Last week, I wrote about the 10 ways in which life in Russia is better than America.
Now it’s time for Uncle Sam to have his due.
Typical Moscow sleeper suburb.
Higher Living Standards
Although Russian prices are 2x cheaper than America’s, the blunt fact is that wages are also 4x-5x lower.
Consequently, the standard of living in the US relative to Russia is at least twice higher.
This gap widens to almost an order of magnitude so far as professionals in the state sphere, such as doctors and researchers, are concerned. Despite some lingering but much diminished prestige associated to their work from the Soviet era, most of them can barely be considered middle-class in economic terms, even by Russian standards.
The typical urban Russian lives in gray, concrete commieblocks that are comparable to American public housing in quality. The quality of construction is low, internal planning is haphazardous, and contrary to rumors, my inquiries indicates that the presence of nuclear shelters are very much the exception, not the rule. So they don’t even have survivability in the case of nuclear war going for them. At just 25 sqm a person, the average Russian has barely any more living space than the average denizen of overcrowded Japan, and three times less than the average American.
Although Russia has converged with First World levels on indicators such as cell phone ownership and Internet penetration, this is not the case with truly expensive durables. The US leaves Russia in the dust with respect to car ownership, with 797/1,000 cars per person to Russia’s 293/1,000; nor can this difference be ascribed to the centrality of automotive culture in the US, since Russia lags typical European levels of 500-600/1,000 cars per person as well.
Although there’s more far more debt in the US, that also reflects the reality that Americans have the option of taking out debt thanks to a much better-developed credit system. This enables them to take out mortgages to buy homes and raise families in them, while paying off the debt and assuming full ownership by retirement. There are mortgages in Russia as well, but interest rates tend to be prohibitively high, especially for young families with low incomes. Popular understanding of credit and home economics seems low. When I got my credit card here from state-owned banking giant Sberbank, it was marketed to me as a way to get expensive goods during the New Year holidays, whereas in the United States the talking points would be about building up a credit rating.
This reflects the fact that Russians don’t understand personal finance and have low future time orientation relative to the Anglo/Protestant world. One American who works in a Russian media organization says that bonuses are paid out to staff to coincide with the start of the holiday season, the assumption being that they would have otherwise spent it and have no money to go to the Crimea or Egypt. As an American who understands the concept of saving up, he had to push through a special exception for himself with the accounting department.
Washington, D.C. in 2013. Some crazed Islamist ranting in front of the White House, without getting arrested. Is there any greater and more majestic symbol of the strength of American civilization?
Freedom of Speech
Yes, you can be ostracized. Yes, you can be fired from your job. Yes, this might no longer be the case in another decade or two, if the SJWs have their way.
But at the end of the day you will not go to jail on trumped up charges of hate speech.
American gun rights are enshrined in the Second Amendment and are by far the strongest of any major country in the world.
In Russia you need to fill out reams of forms just to get a hunting shotgun. All handguns, magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds, fully automatic weapons, and open carry are illegal.
The Russian bureaucracy is a *lot* better than it used to be, especially in the “My Documents” centers that have proliferated in recent years as part of a government initiative to make bureaucratic services more transparent and accessible to citizens. In comparison to 2007, there are fewer papers to fill out, many more tasks can be done online, and staff are more courteous. This is reflected in Russia moving from around 120th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings a decade ago, to 35th as of 2017.
Which still makes it a horrendous nightmare by Anglo standards.
Far fewer tasks and operations need to be confirmed with the bureaucracy in the first place, and those that do – with the notable exception of the DMV – tend to go far more smoothly.
Volokolamsk Great Patriotic War memorial, summer 2017.
More Respect for Public Spaces
Outside of central Moscow, which is a SWPL paradise that wouldn’t look out of place in central Europe, public spaces tend to be unkempt, if not entirely derelict.
Although it is tempting to blame this on a shortage of funds, there’s no doubt that apathy and outright corruption play a large part in this. This summer, I went to Volokolamsk, a small town 120 km from Moscow, where I have a few relatives. There used to be a German tank, displayed as a war trophy on a pedestal, on the road into Volokolamsk. But now it was absent. According to our taxi driver, the previous United Russia mayor had sent it to Germany for maintenance – why would a hunk of 75 year old metal need maintenance? – but it later emerged that he had sold it to a German collector and pocketed the proceeds. In the ensuing scandal, he was removed, and United Russia lost the next mayoral elections to the Communist candidate. Regardless, most of the town’s historic churches remain in a dilapidated condition, and the local World War II memorial (see photo above) appears to be in a worse state than during the depressed 1990’s.
