The end of tyranny (updated)

by John Quiggin on August 22, 2011

The seemingly imminent downfall of Muammar Gaddafi may not represent “the end of history”, but, for the moment at least, it’s pretty close to being the end of tyranny, in the historical sense of absolute rule by an individual who has seized power, rather than acquiring it by inheritance or election. Bonapartism (if you exclude its more specialised use to refer to supporters of the Bonaparte family claim to rule France) , is probably the closest modern equivalent. Forty-odd years ago, this kind of government was the rule rather than the exception in most regions of the world (notably including South America and the Communist bloc), and was represented even in Western Europe by Franco and Salazar.

Now, there’s Mugabe clinging to a share of power in Zimbabwe, along a bunch of less prominent, but still nasty, African dictators in the classic post-colonial mode (in the original post, I underestimated the number of these who are still around, but they are clearly a dying breed). Add in a handful of shaky-looking strongmen in the periphery of the former Soviet Union, and that’s about it for tyrants in the classical sense.

Normally classed as tyrants but not meeting the classical definition, Kim jr, Assad jr and Castro minor (and some others mentioned in comments), the first two of whom are certainly tyrannical in the ordinary modern sense, but all of whom inherited their positions, as of course, did the remaining absolute monarchs. The historical evidence, starting with Cromwell jr, and running through Baby Doc Duvalier and others is that regimes like this hardly ever make it to the third generation. They combine the low average ability inherent in hereditary systems with a lack of either royal or revolutionary, let alone democratic, legitimacy.

More interesting cases are those of Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda, illustrations of the point that tyrants in the classic sense need not be bad, at least relative to the alternative they displaced. But these seem to be isolated examples, owing much of their appeal to the horrors that preceded them and the fear that those horrors might return.

More surprising to me are the number of cases where classic tyrants, having established one-party states, have been succeeded by self-selecting oligarchies – China is the most striking example, but Singapore also fits. Looking at the evidence of the past, I would have predicted that such oligarchies would either collapse in short order or see the emergence of a new tyrant, but there is no sign of that for the moment.

I don’t have a good theory to explain the rise of so many tyrants in the modern period, beginning with Bonaparte (or maybe Cromwell), or the sharp decline of this form of government from around the mid-1960s. But it seems that it’s a development worth noting.

fn1. Putin is often presented as being a near-dictator. But he doesn’t need to repress his opponents – it’s pretty clear he would easily win elections in Russia with or without doing so. Conversely, there’s no real evidence to suggest that he could or would hold on for long if public opinion turned sharply against him.

{ 254 comments }

1

Latro 08.22.11 at 12:33 pm

Well, decolonization may be a reason, or at least a factor for so many countries finding int them some “Bonaparte” in the chaos of organizing themselves as countries.

2

Jack 08.22.11 at 12:42 pm

This isn’t a “self-selecting oligarchy” which is poised to replace Qadaffi. It’s a foreign-selected oligarchy, assuming it succeeds. Nor is your portrait of him as a lone ruler particularly apt. He has his faults, but he was investing real power in secretariats and directorates as far back as 1979.

3

AntiAlias 08.22.11 at 12:59 pm

Putin is often presented as being a near-dictator. But he doesn’t need to repress his opponents – it’s pretty clear he would easily win elections in Russia with or without doing so.

I don’t know whether he needs to, but he certainly has done so, and I have seen no evidence that he has stopped doing so.

4

Craig Willy 08.22.11 at 1:10 pm

I’m convinced dictatorship in the traditional sense is finished. In the past, States and their territorial outlines were defined by war. A State that exists based on the harsh discipline, centralization and hierarchy of a particular bureaucracy, the military (or a revolutionary organization), is likely to see these characteristics seep into the broader polity. Now that violent anticolonial revolutions are no longer needed (with 2 or 3 exceptions) and most States are territorially secure, the justification for a militaristic organization of politics collapses.

To all this we can add the importance of urbanization, economic growth and media (satelite television as well as internet) to the emergence of popular consciousnesses around the world. Given this, a State is foolish not to have some form of popular and electoral legitimacy. In this way we can explain the collapse of raw despotisms to “illiberal democracies” such as those in Venezuela, Russia or Turkey.

I don’t think China, the one massive exception, can buck this trend for all that long. Should environmental disaster or economic downturn lead to popular protest, 1989-style violent crackdown – suitably broadcasted across China – could be fatal to the regime.

5

Random Lurker 08.22.11 at 1:19 pm

I always tought that this kind of dictatorships are the result of (or a byproduct of) fast industrialization, where the mores of a big part of the population are somehow overturned by the social evolution caused by industrialization, and a relative minority is able to take control of the most important economic features of a country, thus being able to pay for a repressive burocracy to keep them in power.

6

Abiye 08.22.11 at 1:22 pm

Meles Zenawi is certainly one of the near-absolute dictators that you overlooked. His party won 99.6% of the parliamentary seats last year, and unlike Putin, he had to jail his most competent and popular opponent, suspend mass assembly etc. to ensure such an outcome…. And what do you make of Museveni and Kagame? Both had to fend off major challenges in elections to stay in power but it was clear that they might not have done so without massive repressions.

7

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 1:32 pm

I’m not sure why you’re eliminating Assad, Castro and Kim. Dictatorship by inheritance is still dictatorship; it just means the first guy was really good at his job. Also, you forgot Aliyev _fils_ of Azerbaijan.

As for ones that you missed: Four of the five ‘stans are currently under tyrant-dictators, not “a couple”. And none of them are particularly shaky-looking.

Cambodia.

You mentioned Zimbabwe. Also in Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea. Chad. Equatorial Guinea. Angola. Uganda. Cameroon. The Central African Republic.

Sudan, of course.

Belarus, of course.

Fiji. (Everybody misses that one.)

Burma. (The current dictator is the hand-picked successor of the previous dictator, but not a relative.)

So even excluding inherited tyrannies, borderline cases (Mali, Mozambique), and tyrannies that are disguised as traditional monarchies (UAE, Bahrain), that’s sixteen. A lot fewer than 40 years ago, sure — but too many to claim that this form of government is “disappearing”.

Doug M.

8

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.22.11 at 1:35 pm

As far as China is concerned, I don’t think “self-selecting oligarchy” is a good description. Their political system resembles a military structure: you volunteer, enlist when you’re young, start from the bottom, raise through the ranks, and theoretically everyone who choose to participate has a chance to end up a 4 star general.

9

TS 08.22.11 at 1:37 pm

Don’t forget Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, one of the most horrific cases. And there might be one or two more in sub-Saharan Africa.

But I don’t quite get the artificial distinction between seizing power, and originally getting it via inheritance or elections. And wasn’t Mugabe originally elected? Not that it would matter.

10

salazar 08.22.11 at 1:54 pm

Also Rwanda, whose leader the West portrays as the Second Coming, but which still has one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

11

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 1:57 pm

Whoops, forgot the two Congos, Rwanda, Djibouti, and Algeria. How could we all forget Algeria? Bouteflika’s been running the place since winning unopposed “election” in 1999. And Djibouti’s had a couple of waves of Arab Spring protests this year. (Not that anyone ever pays attention to Djibouti.) That makes twenty-one.

South Sudan would make twenty-two, but it’s probably not fair to add them to the list yet — give the new guy some time.

Gabon and Togo– President Ali Bongo Ndimba of Gabon is the son of President-for-Life Omar Bongo; Togo, same-same. I suppose you’d disqualify them along with Assad & co.

That said, twenty-one countries = over 10% of the United Nations’ membership, and that’s after excluding all the borderline cases. A BOTE calculation gives well over half a billion people living under old-school, non-inherited dictatorships.

Seriously: not disappearing.

Doug M.

12

Eric Scharf 08.22.11 at 1:58 pm

Sepp Blatter.

13

Steve Williams 08.22.11 at 2:02 pm

I started thinking on this at around the same time as Doug M, and came up with a similar list. The current governments of Mauritania, Fiji, and Niger all came to power in military coups. The government of Honduras wouldn’t be in power if it weren’t for a previous coup (with the active connivance of the US, lest we forget). The government of Madagascar came to power in what was basically a coup five years ago, and has survived another coup since.

In general, I don’t believe *a generic country* is any less likely to see a violent transition of power. What seems to be less likely is for large, globally-connected economies to see these transitions. A revolution in China or Russia is made less likely by these countries systemic importance.

14

Matt 08.22.11 at 2:06 pm

I was going to mention some of the places that Doug M does, but he got many more than I would have off the top of my head.

I want to ask about another part, though- the inclusion of the “Communist block” in your discussion. One thing that’s very interesting to me is how, though the Soviet Union was often presented as a place ruled by an individual, that’s pretty questionable, at least in most of its history. (I think it’s only applicable during parts of Stalin’s time, and even then less so than one might think.) Of course they were not democratic or free, but the party, and the various groups in it, had much more power and ability to change things than seems indicated here. The party head was rarely a tyrant in the sense that seems to be discussed here, and was usually quite constrained in his actions by the need to have the support and backing of the party.

Though it’s more obscure (because not really set up w/ a formal structure like the old Communist Party) I think that something similar is the case for Putin, too- while I don’t think he’s a puppet, there are clearly strong interests that greatly constrain his actions, and I think it’s clear that he cannot act, or at least often thinks he cannot act, without their support. Without something like this being the case, much of what he’s done makes no sense.

15

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 2:06 pm

I’d agree that the distinction is pretty artificial. Lots of bad actors have come to power through elections. What makes you a dictator is not how you get into power, but how you stay there.

Anyway: I’ve counted 21 that are dictatorships by John’s original definition. (Most in Africa, to be sure. I have the impression he Just Forgot about all those African countries. ) If we add the six inherited ones, plus two or three absolutist monarchies, we’re up to around 30 or so — and, again, that’s not counting the many borderline cases.

Doug M.

16

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 2:08 pm

I don’t have a good theory to explain the rise of so many tyrants in the modern period

Indivisible will of the sovereign people, and a balance of class forces. Unequal competition and maldistribution between and within classes are probably required for oligarchies, republics, “democracies.”

17

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 2:13 pm

13, “blance of class forces” is possibly why so many full socialist states have evolved into tyrannies (not so pejorative to the Greeks)

It has been a long slow road to neo-liberalism, but the fall of the tyrants means the workers are about to get screwed.

18

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 2:16 pm

Steve @11, I considered Madagascar and Mauretania. However, in both those cases it’s just too soon to say if the current leader is going to be a dictator. Niger, same-same; the current government has only been in power for six months or so.

Honduras, the President is supposed to serve just a single four-year term; the current incumbent, however dubious his acquisition of the office, has pledged to respect that. So we should give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for another (checks calendar) two years.

I’m holding at 21.

Doug M.

19

Cranky Observer 08.22.11 at 2:38 pm

> Burma. (The current dictator is the hand-picked successor
> of the previous dictator, but not a relative.)

Myanmar is basically a resource extraction colony of the PRC, so whoever the current dictator or junta nominally may be he/they are more in the role of governor general in the old British system than absolute ruler.

Cranky

20

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 2:42 pm

Dictatorship in History and Theory, Baehr & Richter eds, 2004

ain’t too bad a book. link failed

And, of course, 18th Brumaire but Baehr & Richter can help with that difficult work. Louis Napoleon used the peasants against the bourgeois.

21

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 2:50 pm

“Myanmar is basically a resource extraction colony of the PRC”

I would disagree. But in any event, the PRC (as far as we can tell) seems to have had no hand in the selection of the current dictator.

Doug M.

22

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 2:56 pm

…you know, the more I think about this, the weirder the OP reads. “Mugabe clinging to a share of power in Zimbabwe, a couple of shaky-looking strongmen in the ‘stans, and that’s about it”?

I mean, anyone could miss Fiji or Djibouti. And, hey, who can keep track of all those countries in Africa. But how do you completely forget about Algeria, Belarus, Burma, Congo and Sudan? This Australia place, do they not have newspapers?

Doug M.

23

23Skidoo 08.22.11 at 2:57 pm

> Putin is often presented as being a near-dictator. But he doesn’t
> need to repress his opponents – it’s pretty clear he would easily
> win elections in Russia with or without doing so.

That explains Russia has been universally lauded for its fair
elections.

24

Myles 08.22.11 at 3:42 pm

bob mcmanus, are you a moron?

In any case, I think a force (and which in hindsight seems pretty obvious) that has really made tyrannies more obsolete is jury really pure liberalism. The impact of things like social messaging networks, the Internet, the gradual growth of a globalized culture, the withering away of the power of the arbitrary national borders on the mental and philosophical frame (except in very noticeable cases like North Korea, and in less insane cases like China) and thus the withering away of nationally based tyrannies on the thoughts and aspirations of the individual mind, have in a sense combined to propel forward a vision in which national tyrannies can no longer set reality-defying rules all by themselves; rather, they now too have to face the international standards and information with which the people whom they have oppressed are now more familiar. In the past, a tyrant could burn all the undesirable books in the libraries, and that would be the end of ti for most people. Now, unless you erect a Great Firewall as well, you can no longer constrict artificially the ability of people to seek out information outside of the mind-fucking mental environment of the tyranny.

25

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.22.11 at 4:00 pm

You assume that people hate tyranny, Myles, but that’s far from obvious. I hear in Russia ‘liberal democracy’ is a swear, meaning something like ‘rule by a criminal oligarchy’.

26

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 4:05 pm

24: Let me know when you twitter unemployment down to 4%.

Hey, I am not pro-tyranny or pro-liberal capitalism. I’m pro-poor people and pro-workers and for soaking the rich and I don’t think it is my job to be a cheerleader for Quiggin’s and your political economy while y’all are trying to make it work.

The people of Libya and Egypt etc have been told for generations that if they get their “freedom” their lives will be all better, and their kid’s futures will be terrific. You promised.

27

Tangurena 08.22.11 at 4:29 pm

or the sudden disappearance of this form of government from around the mid-1960s

I’d take another look at the puppets/tyrants installed by the major powers during the Cold War, combined with the revolutions fomented by “the other side”. Military coups followed by dictators running the country continued long after the “mid 1960s”. Pinochet taking over Chile in 1973 is an example.

My hypothesis is that the decline in tyrannies has more to do with more effective cold war strategies and the rise in cheap effective weapons supplied to “revolutionaries” (of both sides). How many countries include an AK-47 on their coat of arms or flag?

And I noticed you added “by inheritance” to your definition of tyranny. While that brings it much closer to the ancient Greek definition, it also conveniently excludes Saudi Arabia. Most non-muslims who have lived there would describe it as a tyranny (our family did).

28

Mike W 08.22.11 at 4:53 pm

I’m assuming John’s including the “by inheritance” clause to differentiate between stable and unstable autocratic states (I’d say undemocratic states, but he makes a distinction for Chinese-style oligarchies). It’s probably a poor choice of word because these other autocracies are clearly still tyrannic in the usual sense of the word, but it does have a classical pedigree. I think the presence or lack of stability is still an interesting qualifier, since you can look at Quiggin’s tyrannies as the larval form of monarchies or oligarchies. And that leads to question why in the past century there was a massive growth in their number (relative to stable autocracies) and then a subsequent decline, which have been well answered by other commenters. Likewise, if your goal is promotion of democracy and freedom, the way you assist that process is probably different in a tyranny and an established undemocratic state, so studying these differences seems worthwhile.

29

Louis Proyect 08.22.11 at 5:01 pm

30

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 5:04 pm

27: “My hypothesis” is that the technologies of social control have developed far enough so that is now cheaper for capital to buy elected politicians than sustain a dictator. Mubarek cost 50 billion. That will buy a lot of “democrats.”

Also, the new economies need a more open information system, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of exploitation.

The fall of tyrannies coincides with the triumph of neo-liberalism.

31

Myles 08.22.11 at 5:27 pm

You assume that people hate tyranny, Myles, but that’s far from obvious. I hear in Russia ‘liberal democracy’ is a swear, meaning something like ‘rule by a criminal oligarchy’.

I make no such assumption. My assumption is people like the ability to self-actualize as individuals and human beings, which is tautological. That ability is a sum of positive and negative liberties. In Russia, liberal democracy destroyed positive liberty to a much greater extent than it increased negative liberty. Thus, the sum of the liberties is lower, and the process, known to Russians as “liberal democracy”, was in fact a de-liberalizing and de-actualizing one.

In much of the rest of the world however, the advent of liberty and the withering of tyranny has led to increases in this sum of liberties and in the ability to self-actualize as human beings. That is something everyone should unreservedly cheer, for what is being cheered as the elevation of human existence and progress in the human condition.

32

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.22.11 at 6:14 pm

Oh, I don’t know, Myles. If your self-actualization sells well, then you’re certainly right; otherwise not so much. That’s why they now have this phenomenon in East Germany (and elsewhere) called ostalgie.

33

john c. halasz 08.22.11 at 6:26 pm

I don’t think it’s useful or meaningful to group a highly disparate set of regimes in different societies at different historical junctures under a single generic rubric “Bonapartism”. But one type of regime is the phalangist dictatorship, which would include not just Franco, but figures like Admiral Horthy and other such eastern European worthies from that time, as well as, many of the Latin American military dictatorships. It amounts to a post-traditional authoritarian regime, which finds its base of support and “legitimation” in an alliance of traditionalist classes held together especially by comprador elites, as opposed to being based in still weak industrial classes, (as with, e.g., fascism). The “explanation” would be the erosion of traditional bases for authority with the shock of modernity combined with relative underdevelopment of modern economies for nations on the periphery of the global capitalist world system. (The current Iranian regime would partly fit the phalangist description). As such, I think that changes in that world system under neo-liberal globalization could pretty well account for the tendency of this type of regime to wither away.

But it’s also a mistake to focus on the individual dictator, whatever the cult-of-personality propaganda, since all regimes must rest on some basis of social cooperation and support to secure their “legitimacy”, even if partly induced through repression and terror. As Arendt pointed out long ago, no regime can sustain its power by means of violence alone, if only because it depends on the cooperation of the bureaucrats and the police.

34

leederick 08.22.11 at 7:57 pm

I’d question the exclusion of some of the middle eastern monarchies from the list. They may be nominal monarchies but in some of these power was seized from a relative rather than inherited, Oman and Qatar jump to mind.

