Staunton, November 6 – One of the reasons why increasing income inequality in many countries has not become a political problem is that many of those at the bottom of the income pyramid envy rather than hate the rich because they believe that they may have the chance to become rich themselves.
Many assume that Russians, especially given the record of the 1917 revolution and the wage egalitarianism promoted by the Soviet system, find the newly and extravagantly wealthy Russian oligarchs appropriate objects of hated. And they can certainly point to many statements by Russian commentators and ordinary Russians in support of that conclusion.
And so such people assume, especially those who talk about some innate Russian backing for equality, that the regime must support policies that will gradually lessen or at least hide the differences in wealth between the top one percent or top ten percent and the increasingly impoverished bottom lest the country face a revolutionary situation.
But one commentator, Aleksandr Rusin, casts doubt on this, argues that poorer Russians may condemn the rich but they envy them. “As long as the people remain … occupied with shopping … it will fall on its knees before the oligarchs because it explicitly or implicitly recognizes their success and envies them” (publizist.ru/blogs/110401/21155/-).
If Rusin is right, three things follow: First, increasing income inequality in Russia may not lead to revolt; second, the issue of social “lifts,” the channels by which people feel they have that chance, are more important; and third, the way the government media are “domesticating” and “making normal” the existence of the very rich deserves far more attention.
But even if he is only partially correct – and that is likely the safest conclusion – his argument means that Russia has made a transition from its past that may be far more fundamental to its future than many of the changes that have occurred and that have attracted far more attention.