Staunton, June 21 – The median income of Russians is currently 26,500 rubles (440 US dollars) a month, far below the 121,000 rubles (2000 US dollars) needed to be middle class in Moscow or even the 60,000 rubles (1,000 US dollars) to meet that standard in most of the regions of the country, according to the Analytic Credit Rating Agency (ARKA).
In a new study, the agency defines “middle class” in Russian conditions as having sufficient funds to buy high-quality goods, own property and a car, save some money, travel abroad, and not have difficulty meeting monthly bills. Typically, people in this category, it says, either have higher educations or are entrepreneurs (svpressa.ru/society/article/203255/).
Russian experts accept the findings of this study but dispute its definition of middle class. Andrey Bunich of the Union of Entrepreneurs and Landlords says that it fails to take into account the self-assessment of people: “Many [Russians] consider themselves middle class even though they really aren’t” in terms of income.
Adding that characteristic to the mix, he says, means that “the total number of people in the middle class [in Russia] can be estimated to be about 20 to 25 percent of the total population.” That is relatively small for a modernized country, but more disturbing, Buich suggests, is the composition of this group.
Overwhelmingly, it consists of bureaucrats who are dependent on the budget rather than the economy. The number of entrepreneurs is much smaller, perhaps “about five million.” Thus, the regional divergence reflects an unequal distribution of state funds. But overall, it means that the Russian middle class is “absolutely paternalistic” in its thinking.
That means that its middle class won’t play the same role in Russia that it has in Europe or the United States. Indeed, he suggests, it won’t promote business but rather because of its values retard the development of the economy.
Sociologist Aleksandr Prudnik agrees, arguing that “the middle class in Russia” consists mostly of bosses rather than those who make a direct contribution to the economy. And because the middle class in most countries defines the society, that means that the Russian one can’t promote development in the ways many expect.
But even the size of the middle class in Russia may be a problem, Aleksandr Safronov of the Academy of Labor and Social Relations says. Russia’s is declining as a share of the population because of the economic crisis and now forms far less than the 40 percent of the population most analysts say is needed for socio-political stability.
Consequently, he suggests, Russia’s middle class by its nature won’t produce the kind of economic and political development its counterparts have in the West and by its size may even become the basis for instability.
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