Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Proposed Pension Reforms Would Undermine Putin Regime, Kholmogorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 10 – To save money, the Russian finance ministry has proposed to raise the retirement age to 65, end pension payments to those who are still working, and otherwise reduce the amount Moscow has to pay out.  Many are horrified, but in fact, the reform doesn’t go far enough for those who want radical change in Russia, Stanislav Belkovsky says.

            While “all the progressive Russian world” has recoiled in horror from the ministry’s plan with even the deputy prime minister demanding that the reform not be taken seriously (vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2016/04/29/639692-golodets-minfin), the Russian commentator says by way of a kind of “modest proposal” that the government should go further.

            In a commentary on the Snob.ru portal, he points out that it would have been difficult to think of any proposal just before Duma elections that could harm the ruling party with its most reliable supporters, pensioners and those who expect to be pensioners soon under the current rules (snob.ru/selected/entry/108080).

            It is very much an open question just how much the government’s plan would save, he suggests, but its proposals and the even more radical ones Belkovsky offers, he suggests, would exert a powerful influence on Russian “national psychology” and thus “merit the most decisive support.”

            In this “game,” he says, those who work are “passive participant[s]:” while the “active” player is the state which forces you to work.” Under those conditions, people feel that they haven’t “earned” their pensions but rather are experiencing “the greatest display of state mercy to themselves.”

            And he adds, “within the framework of this logic, it is not you who create national wealth but the state which then shares it with you.  A pension is the embodiment of the Russian dream not to work” and at the same time a reaffirmation of the notion that Russians should be grateful for the generosity of the state.”

            People who feel this way are not going to become “responsible citizens” prepared to take control of their own lives. That will be “impossible,” Belkovsky suggests. Such people can only be “state slaves” with various amounts of possibility permitted by the regime.

            But the situation would be radically transformed, he continues, “if it suddenly became clear that it is practically impossible to live to receive one’s pension.”  If the pension age is boosted not to 65 but to 67 or even more, that will become the case for most Russians – and that brave new world will change how they view themselves and the state.

            They will recognize, he continues, that they have been “working not in order to achieve an early flight from the oppression of work but for their own flourishing because there is no other way out.” And with that view, they will see the state not as the source of their well-being in retirement but rather as an institution they have rights against and can make demands of.

            Pension age in Russia, Kholmogorov continues, “this is the psychological gates of age. And when one goes on a pension, one becomes an old man or an old woman.” It would be best for that date to be as late as possible and set not in a “round” year divisible by ten or five but rather 67 or if ultimately possible 72.

            The Russian commentator says he also welcomes the equalization of retirement ages for men and women in the name of “real gender equality.” He says he would, however, like to see an earlier retirement ages set for LGBT people because of the difficulties they currently face in Russian life.

            In support of his modest proposal, Kholmogorov reminds his readers that “a change of power in Russia … [will be] impossible without the transformation of political culture” and that won’t happen “without a revolution in political consciousness.” Pension reform can be a first step in that direction, especially if it is even more radical than the government is now proposing.

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