Saturday, January 20, 2018

‘Mass Poverty Threatens Russia’s Very Existence,’ Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 20 – Poverty is so widespread in Russia today, Yevgeny Gontmakher says, that it represents a threat to Russia’s existence not only because people concerned only about survival can’t think about development but also because there exists a vicious circle between poverty and growth as a whole.

            In an article for Moskovsky komsomolets yesterday, the sociologist and commentator, says that the share of the population that is poor is not the 13 percent the government likes to use or the 25 percent who can’t meet their basic needs but rather the 41 percent who say they don’t have enough money for clothes or even food (

            “Sociologists have noted for a long time,” Gontmakher says, that the values of survival rather than development now dominate Russian families,” not just those who are genuinely poor but a majority of the population, including those who would not be counted by any normal statistical measure as poor.

            “What does this mean in fact?” the commentator asks rhetorically.  “Such a family can’t purchase nice housing, pay for additional education and quality medical services which are ever more often becoming ‘for pay,’ and to take a genuine vacation.”  Poverty is especially high in areas outside of the capital, and that too has serious consequences.

            Because people in the regions earn on average half as much as those in Moscow, there is enormous pressure on them to leave for the cities in the hopes of improving their standard of living. And that in turn has the effect of overwhelming the infrastructure of the capital and leaving many of the new arrivals in poverty and despair and their former homes without people.

            “The social lifts about which now so many are talking have simply stopped as a result both for many young Russians and for many not so young ones as well,” Gontmakher says.

            He says that he is describing the situation in catastrophic terms because it is a catastrophe, and everyone, officials and experts alike, need to stop talking about the economy only in terms of GDP changes each quarter.  The real problems are much deeper than that – and will overwhelm the economy and the country as a whole.

            If the government and the expert community recognize this, Gontmakher continues, they will then be in a position to propose policies to address the problem rather than as now sweeping it under the rug or thinking it can be solved by subsidies from the state of one kind or another. That is not where the problem is.

            Instead, it is “in the passivity of the Russian who is accustomed to paternalism from the state” and whose poverty only reinforces that view, something Putin has exploited but that is now blocking the development of the country and any chance that it can break out of its current crisis.

            What Russia needs, Gontmakher argues, is to radically reduce the role of the state in the economy and society, “beginning with the development of real … local self-administration and ending with the departure of the state from many sectors of the economy, responsibility for which should be assumed by the private initiative of small and mid-sized entrepreneurs.”

            Because addressing poverty means addressing the entire system, the sociologist’s analysis suggests, there are few who are willing to take up the challenge, thus ensuring that the purchasing power of the population which could help Russia to get out of its crisis won’t be there and that pessimism and despair will grow perhaps to fatal dimensions.   

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