35

John Quiggin 08.22.11 at 8:06 pm

@Doug M I undercounted the surviving African tyrannies and I mentally classed Belarus as a “stan”. On the other hand, I think you’ve counted a bunch of military/oneparty governments that aren’t personal dictatorships – most obviously Burma* but also Fiji and Algeria and I suspect quite a few more. The heads of government here are the most powerful figures, and might eventually become absolute rulers, but for the moment they aren’t comparable to Gaddafi and similar. The fact that none of their names is recognisable is one indication of this.

And even on the most generous definition, a system of government that survives in a couple of dozen of the world’s poorest and least powerful countries it looks to me to be on the way out.

The interesting cases, I think, are Rwanda and Uganda, where you have, at least arguably, “good” tyrants. I’ll try to write a bit more about this later.

* I had to look it up, but I’m guessing you’re referring to the late Soe Win, son of Ne Win, who briefly headed the SLORC/SPDC government. The current head of state has only been in office for six months.

36

Myles 08.22.11 at 8:25 pm

That’s why they now have this phenomenon in East Germany (and elsewhere) called ostalgie.

And there are peasants in China nostalgics for the days of Mao. I mean, what are you going to do about it? It’s completely irrational. The Russian nostalgia is rational; the East German one is not. And you ignore the irrational ones and push on. Not every single person will want to self-actualize, but self-actualization is something which should be offered to everyone, and it will be up to each and everyone to decided for themselves to take it or not.

That’s what having the Enlightenment and a liberal society is all about.

37

Alex 08.22.11 at 9:04 pm

Someone may already have said this, but surely the difference between one man rule and one party rule is surely just PR.

38

John Quiggin 08.22.11 at 9:18 pm

@37 PR= Public Relations or Proportional Representation?

39

Doug M. 08.22.11 at 9:19 pm

John @35, if you mentally classified Belarus as a ‘stan, then did you simply forget about the four Central Asian ‘stans that have been governed by dictators since the 1990s?

Algeria: there’s not a hard and fast dividing line between an absolute dictator and a guy who’s _primus inter pares_. However, Algeria and Fiji are both pretty clearly on the “dictator” side of the line — viz., their current leaders are going to stay in office until forced out by revolution or some massively dramatic change in circumstances.

Burma: no, I’m referring to the fact that the current leader, Thein Sein, was the hand-picked successor of the previous leader, Than Shwe. Than Shwe had been battling diabetes and cancer for years, so he had time to choose his replacement. He had several kids, but they were all pretty worthless. The general assumption in Burma is that Thein Sein got to be the new President in part by guaranteeing that Than Shwe’s dimwitted and feckless children would get to keep their business empires.

“The fact that none of their names is recognisable is one indication of this”
— dude. No, it’s not.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been running Equatorial Guinea since 1979. He’s a bloody-handed monster who, by any reasonable standard, is worse than Qaddafi or Robert Mugabe. You’ve never heard of him.

Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan is a absolute autocrat whose security services regularly use rape, torture, mutilation and murder to keep his helpless population cowed, and who has on several occasions ordered dissidents to be boiled alive. You’ve never heard of him either.

As you pointed out yourself, millions of people may have the vague idea that Vladimir Putin is a dictator, but that doesn’t make him one. Well, the converse is equally true: just because Hun Sen and Isayas Afawerki are obscure, doesn’t make them any less vile — or any less dangerous, should you happen to be Eritrean or Cambodian.

Doug M.

40

Hidari 08.22.11 at 9:47 pm

I think a lot of the confusion here is caused by a highly specific sociological phenomenon: the decline of totalitarianism. The rise of the totalitarians in the early 20th century (which so worried Orwell) and which seemed, for so long, to be the ‘wave of the future’ was in fact a highly specific social formation, which could only arise in societies which had just undergone, or were undergoing, an extremely rapid transition to capitalism from whatever form preceded it (usually some form of monarchical feudalism). Nowadays, when almost all countries are capitalist, the ‘soil’ from which ‘classic’ totalitarianism could grow seems to be vanishing.

And this has led to the (false) dichotomy, that if a country is not an out and out dictatorship then it ‘must’ be a democracy.

But it’s been clearly for some time (since at least the 1980s and arguably since the 1960s) that totalitarianism is a ‘busted flush’. And, therefore, we should go back to looking at more traditional ways of classifying governments rather than the modern ‘democracy-not democracy’.

Look at Aristotle’s taxonomy for example. He certainly accepted the reality of dictatorship (although even here he saw that there were nuances). But he also saw that there are royalist regimes (nowadays, e.g. Saudi Arabia, Oman), aristocracies (not too many of them nowadays but apparently ‘dead’ forms of govt. have returned), constitutional governments (Lebanon, perhaps?), various forms of democracy, and oligarchy.

It should be clear to anyone who has eyes to see that the major threat to democracy nowadays is no longer from a Hitler style totalitarian regime, but from oligarchy.

What’s also notable is the relative decline of anti-democratic imperialism (e.g. the Soviet Union, the Third Empire) and the rise of imperialism practiced by more or less democratic powers.

41

soru 08.22.11 at 10:00 pm

I suspect any classification scheme that puts Assad’s Syria and Gaddafi’s Iraq in distinct buckets does leave a bit to be desired.

It’s possible to over-think things. When it comes down to it, there are really only two types of government. There are those where the junior tank commander facing down middle class protesters on the central square of the capital will make one choice, and those where he will make the other.

Everything else is either PR, or long-term economics that’s at most marginally and gradually impacted by the name on the brass plate of the office of state.

42

John Quiggin 08.22.11 at 10:51 pm

Doug M, I should have said a handful of ex-Soviet republics, rather than a couple of stans. I’ll fix this when I do an update, but I think you are making a meal of it.

On “no one’s ever heard of these guys” you are misconstruing me. I wasn’t talking about Equatorial Guinea but about Algeria and Burma, places that have had plenty of press coverage, nearly all of it referring to government in terms such as “the military regime”. Never in my recollection to the “Than Shwe” regime and hardly ever to the “Bouteflika regime”.

43

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 11:28 pm

It should be clear to anyone who has eyes to see that the major threat to democracy nowadays is no longer from a Hitler style totalitarian regime, but from oligarchy.

And oligarchies have always been pretty good at disguising themselves as democracies.

1st, I think we can dismiss Myles “self-actualization” as a simple variation on “equally free to sleep under bridges

2nd, since it is becoming increasingly difficult to look through the forms of politics to see the realities, we need an objective measure.

3rd, it might be acceptable to posit that those in control of a political economy will not use that power to lower their own share of that polity’s resources or output, leaving Thomas Frank and false consciousness aside.

4th, so it seems to me that the Gini coefficient is a fairly objective measure of how democratic a nation is in actual practice rather than concealing forms, a majority in power will distribute output most widely

therefore, Egypt under Mubarek was considerably more democratic than the United States

(As far as Libya goes Juan Cole shouldn’t be the only source, but he is pretty good, and apparently as Qaddafi has opened up to western capital and development, the economic quality of life for his subjects has drastically declined.)

44

Myles 08.22.11 at 11:34 pm

therefore, Egypt under Mubarek was considerably more democratic than the United States

And thus is bob mcmanus outed as someone properly belonging to the insane asylum.

Anyways, my point wasn’t the freedom to sleep under bridges: it includes the positive liberties, such as assistance from the government in the form of welfare payments and earned income tax credits, which help individuals become stronger and more independent in relation to the corporative power of collectivities.

Although I am amused by the kind of perverted moral universe in which Mubarak is now a paragon of virtue.

45

bob mcmanus 08.22.11 at 11:48 pm

And thus is bob mcmanus outed as someone properly belonging to the insane asylum.

No, it is those who claim that somehow a polity freely votes itself into a horrible inequality that either are insane, or assuming an insane polity.

I don’t have to claim that Mubarek is a saint, or explain all the internal processes in a “tyranny” that result in a more fair distribution to say that a given “tyranny” has provided a more democratic result.

46

bob mcmanus 08.23.11 at 12:01 am

Now it could be that less democratic societies will have a higher general standard of living due to efficiencies, and people can make the case for less democracy and more prosperity if they care to. Although there are certainly plenty of societies that are free and prosperous and equal.

But point 3 above seems pretty strong, that where political power is widely distributed income and output will also be widely distributed.

47

zunguzungu 08.23.11 at 12:28 am

Mugabe was elected in 1980. Gotta say, this post is about as clear an example as a person could want of how globally ambitious disciplines like economics and political science don’t actually have to know anything about “the world’s poorest and least powerful countries,” and when they are shown (as Doug M has done) to have completely ignored a giant part of the world’s humanity, they intuitively know it doesn’t matter very much. Certainly Quiggin’s failure to say “oh, hell, the entire premise of this post was based on a completely wrong set of facts about the world’s poorest and least powerful countries” speaks volumes. And I like and respect Quiggin’s work! But this sort of thing is completely and monumentally normal.

48

Matt 08.23.11 at 1:03 am

Someone may already have said this, but surely the difference between one man rule and one party rule is surely just PR.

I said something _on_ this, though arguing the opposite, or close to that, in a comment that got stuck in moderation for a while. I think that if you look at the Soviet Union, one thing you find is that through much of its history, including at least some of the time when Stalin was in charge, the party greatly restricted what the official head of the state could do, in all sorts of ways. Even now in Russia something like that is the case for Putin, I think, though it’s more murky because the networks are more informal and less ideological than in the Soviet Union. But much of what Putin has done would not make any sense unless you thought that there were networks of power that constrained what he could do in all sorts of ways that wouldn’t be the case if he were someone with truly personal power. That was obviously true of the leaders of the Soviet Union.

49

P O'Neill 08.23.11 at 1:08 am

Are we going to ask actual Egyptians whether they thought income inequality was worse in Egypt or the USA?

50

Bruce Wilder 08.23.11 at 1:14 am

What I get out of this discussion is not that “tyranny” (defined more by metonymy than typology) as a fashion in governance is waning, but that strong and informative typologies of political economy are. Franco, Napoleon III and Gaddafi in the same pot? Really?

“Self-selecting oligarchies” doesn’t grab me, either. I don’t understand the government of China, but it seems to have mastered regular and orderly transitions of leadership, as well as the adoption and execution of complex, but coherent policies of economic development, in something like the “national” interest. The main oddity, though, is that in our era of global neo-liberal triumph, like the artist formerly known as Prince, the formerly(?) Communist totalitarian state does not have a name for its genre.

The days when patrimonial monarchy, landed aristocracy, totalitarian communism, parliamentary democracy, military dictatorship, fascist regime, etc. were meaningful names for institutional arrangements, complete with distinctive ideological rationalizations, seems to have passed.

A cynical part of me suspects that neo-liberalism may be in the process of turning kleptocracy into a franchise business, replacing home-grown, independent mom-and-pop kleptocracy with something more multinational-friendly.

For all the enthusiasm for Twitter and Facebook, I cannot help but notice that cybernetic control has become really cheap for the first time in human history. The technological possibilities seem to be swinging toward centralized authoritarianism, while mass politics beyond the edges of the flash mob do not appear any where in sight.

51

john c. halasz 08.23.11 at 3:19 am

Indeed, political “theory”, or even political economy, is not the most salient of Prof. Quiggin’s many talents. Often enough, in response to the events of the day, a sententious solemnity scarcely masks a tautological emptiness.

52

Peter T 08.23.11 at 3:23 am

JQ’s “tyranny” is hardly a deep description – it could be almost anything other than formal democracy or long-established constitutional monarchy. In any event, one man never rules alone. The classic tyrant was someone whose personal rule was supported by many and tolerated by most because the polity was too divided for other forms to be stable – a better alternative than civil strife. But tyranny usually evolves into more formal and collegiate mechanisms over time. So the evolution away from tyrannies over the last few decades is to be expected. Waves of radical change produce tyrannies which then evolve into some more stable form, now as in the 10th century.

There are a fascinating set of cases where personal rule with wide and arbitrary powers itself becomes a tradition (the post-Caliphal Muslim Arab states are the best examples).

Looking forward, I would not be confident that the conditions which foster personal and arbitrary government will not recur in a few decades.

53

Alex 08.23.11 at 3:49 am

@37 PR= Public Relations or Proportional Representation?

The former. See e.g. Matt’s comments.

Also think about the question “how is it that the dictator [or in fact any government] stays in power?”. Because the Generals of the army, the heads of the police, the judges, lawyers, bureaucrats and various other intellectuals prop the regime up (and the ordinary population find it hard to rebel due to the collective action problem – assuming they want to rebel).

Presumable, Ian Kershaw’s “Working towards the Fuhrer” theory comes into this too – what do people think of it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Kershaw#The_.22Working_Towards_the_F.C3.BChrer.22_concept

54

Alex 08.23.11 at 4:01 am

Honduras, the President is supposed to serve just a single four-year term; the current incumbent, however dubious his acquisition of the office, has pledged to respect that. So we should give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for another (checks calendar) two years.

If someone attains power illegitimately, giving them the “benefit of the doubt” when they say they promise they will step down any year now, is a highly stupid thing to do.

Besides, we should be skeptical of those in power full stop. They have the power, they have the ability to abuse it, so they should have to justify their acquisition and use of that power. The default should be “they’re lying”/”not justified” – just as in a criminal court case, the default is that the accused is not lying.

55

bobcat 08.23.11 at 4:06 am

While Doug M. has a point with his non-African cases, I think he’s missing the boat comparing the Congos, Cameroon, Uganda, Angola (Mali as a borderline case? Mali’s basically a really poor liberal democracy with some ups and downs) to Libya. In all of those cases, the regimes are far less personal (in the Rosberg and Jackson 1982) sense than they were/would have been 25 years ago. All of those regimes depend on a much broader base of support across ethnic groups, regions, and religions than would have been the case in Libya. Compare Kabilia fils’s grip on power to that of Mobutu, a real personal ruler in the old sense? Has he expropriated a similar % of state income? Is he similarly insulated from elite opposition? All of these guys are in much more tenuous positions since the 1990s (Bratton and Van de Walle 1998) and their means of taking power don’t necessarily reflect their current circumstances. There is a difference between elite coalition rule and personal. charismatic rule, and that difference matters in shaping the terms of regime transitions.

56

Bruce Wilder 08.23.11 at 5:00 am

Libya is a country with a small population (~7 million) and just one export industry (oil and gas export), which is easy to isolate. Maybe, it suffers a resource curse.

Many countries, where social cohesion and cooperation were critical to productivity and wealth, in the absence of natural resources or empires, have built themselves up, under authoritarian regimes, developing an array of institutions.

One might consider the accomplishments of able and ambitious “dictators”, such as “Harry” Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, or Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey, or the contrasting fates of the two Koreas.

57

Doug M. 08.23.11 at 6:18 am

John @42, I’m pointing out that you were wrong. I know that’s not fun for you. But correct play is “you know what, I was wrong”, not “you’re making a meal of this”. Ignoring half a billion people is not a rounding error.

‘Never in my recollection to the “Than Shwe” regime and hardly ever to the “Bouteflika regime”.’

– John, the fact that you’re not aware of something /does not mean it doesn’t exist/.

Before posting something like this, you could take a couple of seconds to type the phrase “Bouteflika regime” into google. How many hits do you get? About 1.1 million. IOW, this is a tolerably common phrase, and the fact that you’ve never heard of it probably reflects your lack of engagement with matters Algerian.

(By way of comparison, “Qaddafi regime” only gives about 1.9 million. “Assad regime” and “Castro regime” are 17 million and 19 million respectively.)

Doug M.

58

SusanC 08.23.11 at 6:34 am

With notably rare exceptions, tyranny no longer exists.

59

peterv 08.23.11 at 6:36 am

Zunguzungu (#47) says Mugabe was elected in 1980. He has been re-elected repeatedly since. Not a single one of these elections, starting with that of 1980, was without physical intimidation of opposition candidates, of opposition parties, and of voters. Since 2000, Zimbabwean elections have also been subject to large-scale fraud, such as large numbers of dead people on the electoral roll – and voting. Mugabe is still a dictator, despite the veneer of democracy.

60

logern 08.23.11 at 6:40 am

By way of comparison, “Qaddafi regime” only gives about 1.9 million.

Most likely due to the multitude of ways his name is often spelled.

61

Doug M. 08.23.11 at 6:58 am

Bobcat @ 55, you raise some good points. John never bothered to clarify his terms, so we’re left with a somewhat nebulous and subjective notion of “dictator”. My working definition is threefold: the guy’s gotta have tremendous personal power, has to govern in an essentially illiberal manner, and must be likely to stay in office indefinitely unless removed by force majeure.

Museveni of Uganda, dos Santos of Angola, and Kabila _fils_ definitely qualify. Comparing them to Mobutu is not really fair, because Mobutu was no ordinary dictator. It’s like saying an average NBA player isn’t really a professional athlete because he’s not Michael Jordan, you know? Kabila doesn’t have the sheer arbitrary power of Mobutu, nor is he capturing nearly as great a percentage of the country’s GDP. But his personal wealth is vast nonetheless, and his grip on power is pretty secure. A B-list dictator is still a dictator.

I agree that there’s a difference between elite coalition rule and personal charismatic rule — but it’s a difference that lies along a spectrum, not a binary either-or. And one can morph into the other over time; Pinochet and Than Shwe, for instance, both started out as members of the ruling junta, and only consolidated power in themselves over time.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that not all dictators are flamboyant, nor do all develop a cult of personality. Hun Sen of Cambodia is a drab, dull little man, and you could spend a week in Phnom Penh without seeing a picture of him. But he’s exercised brutal and absolute power for 25 years now. Than Shwe of Burma very much preferred keeping a low profile, in part to keep up the illusion of collective rule. People get confused because collective rule was indeed the case in Burma — for a while. Than Shwe didn’t take over as sole leader until he broke his last rival, Khin Nyunt, in 2004. By that time everyone was used to the idea of a military junta running things, and Than Shwe didn’t care for personal adulation, so he ruled from behind the scenes while allowing the public illusion to be maintained. But he was a dictator nonetheless.

Anyway: you can argue some borderline cases, sure. (And you’re right about Mali – my bad.) OTOH, I’ve left out a number of cases that could be argued in. I think we’d agree that the number is around 20, give or take a couple, not counting the hereditary dictators and the royal autocrats.

Doug M.

62

J. Otto Pohl 08.23.11 at 8:58 am

Doug M is right, the number of personal dictatorships is not on the verge of dissapearing. It is simply a matter of Dr. Q not knowing the names of most of the surviving dictators in the world. I can only name a handful myself since many of the old stalwarts of the Cold War have either died or been deposed. But, Lukashenko, Karimov, Nazerbayev, and others have emerged in the post-Soviet era to bring the numbers back up a little bit.

