death penalty is always unacceptable 8
Other 1
N/A 4

Some 47% of Russians would feel personally safer if they reintroduced the death penalty, whereas 39% disagree.

Nov 18: Perceptions of subjective wealth have improved in Russia over the past decade, along with salaries and pensions. Today, far more shopping is done in big stores and supermarkets than a decade ago, whereas buying stuff on the streets is rarer. Again, not surprising given its economic growth.

Quality of life? Dec.99 Nov.09
Well-off 6 24
Middle-class 46 62
Barely make ends meet 35 10
Poor 10 3
Very poor 3 >1

Below is a more detailed breakdown.

Which group do you belong to? 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Barely make ends meet – not even enough money for food. 22 19 15 18 15 12 14 9 10
Can buy food, but getting clothes is a problem. 44 42 45 41 37 35 33 27 30
Can buy the basics like food and clothes, but durable consumer goods (TV, refrigerator) present more of a problem. 27 32 31 31 37 40 37 48 48
Can easily get durable consumer goods, but truly expensive things are less accessible. 7 7 8 9 10 13 15 15 12
Can make really expensive purchases like apartments, dachas, etc, without problem. <1 <1 1 <1 1 <1 1 1 <1

Nov 6: Russia’s attitudes on the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – 63% are positive, and only 11% are negative.

Nov 5: The Russia-Ukraine relation in detail, at the level of peoples rather than governments.

What should Russia-Ukraine relations resemble? Russia Ukraine
Jan. 09 Jun. 09 Jan. 09 Jun. 09 Oct. 09
As is usual for states – closed borders, tariffs, visas 29 25 8 10 11
Independent but friendly states, characterized by open borders without visas or tariffs. 51 55 68 65 67
Russia and Ukraine should unite into a single state. 12 14 23 23 19
N/A 8 6 1 2 3

What do Russians think about Ukraine, and Ukrainians about Russia?

What do you think? Russians about Ukraine Ukrainians about Russians
Mar.08 Jan.09 Jun.09 Sep. 09 Apr. 08 Feb.09 Jun.09 Oct.09
Good / very good 55 29 33 46 88 91 93 91
Bad / very bad 33 62 55 44 7 5 4 6
N/A 12 9 11 10 5 4 3 3

However, given the choice most Ukrainians would prefer (re-)integration into Eurasia than Westernization. Only 17% of Ukrainians would have voted to join NATO in October 2009, whereas 63% were against. Furthermore, 55% of Ukrainians prefer a union with Russia and Belarus, compared to 24% who would prefer accession to the European Union.

EU or Union of Russia & Belarus? Ukrainians
certainly EU 12
sooner EU 12
sooner Russia & Belarus 30
certainly Russia & Belarus 25
N/A 21

This is one of the main reasons why it is likely that some kind of Eurasian Empire – be it an EU-like confederation or neo-Soviet Union – will be slowly but surely resurrected in the near future (as is indeed already happening).

Nov 5: What is your opinion on the October Revolution for Russia’s peoples?

1990 1997 2004 2005 2009
Opened a new era in Russian history. 23 23 30 26 28
Gave a push towards social and economic development. 26 26 27 31 29
It put a brake on development. 18 19 16 16 16
It became a catastrophe. 12 16 14 15 10
N/A 21 16 13 12 17

Oct 29: Only 4% of Russians celebrate Halloween.

Oct 27: Most Russians believe Putin represents the interests of the siloviks (27%), middle class (24%), oligarchs (22%), simple folks (21%), and his close friends (18%).

Oct 23: 71% of Russians believe they need a serious opposition party, while 47% believe that no such parties currently exist (38% disagree).

Oct 15: Russians on democracy – a series of very detailed and telling graphs.

33% believe Russia has some kind of democracy, another 33% think its democracy has not yet become firmly grounded, while 20% believe it is regressing. As of June 2009, some 57% believed Russia needs democracy, while 26% disagreed – these figures are changed from 66% and 21% respectively in June 2005.

According to the polls below, it seems that Russians have recently come to truly believe in “sovereign democracy“.

