October 2014

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I'm not sure why they publish articles like these. It gives the impression that the Russian government is still undergoing a fluid transition towards democracy, when in fact this is probably not the case. Current Russian democratic institutions, as I understand them (and my knowledge hardly goes beyond what I learned in a class on the Russian Government -- which was actually quite comprehensive), are almost built to perpetuate the power of the executive branch.

It seems like there is a tendency towards liberalism, but this tendency is almost built into "the system" (largely, if I remember correctly, because of growing autonomy being awarded to the provinces as a means of temporarily guaranteeing their loyalty to Moscow and the executives). At the same time, there are obvious obstacles -- how authoritarianism has been reinforced by an almost corrupt judicial branch. So, as far as these years being pivotal for Russian democracy, I don't see how they are.

Russia has been sliding further and further into a system of crony state capitalism, in which real economic liberty is practically non-existent, and personal freedom is restricted.

Little can be done in the economic sphere that does not involve connections, bribery, and power-relationships.

The latest issue of "The Economist" has a special feature on the growth of state capitalism around the world, and high-lights many of these trends and forms in modern-day Russia.

The media is dominated and/or controlled by the State, with little news on television that does not represent the views of those in power in the Kremlin.

Political opposition has been confined into a small circle of those parties that either support or do not threaten the existing power structures.

The two mass demonstrations in Moscow (and some other Russian cities to a smaller extent) in December were ways of the authorities letting people "let off steam" without any real impact on the direction of government policy and who is in charge.

And while the news coverage of these events said that they passed without violence or police interference, the fact is videos taken by ordinary Russians with their telephones often showed something very different. Citizens roughed up, beaten up, and even arrested.

At the same time, those who may be classified as Russian liberals are few and far between. Most of the opposition groups against the current regime are nationalists, communists, statists, racists and anti-Western types of various sorts.

The idea of a truly free Russia that respects the individual rights of the citizens (political, personal, and economic) is still only a hope that awaits far into the future.

Richard Ebeling

Richard,

I once read (I think in a New York Times article) that the media was one of the few things that the executive branch of the Russian government tried to control the least, because they used it as a means of gauging popular opinion. If, in a sense, the executive branch could put icing on otherwise unpopular policies they could at least claim some popular support for United Russia (which has been losing votes).

From everything I see and hear, Russian television carries virtually nothing (either in Moscow or other cities around the country) that does not reflect the official government line -- and rarely anything that would imply criticism or questioning of Putin, et al.

There are some more independent newspapers and of course, most of the internet is outside of that type of government direct control (unlike in China from all that I read). Indeed, the reality of the size of the demonstrations in December and the use of the police to rough up people was only clear due to the videos on the internet.

But as Mises and others have long argued, the more tightly the government controls and/or regulates the market, the less personal and economic freedom possessed by the individual.

And as James Buchanan Hayek, and others have emphasized as a complement to that argument, private property, therefore, is the guardian of freedom by giving an individual arena of autonomy and control over his life independent of the state.

Richard Ebeling

The policies of interventionism all over the world by the present US administration do not help Russian relations. The US-Russia problems have little to do, in my estimation, with the fact that Russia is crony-capitalist and undemocratic. Since when does the US government care about that, except as a public relations ploy? It is about international power politics.

Any hope of democracy is over in both Russia and the Ukraine. I am happily home from a very recent trip (all this week) to Kiev with several Russian collegues, where we spent a week trying to understand the tangled web of crony captitalism and oligarchs that now run the society in the Ukraine. Nothing runs without the nod of the "officials". Mass citizens in both Kiev and Moscow are very frustrated with the lack of ability to even clear snow from the streets, and it only gets worse from there. Protests now happen weekly, but nobody really knows what to do. Everyone seems to be looking for that person who can bring back order and progress.

If there ever was a textbook empirical example of a people running in a full sprint down the road to serfdom, it is occuring in both Russia and the Ukraine. A very sad picture indeed.

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