That said, I am not a big fan of “democracy.” In much of the world it tends to mean the creation of ethnocratic states where the majority nationality systematically deprives minorities of their civil and human rights. Dr. Q did not mention the “tyranny of the majority”, but it is often more brutal than personal dictatorship. I would much rather live in Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew than be a Palestinian living under the rule of democratic Israel in the West Bank.

63

Alex 08.23.11 at 9:16 am

Most likely due to the multitude of ways his name is often spelled.

Not necessarily. Google can take different spellings into account.

Dr. Q did not mention the “tyranny of the majority”, but it is often more brutal than personal dictatorship. I would much rather live in Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew than be a Palestinian living under the rule of democratic Israel in the West Bank.

You can’t compute some sort of “oftenness” relationship based on anecdotes. You have to look across all cases. Anecdotes are vulnerable to other anecdotes – observe:

I would much rather be a Palestinian living under the rule of democratic Israel in the West Bank, than a Jew living in Nazi-occupied Lithuania.

64

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.23.11 at 9:29 am

Anecdotes are vulnerable to other anecdotes

But nobody is proposing the general rule that authoritarian political systems (let alone totalitarian) are always better than democratic ones, while the opinion that democracy is always superior is quite common. So, it’s not an anecdote, but a counterexample.

65

Peter Erwin 08.23.11 at 9:34 am

Doug M @ 57:
… you could take a couple of seconds to type the phrase “Bouteflika regime” into google. How many hits do you get? About 1.1 million.

Strangely, I only got about 6050, which yielded only 771 actual web pages when I clicked through to see the final page of results[*]. Roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of those were actually “Bouteflika’s regime”, which is not quite the same thing as “the X regime”.

Of course, if you forget how Google actually works and just type the words “Bouteflika” and “regime” (without carefully surrounding the phrase with quotation marks), then, yes, you can get “about 1.1 million” hits (which, again, is Google’s unreliable off-the-cuff estimate). Which includes lots of pages where “Bouteflika” and “regime” appear somewhere on the same page, but not as a phrase the way John was suggesting.

[*] This is at least partly because Google’s initial page-hit estimates are surprisingly flaky; see the discussion and analysis in this Language Log post: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1943

66

Alex 08.23.11 at 9:36 am

The problem with Bob’s argument is that Mubarak was not, in fact, a left-wing development dictator who protected Egypt from the forces of globalisation. He imposed a whole string of massive IMF structural adjustment plans on the country, using censorship, mass repression, torture, etc to crush anyone who disagreed and the Muslim Brothers as a pet opposition to divide any other opposition he couldn’t find an excuse to murder. Egypt, in the Mubarak years, became an absolute model of everything awful about neo-liberalism.

Poverty? Check. Rising inequality? Check. Unpayable multilateral debts? Check. Veiled or not-so-veiled authoritarianism? You bet. War on Terror bullshit as legitimacy? Absolutely. Sucking up to the Likud at every opportunity? Damn right. Exporting torture as a service? Got it. Faith-based bullshit? Yup. Viciously inequitable and corrupt urban-regeneration schemes that screwed the poor while handing vast amounts of land to the dictator’s pals? Plenty.

I mean, there’s a reason why Tony Blair liked the guy so much. There’s also a reason why the biggest single group of revolutionaries were the unions.

Now, if Bob was talking about Nasser he might have a point. But he was long dead when Mubarak got to be dictator and even longer dead on helicopter day.

67

Kaveh 08.23.11 at 9:43 am

Peter T @52,
There are a fascinating set of cases where personal rule with wide and arbitrary powers itself becomes a tradition (the post-Caliphal Muslim Arab states are the best examples).

Are you referring to a wide range of post-Caliphal states here, or 20th c. Gulf monarchies and the like? Because if the former, then I’m inclined to doubt that you have any idea what you are talking about, because:
1) Few of the post-Caliphal rulers of Muslim Arab populations were Arab, they mostly were of Turkic or other ethnicities (“Arab rulers of post-Caliphal Muslim Arab states” almost describes the null set).
2) Maybe it’s just that I’m not aware enough of European history, being a Middle East/Central Asia historian, but the idea that Middle Eastern rulers had more arbitrary personal power than other monarchs of the time (10th – 18th c.) strikes me as a broad claim wanting evidence.

J. Otto Pohl @61 But Israel is not a typical democracy by any stretch, in fact classifying it as a democracy at all in this context seems to be intended for mischief. India, Turkey, and the US would be more typical examples of majoritarian rule, and I don’t see their problems stemming from majoritarianism being any worse than those of China or Egypt pre-2011.

zunguzungu wins the thread: I don’t think the claim that a certain type of personal tyranny is dying out is absurd on its face, but it’s a claim that needs to be supported by a much closer consideration of governments of poor countries than was given in the original post.

68

Peter Erwin 08.23.11 at 10:02 am

Assuming, for the sake of simplicity, that Google’s hit-count estimates are order-of-magnitude valid:

Hits for the phrase “Bouteflika regime” or “Bouteflika’s regime”: about 6040.

Hits for the phrase “Bouteflika regime” only, without examples of “Bouteflika’s regime”: about 2900.

Hits for pages containing “Algeria” AND the phrase “military regime” without examples of “Bouteflika['s] regime”: about 264,000.

So I think John is probably correct on this point, even if we allow for some of the “military regime” phrases to refer to earlier regimes in Algeria’s history.

69

John Quiggin 08.23.11 at 10:40 am

Following up, I get 280k ghits for “Burmese regime” as opposed to 38k for “Than Shwe regime”. More to the point, even the refs in the latter class are often inconsistent with the claim that Than Shwe exercised unchallenged personal power in the manner of a classic tyrant.

70

John Quiggin 08.23.11 at 11:02 am

I’ve updated the post to reflect the fact that I underestimated the number of African tyrannies still hanging on, and that I was sloppy with my reference to the ‘stans. Thanks to Doug M for picking me up on these points.

I’d be grateful if we could now focus on the substantive issue (or non-issue if you agree with Bruce W) raised by the post.

I’ll repeat that, in my view, the slightly larger count for surviving tyrannies doesn’t change the point that this was a form of government that prevailed in much (in fact, I would say, most) of the world 40 years ago, and is now on the verge of extinction.

71

bob mcmanus 08.23.11 at 11:43 am

66:The problem with Bob’s argument is that Mubarak was not, in fact, a left-wing development dictator who protected Egypt from the forces of globalisation.

I don’t disagree, but I was trying to keep my “point” very simple and limited, that the GINI coefficient tells us something about the internal conditions of nations that could get past the confusion of political forms and symbols. Whether it does tell us something, what it tells us, how it should be interpreted, whether there are more important factors I’ll leave up for discussion. From Wikipedia (numbers don’t seen available for Libya)

2001 Egypt 34.4
2005 UK 34
2007 USA 45
2005 Sweden 23
2002 Uganda 45.7

And I also postulated that whatever appearances or the mechanisms might be, a nation with a low Gini would have more widely distributed power, and a nation with a high Gini would have more concentrated political power.

Some of the implications about “tyrannies” and “democracies” have been implied recently above. A possibility is that a tyrant would want to spread the available surplus as widely as possible as insurance, but then we might need to explain why he would feel that necessity.

72

Doug M. 08.23.11 at 11:49 am

Peter, you’re right about “Bouteflika regime” on google. That said, I have indeed heard Algerians refer to their government as “Bouteflika”, “Bouteflika’s government”, “the Bouteflika regime” and so forth.

But okay: how do we separate a primus-inter-pares leader of an elite coalition from a figurehead on one hand or a dictator on the other? Well, I can think of a couple of possibilities.

One is the amassing of immense personal wealth. Sure, most members of a junta get rich. But a no-kidding dictator is much more likely to gain truly stupendous wealth for himself and his family. Both Bouteflika and Than Shwe qualify on this point; both are believed to be worth billions, and both their families have amassed spectacular business empires with holdings across the world.

Another is a cult of personality. As noted, there are plenty of dictators who don’t go in for this. But if you /do/ have a cult of personality going, and it has continued for many years without a break — why then, good chance you’re a dictator; juntas generally don’t like it when one guy’s fame eclipses all others.

(For an example of this in action, see … oh, Burundi. The current President is a compromise candidate, and the various power groups are very careful not to let him put on airs above his station.)

Than Shwe, a dour and retiring man, doesn’t fit this model. But Bouteflika most definitely does. He has multiple statues around the capital. Billboards and posters of him are everywhere; a giant image of him greets international arrivals at the airport. Every town has a Boulevard Bouteflika, and at least one town is named after him. His photograph hangs in every office and every shop.

This is not to say that Bouteflika has everything his own way; he doesn’t. I’m going to oversimplify a very complex situation by saying that there are three power centers: Bouteflika, the rest of the military leadership combined, and the DRS (security services). The DRS is run by a deeply creepy guy named Mohamed Medine, aka “Tewfik”. Bouteflika is more powerful than either Tewfik or the military, but not quite as powerful as both of them combined. Most of the time they grumble along in sullen cooperation for their mutual benefit, but there are occasional open clashes — most often over the division of spoils from SONATRACH, the fantastically wealthy and spectacularly corrupt state-owned oil company.

“So how can you call Bouteflika a dictator, if he has to suffer such over-mighty subjects?” — Well, it’s a judgment call. But I come down for Bouteflika because even when Tewfik and the military combine, they can’t do more than exercise a veto. They can stop Bouteflika from doing things — sometimes — but they aren’t otherwise independent power centers. At the moment they’re stuck sulking and waiting for Bouteflika to go senile or die: he’s in his seventies, and has had health problems.

But if you still object, fine. I’ll toss Algeria, and Burma too. That still leaves Angola, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Republic), Congo (Democratic Republic), Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Rwanda, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe. That’s 22, and still comfortably over half a billion people.

Doug M.

73

J. Otto Pohl 08.23.11 at 12:04 pm

Kaveh:

We are constantly told how Israel is the model democracy. But, it is not the only democratic ethnocracy. The one stan that is not a dictatorship is in many ways more ethnocratic and discriminatory than some of the ones that are dictatorships. I do not think this is really a controversial point. George Fredrickson argued that the reason racism was so virulent in South Africa and the US was precisely because the White population of these states was ruled by democratic structures.

74

Doug M. 08.23.11 at 12:12 pm

Well, FWIW, here’s my take on it. I think there is something you could call a classic dictatorship, even if it’s a bit blurry around the edges. And I think it definitely was a lot more common in the past. John puts the peak as “the mid-1960s”; I’d put it as the period from the early 1960s to 1989. During those decades, dictatorships covered all of Africa, much of Latin America, and quite a lot of Europe and Asia.

So, yes, the institution has definitely declined. But it’s not disappearing any time soon. I listed 22 countries above; while a few of them may blink off the list in the next few years, there are several candidates that are likely to join it. (You heard it here first: South Sudan. The current President has held near-absolute power since the mysterious and convenient death of John Garang in a helicopter crash a few years back. I don’t see him giving it up any time soon.) And, as noted, the list really should include the hereditary dictatorships — Assad or Aliyev are perfectly cromulent dictators, and should not be disqualified just because they got the job in probate. That adds Azerbaijan, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and arguably Gabon and Togo. Even if we exclude the dictator-monarchs, we’re still looking at 25-30 countries — roughly every seventh member of the UN. I don’t think that number is going to decrease very much in this decade.

Okay, then: why did the number drop so between the late 1980s and now? Well, two obvious reasons. One is the end of the Cold War. That didn’t wipe out so many dictators directly — you could argue that Ceausescu was the only one. But it meant that (1) there was no longer a superpower offering an authoritarian model of development, and (2) there was no longer an incentive to prop up dictators around the world.

The other is the end of decolonization. Decolonization produced a massive crop of dictators all around the world, though most particularly in Africa. A lot of those guys had to get old and either give up (Nyerere, Kaunda) or die off (Mobutu, Bongo). When they did, it opened a window for non- or at least less- authoritarian models. Note that some of the nastiest lingering dictatorships are in countries where decolonization came late (Zimbabwe, Eritrea).

Incidentally, I think that’s the best prospect for the current list to get shorter: the slow work of biology on the current leadership of the post-Soviet states. Lukashenko’s a relative stripling at 57 — he could be around for a long time yet — but the other four dictators are all in their 60s and 70s. When they go, change of some sort will come.

Doug M.

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Doug M. 08.23.11 at 12:36 pm

African post-colonial dictators: actually, this breed is not so much dying as already dead. About the only ones left are Mugabe, Afewerki, and dos Santos of Angola.

Most of Africa’s current crop of dictators are second- or third-generation; they came to power, not by struggling against the colonizers, but by seizing power within governments already long since independent. Kabila _fils_, for instance, is the son of the guy who won a civil war against the guy who seized power from the first elected government. Idress Deby of Chad seized power from Habre who had seized power from Oueddi who — cripes, I don’t even know. But Deby was a little kid at independence, and Kabila wasn’t even born.

That’s why I don’t think African dictatorship is going away any time soon. Running a quick eye over the continent, it looks like it’s in a rough state of equilibrium. You have some countries that are becoming less authoritarian (Zambia, Tanzania), but you have just as many countries that seem to be drifting the other way (Malawi, Senegal). The Ibrahim Index — go on, look it up — has hardly budged in the last few years; individual countries have risen or fallen, but the numbers as a whole are around the same.

I’d be happy to be wrong, mind.

Doug M.

76

Alex 08.23.11 at 1:33 pm

Egyptian Gini. This seems not to be a statistic the Egyptian government has collected regularly (hmm, another coinkydink), but I haz a datas! (from the World Bank)

Several people have had a crack at estimating it from other data (household surveys):

1959 42.00
1959 37.00
1959 29.00
1959 33.00
1965 40.00
1965 25.00
1965 43.37
1965 35.00
1975 37.00
1975 38.00
1975 28.00
1975 33.00
1981 34.00
1981 37.00

Then we have a spot number of 34.00 for 2001:

2001 34.00

It might be easier to reorganise that into the different series in the source:

1959 |1965|1975|1981|1991|2001
42.00|40.00|38.00|null|32.00|null
null|43.37|38.00|null|null|null
37.00|null|37.00|null|34.00 (rural)|null|null
ditt0|ditto|ditto|ditto|37.00 (urban)|null|null
29.00|25.00|37.00|null|null|null (rural)
33.00|35.00|28.00|null|null|null (rural)
null|null|33.00|null|null|null (rural)
null|null|null|null|null|null|34.00

It looks like the data sucks, for a start. It’s not just that it disagrees on the levels, it disagrees on whether it was rising or falling. Depending on which series you like, Nasser and Sadat either managed to pull down the Gini quite a lot, a little, or not at all, or perhaps it rose quite a bit.

As for Mubarak, the data is *really* thin for his regime – two data points, one in 1991, one in 2011, from different series based on different methodologies. The World Bank statisticians rated that first series as “acceptable” quality; if we can munge the 2001 data point in with it, that would suggest inequality improved fast with Nasser, Sadat, and the first few years of Mubarak, and then reversed and started getting worse.

(Hey, it’s as if he had to tread carefully to begin with and then got down to screwing the poor once he’d sidelined or eliminated the holdovers from Sadat…)

77

Alex 08.23.11 at 1:34 pm

Mistake: that should be “one data point in 2001″. A data point in 2011 would be handy.

78

zunguzungu 08.23.11 at 1:53 pm

Peterv: my point wasn’t that Mugabe was somehow legitimate or democratically elected; my point was that Quiggin’s shouldn’t have included him (by his own definition). If elections that included significant intimidation counted as “seizing power” his list would be massively larger than it is. Which is really the other bug problem with this whole line of reasoning: “tyrant” as it is being used, becomes almost meaninglessly vague as it grows to expand and include very disparate forms of despotism.

79

French Uncle 08.23.11 at 2:06 pm

The anglophone Google’s hairsplitters may try to change their Google settings to multiple languages.

With the search
“régime de Bouteflika”
I got 767 000 hits.

80

French Uncle 08.23.11 at 2:14 pm

Oops.
Coming back to the pages, I have now 1,880,000 Hits in Google for “régime de Bouteflika”

81

Doug M. 08.23.11 at 2:14 pm

Peterv, I agree that we’re including very different sorts of despotism. Still, it’s an interesting exercise, and possibly worthwhile.

As for Mugabe, he first came to power via armed insurgency. He’s stolen several elections since then, but his initial claim on the Presidency came from the barrel of a gun.

(Historical trivia: Mugabe is the only head of state to have fought a war involving both chemical and biological warfare. No, no — against him. In the last years of the Bush War, the Ian Smith government deployed warfarin and weaponized anthrax. Didn’t help.)

French Uncle, d’oh! And I speak French. Oh the embarrassment.

Doug M.

82

mossy 08.23.11 at 3:27 pm

About Russia:
Putin and Medvedev – remember him? The President of Russia? – have high ratings because they control most of the media coverage and do not allow any serious public criticism. Opinion polls show incredibly high discontent with just about everything going on in the country; pollsters explain the leaders’ high personal ratings as largely a function of propaganda. Would they win an election free and clear? It’s hard to say. Obviously, they fear they wouldn’t — or else they wouldn’t falsify results, stuff ballot boxes and keep anyone who has any hope of discrediting them or beating them off the ballots (preventing parties from being registered, forbidding talk shows, banning political competitors from TV etc.)
Putin “doesn’t need to repress his opponants”? Huh? He and his system does it all the time. It’s not totalitarian control, but selective show trials (and, depending on who you believe, murder). Khodorkovsky is in jail because he threatened Putin in various ways. Journalists are killed or beaten up. Political opponants are charged with various crimes. Political opponants’ kids are framed for drug use (or killed). It doesn’t cost as much as totalitarian control but is as, if not more, effective.
Matt wrote in #14: Though it’s more obscure (because not really set up w/ a formal structure like the old Communist Party) I think that something similar is the case for Putin, too- while I don’t think he’s a puppet, there are clearly strong interests that greatly constrain his actions, and I think it’s clear that he cannot act, or at least often thinks he cannot act, without their support. Without something like this being the case, much of what he’s done makes no sense.
I can’t think what you are referring to, but I think your paradigm is off. It’s not that Putin or Medvedev are constrained by a group, it’s that there is a political-economic deal. In return for political support (or silence), the rich guys get to become richer. The guys in the govt are either part of companies and/or get huge kick backs, bribes, etc. There appears to be some difference between the group around Putin (who think this can go on for a long time, mostly funded by oil and gas) and the group around Medvedev (who think it will end very soon and want to “modernize” the economy and political system). But it’s basically a collusion of interests, mostly economic, not any form of constraining representation of interests.

