Thursday, April 01, 2004

Russian democracy - there's still hope

The bad news about Russia is overhyped, says this NBER paper:
Russia's economic and political systems remain far from perfect. However, their defects are typical of countries at its level of economic development. Both in 1990 and 2003, Russia was a middle income country, with GDP per capita around $8,000 at purchasing power parity, a level comparable to that of Argentina in 1991 and Mexico in 1999. Countries in this income range have democracies that are rough around the edges, if they are democratic at all. Their governments suffer from corruption, and their press is almost never entirely free. Most also have high income inequality, concentrated corporate ownership, and turbulent macroeconomic performance. In all these regards, Russia is quite normal. Nor are the common flaws of middle income, capitalist democracies incompatible with further economic and political development-if they were, Western Europe and the US would never have left the 19th century.
This sounds about right to me. Of course, the biggest difference between Russia and, say Mexico, is several thousand nuclear warheads. Thus, holding Russia to a higher standard makes sense, so as we don't let this skew our perception of her.

The more important point in my mind is that Russia does not count as evidence for the case made by various rulers that their valves on political freedom must admit only trickles.

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