A new generation is rising in Russia 3-24-18

Source: Economist: 24 Mar 18 "Gorbachev's grandchildren"         

Russia pop pyramidThe term "Gorbachev's Grandchildren" refers to the generation born in 1985, the year Gorbachev came to power in the old USSR wit his focus on human values, individual well-being, perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). This generation is the largest age group in Russia today and as they enter their thirties, they are becoming more politically active. They also have a generational identity based on a shared trauma (see German sociologist Karl Mannheim for more on this idea of generational identity). For Gorbachev's Grandchildren, the shared trauma is the reversal of Gorbachev's values when Putin came to power, and their replacement by propaganda, aggression and lies.

Putin runs what Douglass North calls a "natural state". Rents are created by controlling access to economic and political resources and the limits and restrictions are enforced by the security/police - what North calls "specialists in violence". Putin has ruled like a warlord. Boris Nemtsov, an early liberal challenger to Putin was killed in 2015. Current opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (also a member of the Gorbachev Grandchildren generation) was convicted on trumped-up fraud charges and barred from running in the 2018 election, where Putin achieved a 75% victory amidst charges of election fraud. 

Putin runs a system in which entitlements, privileges and rents are allocated not according to law or merit but by access to resources and by position in the social hierarchy. From the article: "this system of conditional property rights has allowed Mr Putin’s friends and cronies to put their children into positions of wealth and power. Examples: the son of Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the National Security Council and former chief of the FSB, heads a state-owned bank. The son of Sergei Ivanov, another former KGB officer and old friend of Mr Putin, is the head of Alrosa, a state-owned firm which mines more diamonds than any other in the world. The son of Mikhail Fradkov, a former prime minister and intelligence service chief, heads a private bank which is the staple of the military-industrial complex. Many children of Mr Putin’s friends and cronies hold senior positions in Gazprom, Russia’s gas monopoly, or own firms that depend on its contracts. All of them enjoy positions and wealth thanks largely to their family names."

Gorbachev's Grandchildren started to get involved in the political process after the 2011 parliamentary election, seen as being rigged in favor of Putin and his cronies. This was also the year that Putin took back the Presidency in a trade with Medvedev. From the article: "Many care instead about what they can accomplish professionally rather than what they can get and about what they share, not what they own. They do not envy Mr Putin’s cronies who live behind high fences, fly on private jets and have built special rooms for their fur coats. They ridicule them. They hate the propaganda of state television, which for a long time was one of the main instruments of social control. It now irritates people more than the stagnating economy, according to Lev Gudkov of the Levada Centre, a think-tank. They live online in a world of individual voices. They speak a direct language. Hence the success of Yuri Dud, whose YouTube interviews of people with something to say, be they politicians, actors or rappers, are watched by millions. These are neither pro- nor anti-Kremlin but are simply outside the system."

From the article: "There are two parallel countries,” Mr Ovchinnikov says. “There is a country of smart and energetic people who want to make it open and competitive. And there is another country of security servicemen who drive in black SUVs extorting rents.” 

Looking into the near future - Putin is barred from serving past 2022. How will he and his cronies maintain their access to rents and who will succeed him?

Aleksei Navalny is the contender 6-10-17

Source: "The contender"       

All taken directly from article.

The campaign for Russia’s presidential election in 2018 has not yet begun. Once it does, Aleksei Navalny is unlikely to get on the ballot. A trumped-up conviction for embezzlement in 2013, though dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights, bars him from being registered. If that was not enough to put him off, he has already suffered a campaign of intimidation. On April 27th thugs threw green antiseptic mixed with acid in his face.

Over the past few months Mr Navalny has managed to mobilise volunteers, mostly through social media. His team boast they have opened 77 campaign headquarters in 65 regions. Such speed has caught the Kremlin by surprise. On March 26 2017 Mr Navalny brought thousands of people onto the streets in 90 Russian cities to protest against corruption. For now the government is trying to avoid further escalation. Physical attacks have mostly stopped. In the past Mr Navalny was pelted with eggs and tomatoes in nearly every town he visited. The aim was not simply to deter him from leaving home, but also to make him seem unpopular. The tactic failed. The protests in March were the largest since people took en masse to the streets 2011. This suggests that Mr Putin’s efforts to make voters forget about the national malaise by rallying them around the flag are not working as well as he hoped. Even after he annexed Crimea and started a war in Ukraine, Russians are still gloomy.

The political mood has changed over the past six years. The protests in 2011 were good-natured, mostly in Moscow, led by journalists and artists and lacked political leadership. Now the protest is angrier, geographically broader and involves younger people, many of them teenagers. Their main grievance is that the government offers them no appealing vision of the future. Protesters complain of the injustice, hypocrisy and cynicism of daily life. “Corruption steals our future” is their slogan. The new generation of protesters are hard for the Kremlin to win over. They eschew television in favour of YouTube videos and social media. Here, Mr Navalny has a clear advantage. He is banned from state television, but what of it? He rejects its output as propaganda and offers a digital alternative. His investigative film about the castles and yachts amassed by Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, has been viewed over 22m times. Even though he rarely appears on television, most Russians recognise Mr Navalny. For now, they largely disapprove of him, having been told by their government that he is a criminal. But this could change: in the most recent parliamentary elections 52% of Russians did not vote. If even a quarter of these abstainers chose to believe Navalny’s message that Russians can live better, the political landscape would shift dramatically

The end of neoliberalism in British politics 6-3-17

Source: "The middle has fallen out of British politics"         

For 40 years, British politics has been dominated by the “neoliberal” consensus - the belief that the gains made under the classical liberalism of the 19th Century could be maintained in the 20th Century. The tenets of neoliberalism are privatization; the reduction of government regulation; the lowering of taxes, especially for the wealthy and by encouraging globalization. Where neoliberalism failed was in reducing widespread income inequality and in addressing a sense of British social disintegration.