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zunguzungu 08.23.11 at 5:48 pm

Doug M,
The statement that “his initial claim on the Presidency came from the barrel of a gun” is a bit too simplistic; certainly he led an armed insurgency for years, but the 1979 Lancaster House agreement paved the way for a more or less internationally recognized election in 1980. See, for example, Houser’s statement. Again, I’m not trying to say good things about Mugabe, but his crimes came wrapped in the banner of electoral legitimacy; in 1980, his election was as legitimate as such things could have possibly been. And we might be splitting irrelevant hairs at this point — I’m sufficiently unimpressed with the significance of “came to power by gun rather than ballot” to care all that much — but if the requirement to be included on the “tyrant” list allows for people who came to power after a brokered cease fire that led to elections, my quibble would just be that there would be a whole lot more tyrants in the list. Paul Kagame, for example, began as much more of a “tyrant” by that standard than Mugabe, no? Which speaks a lot more to the relative meaninglessness of the standard than anything else…

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.23.11 at 6:08 pm

In return for political support (or silence), the rich guys get to become richer. The guys in the govt are either part of companies and/or get huge kick backs, bribes, etc.

In other words, a garden variety liberal democracy.

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Doug M. 08.23.11 at 6:12 pm

zunguzungu: A Mandela-style, more or less peaceful path to power was simply not an option in Rhodesia. Given the situation from 1965 on, nobody was going to end up running a majority-rule Zimbabwe without first leading an armed insurgency. So I don’t think it’s simplistic; it’s precisely correct.

Anyway, I’m not even sure what we’re quibbling about here. Lots of bad actors first come to power by elections — some even by more or less fair elections. Again, it’s not how you gain power, but how you keep it and what you do with it.

Doug M.

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zunguzungu 08.23.11 at 6:25 pm

Doug M,
Again, we are quibbling more than we are disagreeing. But I guess I would say that what you said was correct *and* oversimplistic; the trouble with Quiggin’s original metric was that he held “came to power by force” to be a different thing than “elected,” when the example of Mugabe shows that you can be both. As you say, no one was going to come to power in Rhodesia without force. But if you’re going to maintain that the essence of tyranny is somehow to be found in the non-elected status of having seized power by force, the fact that an election was held seems as relevant as the force, no? In other words, what it shows is the impossibility of that distinction to tell us very much about what kind of a rule Mugabe’s was, at the beginning (we know much more clearly what it is now). Which, in turn, suggests that how a tyrant came to power *originally* is precisely not the thing to be interested in.

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Anarcissie 08.23.11 at 7:28 pm

I would think that, as wealth and material power leak into the middle and lower strata of a society due to the progress of capitalist industrial development, that more complex means of organizing the state become necessary. Hence, an advancing state like China begins to resemble less a monarchy and more a modern corporation. Lesser states, once simple dictatorships, begin to resemble old-time constitutional monarchies.

The case of the United States is curious, for it seems to be proceeding in retrograde, towards centralized authoritarianism rather than away from it. I suppose this might be due to its having bankrupted itself financially and morally with its imperial adventures. It would hardly be the first imperial metropole to degenerate.

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Peter T 08.24.11 at 1:58 am

Kaveh

I’m just an amateur historian. But I was thinking of the numerous short “dynasties” (many but not all Turkish) that in varying numbers ruled between Algeria and Iraq between the Abbasids and the Ottomans. Very few lasted more than 2-3 generations, the boundaries shifted all the time, and they seem more autocratic and less tied in to the underlying societies than their contemporary European counterparts. It’s not that their methods were much different, it’s that the rulers seem to have little temporal or spatial legitimacy – bit like the modern financial elite :)

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sg 08.24.11 at 2:19 am

I have a strong suspicion that the Gini is not a good measure of inequality because it is heavily dependent on absolute wealth, and almost always decreases as wealth increases.

I also think it does not provide a reliable measure of inequality. A single value can refer to multiple different distributions of wealth, some of which are better than others.

It’s not as useless as an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, but I don’t think it’s the best way to compare inequality between nations or across time.

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Alex 08.24.11 at 4:26 am

But nobody is proposing the general rule that authoritarian political systems (let alone totalitarian) are always better than democratic ones, while the opinion that democracy is always superior is quite common. So, it’s not an anecdote, but a counterexample.

Again, you can’t say something happens “often” with a single example, whether you call it an anecdote or a counterexample.

And if it was a counterexample to the claim that “democracy is always superior” (in its effects), then it was a counterexample to a strawman.

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mossy 08.24.11 at 8:33 am

@84
Sigh. Don’t mean to jump all over you, but the notion that Russia is just the same as the US (pick your country) is so prevalent and so annoying that my blood pressure races just to read it. (I do see that you were joking, sort of) But this kind of statement puts the two countries in the same paradigm, just on different parts of the continuum, and that’s false. There is essentially no conflict of interest in Russia. The bureaucrats have economic interests that they fight to preserve. The oligarchs share their resources with the bureaucrats in order to have the right to get more resources. Some people think it’s closer to a sultanate.

Putin was appointed by Yeltsin when he resigned, voted in (there was no one else plausible), won again (by now with some manipulation). Then he appointed Medvedev, who won (by now with huge manipulation). It’s a tyrany in the sense that there is little recourse against anything he/they do, and certainly in the sense of lack of representation of other interests and points of view.

Like other corrupt leaders, Russian leaders don’t know when to stop, take their chips, cash in, and go away. So they’ll fall like all the rest of them. There is considerable panic at the top these days. And the two options — crack down or loosen up — are being debated more heatedly than in the past. As much as they maintain that the “Arab Spring” can’t happen here, they are indeed very frightened by it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.24.11 at 9:07 am

But this kind of statement puts the two countries in the same paradigm, just on different parts of the continuum, and that’s false.

How is it false? I don’t see that it’s false. What is the essential difference? You have elections, and a multi-party system (as opposed to the two-party system in the US). Granted, the business-government symbiosis has not been perfected yet to make bribery perfectly legal (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolving_door_%28politics%29 ), but is this really so important?

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Doug 08.24.11 at 2:29 pm

For what it’s worth, in ex-Soviet Central Asia there are at least as many cases of Soviet holdovers as there are of personal seizure of power. Nazarbayev, Karimov and Turkmenbashi had all been First Secretary of the republic-level Communist Party. In the absence of the Union, they carried on much as before.

The scuffle after Turkmenbashi’s death looks like a personal seizure of power, while Tajikistan looks more like gradual accretion of power following a reasonably legitimate (at least under the circumstances at the time) initial election.

Away from Central Asia, Lukashenko’s election in 1994 was reasonably legitimate (iirc, may have to look more closely at the details) but the authoritarian tendencies came out right quick.

Not sure that people still reading this thread are much fussed about how the dictators got where they are, but it’s at least interesting to note that the most tyrannous post-Soviet leaders were/are in fact Soviet holdovers. (Any thoughts on Aliyev pere, Doug M.?)

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mossy 08.24.11 at 3:41 pm

We’re not talking revolving door here. We’re talking up to 60 percent kickbacks for all government contracts, the wife of the mayor getting major building contracts, the brother of the mayor buying land at 3 kopeks on the ruble and selling it back to the city for 5 rubles on the ruble, etc. The model isn’t a modern capitalist democracy, however imperfect or corrupt. Here we call it a one-and-a-half-party system, but it’s really one party of power. People want to stay in power because 1) they had transfered to them percentages of the major businesses, which they make more lucrative by providing them with various benefits and 2) because they get massive kickbacks for doling out other benefits. It’s very primitive.

We don’t have elections. We have “elections.” First, any oppositional party is denied registration on specious grounds. They are banned from TV. The govt created another party, which has a slightly different approach than the main party. The only truly non-governmental party is the communist party, which also has trouble getting airtime etc. You have to be part of a party to be elected, so no independents. They took “none of the above” off the ballots. They cancelled direct election of mayors and governors. And they stuff ballot boxes and falsify the results anyway. Again, this is very primitive.

With few exceptions, most of the post-soviet leaders are holdovers of a sort. But is that such a surprise?

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Doug M. 08.24.11 at 7:14 pm

Doug @93, Aliyev _pere_ was Soviet, but not a holdover — he didn’t come to power until several years after independence. He had been running the place as Communist Party Secretary back in the 1980s, but fell from power in the late Gorbachev years. At independence he was an important figure but had no official position.

His immediate predecessor fell after the humiliating loss of Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev stepped in to pick up the pieces. By that time Azerbaijan had already been independent for a couple of years.

Seven post-Soviet republics fell under dictators in the 1990s: the five ‘stans, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Only one of them (Kyrgyzstan) has, maybe kinda sorta, come back from dictatorship. The region doesn’t have strong traditions of democracy, nor well-developed institutions of civil society. And the Russians are not generally a positive influence. So while I think the deaths of the older generation will open a window of opportunity, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if most of them were still dictatorships a decade from now.

Doug M.

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John Quiggin 08.24.11 at 8:24 pm

“while I think the deaths of the older generation will open a window of opportunity,I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if most of them were still dictatorships a decade from now.”

Aren’t you pretty much conceding the point of the original post here, except for a quibble about the pace of decline? Or do you think these dictatorships will be replaced by others?

As regards election, I didn’t mean to exclude cases where someone originally comes to power via an election but then establishes a personal dictatorship. OTOH, there’s a fairly blurry line here: popular presidents will always chafe at term limits and so on. But this is a side issue.

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ejh 08.24.11 at 8:31 pm

Can I say how much I’ve appreciated Doug M’s comments on this thread?

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Tom Bach 08.24.11 at 8:51 pm

The OP is right except to the extent that it runs up against the future is darker than it seems aspect of history. Predicting what is going to happen next in some kind of a discrete context, Libya will fall, is hard enough; predicting what is going to happen in some enlarged context, and there was never another tyrant again except for all the tyrants there are now who show no sign of going away, is much more so. The problem with FF’s notion of the end of history is that the idea of the end of history is that, you know, change in political, social, and cultural institutions and related etc stops or, in any event, all changes are for the better. It was silly notion when Condorcet argue it and it’s a silly notion now.

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Lemuel Pitkin 08.24.11 at 9:18 pm

Can I say how much I’ve appreciated Doug M’s comments on this thread?

Me too. Exactly what these conversations need more of, the spirit of Montaigne: “Men too often ask why is it so, without first asking, is it so?” (Is there an idiom that’s the opposite of spinning in his grave?)

We should also appreciate John Q. here. While it seems to me that Doug M. hasn’t conceded the point of the original post at all (Africa still exists, I guess), provoking people to disagree with you in productive ways is one of the less appreciated but critical qualities of a good blogger.

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burritoboy 08.25.11 at 12:58 am

I have to agree with Mossy here. The Putin regime is not on the continuum of the liberal democracies. It’s true that the liberal democracies can be – and usually are – dominated by an intertwined political / economic elite. But consider how those elites deal with other fellow members of the elite. In liberal democracies, the elites will (generally) deal with each other according to comparatively strict legal guidelines. That’s not to say they will always deal with the non-powerful according to those same guidelines, of course.

It’s probably fair to say that it would be (relatively) shocking if powerful rivals for political power in a liberal democracy would extend their political rivalry strongly into other, non-political realms. I.E. the elites have defined spaces where their rivalry can be contained. A Prime Minister in a liberal democracy who tried to take his opponents’ already existing personal wealth or arrest opponents’ family members would be rightly regarded as stepping way over the line. Sure, in liberal democracies, the elites will compete to gain political control over future economic opportunities – but again, they’re relatively careful to limit that competition to future opportunities.

That’s simply not the case within the Putin regime. The wealthy and powerful within that regime have fought each other lawlessly – Putin has stripped opponents of personal wealth they already possessed, has imprisoned opponents, has imprisoned opponents’ family members and so on. Elites in the liberal democracies will sometimes do those types of things to non-elite citizens, admittedly. But not to each other, and that means that there is a space for politics. That space is often constrained, of course. Political ideas which directly threaten all of the elite can be heavily punished in the liberal democracies. But that constraint in liberal democracies isn’t created by individual actors or even small groups of individuals – it’s created by large groupings of all the members of the elite. That is, members of the elite do need to convince each other and not use force upon each other (at least, in a direct or explicit way). While there isn’t necessarily equality among the elite, there are certain limits to what one member of the elite can do to another.

Again, that’s not the case with the Putin regime. In the Putin regime, there is not even that constrained space – members of the elite will (and have) used direct violence even on each other. Not just putting non-violent political pressure on their opponents’ non-elite political supporters – but also on their opponents’ own physical well-being as well – even incredibly powerful oligarchs have themselves been imprisoned by Putin for opposing him (not for opposing the government as a system, but imprisoned because they didn’t want Putin to run the system). Further, the constraints in the Putin regime aren’t only to a limited set of political platforms, like in the liberal democracy. The constraints in the Putin regime are also to a extremely limited set of individuals.

That is, elites in the liberal democracies don’t care as much about which individuals hold political power. They care to the extent that one individual has a certain platform and another has a different platform. If the individual politician abandons that platform they like, they will shift to another individual. All those individuals will be members of the elite, but it’s a quite large elite group (for example, all state governors and US Senators are at least marginally plausible contenders for the US presidency). Again, that’s not how the Putin regime operates – the politics of the Putin regime are heavily constrained in both political philosophy and in which individuals get to hold power.

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PHB 08.25.11 at 4:44 am

While the precise term may not be ‘tyrant’, there really is a sense that Gaddafi represents the last example of a style of dictatorship that was very common not so long ago.

Thirty odd years ago the likes of Idi Amin and Bokassa were not uncommon. Although Bokassa is probably the only dictator credibly accused of serving human flesh to a visiting French President.

There are quite a few unpleasant regimes left, but none that has the same Kafkaesque style as the ‘brother leader’. Mugabwe is trying hard but is hardly in the same league.

What really marked out Gaddafi was the total lack of self-awareness. He would attack his neighbors, suffer a humiliating defeat, declare a victory and then exhort the country he just attacked to participate in some scheme to promote peace &ct. Even now, Gaddafi can’t understand that whether he controls 10% or Tripoli as is generally reported or the 90% that he claims, the indisputable fact is that the battle is taking place in his own capital and that he is one battle away from total defeat.

The monarchies will undoubtedly fall in due course, as will the Iranian pseudo-theocracy. Whether Saud or Iran will be the first to go is still to be seen but the collapse of one will likely lead to the collapse of the other.

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Doug 08.25.11 at 6:19 am

Thanks, Doug M., I had forgotten that about H. Aliyev. I wonder whether he would have made less of a hash of the collapse than the holdover (Mutallibov) that Azerbaijan did get.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.11 at 6:55 am

Burritoboy, there is no question that the US plutocratic system is smoother, with better control over the mass-media, more institutionalized; the Russian one more personal, more direct, more in your face. Hey, it is much younger, give them time. Nevertheless, how do you explain, for example, Lehman Brothers going belly up, while Goldman Sachs getting bailed out (via AIG, and by other means)?

In any case: it’s liberal, and it’s democratic, with multiple parties. Elected politicians (the top ones, at least) appear to have more real power than their US counterparts, which, one could argue, makes it more democratic. And, perhaps as a consequence, unlike the US, it appears that there is some actual politics, actual political struggle there. So, it seems a bit more hopeful.

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Hidari 08.25.11 at 7:03 am

Goodness what a depressing discussion in an allegedly liberal blog! It’s not that dictatorship, in its ‘pure’ or’totalitarian’ form (god-like leader, absolutely no freedom of any sort, opponents who ‘vanish’ and are never heard of again) isn’t dying: it clearly is. It’s more the fact that what is replacing it is not, exactly, democracy.

What is replacing it is/are (in many cases) various forms of oligarchy, or quasi-democratic forms of government. Or else a completely breakdown of the state: either of which (sorry to pour rain on the parade) can be almost as bad as your classic ‘totalitarian’ government (especially the ‘broken down’ or ‘failed’ state).

What is also happening, of course, is realpolitik. Has anyone seen fit to mention that almost all the ‘dictators’ mentioned above are official enemies of the United States? And that the word ‘dictator’ has a special meaning in American/European political discourse, meaning ‘someone who opposes the political/commercial interests of the US’? Hence the frantic efforts by some above to shoehorn Mugabe and Putin into the definition of a ‘dictator’. They are clearly not dictators. They are awful people, and they have grossly mismanaged their countries but they are simply not dictators in the ‘dictionary’ definition of that word. But this mistake follows from the highly simplistic ‘dictator-non-dictator’ taxonomy implied by some posters above.

As for Gadaffi, he is, to a certain extent, sui generis, and what implications the downfall (assuming it does indeed fall) of his regime has is not at all clear. The US/NATO has precisely zero interest in having any kind of democracy in such an oil-rich country. We have yet to see whether or not there will be any kind of long term ‘resistance’ to NATO forces. Someone above mentioned that Saudi Arabia might be next. You are dreaming. The United States would rather let Israel use nuclear weapons before that will be allowed to happen. However, rest assured, despite current assurances, if Libya goes wrong, US/UK soldiers may soon be fighting in Libya despite what we are told at present.

I might also add that at the time of writing not one country which has been part of the ‘Arab Spring’ has yet had free and fair elections and it may well be wise to be sceptical about how much of a change this will really represent in the long term.

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Kaveh 08.25.11 at 7:55 am

@104 I don’t understand your pessimism re the Arab spring. I mean, “assuming [Qaddafi's regime] does indeed fall”? Are you joking? Do you actually have doubts that it’s going to fall? Also, I mean, sure, over the years there has been a lot of rosy talk about Middle Eastern politics by people trying to avoid real discussion (‘Palestinians and Israelis took another step towards peace’, &c.), but that doesn’t mean it’s actually impossible for Arabs to build democratic institutions, even (God forbid) at a time when those in the US are in a period of decline.

The US/NATO has precisely zero interest in having any kind of democracy in such an oil-rich country.

