Thursday, June 14, 2007

Money is not everything…

Just got finished reading Robert Amsterdam's "The Economic Perks of Autocracy". Amsterdam's premise is that Russia's current human rights abuses and their burgeoning autocracy does not seem to be dissuading investor's from both climbing on the bandwagon and showering Putin with praise. He makes it clear that from this perspective, Putin does not seem to be doing anything inherently illogical but that the west seems to be missing the point of its own rhetoric.

    The experience of booming business in Russia accompanied by eroding liberties has revived an old debate - what will happen if and when dictatorships are able to outperform democracies in economic growth? Why bother advocating for rule of law in such a situation? In fact, this has been the principal underlying rationale behind Vladislav Surkov's doctrine of sovereign democracy - that Russians are yet mature enough to be responsible for the selection of their own leaders, and that perhaps after another decade of economic growth under state corporatism can the Kremlin's grip on political and economic power be loosened.

To me the irony here is wasted. I ask you: Do you really think that Russia cares one iota what you think of how they run their country? Do you think they lose any sleep at all about your "human rights" issues? Their manner of doing business, and this also is true of Belarus, is that they take a proposition, figure every possible angle about how to exploit it and then do so. Simplest business plan in the history of the world.

What they do not do is worry about their image. They do not waste money on a bunch of spin doctor type lawyers to deal with potential public backlash. (I guess this is really where the human rights problems comes in because generally, there is no backlash.) They do not have any particular middlemen to worry about because in general, they control the entire system all the way down the line. They also have no particular internal squabbles to slow things down. Or in other words, though we like to decry a socialist approach as being bad for the creative, independent individual, apparently, it kicks ass in business circles.

Mr. Amsterdam also touches on the point that does have some irony in it; The same people who are attacking Russia for being "an immature people" or for moving away from rather than towards some sort western style democracy, are also, surprise, surprise, interested themselves in making a buck. Is the point here that it was a shocking revelation that money could be a motivator towards doing immoral acts? Boggles my mind; Is this possible?

All sarcasm aside, I think what is lacking here is a bottom line. To me the real issue here is that Russia still is communist. Sorry to mess with your head, but it is the truth. Or maybe it is better to say that the country is populated by people who are commies in their souls. Well, there is no across the board pay check or public speeches about how to get along and act socially but if this is not true they are at least completely socialist and for sure don't think of the word communist as being anything dirty.

So having said this, I believe that the problem we have is that Mr. Amsterdam seems to be asking which is more important: The money or the people. I will let you mull over this thought for a moment but to me, this question carries more irony that all the irony in all the irony mines. I say this because this was exactly the point of glasnost and perestroika sixteen years ago. That Reagan is standing there next to Gorbachev yelling "tear down the wall" is only happening because Gorbachev needs something from Reagan. And this of course was money, or at least investment. At that moment, The Soviet Union knew better than they knew how many shots there are in a bottle of vodka that they didn't have a damned thing to sell but their humanity. What they were hoping for was a warm fiscal hand in return for tearing down that wall and dropping the iron curtain; for ending the cold war and the accompanying threat of nuclear holocaust. They just wanted some help feeding themselves.

They…did…not…get… it.

They did not get it for fifteen years actually. What they did get was treated like second class citizens, used for sex tours, denied access to European ports and trade, and exploited for every last thing that could be found including their children. What they did get was carpet bagged, hard-balled, lo-balled and ripped off. These last statements are debatable, but for sure what they didn't get was any sorts of warm, friendly human handshakes. It must have been quite a shock to them. Eventually though they seem to have learned their lessons. Ever heard of a hostile takeover? Ever heard of the phrase 'corporate downsizing'? Ever heard of the phrase 'The bottom line'? Russia didn't invest ruthless business practices (Or the accompanying high profitability) they have simply found a way to exploit a natural resource to catapult them into business, finally, and they seem to be making the most of it.

Having a depressed Russia may have meant a safe night's sleep for all of those capitalists on the move. But for the Russians, it was just depression.

So don't be so surprised if Russia doesn't care what you think. In fact, where is what they are doing any different from how 90% of all westerners would do business if they could? Where is it so unbelievable that there is such a thing as businessmen without any particular moral obligation to their fellow man? Are we saying that this is shocking from them? Where is this so unusual?

I think Mr. Amsterdam uses the word hypocrisy in his conclusion a bit naively. There is nothing going on here business-wise that is not going on all over the world at the moment. And if there is a real irony here it is that the bi-polar argument used to refer to socialism/communism balancing out capitalism, and forcing it to remember that business is not just for profit but also to support labor and consequently communities. Or to put it another way, without the Soviet Union to remind us that it just might be possible to live together, the world might just tear itself apart from greed.

I think the real lesson here, and I think it is obvious as hell, is that it was the west, not the Russians who weren't growing up.