Before neoliberalism and after WW2, there was “Butskellism”, named after moderate conservative leader RA Butler and moderate labour leader Hugh Gaitskell. After WW2, the moderates in both parties embraced a welfare state that could encourage equality of opportunity through free education and provide security in the form of old-age pensions and nationalized health care. Butskellism encouraged state ownership of companies, especially utilities and government intervention in the economy (Keynesian demand management). William Beveridge was a Liberal economist whose 1942 report formed the framework for the post WW2 welfare state in Britain. Beveridge identified Five “Giant Evils" in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease.  

In the 1970’s, with rising unemployment and inflation, combined with half of Britain’s national income going into public spending, economic growth slowed. In the winter of 1979, the discontent reached a peak with multiple strikes and labor unrest shutting down entire sectors of the economy. Electricity had to be rationed. Margaret Thatcher and neoliberalism were seen as the cure for these ills. Government regulations were loosened, industries were privatized, global trade deals and the EU were embraced and the economy improved. Under Labour PM’s Blair and Brown, neoliberalism continued to be the dominant political ideology and their “New Labour” programs left Thatcher’s legacies intact while doing a better job of redistributing income.

Now in the post-Brexit UK, neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party embraces Thatcher-style neoliberalism. Real wages in the UK are down 10% since the 2008 financial crisis and it may be 2020 before they recover to 2008 levels. Workers on “zero hours contracts” (no benefits) numbered 100,000 in 2004 - there are over a million UK workers on zero-hour contracts today. As a result, even Conservatives like PM Teresa May are calling for government control over utilities and making statements that questioned belief in free markets is a mistake.

Ukraine - theatre of war 5/27/17

Article: "Theatre of war"      

 >Overview of the Ukraine crisis. Since the conflict began on April 12, 2014 when separatist Igor Girkin invaded Sloviansk in the eastern Ukraine, 10,000 people have been killed and 1.7 million people have been displaced. Ukraine says it is fighting against terrorists; Russia says brave Ukrainian separatists are fighting against a corrupt, fascist Ukrainian government. The conflict remains an undeclared war. Russia and the Ukraine are still trading partners.

> The long-term goal of separatist Girkin is a pan-Slavic state (“Novorossiya”) which would include Russia, Belarus and the eastern Ukraine.

Turkey's purge of the judiciary 5/20/17

Article: "Empty benches in Istanbul"  

Turkey’s President purges the judicial system. Recep Erdogan, the President of Turkey, survived a coup attempt from the Gulenists in July of 2016. Erdogan has removed one-fourth of Turkeys judiciary and prosecutors (over 4,000 people) for suspected Gulenist ties. Thanks to the new Turkish Constitution, narrowly ratified in April of ‘17, the executive branch selects the judges, instead of the prior system in which they were selected by a committee of fellow judges. The Constitution makes judicial selection a partisan process.

Aleksei Navalny brings Russia’s opposition back to life 4/1/17

Article: ""The young and restless"    

 Five years ago, large protests took place in Moscow and St. Petersburg over what was seen as a corrupt and fixed Parliamentary election. These protests were confined to the largest urban centers and were spontaneous (no central leadership). Putin’s response was to marginalize the protesters and distract the nation with nationalistic adventures in the Ukraine and Syria. It worked - Putin enjoys an 80% approval rating today.  Now (March 26) there are new anti-corruption protests targeting Putin’s #2, Medvedev. These protests are different in that they are happening all over the country, in urban and rural areas and are centrally-led by prospective presidential candidate Aleksei Navalny.

> From the article: A group of anthropologists from the Russian Presidential Academy who have studied attitudes among young people say they lack the fear of authority instilled during the Soviet era, and are more attached than their elders to universal values such as honesty and dignity. The Soviet coping mechanisms of cynicism and doublethink are notably absent among the young. They see Russia’s current elite as financially and morally corrupt, and find Mr Navalny’s simple slogan, “Don’t lie and don’t steal”, compelling. Television, the medium which Mr Putin’s government uses to manipulate mass opinion, has little effect on the young, who mainly get their news from the internet. The power of the regime’s use of television relies on the majority of Russians choosing to be passive spectators of the political narratives which the government creates for them. According to the Levada Centre, most Russians believe that “nothing depends on us.” The younger generation appears to be different. “I need to exercise my civil rights if I don’t want to live my life complaining about the country in which I was born,” says a 20-year-old student in Moscow. “It is wrong to say that ‘nothing depends on us.’ Of course it does.”