NATO/the US doesn’t actually dictate everything. This kind of fatalism/determinism seems to be a recurring misconception of people (I don’t know if you’re one) who buy too heavily into Military-Industrial Complex-types of explanation for Middle East-US political interactions. Small steps and small actors don’t matter, anything that seems like progress is a sinister plot being orchestrated from above, &c. Everything going on is determined by structures far too entrenched and massive to be affected by mere politics, so any apparent change is ipso facto merely superficial.

I might also add that at the time of writing not one country which has been part of the ‘Arab Spring’ has yet had free and fair elections

For the love of God, it’s been barely half a year since dictators/oligarchs were removed from countries that have not had effective opposition parties for decades! Of course they haven’t had free and fair elections yet.

Maybe we’re all still recovering from Obama disappointment (or disappointment over how much other people believed in Obama), but the Arab spring is not a political candidate, everybody I’ve talked to who is in any position to really see what is going on in Egypt–i.e. people involved in or attuned to Egyptian politics, not people I don’t know (however well-informed and educated they may be) commenting on blogs–or to put it another way, I actually asked some politically-active/attuned Egyptians I know–is very optimistic, at least to the extent of thinking that things are on the right track.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.11 at 8:32 am

What do you mean ‘very optimistic’; Egypt is controlled by a military junta. It’s a classic military dictatorship.

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mossy 08.25.11 at 10:00 am

Henri Viewtemps: What on earth are you talking about? Liberal? Democratic? Multiple parties? Political struggle? You mind actually spend some time reading something about Russia before posting.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.11 at 10:15 am

Technically it’s all true; what exactly did you expect? That is what liberal democracy is all about: money is power. As opposed to, as in other political systems, birthright, or long loyal service to the state, or personal connections.

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salazar 08.25.11 at 3:01 pm

@105: #This kind of fatalism/determinism seems to be a recurring misconception of people (I don’t know if you’re one) who buy too heavily into Military-Industrial Complex-types of explanation for Middle East-US political interactions”

And what arguments have you given to refute said fatalism/determinism? What if these politically active and aware Egyptians you’ve spoken to are overly optimistic?

I’m not saying things can’t change eventually in the Middle East, but I’ll believe in the decline of U.S.-Israeli meddling ability when I see it — and I don’t expect it any time soon.

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mossy 08.25.11 at 4:01 pm

But in Russia, power IS conferred by “birthright, or long loyal service to the state, or personal connections.” (With the caveat that “birthright” is nepotism rather than divine right.)

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burritoboy 08.25.11 at 4:03 pm

Henri,

Multiple parties do not really exist in Russia in a substantive political sense. That is, the regime allows small minority parties to pretend to be in existence, so long as they don’t threaten the ruling party. It’s the same set-up as the old PRI regime in Mexico or the PAP party in Singapore – and neither of those can be described as liberal democracies either.

Elected is a very dubious term to describe the office-holders within the Putin regime. You probably (quite rightly) fault the liberal democracies in that the members of the elite who control the major broadcast media have often tried to turn those liberal democracies into oligarchies. Examples being, Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi, Lord Beaverbrook and many others. But that process is precisely what did happen within the Putin regime. Again, while Rupert can buy more media properties, he can’t just take them – other powerful media owners demand that Rupert obey rules (at least in his dealings with them). Putin has, in fact, just simply taken media properties, including simply shutting down multiple media sources. What you correctly see as an oligarchical tendency in the liberal democracies is itself one of the major props of the Putin regime. The fact that Putin has done this far more thoroughly than even the most masterful maestros within the liberal democracies should be indicative of something. To the extent that Rupert Murdoch deforms the liberal democracies in which he operates and makes them more oligarchic, Putin’s regime has magnitudes more control than Murdoch does and thus is magnitudes more oligarchic or tyrannic.

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burritoboy 08.25.11 at 4:23 pm

Mossy is precisely correct. “Money” doesn’t necessarily translate into power in the Putin regime. Some of the wealthiest people in the world were imprisoned, driven into exile, impoverished, and so on by Putin. (Note: Putin didn’t do this because he’s some anti-capitalist, he punished these people because they opposed him having power – admittedly, most of these opponents were complete scumbags.) Again, prior existing money is an important route to power in the liberal democracies. But a figure like Rupert Murdoch has essentially no direct economic influence on many members of the elite who oppose him in many varied ways – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, the Kennedy clan and George Soros have tangled with Murdoch at various times, sometimes in reasonably serious conflicts. Their business affairs are entirely untouched by this political rivalry with Murdoch. That’s because Murdoch is forced to respect their property rights. Again, Murdoch literally cannot do things like force the Manchester Guardian to close, even though, if it were left up solely to Murdoch’s desires, the Manchester Guardian would probably be a giant smoking hole in the ground right now surrounded by the lifeless corpses of it ‘s staff

If you tried to be the Manchester Guardian in Russia, a giant smoking hole in the ground is quite literally what you’d become.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.11 at 4:34 pm

My (perhaps mistaken) impression is that while Russian major TV channels are more or less government – controlled, most newspapers are independent and they are more critical of the establishment than the American ones (those in the mainstream).

Right, Murdoch can’t just take a TV channel from GE or Disney, but that’s irrelevant: they are all large corporations, representing more or less the same interests, in the institutional/ideological sense. Everything has already been taken, and it doesn’t have to be, literally, the man behind the curtain.

I mean, sure, of course there is more lawlessness there, among the elite. They are still dividing the loot. Probably comparable to the prohibition time in the US, the stuff you see in Boardwalk Empire. But is it so radically different from what’s going on today?

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Arkansasmediawatch 08.25.11 at 4:55 pm

“they are more critical of the establishment than the American ones (those in the mainstream)”

I would like to offer this evidence: It just happens that both Arkansas senators within a few days came out with the absurd claim that half of Americans “don’t pay any federal taxes”, or even no taxes at all. (http://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/senator-pryor-insults-half-his-constituents/) The media response was to faithfully repeat what the senators said without bothering to point out that it’s demonstrably false.

Of course the corporate media aren’t just passive bystanders. The Arkansas monopoly newspaper regularly editorializes the same dishonest crap about the rich being overburdened and the poor not paying enough taxes. The issue is that this lie about 50% not paying taxes (which is of course just one example among many) has become a truism in the American public debate so deeply ingrained and believed by almost everyone that it is part of American reality. We don’t need state-controlled media and totalitarian regimes any more, our media manipulate just as effectively as if they were state-controlled, maybe even more so.

We have free speech and alternative media, like blogs, that point these propaganda lies out and correct them. They are irrelevant.

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.11 at 5:32 pm

The discussion would benefit from paying slightly more attention to the economic foundations, as well as the institutional richness, of these various regimes and societies.

Military dictatorships do tend to arise in countries, where the military is the only large, reasonably well-funded institutional ecology, capable of recruiting, conferring status, developing doctrines (ideologies) and taking coordinated action.

Along separate analytical lines, we can note that the enormous economic rents associated with resource extraction for export tend to hazard a concentration of wealth and power. Concentrating wealth and power in that way puts the leadership into a web of relationships of the global elite — dependent or conflictual, shared identity or otherwise.

The political leadership of a country has to find a resource base or stream, and has to not only extract some form of “consent” from the governed, but some sort of modus vivendi with the global elite.

Gaddafi, long ago, was fairly typical of a military strongman, who played on nationalist sympathies to get popular support, and played on cold war conflict to navigate the international hazards. In time, he distinguished himself for his willingness to provoke the hostility of the Western powers.

I don’t think you can be truly paying attention and be entirely optimistic. The Libyan people have risen up, in a display of remarkable solidarity. That so many high officials and officers defected from Gaddafi is a good sign; there’s some humanity there, latent idealism and identification with the nation-state, mixed in, no doubt, with calculation. On the other hand, their success clearly rested on the committed determination of the European powers to disarm the regime. This may be a triumph of a spirit of democracy, but it is also a triumph of neoliberal globalism.

When you look to the details of the origins of the Arab rebellion, I think the neoliberal role seems darker and more pervasive. There was a time, when Gaddafi used the country’s oil wealth to embark on grandiose projects — water and electricity, etc — that actually did spread benefits to the broader population. As his son took over, that spirit faded, and economic conditions for the masses worsened, which may have undermined popular support for his regime. Libya is not a country, which has much in the way of institutional development. When you see news reports of “clans” and “tribes”, that’s usually a sign that a society is near rock bottom, reaching thru a fog of half-remembered history for the most rudimentary social ties, to try to get some basic organization happening.

Egypt, too, is a society, where there’s been very little institutional development, but, of course, Egypt does not have oil, either. There’s religion and some labor movement. Mubarek lived on the generosity of the Saudis and on what he could extract from the Arab-Israeli conflict as America’s instrument of peace. The military, with extensive industrial assets not typical of a military, is *the* pillar of Egypt political economy. Again, the dark side of neoliberalism seems to have done him in, as rising food prices collided with stagnating wages.

There were other kinds of dictatorships, formed in the early and mid 20th century, in nation-states with aspirations to join the developed world of industrialized countries. These, too, were often military dictatorships. But, they functioned to keep the lid on a boiling pot, as those societies developed social organization and institutions. They were not simple kleptocracies, devoted to extracting wealth; they were trying to nurture wealth. When those “dictatorships” were successful, and could be put aside, those societies had the possibility of functioning, with distributed power. If any form of “dictatorship” is so out of fashion as to be gone from history, it may be that one.

The purely extractive-repressive client-state dictatorship, , however, seems to be just undergoing a re-design, to make it more suitable to a unitary neoliberal globalism. The global elite has reached a consensus, which makes it more difficult for dictatorships, predicated on exploiting conflict among the global powers. The Gaddafis, who went around tweaking Western noses, and talking up third-world solidarity, are obsolete. There’s some scrambling for economic relationships with China, but that seems a forlorn hope.

Russia has the remants of an extensive effort to create an industrial economy, but its modern economy is all resource extraction, all the time. Russia has an income distribution as heavily concentrated as an Arab oil state — with more billionaires than the U.S., but its size and military resources gives it a seat at the table with the global western elite. Putin, I would think, represents and draws his power from the remnants of the old order, and its police power; he demonstrates his power to the new order, rather dramatically, in order to discipline the new order, to gain resources and to marshal popular support. I don’t quite understand the insistence on typing Putin, though — what’s the point of categorizing his regime with moral epithets?

The most disturbing and pessimistic thing, of course, is to analyze the political deterioration of the United States, which is decaying into an authoritarian state, very rapidly, under the weight of extreme income distribution. The U.S. is the center of the neoliberal global system, and its extreme income distribution is due to its role, as a financial center, and the dominant role its elites have assumed in the global system, thru banking, oil, military-industrial power and multinational corporations.

The mass U.S. industrial economy is in an advanced state of decay and obsolescence, disemploying millions, with wages stagnating and declining. The mass economy is teetering on the brink of a depression. The institutions for organizing mass, popular will and opinion are also deeply decayed and dysfunctional. The church, the independent press, the professions, the law, academia — its all corrupt and incompetent. The elite, plugged into the global system for its wealth, power and status, does not need the masses, and wonders whether “we” can afford Social Security. Popular sentiment is deeply angry and resentful, but has no means of organizing or acting.

I find myself “hoping” for collapse.

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burritoboy 08.25.11 at 7:50 pm

“Right, Murdoch can’t just take a TV channel from GE or Disney, but that’s irrelevant”

No, that’s the very heart of the argument. Murdoch, right at this very moment, has had to shut down one of his most important holdings, lost over a billion dollars of his personal fortune and couldn’t bid on BSkyB (one of the most cherished plans he’s ever had) precisely because he couldn’t shut down the Manchester Guardian and, to a lesser extent, the BBC. Murdoch couldn’t do that because the UK’s property rights protections – a central feature of the liberal democracy – don’t permit him to do so. And Murdoch is clearly one of the most powerful moguls in the world and may well be the single most powerful private citizen in the world. But under Putin’s regime, those entities would have been neutralized long ago if they ever even hinted at becoming a real threat to his power.

The fact that the liberal democratic regimes seemingly can (with some level of reliability) enforce laws between members of the elite is a very critical point. Putin’s rule is, at it’s base, lawless. If Putin had a heart attack and passed away tomorrow, Medvedev would probably fall from power and be in a realistic level of danger of being murdered. We have no way to predict what will happen or who will take power after Putin, because the regime essentially doesn’t operate under actual laws (there are theoretical laws that it either doesn’t follow or can easily change at a moment’s notice). And the successor to the Putin regime will ascend to power by almost certainly utilizing the techniques of the Putin regime.

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.11 at 9:26 pm

@115: “The fact that the liberal democratic regimes seemingly can (with some level of reliability) enforce laws between members of the elite is a very critical point.”

It wouldn’t qualify a state as either “liberal” or “democratic” to my mind. For that, it has to be possible to enforce the law against members of the elite, on behalf of ordinary people. Recognizing that no one thinks Russia is a fully qualified liberal democratic regime anyway, what’s the point, exactly?

The Russian state, under Putin, is not fully controlled by the oligarchs; clearly, a mixed curse. I would be inclined to explain the core strengths of the Russian state, and the manner of its sometimes hostile relationship with the oligarchs, more in terms of of its historical inheritances, rather than the idiosyncracies of Putin, but be that as it may. Neither Czar nor Communist seems to have done much to develop non-authoritarian expectations, respect for honest business practice, or the law and judicial practice — shocking!

It is not possible to enforce the law against the elite in the U.S., and no independent Media with the prestige and influence of the Guardian or the BBC exist. The fact that large corporations can still sue each other just makes the system sclerotic and unstable — quite an accomplishment.

Rupert Murdoch managed to offend deeply a sufficient number of immensely wealthy, world-famous and powerful people, that he isn’t able to get absolutely everything he wants, on his own schedule. Sean Hoare is still dead, though. Feel the “liberal democracy” and its benefits! Oooh.

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Kaveh 08.25.11 at 9:42 pm

@106, 109 And what arguments have you given to refute said fatalism/determinism?

That whole thing where Mubarak, Israel and the US’s pillar of stability, was ousted in a popular revolution? Remember that? And he’s on trial now, which certainly isn’t the end of the military’s excessive influence in Egypt, but it was a concession extracted from them, something they wanted to avoid, and couldn’t. Anyway, I’m not saying the revolution is guaranteed to succeed, I’m saying it’s too soon to tell, and “they haven’t had fair elections yet” is not a useful measure of progress at this point in time–this is not cause for pessimism, at all.

But there are reasons to be optimistic, much of the Egyptian population has become widely involved in political activity, regularly going to meetings about how to participate in democratic politics, in parties, stuff like that. That has been observed in widely-read sources (This American Life), but also people I know who are in Egypt or in touch with what’s going on there have confirmed this independently. Also, apart from people with strong connections to Egypt, Juan Cole has generally been optimistic, and has given a number of arguments for his optimism. He is very knowledgeable about circumstances in Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east, I haven’t seen any of the resident Arab Spring pessimists cite a comparable authority for their opinions, or make any very good arguments themselves.

Yes, the US and Israel can meddle, but their ability to do this is not unlimited, and there is abundant evidence that what’s driving the policy in the first place are much smaller/more parochial interests (mainly, the Israel lobby), not a corporate conspiracy so vast as to be imperceptible. I would recommend reading Philip Weiss’ blog on this, I think he has a very good overall take on how the notion of the military industrial complex is misused, and a lot of careful research/journalism documenting how the Israel lobby functions at the level of individual decisions, careers, professional and personal relationships, &c.

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Kaveh 08.25.11 at 9:50 pm

Bruce Wilder @114
When you see news reports of “clans” and “tribes”, that’s usually a sign that a society is near rock bottom, reaching thru a fog of half-remembered history for the most rudimentary social ties, to try to get some basic organization happening.

Bruce, I generally appreciate and agree with your what you’ve said in your comment, but I should point out that when somebody bases a judgment about the level of a country’s institutional development on what epithets are used in news reports, that’s usually a sign they put a disturbingly low value on specific and reliable information about the country in question.

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.11 at 10:37 pm

@118

I live in the U.S. Where would I get specific and reliable information about anything?

Seriously, I intended my phrasing to highlight just how little relevant information comes thru the media filter, or gets used in our idle opinionating. I value specific and reliable information; I wish it were a less esoteric taste. But, the kind of arguments we are having on this thread, as well as the arguments which media pundits will have, and — I dare speculate — the arguments, which policymakers and policy-support “experts” in D.C. and Rome and Paris and London are having — will be based more on prejudice and projection, than actual facts. And, that’s due, admittedly to the exigencies of political power, which doesn’t care for anything but oil, but also to not asking the right questions — most of us have very poor models in our heads for social and political institutions, development and history. You need good, rich models, to have the ability to pick up relevant and specific information about a particular society, quickly, and to put it to use in a strategic sketch of possibilities.

I was serious in my first comment in this thread — that what was revealed to me by this thread was the extent to which we hardly have any shared vocabulary, circa 2011, and this is a genuine contrast to say, circa 1930, when rich typologies of political institutions were part of a standard education or acquaintance with current events. 2011 is a far more homogeneous world in its expectations of political economic order and intention than was 1930, but has less reason to be.

There’s been some jokey talk of “the end of history”; a snarky way to acknowledge the surprised blinking at the advent of revolutionary change, even in remote or relatively unimportant parts of the world. Deep down, we are all aware that we are at the end of an epoch; the global system has played out. That established system, in all the glory of decadent “late capitalism” or whatever this is, is still playing out in Libya. This isn’t something new — not yet, at least. Still, the brain longs to notice the new.

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burritoboy 08.25.11 at 11:12 pm

“no independent Media with the prestige and influence of the Guardian or the BBC exist.”

But how does that relate to my generalized comments about liberal democracies as a whole? The US does have a particular problem with tightly concentrated media ownership. But the US government can’t seize media entities, and Putin already has done so. It’s a critical difference – major opposition media currently happens not to exist in the US as the result of a complex history. (Major opposition media does exist in other liberal democracies, so clearly it’s a possible thing under liberal democracy.) But if major opposition media were to exist, neither Murdoch nor the US government would be able to simply seize it.

“Rupert Murdoch managed to offend deeply a sufficient number of immensely wealthy, world-famous and powerful people, that he isn’t able to get absolutely everything he wants, on his own schedule.”

