February 24, 2004

Rough around the edges; quite normal...

I was fascinated by this article on Russia today. It puts Russia's many problems in perspective, and refutes some doom-sayers, by making comparisons with other nations at the same level of development...

...Russia's economic and political systems remain far from perfect. But their defects are typical of countries at a similar level of economic development. Russia was in 1990, and is today, a middle-income country, with GDP per capita around $8,000 (at purchasing power parity) according to the UN -- comparable to Argentina in 1991 and Mexico in 1999. Almost all democracies in this income range are rough around the edges: their governments suffer from corruption, their judiciaries are politicized, and their press is almost never entirely free. They have high income inequality, concentrated corporate ownership, and turbulent macroeconomic performance. In all these regards, Russia is quite normal. Nor are the common flaws of middle-income capitalist democracies incompatible with further economic and political progress...
One reason many people tend to portray today's Russia as a disaster and a failure is that most people didn't realize what a failure the Soviet Union was. It put on a brave outward show, with cosmonauts, parades of tanks, Olympic athletes, etc. But in fact its economy was rotten from top to bottom, decrepit, crime-ridden and impoverished.

One reason our view was distorted was that the Soviet Union was analyzed and described for us by experts in government and the academy. And since the very premise of the Soviets was that things would run better if controlled by�yes, you guessed it�experts in government and the academy...our analysts tended to paint a rosy picture.

One of the many debts we owe to Ronald Reagan, is that he pushed the CIA and others to start looking for evidence of Soviet economic failure. He knew it would be there, and in fact, we had a LOT of such evidence. But it was in the form of many obscure pieces that had always been ignored because they didn't fit expectations. That was the beginning of a return to sanity and American values, after decades when our leadership was drugged by the idea that Socialism was a workable alternative to freedom.

Posted by John Weidner at February 24, 2004 8:28 PM
Weblog by John Weidner