As of 2006, around 63% of Russians are basically “statists” – they believe the state should care about all its citizens and guarantee a fitting standard of living, whereas only 25% subscribe to the classical liberal position that the state should limit itself to setting and enforcing the “rules of the game”, and an even smaller 4% take the neoliberal view that government should minimize its involvement in its citizens’ economic affairs. These figures are changed from 71%, 19%, and 6% respectively, in 2001.

Most Russians support a strong, centralized Presidency, and in contrast to the late Soviet period, support for what could be called “authoritarianism” has risen.

The share of Russians believing that Russia’s rulers only look out for their “material wellbeing and career”, which once hovered at 50-60%, has since 2007 fallen to 20-30% – nearly equalizing with those thinking it is a “strong team of politicians, leading the country along the right road”. This is yet another illustration of Russia’s recent, quasi-spiritual transition from “poshlost” to “sobornost”.

At the same time, the number of Russians considering themselves to be “free” in their society has increased under the Putin years. In 1990, 38% of Russians felt society had too little freedom, 30% enough freedom, and 17% too much freedom; in 1997, these figures were 20%, 32%, and 34%; in 2008, they were 18%, 55%, and 20%, all respectively. Ironically, the (perceived) decline in liberalism since 1998 has been accompanied by greater democratization, in that the state has moved closer to the “people’s will”.

Only a tiny minority of Russians, 2-3%, – interestingly, the same percentage that voices approval for Russian “liberals” like Kasparov and Illarionov – have ever regarded Western-style democracy as a necessary “savior” of Russia – many have the practical attitude that it has many useful things to offer (45% in 2008), or that it is not suitable for Russia (30%) or outright dangerous (12%).

All in all, this is all in stark contrast to the Western media theme that Putin, the tyrant, is forcefully re-submerging an unwilling populace back into its totalitarian past. See Armageddon, Putvedev is Russia’s White Rider, and Russia’s Sisyphean Loop for detailed discussions of these phenomena and trends.

Oct 9: Russia’s opinions on the US BMD program (ballistic missile defense). Whereas only 8% think the European installations are being built to defend against Iran, some 69% of Russians believe that it is to ensure its military superiority over Russia, pressure Russia geopolitically, or defend against Russian nuclear attacks.

Regarding America’s plans to postpone the European BMD sites, some 41% think it is a temporary concession, 16% think it’s just a move in a geopolitical “trade” between Russia and the US – while only 21% consider it a “victory” of Russia. The vast majority of Russians believe that the US will continue with its ABM program.

In other words, Russians are cynical about US intentions – and almost certainly correct to be so.

Oct 1: Russians have a great deal of skepticism towards the 1993 bombing of the Duma in Moscow – they perceive it as being evidence of purely inter-elite struggles, a sign of national decline, etc. Some 81% of Russians say both were wrong, both were right, or N/A.

Sept 8: After a peak in 2002, TV viewership is on a slow decline in Russia, especially amongst the young who have the Internet. However, it remains extremely prevalent, with 86% watching it daily or almost daily.

Sept 4: A slim majority of Russians do not consider Stalin to be a “state criminal”, or mostly responsible for the repressions of the 1930′s-50′s. Around half consider the USSR had some resemblances to Nazi Germany, whereas another half disagree. This illustrates the highly binaried view of Russian society towards Stalin – the despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament.

Whereas 55% of Russians think it important to improve relations with Japan, especially in the sphere of hi-tech, most of them (82%) are against doing this by handing over the southern Kurils.

Sept 3: Around 70% of Russians support 1) the teaching of subjects at elementary schools in non-Russian languages and 2) the teaching of the controversial course “The Foundations of Orthodox Culture”.

Aug 31: A majority of Russians continue going out to pick mushrooms at least once per year.

Aug 26: The best Russian films of the last decade: The 9th Company, The Barber of Siberia, Admiral, Island, Twelve, Taras Bulba, Night Watch, The Turkish Gambit, The Irony of Fate 2, Brother, Love – Carrot, Bastards.

The 63% of Russians expecting a “second wave” of the economic crisis during autumn 2009 were wrong.

Aug 24: In July 2009, some 34% of Russians supported the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the August 23, 1939 non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the USSR), 23% condemned it, and 44% didn’t really know or care. Attitudes towards it seem to correlate with those towards Stalin.

