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16 July 2008

Leon Aron - Back in the USSR?

Leon Aron is the director of Russian studies and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. On Monday, 14 July, he published a column in the Washington Post providing an interesting update on Russia. He draws a parallel with the USSR under Brezhnev, when the USSR was benefiting from high oil prices in the 1970s. Under Brezhnev, many of the excesses that later helped lead to the fall of the Soviet Union became SOP. Under Putin and his minions, Russia has become increasingly authoritarian, corrupt, and has burdened the economy with ever greater statism.

In the 1970s the Soviets consumed 8 liters of strong alcoholic beverages each, which was more than the people of any other country. As a result, male life expectancy fell from 67 to 62 years between 1964 and 1980. Now, per capita consumption of vodka is 10 liters according to Russian officials, but experts say it is definitely higher than that. In the U.S. consumption of strong alcoholic beverages is 2.57 liters per capita. Life expectancy for Russian men now is 60.6 years or 15 years shorter than in the U.S. and the European Union.

70% of the food in Russian cities is imported. The denationalization of land in the 1990s lead to food surpluses, which the USSR had not had, but the failure to put land property rights on a sound basis has again led to food shortages. Local officials use their continued power over land rights to force entrepreneurs and farmers to share their output and income with them.

Russia is ruled by the United Russia party, which rigs elections. There is no effective opposition to demand that disastrous policies be changed. Putin has achieved stability in the nomenklatura. His followers are given positions free of criticism and without consequences for their failures.

Russia, with China, has been helping the Iranians with their nuclear program. Russia is once again flying planes along the edges of our airspace in practice attack sessions. As the country has come under increasingly dictatorial rule, it has followed the usually increasingly aggressive nature of such regimes. But, the present rulers are also repeating the mistakes of Brezhnev and company and are setting Russia up for another fall when oil prices drop and can no longer support such a rotten structure.

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