Staunton, October 17 – “To a great extent, no one is administering Russia” or interested in investigating what is actually going on, according to Simon Kordonsky, a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. Instead, Russia “lives by inertia,” with the state being unaware of how uninformed it is and the population living according to its own lights.
The level of the government’s ignorance about what is happening is reflected in the census which undercounts the population, but the regime doesn’t care because it is living by its own lights as well – a situation few understand because the regime funds research only if they are presented as countering a threat.
For Russia, “statistics are not a form of accounting but a form of control,” Kordonsky says. Rosstat only counts firms with a lot of employees and ignores the rest; the tax service counts only those who pay taxes and ignores the rest; and consequently, many small businesses and many individuals simply aren’t part of the state’s image of the country.
(For details on this problem which Kordonsky and his team have investigated, see “A Third of Russians Outside Major Cities ‘Invisible’ to State Statisticians, Sociologists Say,” Window on Eurasia, October 12, 2015.)
This pattern reflects the absence of administration or as some might put it “the ineffective use of resources,” because since the numbers on which government decisions are made are incorrect, “none of the goals which are set in state investment programs are fulfilled,” the Moscow scholar says.
As a result, he continues, “that which takes place in the government is far from everything which takes place in the country.” And this leads to a continuing offense-defense problem: the government intensified budgetary control and “people invent ways to get out from under this control.”
The government tries to paper this over with its propaganda, but “this operates not on the minds [of Russians] but only on [their] rhetoric,” setting the terms in which people discuss things but not determining how they in fact act, Kordonsky says. For example, Russians talk about business when in fact “there has never been business” in Russia, only “craftwork.”
Business and craftwork are two very different things, he points out. “Business works on the basis of capital,” while craftwork operates on respect, that is, on social capital.” The Russian government typically treats the latter like the former even though the latter “has entirely different needs.”
Before Khrushchev’s time, the entire country worked on a craftsman basis to survive. Then Nikita Khrushchev struck against that part of the economy and thus drove it into the shadows. In the 1990s, crafts “began to be reborn but were already understood as a business” even though in many cases they were not.
Vladimir Putin’s 2012 decrees forcing the government to work as it did in Soviet times on the basis of “indicators.” That has meant that “all statistics and all the activity of state bodies are now directed at the implementation of decrees and the fulfillment of these indicators.” Everything else “simply isn’t considered. And cannot be counted.”
And that has another consequence, Kordonsky argues. If the government tries to impose state control over these craftwork operations, people “simply flee into other forms of occupation” in order to avoid being controlled. In many cases, they complain about all this when one first speaks with them but then acknowledge that things aren’t so bad after all.
Among the other comments Kordonsky makes, three are of particular interest: First, he says, because people can extract resources from the state only if they claim to be “neutralizing threats,” they will have an interest in positing or creating the threat of war which is the largest of all to get the most resources.
Second, he continues, it is time to “get rid of all these Soviet stereotypes” like “shadow economy.” There isn’t a shadow economy; it is quite open; it just isn’t counted or taken into consideration by the authorities. Russia lacks an adequate set of terms for describing Russian reality.
And third, if such a vocabulary is going to emerge, he concludes, it will be necessary to investigate conditions in the country. “But no one is involved in the investigation of the country” at the necessary level. Only a few groups of scholars are interested in what is happening in Russia. The state, in contrast, has no interest in such research at all.