Tuesday, July 5, 2016

After Initial ‘Painful Reaction,’ Russians ‘Quietly Adapting to Crisis,’ New Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 5 – Dostoyevsky’s observation that “man is not a pig; he can get used to anything” is being confirmed by the attitudes of Russians about the economic crisis they find themselves in. If their first response was to cry out in pain, now, a new study finds, they “quietly adapting” to the new order of things.

            That shift in turn is leading, experts at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service and the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy say, to “’negative stabilization with an accent on greater adaptive activity,’” according to a report on their work by “Inna Degotkova of “Novyye izvestiya” (newizv.ru/lenta/2016-07-04/242072-zatishe-posle-shoka.html).

            And what this means, of course, is that the Russian reactions to the economic situation, the product of collapsing oil prices, underlying problems with the Russian system, and the sanctions and counter-sanctions regime, are likely to have even less impact on Kremlin decision-making in the future than it has had on Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime in the past.

            According to surveys by the two Moscow institutions, Degotkova reports, 35 percent of Russians say that “the situation in the economy of the country has not changed. A third expect that the situation will get better in the coming months, while a quarter think that “the situation has stabilized.” 

            “What is curious,” the journalist observes, is that the share of those who expect a lengthy crisis or, on the contrary, an improvement of the situation has declined,” even though more granular data show that the Russian population is suffering from the severe economic downturn of the last few years.

            “Every fourth Russian (26 percent) says he has seen his pay decline,” 11 percent more than did so in February 2015. And every fifth (20 percent) says he has not been paid on time, a figure 20 times as great as Rosstat reports. At the same time, 15 percent report losing their jobs, eight percent having to shift to part-time work, and 11 percent forced into the shadow economy.

            Approximately half of the population (49.2 percent) say that they have adopted one or another “adaptive strategies” to cope with the current situation. Some have returned to school in order to qualify for new jobs, but the two most common tactics are using private plots to raise food (32 percent) and buying only goods likely to last a long time (33.3 percent).

            Members of Russia’s middle class, the new survey suggests, are more likely to have come up with adaptive strategies than the population as a whole.  Only about a third (35 percent) of its members say they don’t have a plan to adapt to the economic crisis, compared to 61.5 percent of all Russians.

            There are three reasons for this pattern, experts at the two institutes say. First, most of its members have not seen a sharp decline in their standard of living. Second, “its representatives are less pessimistic about finding new work.” And third, members of this class are twice as likely as others to come up with new ideas about “how to live in the future.”

            At the same time, Degotkova says, the study concludes that “on the whole, Russians also have become more optimistic in their assessment of the prospects for escaping from the crisis.” The share of those who think it will be prolonged has declined, as has the number of those who say their situation has gotten worse.

            The study concludes that Russians initial reaction to the economic crisis, one of shock, has been replaced by a more calm assessment of their situations and the expectation among most that there won’t be any “sudden new changes” with which they will have to cope, the “Novyye izvestiya” journalist says.

            Tatyana Maleva, the director of the Institute for Social Analysis and Prediction at the Russian Academy, says that this points to what people call “negative stabilization.” According to her, Russians don’t see anything now pointing to rapid deterioration or rapid improvement and so prefer “to do nothing except to try to save money” for their own futures.

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