Aug 17: Russians are thoroughly disillusioned with the events of the August “Putsch” of 1991, in whose aftermath the USSR collapsed – 42% think it was nothing more than an intra-elite struggle for power, 33% consider it a tragic event with ruinous consequences for the country and people, and just 9% believe it to have been a victory of democracy over the Communist Party.

Aug 7: The increasing penetration of electronic devices in Russia. Do you have a cell phone?

Jan.01 Jan.02 Jan.03 Jan.04 Jan.05 Jan.06 Jan.07 Jan.08 Jan.09 Jul.09
Yes 2 5 9 19 32 45 58 71 78 78
No 98 95 91 81 68 55 42 29 22 22

Do you use a personal computer? (yes if once a month or more; no if less than once per month).

Jan.01 Jan.02 Jan.03 Jan.04 Jan.05 Jan.06 Jan.07 Jan.08 Jan.09 Jul.09
Yes 4 6 6 7 13 13 16 23 30 31
No 96 94 94 93 87 87 84 77 70 69

The latest Levada figures show that 25% of Russians use email.

Jul 27: On the 10-year anniversary of Putin’s power, Russians credit him most with: increasing life quality, salaries, and pensions (22%); economic development (17%); raising optimism about the country’s future (9%); restoration of order and political stability (8%); and the strengthening of Russia’s international standing (5%).

Jul 20: Contrary to some opinions, around 67% of Muscovites approved of the closure of the Cherkizovsky market (20% disapproved).

Jul 1: Putin is most popular in Russia, India, China, and Ukraine; and unpopular in the West and “moderate” Islamic nations.

Jun 30: Some 45% of Russians are opposed to selling Iran nuclear and missile technologies, while 29% don’t mind. As for North Korea’s nuclear program, 70% of Russians prefer to curtail it via diplomatic negotiation or sanctions.

On the occasion of Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow, 57% of Russians thought relations hadn’t improved from the Bush-era nadir, and 55% are against cuts in their nuclear arsenal (bearing in mind that Washington is working on ABM).

Jun 25: Though only 5% of Russians tried drugs and 18% know of friends or relatives who tried drugs, almost all – 97% – consider it to be a serious problem in Russia. Another 65% believe that trying a drug just once may have the potential to create an addiction. (However, Russia’s drug laws are surprisingly liberal, given the conservative attitudes described above).

Jun 19: Why were Soviet losses during the Great Patriotic War significantly higher than Germany’s?

1991 2001 2006 2009
The suddenness of the invasion 21 35 31 35
Stalin’s administration didn’t care for losses 33 22 26 21
German military and technological superiority 16 19 18 19
Weakness and incompetence of Soviet command 12 11 11 10
Nazi cruelty 5 8 9 9
N/A 13 5 5 7

Jun 10: Russia’s friends and enemies – countries scoring more than 30% are highlighted. Friends: Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Germany, Armenia, India, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, France, Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Italy. Enemies: Georgia, USA, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Germany, Japan, Israel, China, Romania.

May 18: Russians’ opinions about the Unified State Exam.

May 5: 63% of Russians celebrate Victory in the Great Patriotic War, and the same percentage think the USSR could have won the war without Allied help (27% disagree).

Apr 29: Another 57% celebrate May 1st, the labor holiday.

Apr 17: The 2008-09 economic crisis had a far smaller effect on Russians’ wellbeing than the 1998-99 crisis. While the percentage of the population barely making ends meet went up from 29% in July 1998 to 40% in December 1998, this figure remained stable at around 10% throughout the recent crisis.

The main shift occurred amongst Russia’s “consumer class” (the ones who buy cars, PC’s, etc), whose percentage of the population tumbled by a quarter from 19% to 14%, and perhaps explains the reason for its large drop in GDP for 2009. The silver lining is that this implies inequality has decreased during the crisis.

Mar 30: Opinions are highly split regarding conscription and the Army. 47% of Russians would like to retain mandatory military service, whereas 43% would prefer a full transition to a contract army.

