On Putin, Autocracy, Economic Growth, And Flawed Logic

Alex has kindly provided the following comment to my February 3 post, "What Does Autocracy Have To Do With Russia’s Economic Growth?":

"Unfortunately Eugene your logic is as flawed as Putin’s political system. Clearly "sovereign democracy" was not the driver of growth in Russia, the driver of growth was high commodity prices and the action taken prior to Putin’s arrival, the devaluation of Russia’s currency. Given how Russia’s economic growth lags behind many post soviet countries that lack such natural resources, it is clear that an autocratic "sovereign democracy" actually impeded growth. In anycase the authorities now have the means at their disposal to deal witha restless population should a downturn occur which given the effect of the so called "Dutch disease" can be seen right now in the Rusian economy is not all that far fetched."

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your comment.  I think it’s safe to say that you aren’t a great admirer of President Putin and his record.  And that’s fine.  You also seem to follow a logic (shall we call it flawless?) according to which criticizing Putin’s critics amounts to being a closet autocrat, to put it mildly.  And that’s fine, too.  Contemporary Russia invites strong emotions, and some excesses are excusable.

I’m afraid, though, that in the rush to label my logic, you’ve misunderstood what I was saying.

I didn’t defend "Putin’s political system." I criticized Michael McFaul for his yet another attempt to distort Putin’s record based on completely superficial — and existing apparently only in McFaul’s head — link between autocracy and economic growth.

Throughout McFaul’s piece (which, I’m sure, you’ve read and profoundly enjoyed), you can find claims like that:

"Authoritarians elsewhere…have held up Putin’s accomplishments…as proof that autocracy has a future."

"Many of Putin’s defenders, including some Kremlin officials, contend that Russia’s democratic retreat has enhanced the state’s ability to provide for its citizens."

"Kremlin officials…frequently evoke China as a model…that Russian leaders admire and want to emulate."

Which "authoritarians elsewhere"?  Who are those mysterious "Kremlin officials" making these idiotic claims?  Can McFaul call at least one of them by name?  Do they actually exist except that in McFaul’s imagination?

They don’t.  "Authoritarians elsewhere" and "Kremlin officials" are windmills created by McFaul the Don Quixote in order to victoriously defeat them.

Now, what has been the driver of economic growth in Russia in 2000-2007 is a separate question.  High commodity prices?  Absolutely.  But what about conservative monetary policy, flat income and reduced corporate taxes?  Have those been implemented "prior to Putin’s arrival"?

What is your explanation, Alex? "The devaluation of Russia’s currency"?  Really?  Tell that to those morons in the U.S. Congress who are worried about the American economy heading to a recession.  Tell them that the loosing value American dollar is a sure sign of an imminent economic recovery.

"The devaluation of Russia’s currency" had resulted in wiping off ordinary people’s savings and widespread poverty.  It’s the ability of the Putin’s administrations to pay salaries and pensions on scale well ahead of inflation that led to economic growth — by boosting disposable incomes and, consequently, consumer spending.  It’s booming consumer spending, not worthless money, that drives economic growth in Russia and elsewhere.

There is absolutely no evidence "that an autocratic "sovereign democracy" actually impeded growth."  There is no evidence to the contrary, either.  It’s a matter of faith, not math.

What is hard to deny is that the "sovereign democracy" has saved Russia as a sovereign state.

Quite naturally, I’d appreciate your further insight on the subject.


Eugene Ivanov


About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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