But that’s something that would be impossible under Putin’s regime. Say that there was a Rupert Murdoch equivalent in Russia. Like in the real-life version of Murdoch’s alliance with the Tories, our equivalent would be a close ally and supporter of the Putin regime who is a major media mogul. Some non-profit newspaper causing a critical Putin ally a loss of over a billion dollars, exposing the ally (and by extension, Putin himself) to ridicule and increased opposition (including revealing large amounts of criminal behavior) simply would not be allowed to happen. The only way for that ally to suffer what Rupert is suffering is if he started opposing Putin – and the current Tory government in the UK remains closely allied with Murdoch and yet is still having trouble pulling Murdoch’s bacon out of the fire!

I’m trying to make a case that even the worst of the liberal democracies are different types of regimes than Putin’s Russia. That regime isn’t just another step on a continuum, but a different kind altogether. Not that I’m trumpeting liberal democracies (which I find somewhat disappointing myself), but it’s important to actually be able to define regime types.

“Neither Czar nor Communist seems to have done much to develop non-authoritarian expectations, respect for honest business practice, or the law and judicial practice—shocking!” But that’s part of the reason why Putin’s regime is not just some sort of degraded liberal democracy. Russian, under Putin, lacks key important institutions that liberal democracies do have. Of course, much of the reasons for the lack is Russia’s political history, not something that Putin created himself (though he certainly has exploited these lacks for his own gain). But that, again, emphasizes that Putin’s regime, while a relatively mild one within Russian history, remains quite different from the liberal democracies.

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john c. halasz 08.26.11 at 12:22 am

@120:

Jeez, nothing about how our beloved “liberal democracies”, through their “international” agencies, imposed “shock therapy” on the post-Soviet republics and thereby aided and abetted the looting of remaining productive bases of those countries, instituting a reign of mafia capitalism, with the result all-but-inevitably being its overcoming/rationalization through Chekist capitalism. Surprise, surprise surprise, Sgt. Carter, who coulda thunk it! So maybe such self-righteousness about “liberal democracy”, as if it were the automatic arbiter of political “legitimacy”, might not be the most relevant or realistic tack, given the complexities involved. You might as well claim that the “cause” of “liberal democracy” is promoted by an utter lack of historical memory.

For the rest, one name: Berlusconi. ‘Nuff said.

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Bruce Wilder 08.26.11 at 2:07 am

“the US government can’t seize media entities”

It can, but it won’t. Not major ones, anyway. Wouldn’t want to be Wikileaks, though, eh?

“. . . major opposition media currently happens not to exist in the US as the result of a complex history”

Oh, that’s alright, then. So few of us were born without parents — a pity, really.

“Rupert Murdoch managed to offend . . . powerful people . . . But that’s something that would be impossible under Putin’s regime.”

Of course, a Rupert Murdoch figure could exist in Russia, and, yes, could, indeed, manage to offend Putin or other powers-that-be. The configuration might be a little different. But, there’d still be offense given, and a public scandal, exposure and humiliation in some form of broadcast Media. Public humiliation to induce shame and submission is part of power politics in every regime type — it’s basic to human nature — maybe basic to mammalian nature. It’s not distinctive of a liberal democracy.

“I’m trying to make a case that . . . Putin’s Russia . . . isn’t just another step on a continuum, but a different kind altogether. . . . it’s important to actually be able to define regime types.”

I don’t think Putin’s Russia qualifies as a liberal democracy, either. I think what’s had you stumbling about is that the emblematic, historic liberal democracies have, in their recent decay into neo-liberal democracies entered an ambiguous territory, where they have arguably ceased to be either liberal or democratic. Your standards of measurement have been stretched out of shape, like a ruler printed on silly putty.

I’d like to say that’s nothing to do with Russia, but that’s not entirely true, since the same neo-liberal doctrines and trends, which contributed to creating Russia’s oligarchs, who prosper in a neo-liberal global economy, created America’s financial de-regulation, bubble economics and crisis. The political root traditions are radically different, but the economic fabric is common and connected.

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burritoboy 08.26.11 at 3:59 am

“Of course, a Rupert Murdoch figure could exist in Russia, and, yes, could, indeed, manage to offend Putin or other powers-that-be. The configuration might be a little different. But, there’d still be offense given, and a public scandal, exposure and humiliation in some form of broadcast Media. Public humiliation to induce shame and submission is part of power politics in every regime type—it’s basic to human nature—maybe basic to mammalian nature. It’s not distinctive of a liberal democracy.”

No, again, you still really don’t understand the dynamics. Rupert Murdoch is a close ally of the T0ry Party. The illegal things he did helped the Tory Party. The Tory Party was, before the scandals, very happy indeed with Murdoch. Murdoch has done nothing to offend the Tory Party. If his power could be restored, that restoration would aid (perhaps greatly) the Tory cause. There is no significant animosity or even disagreement between the Tory Party and Rupert Murdoch.

The scandal was caused by things Murdoch did in support of the current ruling government.

The above scenario couldn’t happen in the Putin regime. The Putin regime would certainly know (and indeed, had probably asked for) their pet media mogul to hack into people’s cell phones. Therefore, it is inconceivable that the regime would permit a major media outlet to openly engage in an investigation lasting years which is aimed at that key regime ally, an investigation which easily could lead to the regime itself being undermined.

Again, you misunderstand – certainly the Putin regime could punish the mogul for doing unauthorized things which displease the regime itself. But, again, it wasn’t the Tories who were displeased with Murdoch. Rather, Murdoch went after their mutual enemies, and, at least in an equivalent scenario in Russia, Putin’s pet mogul would have certainly done a massive phone-hacking scheme only after it had been approved by the regime itself. Displeasing the regime’s opponents literally couldn’t have a negative effect on our Russian mogul. First, the regime makes certain that there are no powerful opponents in existence at all, and it can do that precisely because it doesn’t have many key features of liberal democracies. Second, the regime doesn’t care if their opponents are offended.

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burritoboy 08.26.11 at 4:06 am

“Jeez, nothing about how our beloved “liberal democracies”, through their “international” agencies, imposed “shock therapy” on the post-Soviet republics and thereby aided and abetted the looting of remaining productive bases of those countries, instituting a reign of mafia capitalism, with the result all-but-inevitably being its overcoming/rationalization through Chekist capitalism”

I’m confused. I made a claim that liberal democracies do have a rule of law between members of their elites. I explicitly the same can’t be said of their own citizens. Of course a liberal democracy doesn’t maintain any pretense of the rule of it’s laws when that liberal democracy is acting outside of its own borders, even against the elites of other countries. Liberal democracies not infrequently try to murder the elites of other countries, for example.

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burritoboy 08.26.11 at 4:13 am

“It can, but it won’t. Not major ones, anyway.”

Precisely. There are norms and laws, things which don’t exist in Putin’s regime.

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basil 08.26.11 at 11:32 pm

Just about the least worthy OP on CT ever. Seems very rushed, perhaps JQ regrets posting it now, especially the bits that cannot be edited.

Really grateful for Doug M.’s interventions though, and what Hidari said.

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Jack Strocchi 08.28.11 at 1:53 am

Pr Q said:

I don’t have a good theory to explain the rise of so many tyrants in the modern period, beginning with Bonaparte (or maybe Cromwell), or the sharp decline of this form of government from around the mid-1960s. But it seems that it’s a development worth noting.

I do, its called Darwinian sexual selection.

Tyranny is the default “mode of domination” for primates, whether at the personal or political level. Simply patriarchy writ large over hierarchical social status systems.

It is the emergence of more liberal legal regimes during the era of modernity that is the exception to the tyrannical norm. Individual autonomy started to undermine absolute institutional authority, or at least demand accountability.

By and large the post-sixties dissolution of tyranny is part-and-parcel of a more general dissolution of unquestioned obedience to institutional authority in the family, faith and fatherland. If you ask me its the chicks who are to blame/get the credit.

Once they got birth control they got the power to form one person sexual selection committees. No more punching bag for a personal tyrant or breeding factory for a political tyrant. Instead they selected for, and have largely obtained, wimpier and more feminine male mates and leaders.

Putin is the exception that proves the rule. Russia’s experiment with liberalism went overboard (from shock therapy to kiddy porn) which caused a catastrophic decline in female natality and increase in male mortality. Thus Russian females are now selecting for more masculine, authoritative men to restore Russia’s demographic vitality. Hence Putin’s assays into partial nudity and various he-man stunts.

Darwin’s rule underlay everything.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.28.11 at 7:52 am

I can’t say I understand the significance of Murdoch story. He was useful to the ruling clique, right until he’s become an embarrassment for the ruling clique. At which point he was criticized by the ruling clique, and got (so far) a slap on the wrist. What’s so dramatically un-Russian about that?

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praisegod barebones 08.28.11 at 12:27 pm

The argument is that there’s no way Murdoch could have become an embarrassment to anyone in Russia, because no-one would have been in a position to embarrass him. ( The Guardian would have been closed down and Nick Davies would have been dead of polonium poisoning.)

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.28.11 at 1:05 pm

They have independent press, opposition newspapers. http://en.novayagazeta.ru/ is, apparently, the most prominent.

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Doug M. 08.28.11 at 5:32 pm

Been away at the beach for several days.

John Q.: “Aren’t you pretty much conceding the point of the original post here, except for a quibble about the pace of decline? Or do you think these dictatorships will be replaced by others?”

Obviously, I think they’ll be replaced by others. Was that not clear? I think the number of dictatorships in the world is currently in a state of rough equilibrium.

I said that in Africa the Ibrahim Indexes have hardly budged in the last few years. Most global indexes are telling the same story worldwide. For instance, the number of countries on the Economist’s Democracy Index — yes, yes, the Economist, go check the methodology and then come back — had the number of “clearly authoritarian” countries stay almost exactly constant between 2006 and 2010. The Arab Spring is going to knock a couple off — but it’s still a depressingly long list.

Can’t abide the Economist, so can’t be bothered to look at their methodology? That’s fine — there are half a dozen other indices to work with, from the State of World Liberty Project to the University of Iowa’s Center for Human Rights Index. And they all tell pretty much the same story: no significant change in the last half decade or so. Again, the events of the last six months will nudge the numbers a bit — but only a bit.

Turn the question around. Why would you expect the number of dictatorships to decrease significantly over, let’s say, the next decade?

Doug M.

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Doug M. 08.28.11 at 6:05 pm

FWIW, I think John perhaps had part of a correct and possibly interesting idea, but expressed it so sloppily that it has since gotten lost. I think PHB @101 cut close to the heart of the matter. What is perhaps disappearing with Qaddafi is one particular type of dictator, viz., the flamboyant malignant narcissist.

There are still plenty of dictators around — but most of them are relatively bland compared to the Brother Leader. The typical modern dictator at least pretends to be a technocrat, and goes easy on the insane claims and wacky-ass titles. For an example of a “modern” dictator replacing the classic whackaloon model, see Turkmenistan. The current Maximum Leader is every bit as brutal and oppressive as his predecessor, and Turkmenistan’s human rights rankings haven’t budged out of the cellar. But Berdymuhammedov doesn’t feel the need to build immense golden statues of himself, rename the calendar months after his family members, and require everyone in the country to own and read his book of sayings.

So why are these guys dying out? My tentative guess would be that it’s harder — though probably more fun! — to be totalitarian leader when you’re obviously and loudly insane. A lot of these guys didn’t actually last that long. PHB mentioned Bokassa and Amin; those are both excellent examples. On one hand, they were so flamboyantly crazy that they’re still remembered today, more than 30 years after losing power. On the other, neither managed to *stay* in power for even a decade.

Most of the ones who’ve hung on fall into one of two categories. Either they’re running countries that are near-autarkies (Kim, Castro, Afewerki), or they’re sitting on top of serious oil wealth (Qaddafi, Obiang). It also seems to help to have come to power in a nationalist revolution (Castro, Afewerki, Qaddafi, Mugabe); I’d tentatively suggest that this gives the Maximum leader an extra hit of legitimacy, allowing him a somewhat broader leash.

So, flamboyant narcissists may indeed be on the decline. But dictatorship as an institution? Looks to be doing just fine, alas.

Doug M.

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Bruce Wilder 08.28.11 at 6:57 pm

Global neo-liberalism might have something to do with the reduced tolerance for “flamboyance”, as you call it. Being part of a unified global hierarchy requires a selective narcissism of the kiss-up, kick-down variety, favored in American corporations.

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Hidari 08.28.11 at 10:07 pm

Actually, fwiw, democracy has been in decline for the last half decade*. However I’m sure NATO’s ‘intervention’ in Libya (followed by the almost inevitable economic collapse/insurgency/civil war/return to authoritarian rule) will change everything.

http://www.economist.com/node/15270960

*Assuming you accept that what Freedom House has to say about things is the last word on the matter.

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Doug M. 08.29.11 at 7:41 am

It hasn’t been a great decade for liberal democracy, no. But that’s a separate question from whether dictatorships are on a roll.

To further narrow and clarify my position: I think the Arab Spring is something of a one-off, and limited in its scope — important, but unlikely to spread beyond the region. It will reduce the number of dictatorships in the world by three or four or five, but not by eight or ten. And it’s IMO unlikely to spread beyond the region.

Further: I don’t see another Arab Spring happening any time soon. The most plausible thing I can think of would be a Central Asian Spring. I think that’s certainly possible. I’m not sure I’d call it likely, but it could happen, and within the next decade.

However, even if it does happen, it would probably be even smaller than the Arab Spring. That’s because Central Asia is a lot smaller (in terms of population and number of countries) than the Arab world. Even if we include Afghanistan, Iran and Azerbaijan, we’re only talking about eight countries, of which only five are clear and classic dictatorships.

Further. One reason I think a Central Asian Spring might be possible is that of the five dictators in question, four are getting old. Old dictators are more vulnerable; you’ll notice that the Arab Spring has taken out Qaddafi (69), Ben Ali (75) and Mubarak (82) while Assad (46) has been able to hang tough.

The flip side of this is that there are still a lot of young-ish dictators out there. The leaders of Cambodia, Ethiopia, Chad, Rwanda and Fiji are still in their 50s. Aliyev and Kabila _fils_ are both just 40. And these guys probably aren’t going anywhere without a violent and bloody revolution.

Doug M.

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Doug M. 08.29.11 at 7:55 am

Further still: there are quite a few dictatorships that have seen a successful handoff from an old, sick or dying dictator to a successor. This has happened in Azerbaijan, Burma, Cuba, Syria, North Korea, and arguably Togo and Gabon. In DR Congo, the dictator was assassinated, but his son promptly stepped up. And Turkmenistan and South Sudan can be added to the list as “top guy died mysteriously, but equally dictatorial new guy took over in a smooth succession”. So while having the Maximum Leader get old and feeble opens a window of opportunity, it’s also perfectly possible that the old dictator may simply be replaced by a new one.

So, taken all in all, I’m just not seeing why the number of dictatorships should decline significantly over the next decade or two. Sure, I can imagine a best-case scenario where a Central Asian Spring takes out three or four more later in this decade while half a dozen others evolve peacefully towards more liberal rule. That’s happened in all sorts of places, from Paraguay to Indonesia to Bhutan. So it’s certainly possible.

But OTOH, I can just as easily imagine a worst-case scenario in which almost all of the current crop stay in power or are replaced by someone just as dictatorial, while various countries that are currently under authoritarian or oligarchic rule drift into full-blown dictatorship. (Do I really need to come up with a list of plausible candidates for the latter?)

All in all, I think the median scenario over the next decade is either stability or slight decline. To nail this down, I’ll define my terms. At the end of comment 72 I listed 22 extant dictatorships. I would add the inherited dictatorships of Cuba, Syria, Azerbaijan and North Korea to that list, bringing the total to 26. (We’ll leave Algeria, Burma and South Sudan out for the nonce, and ignore the dictator-monarchs.) So I’ll go out on a limb and predict that in 2020, this number will be 25 +/- 3.

If it drops to 21 or lower, than that will be a significant decline, and I’ll cheerfully admit I’m wrong. Very cheerfully! Because that would be, you know, great good news.

Doug M.

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mossy 08.29.11 at 11:18 am

Thank you, burritoboy, for saying more cogently what I am trying to say – and what so many posters keep fighting – Russia isn’t just on another spot in the continuum, but is organized in a completely different way.

There was, of course, a Russian Murdoch – Gusinsky – who left the country, lost all his media holdings, and would have ended up in jail for the rest of his life. (Yes, he most certainly broke laws and/or did things that lawyers consider “arguable legal.” But he, like Khodorkovsky, was not prosecuted for those reasons. He was hounded because his media holdings threatened Putin.)

@121. What you write is the generally accepted liberal and absolutely incorrect view of the 1990s. Shock therapy wasn’t foisted on Russia; Russia chose it because they had no other choice (having inherited a totally bankrupt country, huge debts, a discontented population screaming for reform, and the real threat of famine or close to it). The oligarchs got their start before the country broke apart under Soviet power. The oligarchs have not been tamed by Putin. With the exception of the few who threatened his power, the rest have become richer under Putin – vastly richer. The deal they cut is simply 1) not threatening his power and 2) providing the appropriate kickbacks (everything from deposits in foreign bank accounts to building new roads and bridges).

The notion that the big bad west arrived in Russia, created (supported, created a system by which they could flourish) oligarchs, introduced kiddo porn, etc. is just nonsense. It presupposes a helpless, hapless local population and an all-powerful West. Russians created their system pretty much all by themselves. The joke here is that it’s the most stable country in the world – the same system, under different names, has been operating here for centuries: rich and powerful oligarchs (Politburo, Princes, Boyars) grab all the country’s wealth for/in support of/in collusion with a President (GenSek, Tsar, Great Prince) while the country’s citizens (serfs) complain and are happy for the freedoms they have. Right now they have more freedoms and more affluence than they have ever had before. Primary among these is the freedom to leave, which they are doing in droves (huge emigration of the educated classes).

As far as the media goes – we have one oppositional newspaper (Novaya gazeta) and one oppositional radio station (Ekho Moskvy). We also have Internet, which is still more or less free. They all exist because they have such small reach/readership that they have no effect on public opinion. If they do have an effect, they are closed down. This happened already with local TV stations, which flourished in the 1990s and were all bought up by local administrations and compliant businesses under Putin. Something like 95 percent of the population gets their news from TV, and that is controlled (including with black lists of people who can not be seen on air, which, during the presidential elections, included the main oppositional candidates – one of whom was a former prime minister).