Jan.00 Jul.00 Jan.02 Feb.05 Oct.05 Feb.06 Feb.07 Feb.08 Mar.09
Conscription 30 34 27 31 39 32 41 45 47
Contract army 63 58 64 62 52 62 54 48 43
N/A 8 8 9 8 9 6 5 7 9

If someone in your army was obligated to perform mandatory military service, would you rather they served, or searched for ways to avoid it?

Prefer him to serve in Army 50
Prefer him to try to avoid service in the Army 35
N/A 15

Rather surprising, perhaps, considering the Russian Army’s reputation for hazing (dedovschina). However, its severity may have declined in the past few years, what with the shortening of the term of service from 2 years to 1 year by 2008 – this automatically removed the “grandfathers” from the barracks (conscripts doing their last half-year of service), who tended to be responsible for the worst abuses. Add in the increase in patriotic propaganda and the start of efforts to repress hazing, and this may explain the recent social “rehabilitation” of military service.

Mar 3: More military questions and answers. Does Russia face a military threat from other countries?

2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 48 42 47 37 44 40 49 52 50
No 45 42 45 55 44 51 43 38 41
N/A 8 16 8 8 12 9 8 10 9

Is the Russian Army currently capable of defending the nation in the case of a real war threat from other countries?

2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 60 56 55 60 52 62 65 73 73
No 31 30 38 32 38 28 27 17 17
N/A 9 14 7 8 10 10 8 10 10

Hope you enjoyed browsing through these! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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At the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, two great leaders, Obama and Chavez, shook hands in what could be the symbolic first gesture of reconciliation. Treasonous neocons will no doubt rush to condemn this as yet another limp-wristed and unilateral concession to “America’s enemies”, reminding their listeners that Chavez closed down opposition media, nationalized American assets and welcomed Russian warships and strategic bombers to his realm.

Yet their stubborn animosity is worse than just imperialist arrogance – it is stupid. They fail to realize that in the past decade Latin America in general, and Venezuela in particular, has become too politically mature to be easily manipulated into serving US (corporate) interests by economic hitmen, CIA operatives and their local surrogates. It is to Obama’s credit that he is willing to move from willful denial to cautious acceptance of the decline of overt American power in Venezuela and elsewhere.

For that is the new reality. The Venezuelan opposition is increasingly discredited for its unconstructive hostility to the government and extra-legal attempts to overthrow Chavez, one of which nearly succeeded in 2002. This resulted in blowback against the US for its covert involvement The government’s refusal to renew the licenses of opposition media outlets that seditiously backed the abortive coup is thus completely understandable, as is Chavez’ personal animosity towards Bush and outreach to other states in similar straits. Furthermore, it should be noted that the owners of newly nationalized companies, including American ones, were fairly compensated.

Meanwhile, within five years of taking real power in Venezuela, a corrupt, disorganized and class-ridden country, Chavez managed to a) double the GDP, b) halve the number of people living in poverty and c) drastically improve practically every indicator of social wellbeing from child mortality rates to inequality to tertiary education enrollment rates (I already covered these successes in prior posts). This does not mean that Venezuela is no longer a corrupt, disorganized and class-ridden country – it still is, to an extent – but the improvements are undeniable and Chavez enjoys high approval ratings. It is thus unseemly and dishonest of the Western MSM to excoriate Chavez as a thuggish populist strongman and economic illiterate.

Let us hope they take a clue from Obama. Or from Mark Weisbrot and his fellow authors, who in their latest paper, The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators, give a glowing verdict on the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution.

Economic Growth: As you can see from the graph below, Chavez inherited an ailing, stagnating economy. From 1978-1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 21.5%. Chavez was initially politically weak, with the state-owned oil company (PDVSA), the linchpin of the Venezuelan economy, controlled by forces intensely hostile to Chavez. Furthermore, they began to actively sabotage the economy from December 2001, when the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce organized a general business strike against the government. This culminated in a two day military coup in April 2002 that temporarily unseated Chavez. Adding to the political instability and capital flight, the PDVSA oil strikes of Jan-Feb 2003 led to a short but severe recession.

After the oil strike and Chavez's consolidation of power, Venezuela racked up one of the highest growth rates in the world.

