Staunton, Oct. 27 – In Soviet times, senior Russian officials received information via what was called “white TASS” that was not available to the population at large, and many then and now have assumed that this practice continues with officials having access to far better data than they allow institutions to share with the population.
Undoubtedly, there is some truth in these assumptions, but public faith that officials in fact know more than the educated population on many issues will be called into question by the latest Moscow plan for the creation of a classified system of government statistics for officials (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/v-rossii-sozdadut-zakrytuyu-sistemu-gosudarstvennoy-statistiki-dlya-chinovnikov-1030898730 and ria.ru/20211026/mishustin-1756256991.html).
According to the Russian government, this system, which is to be phased in by the start of the 2030s is possible because of the digitalization of data and computer processing of it and will help the government perform better because it will have better data available sooner than is now the case.
No doubt, the rise of computers will help the government do its job and some are arguing that it will make possible the restoration of Gosplan which will not produce the bottlenecks its Soviet predecessor so often did because it will have the data needed for mid-course corrections (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/12/computerization-makes-new-gosplan-not.html).
But there are three reasons to be suspicious that digitalization will have the transforming effects Russian officials hope for. First, Moscow has been talking about this without achieving much for at least the last four years. (For an early discussion of going over to such a system, see finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/v-pravitelstve-zadumalis-o-vozrozhdenii-gosplana-1002268664.)
Second, because this system will exclude many academic experts from having direct access to the new “classified” data, it will not be able to count on the ideas that these experts are the primary source of. Consequently, officials will become increasingly isolated from the people who could make a real difference.
And third, while it is true that good policy is a random act without good information, good information does not guarantee good policy because officials will invariably ignore data they don’t like and act on the basis of their own ideas. They will find it even easier to do so if much of the country doesn’t know what they do.
That will only add to their unjustified self-confidence and lead to even more mistakes.