Thursday, September 26, 2019

Is Proposed ‘Samogon Index’ Only Way to Show Russian Standard of Living is Rising?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – It is long been known that when the incomes of Russians fall, they do not stop drinking but rather shift first to cheaper brands then to still cheaper moonshine (samogon) and finally to alcohol surrogates like perfume or cleaning products to get the alcohol they crave.

            Now, Aleksey Zubets, the director of social-economic research at the Russian government’s Finance University, reporting that purchases of such illicit alcohol have dropped, has suggested that Russia track that via an index of samogon production in order to show that Russians’ standard of living is improving (

            He argues that “the production and consumption of home-made alcohol is one of the indicators of the economic situation in the country,” because when things are getting worse, people drink less officially registered and taxed vodka and turn instead to unregistered, untaxed and cheaper samogon.

            Thus, while “the growth in the consumption of home-made or illegal alcohol means indicates the decline in the real incomes of people, the reduction in the production and consumption of home-made and illegal strong alcohol beverages testifies to the increase of the incomes of Russians and their ability to acquire better quality alcohol production.”

            Research by his institute over the last year shows, Zubets says, that “the production of home-made alcohol and the amount of its trade in Russia has actually not grown and the shifts of these indicators is within the statistical margin of error.” That suggests, he says, that “in the coming months, we will observe the growth of the real incomes of citizens.”

            Thus, the government’s Finance University has come up with “a new index for the economic crisis,” Andrey Riskin of Nezavisimaya gazeta says, one that is far from unproblematic. Not only do some people simply like moonshine better, but for all kinds of reasons they may choose it over vodka in the shops.

            Proposing to use samogon purchases and consumption as some kind of “index of economic well-being” is “completely moronic,” he says. “But if there are other means of showing that the economy is flourishing” – and that seems now to be the case – it is of course “another thing” entirely.

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