12 Comments:

Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Anonymous John Q LAw said...

I really don't agree when you say things like "It's our own fault what happened to Russia". I think it is about fortunes of war. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. If they decided to quit being communists and to try to work with the USA, then this is what they needed to do. It is not the job of the United States to feed everyone else in the world. We are not communists. What you say about the Russian doing business like businessmen is the truth. And this is as it should be. Market economics. And this is why we won the war.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

James,
I have two takes on your comment James. Firstly, I am not sure I agree with you that people inside Belarus are without understanding, especially when it comes to issues of labor exploitation. Everyone here over the age of 35 was trained in Marxist principals and for sure, these ideas are well ingrained. As to your friends opinion that intelligence had been bread out, this is a very well known thought and is part of the cultural understanding of who they are. But saying that people do not understand what is going on around them is actually both foolish and insulting. Of course they know what is happening in their lives and they know so just exactly in the same way as you know about yours. But secondly, there is another side to the argument that at the bottom line, the people of the former Soviet Union do not believe that thinking purely of one's one selfish aims leads to anything but misery; nobody wants to be alone. And while it is true that the current socio/economic model is not the same as it was during the time of the USSR, i.e., people do not really feel that they are as one body or that they are a real part of things, they do understand that the job of the government is to provide for them and so therefore they are tied together and have vested interests. Therefore, in theory, a strong government is a strong country. So regardless of how much we might like to say that Russians money is not real, it seems to be real enough when it comes time to buy that loaf of bread. And so for this reason alone, it is just as appreciated.

John,
I am only saying that world events do not happen in a vacuum. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. To have been offered peace was not a war won, it was a battle ended. That the west decided to treat it as a victory, rather than an opportunity to make a real peace in the world, was what brought all of this animosity about.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger Nothing is Free said...

James,

So the average Russian, Chinese, etc., is a thoughtless serf, while the average American is a perfect rational prescient market agent?

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Anonymous Steve R said...

That's what the man said. I think many Americans make this same mistake. Maybe it is prejudice or maybe it is that we are spoiled by our wealth. Either way it is a classic mistake to underestimate one's enemy.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

I would like to chime in here that I actually am a believer that human selfishness does not necessarily and automatically take precedence over egalitarianism. I think most people like to think of themselves as being capable of being a hero. And for sure everyone knows that morally, doing for others is what it is all about. Every parent at least knows about this. This is not to say that people aren't selfish. Of course they are they are and frankly one wouldn't live very long if they really never thought of themselves. Probably die of starvation. But there is a difference between accepting selfishness as a part of life and building upon self-indulgence and greed as a manor of culture or social and economic elevation as is taught in the west. To me, this is easily as big a crime, if not worse, then communism was supposedly supposed to have been. If teaching people not to use resources, to live as inexpensively as possible and to try and learn to get along rather than making problems was so bad, then teaching them the polar opposite, to fight and claw for every single available resource without regard to consequences is equally bad. I mean, the results of the first might be less personal excitement but the results of the second is global ecological and social collapse. So I myself am not so fast to buy into this old tired argument and never have been. A healthy mix is always better than an unstable extreme.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I do believe in Adam Smith economics to the extent that the market should be allowed to take care of itself. So in this case for sure I am not against private, independent business. In fact I believe that having an extensive ownership class is essential for any community retaining a vested interest in where they live. What I am against is the attitude that says that the money taken is mutually exclusive from the service or the jobs that the business provides. Recognizing the symbiotic relationships inherent in any community is life, failing to see it, or ignoring it out of a sense of personal greed is death.

Friday, June 15, 2007  
Anonymous LASunsett said...

BH, Two things.

1. Many Americans have trouble distinguishing between economic and political systems, of communism. It is possible to have one without the other, or both simultaneously. China has a free market economy, yet is even more politically communist, than Russia.

2. The thing about Russia's economy that many do not take into consideration, is its roots. When economic communism was the system, the only real way to get goods was through the black market. Naturally, those supply lines were run by some unsavory characters with some unsavory methods (as is the case with the American mafiosos).

So when Russia made the transition to market economy, many of the supply lines stayed the same, the people that ran them stayed the same, and some of the methods of doing business stayed the same. Whereas, in America, the coercive business practice may bring to mind something along the line of a "leveraged buyout", in Russia it may bring a swift and sure beating.

All in all, you are right when you say that Russia doesn't give a damned what anyone thinks right now. Human rights, business practices, whatever, they are open for business and you can take it or leave it. If they have something you want, you do it their way or else do without. And if there is no other source for what you want, then they really have you by the balls.

Saturday, June 16, 2007  
Anonymous John Q Law said...

I think it is one thing to talk about crime bosses and oligarchs. It is another to live with them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home