Staunton, Sept. 30 – Those who talk about building “a beautiful Russia of the future” risk putting the country through another cycle of chaos followed by authoritarian rebuilding followed by stagnation and decay, Kirill Shamiyev says, if as seems likely they come up with a single program and then try to impose it all at once on the country as a whole.
Because no program can anticipate all the problems it will engender and because none has a monopoly on truth and effectiveness, a far better approach, the researcher at the Higher School of Economics says, would be to plan to try out competing ideas for reform in various regions and then select among them (ridl.io/ru/jeksperimentalnaja-rossija-budushhego/).
In short, the regions must become “laboratories” for change in which various ideas can be tried out and then expanded or dismissed on the basis of what is achieved, Shamiyev continues. That way problems inherent in this or that program can be tried before the program is “scaled up” to Russia as a whole.
At the present time, he points out, “there is no unified format for such experiments in Russia;” and it is certainly true that “not all regions and officials will have sufficient knowledge or resources to organize such experiments.” They will need help fiscal and otherwise from Moscow.
Moreover, the researcher says, “no matter how well designed the experiments are, their implementation and the results they report will be challenged by a range of stakeholders and interest groups” and the entire process will collapse unless it is accompanied by forced decentralization of power in Russia.
In fact, such decentralization is a sine qua non of effective development. Most prosperous countries in the world are either very small, federalized, or with significant decentralization. Russia cannot hope to join them and its government cannot hope to show real progress to the citizenry unless it decentralizes as well.
But by decentralization alone “will not bring about rapid economic growth.” That will occur only if “transparent political institutions accountable to citizens and monitoring bodies are created. Otherwise, the decentralization of money will simply be ‘eaten up’ by corruption” at the local and regional level.
An experimental approach of the kind he advocates, Shamiyev says, will nonetheless do better than almost any other because it will produce visible results for citizens over the course of the transition and make the regime carrying out reforms more legitimate in their eyes. It will also help produce a new generation of leaders, more willing to take risks and to work with others.