After the oil strike and Chavez’s consolidation of power, Venezuela racked up one of the highest growth rates in the world.

However, once the opposition were neutralized Venezuela managed to rack up very rapid growth. Even canceling out the post-recession recovery, GDP grew at an annual pace of 8.8% from the end of the shaded part in the graph above to Q2 of 2008, or at 6.9% in per capita terms. This is not an unimpressive achievement. The (mean) average Venezuelan increased his output as fast as the average Argentine, Indian and Russian during those years; from the major countries, only the Chinese did significantly better.

Furthermore, growth was broad-based and primarily private – contrary to media myths, the oil sector actually experienced negative growth from 2005-2007 after its quick initial recovery from the PDVSA strikes. Manufacturing grew at a respectable annual rate of 13.2% from 2004-2007. For all the ruckus over incipient statism with all its negative connotations, the public share of GDP declined.

Social Progress: The economy not only grew at an impressive tempo, but the benefits accruing to it were more equitably distributed than at any time in Venezuelan history. Despite the opposition-instigated economic reversals of his mid-Presidency, from 1999-2008, poverty more than halved from 43% to 26% and extreme poverty plummeted from 17% to just 7%. Its Gini index, a standard measure of inequality, dropped from 47 to 41 – though still high, it is extraordinarily egalitarian by Latin American standards and all the more impressive considering it came at a time of rising oil prices.

Infant mortality dropped from 19.0 / 1000 in 1999 to 14.2 / 1000 in 2008; post-neonatal mortality was cut by more than half. Food security improved through the Programa Alimenticio Escolar school-feeding program and the heavily subsidized Mercal network of government food stores. Despite fairly rapid population growth, from 1999-2007 access to clean drinking water increased from 80% to 92% of the population and access to sanitation increased from 62% to 82% of the population. These achievements were facilitated by impressive improvements in medical care – the numbers of physicians, hospitals and other medical facilities increased by almost an order of magnitude.

From 1999-2008 Venezuela finally achieved near universal primary school enrollment and near universal secondary enrollment. Participation in higher education increased by an astounding 138%. Since the extra human capital embedded in education is a vital prerequisite for longterm economic growth, Chavez laid very important foundations here.

Labor: Unemployment dropped, and naysaying propagandists to the contrary, not just because the state hired all the new people. Though employment in the public sector increased by around 50% since 1999 and its share of the total workforce increased from 13.1% to 16.6%, it was commensurate with the large expansion of the state undertaken under Chavez in the second half of his Presidency. However, it remains quite low by developed-country standards.

Government Finance, Current Account. Although the dramatic rise in oil prices helped, non-oil revenue also increased from 11.7% of GDP in 1998 to 14.2% of GDP in 2007 due to improved tax collection. Revenue and spending both increased, the government maintained a stable budget surplus. However, the state oil company PDVSA also had 6.1% of GDP in public expenditures – this, along with peak oil, is probably what caused Venezuelan oil extraction to fall. That said, I think leaving more resources in the ground for a time when they’ll become worth much more is in itself not a bad investment. Similarly, the current account stayed firmly in the black throughout.

For a more detailed discussion of Venezuela’s prospects during this world depression, please see Victimized Venezuela II: Beware of Schadenfreude. Suffice to say the situation is unlikely to turn critical and Chavez will remain politically secure, the wishes of some in the US foreign policy establishment regardless.

That said, there do exist serious problems in Venezuela – inflation, an overvalued bolivar, corruption, obstacles to small and medium business (SME) growth and crime… just to prove I’m not a chavista fanatic.

Problem – Exchange Rates, Inflation. After subsiding from a peak at around the time of the PDVSA strikes, inflation crept back up to around 30% since 2006, supercharged by soaring global food prices. However, since its exchange rate is fixed at 2,150 bolivars to one US dollar, the inflation contributed to massive over-valuation of its currency, estimated at more than 50%. This needs to be fixed if Venezuelan manufacturing is to become competitive and to dilute the economy’s dependence on oil rents – growth in this sector mostly ceased by 2008, and as of December 2008 was down by 25.4% from December 2007. Devaluation is also needed to narrow an awning budget deficit some expect to exceed 20% of GDP in 2009, a disturbing figure even by recent spendthrift standards.