The problem here for the regime is that what worked for the last 12 years isn’t going to work that much longer. The problem with the huge corruption is that kids who pay bribes to get through medical school aren’t good doctors, and roads that are built with ½ the budget (the rest pocketed) fall apart, and rockets bringing supplies to the space station fall out of the sky (see recent news reports), and business close down, and new businesses don’t start up, and running your entire country on sales of gas and oil means you are totally dependent on external factors beyond your control. And then people get fed up. So they have to do something – hence the talk about “modernization,” which is just another word for reform without the bad connotations. But the guys at the top are rather nervous, which is why, rumor has it, Putin’s lawyers have been asking about something they call “international legal immunity” for their client. The fact that there isn’t such a thing and his lawyers surely know that suggests a certain level of desperation.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.29.11 at 2:04 pm

Yeah, influential individuals dangerous to the regime get persecuted. Cry me a river. Fine, what about this: in the 1940s and 50s, for about 20 years, the American establishment felt threatened by so – called ‘un – American activities’. Many of those deemed dangerous were jailed, black – listed, lost their jobs. Some fled the country. New laws were passed, to deprive ‘communist front organizations’ (labor unions) of any legal rights. Then COINTELPRO started, and it lasted for more than a decade.

Was that still a spot in the continuum, or was it a completely different political system, like a fascist dictatorship or something?

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mossy 08.29.11 at 3:29 pm

I don’t get it. Henri (if I may), you clearly are not an expert in this region. You clearly no very little about Russia. I gather you do not read or speak Russian. And yet you keep insisting on your opinion and keep sneering about Russia being, a fascist dictatorship or something. Do you have some vested interest in believing that Russia is a liberal democracy? Is this some hangover from defending the USSR?

Why are you comparing something that happened 50 years ago to something happening now? It would be the same thing if the US had outlawed the Reupblican party, the Democratic party, and four other parties. It would be the same thing if there had been only one party with a huge majority in Congress which received instructions in the form of draft legislation from the White House and passed every single one. It would be the same thing if the kids of the communist leaders had been framed for drug dealing and put in jail for 8 years. And if at the same time the US govt controlled the media, owned the majority of the largest US companies, had their ministers on the boards of the largest companies, jailed a company CEO whose product threatened their companies (or the profits of companies of their tennis partners and judo teachers), let the wife of the mayor of New York establish a monopoly on building materials and give her huge city contracts, etc.

That is, if you take the time to read what I and other knowledgeable people here have written, or if you take the time to read almost anything about the country, you would see that while you can cherrypick similarities, the overall system is different.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.29.11 at 4:23 pm

I’m simply trying to understand your point of view; that is my only motive, as far as I know.

Look, any country with a multi – party system, free (i.e. ‘secret ballot’) elections, capitalist economy, and laws that guarantee basic freedoms – is a ‘liberal democracy’. Depending on strength or weakness of various institutions, things often go wrong: rampant corruption ensues, a clique acquires (and abuses) disproportionate power, nationalist sentiment rises, incited by politicians, whatever. To me, that’s just one of the characteristics of liberal democracies.

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burritoboy 08.29.11 at 8:17 pm

Henri,

“Look, any country with a multi – party system, free (i.e. ‘secret ballot’) elections, capitalist economy, and laws that guarantee basic freedoms – is a ‘liberal democracy’.”

Precisely – Russia does not have laws that guarantee basic freedoms (oh, theoretically it does, but these laws are irrelevant in practice). There is not a real multi-party political system – small minority opposition parties are allowed to exist as long as they don’t threaten the ruling party. Also, elections are not free in various central ways (only certain political parties are allowed to compete, for instance).

“Fine, what about this: in the 1940s and 50s, for about 20 years, the American establishment felt threatened by so – called ‘un – American activities’. Many of those deemed dangerous were jailed, black – listed, lost their jobs. Some fled the country. New laws were passed, to deprive ‘communist front organizations’ (labor unions) of any legal rights.”

I don’t think anybody to going to claim otherwise. How does this compare with Putin’s Russia?

Accused communists in the US under McCarthyism often lost their jobs, and were blacklisted from finding new ones. Notable, however, is that McCarthyism persecuted people for their political ideas and activities. Nobody cared if American communists supported Eisenhower or not. American McCarthyists, evil though they were, had essentially no interest in which individual major current American politician their victims liked (and many McCarthy-ites openly disliked Eisenhower themselves). McCarthyism wasn’t primarily a power struggle over which individual politician got to rule the US.

That is not again any sort of workable analogy to Putin’s Russia. Putin’s regime has very few defined elements of any concrete political platform. Nobody supports Medvedev because of they agree with Medvedev’s (non-existent) “ideas”. They support him because Medvedev is useful for Putin. And nobody supports Putin for his ideas or platforms either – Putin largely doesn’t have any sort of stable or very predictable political platform. Comparatively, look at how fast the American McCarthy-ites dropped McCarthy when he proved to be a drunken buffoon. In the main, they supported McCarthy’s political actions when they agreed with those actions, but cared essentially nothing for McCarthy’s personal power or career and were perfectly happy to see McCarthy as a person vanish as a political entity.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.29.11 at 8:40 pm

Ah, so you think Putin, as an individual, is the real center of power there, not just a figurehead representing some businesses and property owners. Well, if that’s the case, then you’re right of course. I find it hard to believe, though. But hey, what do I know.

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john c. halasz 08.29.11 at 10:26 pm

@136:

Nope. At the time Germany, (which presumably had the most direct interest, as most effected and most to gain), and France mooted plans for the former U.S.S.R., which were quickly swept aside in exclusive favor of the Washington -imposed plan. (And no one consulted the Finns, who had extensive experience dealing with the old Soviet economy, and who underwent a depression partly as a result of the Soviet collapse, as exports there dropped from 25% of exports to 3%). The Soviet economy was in bad shape and was already in decline under Gorbachev, who didn’t understand a whit about economics, and the loss of its trade networks with the instant dissolution of Comecon,- (such trade networks would have evolved even if there had never been any communism),- added to the blow. But there was still a considerable installed industrial capacity and a large technical intelligensia, as well as managers who must have been remarkably energetic and resourceful to work at all under the old system, (which was less a fictitiously centrally planned one than an industrial barter economy, as can be seen by the way the collapse was survived when workers weren’t being paid for months at a time). A much more gradual approach to economic restructuring would have been far more preferable, assuming the masses of the Russian and associated peoples counted for anything. Hyman Minsky, who unlike the neo-classicals was an institutionalist, spoke out at the time that the plan was nuts, because one can’t create any efficient “markets” without developing the surrounding and supporting institutional structures. At any rate, there is a big difference between chapt. 7 and chapt. 11 bankruptcy, and the instant wiping out of mass savings and the thoroughly corrupt and violent “privatizations”, which were little more than massive looting of the remaining capital stocks and resources of the country to be exported abroad in the absence of any capital controls, (a neo-liberal taboo), were by no means economically inevitable, (rather than re-organizing production toward low cost, low quality consumer goods for domestic and lower income, developing markets). The result was the largest depression in a (formerly industrialized) economy and amounts to something between a vast historical tragedy and an equally large historical crime, (but, hey, it’s Russia, so they’re used to it anyway!) So the notion that the “Russian people” chose all that and have only themselves to blame, is nothing but a malignant fairy tale, even if you speak infinitely more Russian than I do. Though that the violent mafia-capitalism that emerged would be replaced by a Chekist capitalism was hardly a surprise, but more a predictable inevitability, given the prior catastrophe, especially if one understands the role that the KGB had played as the nerve center of the Soviet regime, processing far more extensive ranges of semi-accurate information than Western intelligence and police organizations do, and the need to “legitimate” and recirculate as capital investment all those ill-gotten gains. And the fact that the broad mass of the population experiences revulsion at the notion of “democracy” precisely because it was ideologically associated with the catastrophe of neo-liberal capitalist “reforms”.

As an extra credit question, which European nation was the first to undergo IMF-sponsored (and effectively imposed) shock therapy and when?

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john c. halasz 08.29.11 at 10:27 pm

I have no idea where those cross-outs come from.

146

burritoboy 08.29.11 at 10:32 pm

Mossy,

I tend to think Putin’s problem is at heart more prosaic, and not that different from any other country whose economy is dependent on natural resources. Russia has the problems of any oil state, but with an additional difficult dilemma: Russia has a lot of citizens compared to a Gulf sheikdom. That means that Putin had easier run early in his reign because higher energy prices made him look better than Yeltsin. But, as you highlight, Putin doesn’t know future energy prices, so he doesn’t have any more predictive power concerning the Russian economy than anybody else – nor, at the end of the day, does he have any more economic levers than a Gulf sheik does.

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burritoboy 08.29.11 at 10:40 pm

John,

Again, it’s unclear what work your narrative does. Yes, Russia’s current regime came about inside of the Russian historical experience – which has included significant episodes of predation by foreign regimes (including – but not limited to – by liberal democratic ones). No one is suggesting that the liberal democratic regimes always play by the same rules when they play in foreign lands.

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john c. halasz 08.30.11 at 1:35 am

@145:

“it’s unclear what work your narrative does.”

Well, maybe think again. It cuts against the myth of inevitablity, though if you take a mistaken course, certain consequences will reliably follow. And it cuts against any abstract triumphalism about actually quite dire events, often enough combined with a smug indifference and callous denial of responsibility toward the actual conditions that masses of people must endure. And maybe it even cuts against proceduralist objections, which while not exactly wrong, are of doubtful relevance to what might actually be possible or likely to occur on the ground. (I.e. even if a more sound set of procedures were in place and better norms were instituted, the levels of regime support and policy outcomes might be little different that what currently is the case).

BTW I think the idea of Putin as some sort of all-powerful leader is badly mistaken. He owes his position largely to his role as fixer between the various “clans” or factions of the FSB and economic oligarchy. It’s not even clear that he himself is such a kleptocrat, and unconcerned with the redevelopment of Russia. His type is far more interested in power than wealth and luxury per se, (though tolerating corruption in your subordinates is an effective way of holding power over them, as old Mayor Daley knew too well.).

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mossy 08.30.11 at 7:46 am

@ 142
A much more gradual approach to economic restructuring would have been far more preferable, assuming the masses of the Russian and associated peoples counted for anything.

Yes, absolutely. No one is arguing with you, least of all Gaidar and his crew. They spent several months trying to figure out how to institute reform in a gradual way (a chance lost when Gorbachev didn’t go for the 500-Day Plan). The problem was that they didn’t have time. The stores were empty. The Grain Commission met every night in the fall of 1991, getting reports on grain supplies across the country, moving two tons of wheat from Ryazan to Tula and one from Kazan to Nizhni Novgorod to keep bread in the stores. I’d also like to remind you that the Russian congress – overwhelmingly communist – voted overwhelmingly for the shock therapy reforms. It’s certainly true that they weren’t economic geniuses, but they weren’t all idiots, either. I’ve read all the criticism about this for 20 years now, and the problem with it all is that ignores facts. “They should have done this or that” falls apart when you understand that they couldn’t because they didn’t have the money or the control or the data or the time. I would also caution you not to overestimate Soviet industrial capacity. It was largely military – don’t need all those tanks – incredibly inefficient, and produced a lot of crap that no one wanted.

And sorry to be curt, but spare me the accusation of indifference to the suffering of the masses. We stood in breadlines before the reforms, not after them.

Yes, I suppose Putin’s problem (and Medvedev’s – the guy is nominally president), burritoboy, is an economy based on one natural resource. But Russia is different than the Gulf States in that it can, theoretically, produce a lot more than that but isn’t because of the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and corruption. That leads to a lot more frustration and discontent, especially in a highly educated population with high expectations (based on either real or manipulated nostalgia/memories of the USSR). They keep yammering about modernization and blackmailing foreign companies to invest in Skolkovo (instant Silicon Valley), but the very people who could actually do something there are emigrating in droves because they don’t believe in it.

No, Putin isn’t a figurehead representing business or other interests. He runs the show, he dictates the terms, he allows the rents to flow, and he punishes viciously. I don’t know what definition of “tyrant” you all are using, but that’s the word I’d use, which is why I chimed into this thread. He does arbitrate between competing clans, however, and if he goes, the clans would probably erupt into some form of war. There are also certain clans who have gravitated to Medvedev. They don’t believe the high prices on energy resources will last much longer. They don’t believe that Russia can survive if it remains more or less antagonistic to the West, or by playing divide-and-conquer with gas and oil resources in Europe. They don’t believe that the country can diversify its economy with the current level of corruption and the present system. And some of them would like some of the goodies that Putin’s buddies and their sons have gotten (ie companies, land, pipelines, middleman contracts, etc.). It seems, however, that they have lost this round and that Putin will continue to run the show, either as president again or in some other way.

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Bruce Wilder 08.30.11 at 8:12 am

burritoboy: “McCarthyism wasn’t primarily a power struggle . . . “

Jeebus.

151

Walt 08.30.11 at 10:08 am

Come on, Bruce. That’s as egregious of an example of taking a quote out of context as I’ve ever seen. The full quote is “McCarthyism wasn’t primarily a power struggle over which individual politician got to rule the US.” It’s completely clear from the context that burritoboy is arguing McCarthyism was a different kind of power struggle.

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John Quiggin 08.30.11 at 6:18 pm

I managed to write a long comment which disappeared, on my own post, no less. But I’ll agree with Doug M that I had in mind the kind of flamboyant personal dictatorship represented by Gaddafi.

As regards the future, I’d be happy to take Assad as a test case. Doug sees him as a likely survivor, I don’t.

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john c. halasz 08.30.11 at 6:31 pm

mossy @147:

You seem rather flighty and in denial over what happened to Russia in the 1990′s. And some of your fact set is just wrong. Gaidar was a radical advocate of “liberalization” and no the Duma or whatever the congress was called back then didn’t approve Yeltsin’s shock therapy, which was obviously not his own invention, but stictly made-in-Washington. Rather it was initiated by decree in Jan. 1992, and after increasing conflict with the parliament, Yeltsin attacked it with tanks in the fall of 1993, dissolved it and promulgated a referendum on a new constitution with greatly enhanced executive and much reduced legislative powers, (which, I take it, is still in force). Talk about tyrannical behavior, eh? Officially output declined 50% and official poverty rates went from 2% to nearly 50%. The hyperinflation unleashed by decontrolling prices and eliminating subsidies, (which is never a good idea when all the producers are monopolists, whether state-owned or not), required high interest rates and tight constriction of credit, which automatically bankrupted most firms. And the removal of any capital controls didn’t result in an influx of foreign investment, but rather an outflow of loot. If there were no longer any bread lines and the stores were stocked, it was because many people didn’t have any money to buy bread.

The point isn’t that Russia didn’t have any other options or choices. Rather it’s that other options were deliberately blocked off and the Russians were given a unilateral Hobson’s choice by the U.S.-led “international community”. And all that panicked talk is just part of the bum’s rush in imposing shock therapy. If you don’t understand how these sorts of IMF-type one-world capitalist operations work, just look at what’s happening with Greece nowadays, as PM Jr. is force to commit political and national suicide, narrowly ramming the demanded austerity measures through his ever diminishing parliamentary majority. Either you’re being naive or sheerly ideological in your glib dismissal of the role of the “international community” in engineering the catastrophe. (And I’ve little doubt that some in the Cold War hawk wing deliberately wanted to bring about such an utter collapse).

And then you go on to complain of the lack of any industrial base in Putin’s Russia? Well, there’s no doubt that salvaging and restructuring the legacy industrial infrastructure of the former U.S.S.R. would have been a difficult task. But there’s a big difference between starting from an industrial base that has been effectively devalued by 70% and starting from no industrial base, since it was entirely liquidated. Which was the fully foreseeable effect of shock therapy.

At any rate if I want a dose of facts and analysis on contemporary Russia and its economy, I’d rather consult this guy, who at least had the great good sense to serve some time in the GULAG under the ancien regime:

http://www.tni.org/users/boris-kagarlitsky

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novakant 08.30.11 at 6:58 pm

Of course a liberal democracy doesn’t maintain any pretense of the rule of it’s laws when that liberal democracy is acting outside of its own borders

Call me naive, but my idea of a liberal democracy includes doing just that – obeying the law outside its own borders – and the the fact that many of them don’t has resulted in much more harm than most dictators have ever done to their own people. “Liberal democracies” simply externalize the same brutality and greed and get away with it because most of their citizens don’t give a damn as long as it’s not happening to them.

155

Bruce Wilder 08.30.11 at 8:39 pm

@151 Walt: “burritoboy is arguing McCarthyism was a different kind of power struggle”

No. He’s arguing that Russian power struggles are different from power struggles in liberal democracies. And, to make those arguments, he makes absurdly naive assertions about the nature of particular power struggles in U.S. and U.K., and the importance of laws and norms in institutionalizing practice in U.S. or U.K. politics.

I’ve yet to see anyone in this thread argue that the Russian Federation is a liberal democracy, so, to a large extent, burritoboy, has been arguing with a strawman of his own making. Stuffing that strawman appears to require burritoboy to assert and believe things about politics in the U.S. and U.K., which are simply not true. I object.

I was using the quotation as a headline, for a whole line of argument concerning what McCarthy and the episodes associated with him were all about. I was objecting to the whole argument, as an absurd interpretation. The absurdity centered on the idea that McCarthy’s activities were not part of a power struggle. Picking out the kernal, and saying, “Jeebus” is my way of saying this argument is absurd — so absurd on its face that I do not even know how to engage with its author.

What burritoboy says about McCarthy and “McCarthy-ites” is wrong in every detail and every generalization. McCarthy became part of the mythology of American politics, a morality tale of the limits of civility, and so might actually be useful as a counterpoint regarding the establishment of norms, in the hands of someone, who knew what he was talking about. If he thinks anticommunist hysteria was not “a power struggle over which individual politician got to rule the US” he might want to re-acquaint himself with Joseph Kennedy, Sr. or Richard M Nixon. And, if he thinks McCarthy genuinely cared about anyone’s political “ideas”, he might want to look up, Roy Cohn.

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Doug M. 08.30.11 at 9:12 pm

I’m not sure why we should take a guy who’s already under siege as a “test case”. Why Assad and not, say, Paul Kagame or Hun Sen?

