Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Free trade versus autarky

Autarky is one of those words that has fallen so far out of favor that it would probably stump a panel of "Jeopardy" champions—even though it means self-sufficient (a virtue that is still widely prized.)  Actually, this contradiction makes a lot of sense.  True self-sufficiency is astonishingly hard to achieve and on a individual level, probably impossible.  There are small groups that make a fine try at being self-sufficient.  The fascination with the Amish is mostly due to their ability to make their way economically outside of the technostructure.  But as the hippies discovered with their back-to-the-land efforts, the freedoms promised by self-sufficiency come at the price of a lot of very hard work.

Autarky as an economic strategy was given a bad name because the Nazis tried so hard to create a self-contained economy.  In this case, autarky was merely another preparation for warfare.  And while the Nazis came quite close to their goals of economic self-sufficiency, there were still plenty of gaps in their desire to limit trade to only allies.  Even (especially?) on a national level, autarky is so hard to achieve that even a totalitarian state cannot pull it off.

Which brings us to today's featured article.  It is from Radio Free Europe so is probably as establishment / CIA / State as these things get.  Normally, I would not bother to read such obvious propaganda, but I am glad I read this one.  Because buried near the bottom is that that archaic and disused term—autarky.  Yes indeed, we now have a believable explanation for the irrational hostility to Russia and Putin.  Not only does Putin's Russia want to reorder the existing, dollar-based, global trading system, it has the possibility through the strategies of autarky to escape the shit-storm such a move has triggered.  And according to this piece, Putin is appointing a new generation of bureaucrats who share his vision.

The neoliberal "free-traders" did an amazing amount of damage to Russia.  That is not so surprising as unfettered trade turns the activity into this glorious opportunity to rip off the Producer Classes.  And that is precisely what happened during the Yeltsin days.  Nobodies with zero relevant skills made off with whole industries and got stinking, filthy, rich by exploiting the weaknesses in the philosophy of "free" trade.  And not so surprisingly, the people who got rich overnight at the expense of the Russian middle classes now worship neoliberalism and try to ensure that likeminded souls have all the important economic jobs.  And this is what Putin is trying to stop in the name of patriotism and national pride.  And he is recruiting his foot soldiers from the provinces where self-sufficiency is still valued.

Just to make sure we understand just how serious this conflict is, there has been a recent exchange between Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the neoliberal pirates who almost made off with much of Russia's oil wealth before being sent to Siberia for corruption and fraud, and Igor Strelkov, a man who has a clear sense of the damage Khodorkovsky caused and why Russia must resort to a state of near war to defend itself.  Khodorkovsky's speech was given to the 2014 Freedom House Awards Dinner on October 1.  It is full of the arguments used by all the neoliberal hacks that populate both parties in USA.  Strelkov, on the other hand addresses his Russian readers with pitches to their patriotism, historical Christian roots, and the raw memory of the catastrophe of the Yeltsin days.  Our politicians will certainly not understand—it's probably why none of them have Putin's approval ratings.

Putin Is Co-Opting Russia's Young Professional Class


The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set — which means "Network" in Russian — has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday.

It has focused on attracting urbane and educated young adults — the exact demographic that made up the backbone of the antigovernment street protests that roiled the Kremlin in late 2011 and early 2012.

Grigory Tumanov, a journalist covering Kremlin youth policy for the daily "Kommersant," recently told Foreign Policy that Russia's twentysomethings don't "know about politics" and "just want to dress nicely and draw graffiti."

"Here, they've made it fashionable to work with the government," he said.

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier — and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

"The most interesting and exciting process unfolding today is in the lower and middle levels of the power vertical," historian and Kremlin-watcher Vladimir Pastukhov wrote in a recent article in Polit.ru. "There is a massive and rapid rejuvenation of personnel."

According to Pastukhov, this fledgling new nomenklatura is between 25 and 35 years old, hails mostly from the regions, and comes from relatively poor backgrounds. Their recruitment, he adds, has been connected "either directly or indirectly" to the security services.

"Not that they are all chekists," he wrote. "But the security services had a hand in their recruitment."

They were recruited and selected based on their loyalty to the regime and for being "psychologically closer to Putin" than their predecessors. They are also "people without deep roots" who are "ready for anything" that facilitates their advancement.

"So far, their political consciousness is a tabula rasa on which you can draw anything," Pastukhov wrote. "In these brains, you can download any ideological software. The main thing is that it does not interfere with a successful career."
Veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble, who flagged the Pastukhov article on his Window on Eurasia blog, wrote that the "new generation of officials ... are more like the Soviet-era nomenklatura than like the people they are replacing."

The shift, Goble wrote, "one largely taking place without fanfare, will have far-reaching consequences for how Russia is ruled well into the future, even if few at the present time are talking about it."

The dual-pronged youth strategy seeks to address two problems that have been plaguing the regime since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012: an urban-hipster creative class that was in revolt and an underclass in the provinces among whom discontent could easily spread.

The Kremlin gave the former shiny new toys to play with and the latter the possibility of upward mobility.

Without overplaying the analogy, this stealthy, managed generational shift in the nomenklatura is somewhat reminiscent of Josef Stalin's vaunted "Class of 1938," the cadre of officials who were also brought to Moscow from the provinces in the wake of the purges — and ruled the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev.

But the analogy may be apt to a degree if Putin faces a revolt among the technocratic wing of the elite, which is becoming increasingly jittery about the economic impact of Russia's confrontation with — and increased isolation from — the West.

If the current elite balks at Russia's moves toward greater autarky, Putin may have "no choice but to wage an authoritarian and populist revolution from above," veteran journalist Ivan Sukhov wrote recently in The Moscow Times.

In such a case, he added, "following Stalin's example looks increasingly attractive if Putin wants to stay in the game."

And in the event of such an elite purge, Putin's "Class of 2014," now filling the lower and middle ranks of the bureaucracy, will be poised to fill the void — just as Stalin's "Class of 1938" did more than seven decades ago. more

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