Now that Chavez won the referendum on the abolition of term limits in February 2009 and given that the next Presidential election is in 2012, there are already signs of a stealth devaluation. Because subsidizing dollars is much harder with oil prices at 50$ instead of 100$ per barrel, the government is limiting the amounts of dollars Venezuelans can buy for foreign travel and are considering doing the same with luxury imports. Though Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez says a devaluation will not happen in 2009, a “multitiered exchange rate” is possible – that is, continuing the current peg only for vital imports such as medicine, food staples, and industrial machinery.

This will keep social discontent to a minimum (for a year or two, Venezuelans will have to live with fewer imported cars and cakes, but they’ll have bread). The boost in inflation will be counteracted by shrinking demand and general global deflation. Furthermore, Venezuela has low foreign debt, considerable reserves and China is keeping a floor under commodity prices by buying them up on the cheap across the world. Coupled with what already looks like an incipient recovery in emerging Asia, Venezuela, like Russia, should come out of the crisis relatively unscathed, leaner and ready to enjoy a second round of soaring oil prices. Meanwhile, Chavez is continuing to invest in long-term development by pouring money into infrastructure projects like building an extensive railway system – an excellent idea for the post-peak oil world.

Problem – Corruption, Obstacles to SME Growth. Venezuela is ostensibly the 158th most corrupt nation in the world, according to Transparency International. Yet as I noted in one of my very first articles for Da Russophile, Reading Russia Right:

While there’s no denying Russia is plagued by corruption, to suggest it is endemic like in a failed state is ludicrous – and would frankly be obvious to anyone who has visited the countries on that list. The problem with the CPI is that it’s a survey of outsider businesspeople and their subjective perception of the situation. While improving perceptions is an important goal, it does not necessarily correlate perfectly with reality. TI’s Global Corruption Barometer asks ordinary people how affected they are by corruption, for instance, have you paid a bribe to obtain a service this year? In 2007, 17% of Russians did – putting them into the same quintile as Bulgaria, Turkey and the Czech Republic. In other words, slap bang in the middle of world corruption, rather than at the end.

Pretty much the same argument can be made with Venezuela. In 2007, only 12% of Venezuelans paid a bribe to obtain services, basically the same proportion as the supposedly much cleaner Czechs.

The root cause of this is the sheer amount of restrictions on business in Venezuela – it comes 171st in Ease of Doing Business rankings. In this atmosphere, doing business in full compliance with all the laws and regulations is nigh impossible and forces enterprises into a constant search for shortcuts by reaching understandings with regional bureaucrats. This distorts the economy, dissuades investors and reduces the potential rate of economic convergence with the developed world. And lowers its position on the Corruption Perceptions Index

Yet ultimately, the important thing is to get stuff built – parasites skimming 10% off a project is regrettable, but not catastrophic. As long as a developing country has basic market mechanisms, a semblance of macroeconomic stability, an open economy and most importantly, high human capital, its economy will converge to developed country levels. Many deeply corrupt and bureaucratized countries (Italy immediately springs to mind) managed the transition and fell into economic stasis only after they got rich.

The current preference for short-term social gratification in place of faster diversification through manufacturing is lamentable, but perhaps unavoidable. Chavez operates under the same political constraints that conditioned the classical Latin American caudillo. Maintaining the acquiescence of the statist bourgeoisie, if not their active support, is key to retaining power, given their control over the traditionally tightly intertwined business-bureaucratic-military complex. It appears to me that this structure is being rapidly dismantled in Venezuela since 2003. (Paradoxically, by constructing a new elite drawn from the younger, educated proletariat, Chavez may well end up ushering in the conditions for a leaner, more effective capitalist economy).

Sociological speculations aside, it is however indisputable that Chavez is building the future more actively than any previous Venezuelan leader – despite the cancerous growth of bureaucracy, socialist tendencies and failure to reform the economy on his watch.

