Pessimism Sweeps Russia (Op-ed)

At the same time, the pessimism of the elites has a much more serious impact on the country’s prospects than the pessimism of the people. The latter can be even viewed as a kind of “strategic reserve”: if the people are very pessimistic, even minor changes can lead people out of the stupor and catalyze their initiative.

However, the pessimism of the authorities blocks most economic processes and prevents any chances for development. Expenditures of the Russian budget increased by more than 62% between 2011 and 2018. But the population has not experienced an improvement in their financial situation.

The infrastructure has not developed significantly; the country’s systemic problems have not been solved. It seems that Russia’s fundamental problem today is that the “pessimistic” bureaucrats, who are not confident in their prospects or the stability of control over the country, are ready to appropriate any amount of funds without any visible consequences.

Can optimism return in Russia? This task is not complicated, at least in theory. The authorities should stop appropriating a growing proportion of the public goods. On the one hand, they should ease back the tax burden, allowing people to dispose of their own earnings. On the other hand, lift the pressure of all kinds of power agencies on entrepreneurs.

This is perhaps the most important factor curbing economic growth today. After accelerating economic growth, similar steps would improve expectations. Thereby, overcoming the pessimistic attitudes among the public.

At the same time, they would end much fear among the elites about the unreliability and fragility of their own position. Society cannot live with a pessimism permeating all the social strata for a long time. This is why the situation must be changed as soon as possible, especially in economic terms since people are no longer influenced by political rhetoric and promises when assessing their own prospects.

How realistic would it be to put such a turnaround into practice? How can one force officials to limit themselves to the revenues from the “first” oil and stop stealing from the people in small things and stop blocking the opportunities for people to earn money? This is the main question of our time, and the answer will determine the prospects of survival of the system.

I believe that change is unlikely. Mostly because the Russian ruling elites have no ideology that could join them and force them to act in a forward-looking way. Today, ordinary people survive on their own and bureaucrats also act on their own, enriching themselves as much as they can. Neither the lower social strata nor the elites have any vision of the future. The absence of such a vision generates a deficit of historical optimism, pushing the system towards a debacle.

Vladislav Inozemtsev is the director of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies in Moscow. This column was originally published by the Riddle. The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.