Ultimately, this is a reflection of the wider society. There is extremely little respect for the “commonweal” as it is understood in the Anglosphere – not just amongst the elites, but amongst ordinary Russians too. People throw cigarette butts from balconies onto the sidewalk, instead of getting an ashtray. Picnickers treat the reeds at the edge of the lake in a park as a garbage bin.
If Russians do not even respect themselves, why should their rulers?
Incidence of bribery in Europe, GCB 2017.
Bribery and Theft
There isn’t a lot of everyday bribery. Certainly not for routine bureaucratic services, as was not uncommon in the 1990s.
That said, there’s still an order of magnitude more corruption going on than in core Europe. Though I have personally yet to encounter a request for a bribe, I do know of a large-scale case of bribery that involves a circle of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges just a couple of degrees of separation from myself. I find it difficult to imagine that something like this is even possible in the United States in anything but singular cases.
According to acquaintances, the incidence of internal theft within corporations – especially the state owned hydrocarbons giants – is far more prevalent than in the West.
There are also far more of all kinds of scams and petty commercial tricks. For instance, a couple of months ago, a salesperson came knocking to my flat, offering to replace the windows at subsidized rates thanks to a local government initiative – but we should hurry up, because the program is on a “first come, first served” basis. A 5 minute Internet investigation made it clear that program was entirely fictive, and the company in question has endless complaints against it for false marketing and charging 50% more than its competitors (presumably, its lying salespeople have to be paid). But I can imagine them raking in profits from Internet-illiterate elderly people.
Unfortunately, this is not just a few bad apples, but reflective of general social phenomena. For instance, many foreigners have observed how easy it is to return products in the United States within the first 6 months, year, or even two years. Many ex-USSR immigrants regularly exploit these provisions, buying some expensive coffee machine only to decide they’re not that satisfied with it after 11 months and getting their money back, only to then repeat the process. This is something I have observed first hand on several occasions, and the culprit was never an indigenous American.
This illustrates why Russians can’t have nice things in Russia. Here, the typical window for returning products is two weeks to a month.
The closest Russia has to Amazon Prime is Ozon.ru, though it’s far less than comprehensive in scope, and other online shops tend to have better prices for specific categories of products (e.g. pleer for electronics, El Dorado for home repair equipment, etc).
I suppose there are advantages to a lack of monopolist, but it does make things a bit more complex for people who had settled into the one click order & delivery pattern fostered by Amazon.
A more specific feature of the delivery experience in Russia is that packages are never left at the door – you either have to pick it up in person, or answer the door yourself. Why? Because someone will inevitably steal it, as in Black (but not Latino) areas of American cities.
Fortunately there are now more and more equivalents of Amazon Lockers for those Russians who don’t partake of the NEET lyfe and can’t hang around their home all day waiting for a delivery.
My favorite restaurant in Berkeley.
Just as the Anglos are no good for pickles, so Russia is the bane of the chillihead.
There are approximately four shops selling a full variety of Indian spices (they are appropriately named “Indian Spices“) in Moscow. They also have one shop in Saint Petersburg. Otherwise, that’s it. Similar situation with Indian restaurants. There are a couple of good ones in Moscow, and one good one in Saint-Petersburg (by “good” I mean acceptable by London or SF Bay Area standards).
Tropical Hyperborea can’t immanentize fast enough!
Russian wines have been improving rapidly, as tastes change from Soviet vodka-swilling towards greater refinement. Even so, even Moscow is very far from France or California. To say nothing of the provinces.
One other small thing that annoys me is the near complete absence of lined/college-ruled paper. The only ones I have been able to find were German imports.
Globally Dominant Culture
The United States is at the center of global science and culture.
It publishes the most scientific papers, hosts the most famous brands, and incubates the most hi-tech startups. Everybody has heard of 23andme, nobody has heard of Genotek.
Around 95% of scientific publishing takes place in English – if a paper doesn’t have an English version, at this point in history, it might as well not exist.
Everybody watches American films, follows American shows, and plays American video games.
With the small exception of literature, where it continues to produce a modest amount of high quality original content, Russian culture is now but a footnote to global American culture.
For all intents and purposes, the United States has won a global Cultural Victory, and its culture is dominant even within Russia.
Historically, the best of the best traditionally flocked to the imperial metropolis – two millennia ago, it was Rome; now, it is Boswash and Silicon Valley.
There are real benefits to be derived from being located at the global center of cultural and scientific dynamism, from having early access to the latest electronic toys and medical treatments (FDA obliging) to rubbing shoulders with highly accomplished people and thereby raising your own chances of success.
There is only a faint echo of this in Moscow, while the rest of Russia might as well be a desert.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my comprehensive comparison of life in Russia, America and the United Kingdom that I wrote in 2011: http://akarlin.com/tag/national-comparisons/ .