Problem – Crime. I am always skeptical about attributing crime trends, positive or adverse, to governments. They can influence them but can’t control them, for they depend on a great many variables inter-connected in ways little understood even by modern criminologists. That said, I thought it would be instructive to actually plot out Venezuela’s notoriously high homicide rates against other Latin American nations.

First, even by the time Chavez was inaugurated President in February 1999, Venezuelan homicide rates had a long, secular trend towards growth, much like Brazil and Jamaica.

Second, they peaked in 2003, at the end of a turbulent period of opposition-instigated anarchy. Since then homicide rates fell slightly, but it seems from the graph of Colombia that once entrenched, high homicide rates are very hard to reverse.

Third, there are allegations that the Venezuelan state contributes to the high homicide rates with its supposedly lax policies towards the “war on drugs”. Right-wing commentators lambast Chavez, left-wing commentators lambast the CIA, and in general the situation seems shady and unclear. I will not comment on these angry accusations and conspiracy theories (which might be true, who knows?) except to state the obvious and recommend global drug legalization.

Fourth, many of the big cities where crime is concentrated are actually run by opposition mayors.

Along with the likes of Colombia, South Africa and Iraq, the chances of violent death in Venezuela today are typical of a medieval society. By my rough calculations, at current rates every thirtieth Venezuelan can expect to be murdered during his or her lifetime. You really don’t want to be a young man living in a seedy Caracas slum nowadays…

Crime is no doubt a huge problem in Venezuela requiring the utmost attention and possibly draconian measures. Which will not happen, as Chavez is far too humanistic for that, and tradition-bound; Venezuela abolished the death penalty way back in 1863…

Problem? – Authoritarianism. Even Freedom House, a notoriously compromised organization, refrains from labeling Venezuela as Not Free. According the Economist Democracy Index, it is a hybrid regime much like that of Russia, Turkey or Georgia – neither a traditional liberal democracy nor an authoritarian state. The Polity IV Project, an academic database tracking democracy trends since the end of the Second World War, gives Venezuela 5 on a scale ranging from -10 (full autocracy) to 10 (full democracy). I suggest reading their 2007 Venezuela Report to anyone genuinely interested in its political status – their main complaint is on weak executive constraints.

Furthermore, democracy is no panacea. Chavez may have increased his personal power and perhaps this trend will intensify, yet he empowered communities by expanding local democracy, education and healthcare. Much of Latin America is enmeshed into backward, class-ridden systems wherein minuscule middle classes exploit the state to serve their own ends, while keeping the masses suppressed by neglect, ignorance, poverty and religion. Chavez is breaking Venezuelans free of this unholy matrix.

I once talked on a plane with a Venezuelan who lamented on the idleness and lack of curiosity of the people, and about how the equivalent of a small town is murdered there every year. Sounds to me like they need a good dose of revolutionary fervor directed towards building up the country. Hopefully the Bolivarian Revolution will sweep away the oligarchic degenerates into political irrelevance and Chavez will use the opportunity to build a modern industrial economy and reinstall liberal democracy once the heavy lifting is finished.

Yet in any case the US should not concern itself over his democratic or human rights credentials, be they fair or foul. Venezuela has Latin America’s biggest reserves of oil and its Orinoco tar sands could potentially hold as much oil equivalent as Saudi Arabia (though being hard to exploit they are worth much less). Although it exports much of its oil to the US, the Chinese have recently been getting in on the action in a big way, as part of their global strategy of locking up diminishing natural resources to fuel industrialization for a few more decades. Cutting off a major part of America’s economic lifeblood at a time of peaking global oil extraction in the service of abstract concepts like democracy is strategic folly.

Overthrowing Chavez and installing a pliant satrap is no longer realistic – the Venezuelan state is now stronger, Chavez is popular and the opposition is viewed as venal and discredited in the eyes of voters. Even from a military perspective, intervention is politically unacceptable and in any case becoming riskier year by year as the Bolivarian republic plows part of its oil windfalls into acquiring modern diesel submarines, air defense systems and Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia – a relatively cheap and effective way of negating American CVBG diplomacy.

Finally, in any case Venezuela has, interesting enough, the most positive outlook on the US of any major Latin American country – Chavez’s tirades to the contrary. This should provide further incentives for cooperation rather than conflict.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

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

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

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