That said, I like Assad’s chances. He’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, at all. But he’s not the sort who’s going to flee the country just because things have gone a little hinky, either. And he’s got some good cards in his hand. The military and security forces are totally dominated by his fellow Alawites; NATO is never going to intervene; the Russians are running interference for him in the UNSC; Iran is firmly on side; the opposition is divided and lacks credible leadership; the Israelis are quietly rooting for him; and the anarchy and chaos of postwar Iraq is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Sure, Assad could fall. Stranger things have happened. I can easily imagine a couple of scenarios, especially if the West plays it smart. (Targeted economic sanctions for this one. No military intervention.) But I don’t think it’s the way to bet.

– Come to think of it, why don’t we do just that? Side bet: if Assad loses power in the next six months — flees the country, overthrown in a coup, taken out and shot, what have you — you win. If he’s still in power on March 1, 2012, then I win. (If he dies or is killed without first losing power, or if he’s lost control of at least 1/3 of the country but is still clinging to power in the capital, we’ll call it a draw.)

Loser donates $50 to a charity of the winner’s choice. And if I lose, I’ll throw in a “Why I Was Wrong” post over at Noel Maurer’s blog, gratis.

Bet?

Doug M.

157

burritoboy 08.30.11 at 10:00 pm

“If he thinks anticommunist hysteria was not “a power struggle over which individual politician got to rule the US” he might want to re-acquaint himself with Joseph Kennedy, Sr. or Richard M Nixon.”

Actually, Richard M. Nixon buttresses my case, and doesn’t buttress yours. Why did Joseph McCarthy’s career end so abruptly? Because his supporters realized McCarthy was a buffoon. And McCarthy was a buffoon because he was not going to achieve their policy aims. However, McCarthy was always perfectly good at collecting public attention with his antics. That is, McCarthy’s supporters didn’t care whether McCarthy was good at getting himself on TV if that didn’t also mean their policy goals got accomplished in the process. They showed that they cared very little about promoting individual politicians (look at how McCarthy was abandoned such that he fell into complete obscurity and pathetically drank himself to death), but instead primarily about achieving policy goals.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.30.11 at 10:26 pm

I think McCarthy was useful for creating the hysteria. But it seems that J. Edgar Hoover and his organization were the US equivalent of those scary ‘siloviki’ the wikipedia entry on ‘Putinism’ talks so much about.

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Bruce Wilder 08.31.11 at 12:10 am

@157: “Richard M. Nixon buttresses my case, and doesn’t buttress yours.”

The Ur anti-communist hysteric and demagogue became a Senator, Vice-President, and, finally, President of the United States. And, how does that buttress your case @142?:

Notable, however, is that McCarthyism persecuted people for their political ideas and activities. Nobody cared if American communists supported Eisenhower or not. American McCarthyists, evil though they were, had essentially no interest in which individual major current American politician their victims liked . . . McCarthyism wasn’t primarily a power struggle over which individual politician got to rule the US.

Henri V made a general reference @139 to the persecution by politicians of a fairly large number of people for ‘un – American activities’. In your reply, you focus exclusively on the minor figure of McCarthy, a clown who was made a scapegoat late in the game, and you completely obfuscate the role anti-communist hysteria and witchhunts had played in the struggles between Republicans and the Truman Administration, over labor policy and foreign policy, Hollywood and homosexuals. Not to mention the role that the competition to appear anti-communist played in the careers of many post-WWII politicians. You miss, for example, McCarthy’s alleged alliance with Joseph Kennedy, Sr., who arranged for his son Robert to serve as minority counsel (or Roy Cohn’s number 2 in many accounts) on McCarthy’s subcommittee.

Over and over again, you allege a qualitative distinction, based on differences, which only exist as matters of degree. And, you try to support your dubious case with ridiculous caricatures, like your narrow and ignorant portrait of post-WWII political persecutions and slanders of the left, as limited to McCarthy-ism, in the person of McCarthy.

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John Quiggin 08.31.11 at 1:21 am

@Doug On your first point, if your estimate of 20 per cent of dictatorships falling in 10 years is right, the chance of any random dictator falling in six months is 1 per cent. So the only way to get a test with any power is to pick one or more of the shaky ones.

That said, I’d want a year from now. Even one a year is double your estimated rate. More importantly, the process is a protracted one. Gaddafi took more than six months, and Saleh (whose chances of survival in power are slim, I assume you’d agree) has lasted more than that.

Alternatively, or additionally, I’ll bet that at least two on your list are gone within a year.

161

Doug M. 08.31.11 at 6:48 am

“Two on my list” is a mug’s bet — Mugabe is nearly 90, and Kim and a couple of others are in shaky health. Also, the issue isn’t whether individual dictators come and go; it’s whether the total number of dictators decreases.

FWIW, if Assad does fall, I don’t think the process will be very protracted. He has all the top military and security commanders on side, and the dissidents have no guns and no hope of military intervention. So the most likely scenario would be an internal coup by his fellow Alawites — the generals and secret police deciding to throw him overboard. That’s going to happen fast if it happens at all.

But anyway. Sure, I’ll go with a year. I’m betting Assad will still be in power at COB Syrian time on August 31, 2012. You’re betting he won’t. Other details as per #156, above.

Confirm?

Doug M.

162

john c. halasz 08.31.11 at 7:02 am

Such sporting lads!

163

mossy 08.31.11 at 8:17 am

I translated john c halasz’s comments to my 87 yr old dacha neighbor last night, and he laughed to the point of tears, then was outraged. “Don’t these people read the newspapers? Do they really know nothing about Russia and the USSR?”

You are doing what is called “whataboutism” in Russian-watching circles. You are picking one thing — McCarthyism — and showing that it is similar to/just the same as, say, persecution of the opposition in Russia and then coming to the conclusion that the systems are the same, basically, and it’s just a matter of degree.

But that ignores the context that these events take place in. The context in Russia is appointed mayors and governors; control over the media used by 95 percent of the population; massive corruption; bureaucrats who own corporations and protect their interests; non-independent judiciary; police that are used as personal retaliatory armies; killing of journalists — the list goes on and on.

I should also say that there is another big distinction. You don’t get in much trouble in Russia for saying Putin is a Poop or Putin and Medvedev’s foreign policy stinks. No one cares. But you do get in trouble for saying that Putin is the major stockholder of the company that exports oil to Europe. That is, you get in trouble for threatening a government figure’s personal economic interests.

So McCarthyism would be “the same” if McCarthy had gone after people who had documents proving he owned part of Shell Oil. It’s not the general criticism that gets them here — they leave the communists pretty much alone. They are using the state apparatus to jail, kill, discredit (in the best situations) people who threaten state official’s personal wealth. Personal economic interests, not general systems or structures.

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Walt 08.31.11 at 9:55 am

My 80-some year old neighbor would laugh hard if I told him that Obama is not actually a socialist. Because he’s an idiot.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.31.11 at 9:59 am

McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover went precisely after the people and organizations that represented a danger to big businesses, not necessarily to Shell Oil, but certainly to ExxonMobil, or whatever it was called at the time.

Protecting personal economic interests of the ruling elite is (more or less) the purpose of general systems, in any hierarchical society.

I don’t have the impression that mayors are appointed in Russia; as for the regional governors: in India they are directly appointed by the president. Yet I’ve never heard any suggestions that this makes India a dictatorship.

166

ejh 08.31.11 at 10:02 am

Yes, that’s true, I think, and an important distinction. But at the same time, it might be worth observing that the most important scandal in recent British politics involves the ouf government, police and media to further the interests and influence of one particular figure.

I agree with some parts of your argument. But it can be a bit tedious to see the scale of corruption (and political corruption) in Russia traced to old Russian habits rather than, say, both the process of shock therapy in the Nineties and the reaction against it in the following decade. I’m familiar with the argument (if you follow chess, you get to follow a lot of Russian politics more or less by accident) and I think it’s only half an argument, leaving an awful lot out , as if corruption were simply a function of bureaucrats’ desire for a slice ofthe business pie, rather than, as well, a function of business’ desire for a slice of the government pie.

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mossy 08.31.11 at 10:18 am

Sigh. Yes, mayors and governors are appointed in Russia. And again, you’re picking one thing. It’s not just the appointed mayors, it’s the totality of the whole system which is fundamentally different.

And, I repeat, it’s not just general interests being attacked and defended. It’s Bureaucrat A who owns Acme Oil Pipelines ordering the police to beat up Journalist C who has proof of his misuse of his office to gain profits for his company. Or having his kid arrested for drug use. Don’t you folks read the papers about Russia?

Yes, some elderly neighbors are idiots, but mine isn’t.

What I find impossible to understand is this: most of you folks are liberal to left politically. And yet you are defending a regime that should disgust you. You fight against people who know much more about this. I cannot figure out why.

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ejh 08.31.11 at 10:20 am

And yet you are defending a regime that should disgust you

Actually they’re not: they’re making comparisons that you don’t agree with, and analyses which are different from yours. But I don’t see much pro-Putin stuff here.

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novakant 08.31.11 at 10:34 am

McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover went precisely after the people and organizations that represented a danger to big businesses

So you’re saying that the people on the Hollywood Blacklist actually represented a danger to big business? – I don’t think so, rather the whole thing was an ideologically motivated witch hunt.

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ejh 08.31.11 at 10:58 am

Yes, but surely the basis of that ideologically-motivated with hunt was that they were considered ideological opponents of business?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.31.11 at 11:00 am

Yeah, but why did they go, with such a massive force, after this particular ideology, and all its manifestations? Isn’t it because they felt it was threatening their (or their sponsors’) economic interests?

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Tim Wilkinson 08.31.11 at 11:16 am

Yes, they were opinion-formers, and one important aspect of the Red Scare was to win the propaganda war by nobbling the opposition.

But I took ‘ideologically motivated’ to mean ‘motivated by the ideology of the persecutors’. And that ideology was of course the explicitly pro-business, pro-military, anti-union ideology of anti-’communism’, and the Red Scare persecution went much wider than Hollywood. HUAC, Hoover etc did a great job of killing off the US communist party, the wider left, and to a large degree the union movement.

It’s weird the way ‘ideological’ is used to euphemise ‘political’ – as if ideology were just a matter of taste or arbitrary prejudice.

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_blacklist):

[in 1947], the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA), a political action group cofounded by Walt Disney, issued a pamphlet advising producers on the avoidance of “subtle communistic touches” in their films. Its counsel revolved around a list of ideological prohibitions, such as “Don’t smear the free-enterprise system … Don’t smear industrialists … Don’t smear wealth … Don’t smear the profit motive … Don’t deify the ‘common man’ … Don’t glorify the collective”

O/T, to mossy: A pet project of mine is collecting opinions from Russians and Poles about the air crash. May I ask what you think of it, and of public opinion and press reaction in Russia? I’ve spoken to more Poles, and they all seem to agree (with me) that it was about as suspicious as it gets, and that the normally ‘conspiracy minded’ press in Poland (I wonder where this famed Polish ‘victimology’ can have come from – something in the water, I suppose) seemed reluctant to address it. Needless to say, in the UK it was not considered news, let alone news of a coup.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.31.11 at 11:16 am

@167, you seem to feel that ‘liberal democracy’ is a synonym of ‘happiness and sunshine’, but to me it’s just a political arrangement built on top of the economic system that is not necessarily known for happiness and sunshine, and is often described as ‘rat race’.

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Tim Wilkinson 08.31.11 at 11:17 am

That was in resp to ejh

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novakant 08.31.11 at 12:17 pm

Isn’t it because they felt it was threatening their (or their sponsors’) economic interests?

Well, nobody can say for sure what went on in their paranoid minds, but objectively the threat to business interests posed by people on the blacklist was close to zero and the threat of the commies taking over the US was definitely zero. Arguing that there was an actual threat, rather than an imagined and ideologically convenient one, is playing into the hands of revisionists seeking to justify McCarthy et al – after all, as bad as capitalism might have been in the US, I’m sure most of us would have preferred it to a Soviet style dictatorship.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.31.11 at 12:34 pm

Not Soviet style dictatorship, of course, but any criticism from the left, any advocacy of social justice, etc. Our free market system is under attack! That’s a constant theme.

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john c. halasz 08.31.11 at 1:51 pm

Umm…mossy, get your ducks lined up straight, eh? I never mentioned McCarthy. You already mis-attributed a remark directed at burritoboy as referring to yourself, and when I pointed out that, yes, in fact, shock therapy was imposed by decree, not a parliamentary consensus, no relevant response forthcoming. What I specifically argued against was your idea, somewhat contradictory and confused, tat shock therapy was somehow necessary and inevitable and that it was entirely something that the Russians did to themselves and their own damned fault, not something that resulted from intensive foreign interference. (Er, ever hear of the Harvard boys?) Which is exactly the sort of thing that one would expect from a native guide, attempting to butter up the foreign tourists. And I specifically argued that “Putinism” was just the logical succession to “Yeltsinism”, as the anarchic criminality of the “free market” capitalism under the latter, was replaced by a more orderly system run by a higher quality, more disciplined and more “legitimate” class of criminals. (And BTW just in purely economic terms, if you have an entirely natural resource based economy, you’re dealing with the extraction of a limited flow of economic rents. so you can expect contention over the control of those flows). And, hey, I didn’t even mention Chechnya. But do you really mean to tell me that Russia is currently more violent and worse off than it was under our good buddy Yeltsin?

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mossy 08.31.11 at 6:38 pm

@177
I was actually discouraged by the enormity of the task at hand. I’m getting old. My interest in re-educating wayward youth wanes.

Everything starts much earlier. It really starts with the Ryzhkov reforms under Gorbachev, where big money began to be made, and of course with the spiriting abroad of what resources were left (this came back later to form the big fortunes). Then after the putsch attempt but while the USSR still existed de jure if not de facto, from Oct 28-Nov2, the Congress of People’s Deputies of what was still the Russian Federation approved Yeltsin’s proposal for radical economic reforms. They also granted him additional powers to carry them out. I can’t now dig up the vote count, but I recall it as overwhelmingly in favor.

Their decision to go the radical reform route was made after various groups of Russian economists sat for months at a dacha outside Moscow, trying to figure out a plan of action. They were hobbled by many things: the demands of the population for change and food; the fact that something like 90 percent of the resources on Russian territory belonged to the USSR, not the Russian Federation (as opposed to the other republics, which “owned” more of their resources); the lack of information (the Russian Federation, as opposed to the other republics, didn’t have it’s own Gosplan); the apparent total lack of money and other resources; the mess that the various reforms had wrought on the system and legislation – not to mention the absence of just about any institutional or physical basis/support/framework for instituting and running a free (ie unplanned, non-administered) economy – you know, banks, stocks, markets, transportation systems, communications, laws, retail/wholesale space, the concept of credit, advertising (entire profession), etc. And then there was the fact that nothing like this had even been done on the scale they needed to do it. They examined various options and chose what they chose. It was a terrible option, and they knew it ahead of time, but all the other options were worse. Because by that fall they were afraid of famine. Some economists I otherwise like, like Andrei Illarionov, sneer at the famine threat, but I think the threat of it was real, along with unrest (read: rioting that might have escalated into a civil war). Certainly it is true that the Russian govt thought it credible; they met every night to move wheat around to make sure there was at least bread in every oblast. And yes, people could afford it. And being able to buy a little food is much better than having a pocket full of money and nothing to spend it on in empty stores.

Here my memory fails – age, you know — and I don’t have access to my sources right now. The Harvard boys and the IMF and USAID all came later. In fact, if I recall correctly, the West did nothing at all to help at first, although, to be fair, the USSR still existed on paper, and it wasn’t clear what would happen. I’m not sure they could have provided aid to a constituent republic, even if there was virtually nothing left of the Union govt at that point. And then, of course, the West (certainly the US) did not want to see the USSR break up at all. (“Yugoslavia with nukes.”)

So yes, I contend that the Russians made the initial decision to institute what they called radical economic and political reforms largely by themselves. Later it is less clear to me. No one has seriously analyzed the difference between what was advised and what was actually done.

And oh yes, I would absolutely contend that life under Putin is far more violent than it was under Yeltsin. In the 1990s, despite Hollywood, the high-profile violence was limited (bad word, but can’t think of another) to the mafia and bankers. There were virtually no murders of politicians or journalists – that’s all new under Putin. Terrorism hardly existed under Yeltsin. There were no roaming skinheads, beating up foreigners. Lawlessness among police and in the military is far worse today. Arrests of demonstrators, beating up of activists, killing lawyers – none of that occurred under Yeltsin. (Both did prosecute horrendous wars in Chechnya.)

Was it better under Yeltsin? Economically – no. Of course not. They had nothing to begin with, inherited the Soviet debts, and oil was under $18 a barrel. Politically it was much better. There were actual parties, and political/ideological debates, and a variety of interests represented. Starting a business was a snap. The major media were clan-owned, but in general the media were much freer and far more varied. Corruption was much lower. In 1999 only 3 percent thought the govt was corrupt; in May of this year 27 % thought they were. (There are also reams of reports on corruption, including official govt estimates.) Also from a Levada Center poll: “At the end of the Yeltsin era, in 1999, 24% of respondents said they had no complaints about the government; this figure is now down to 7%.”

@ 168 Not much pro-Putin stuff? Well, I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. But maintaining that he isn’t hanging onto power and equating his system with a rough version of a liberal democracy is about as pro-Putin as you can get. The boys in the Kremlin couldn’t be happier. They pay trolls to write this stuff on blogs. I’d suspect a bunch of you of posting from Podolsk, but I don’t see the telltale problems with articles (Russian has no “a” or “the”).

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.31.11 at 7:18 pm

Well, we were merely arguing here about taxonomy: is Russia a real bad case of liberal democracy, or does it belong to a whole different category? This is a systemic analysis that should have nothing to do with being pro or anti Putin, or any moralistic grandstanding.

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burritoboy 08.31.11 at 11:27 pm

John,

Isn’t it somewhat important that the person whom McCarthyism is named after, ended his career as a virtual unknown? The very point is McCarthy’s supporters didn’t care about the career of Joseph McCarthy. Instead, they quickly shifted their support around (and some of it went to Nixon). Lots of US politicians benefited from riding McCarthyism, of course. But those politicians knew they could count on perilously close to no support based off their supporters liking them as individuals. Their supporters liked those politician’s platforms, and their supporters believed those politicians could reliably enact that platform. The moment any politician was revealed to be unreliable in getting the platform enacted, the anti-Communists tossed that politician quickly. McCarthy dies in obscurity. Nixon has to flee office for doing something Putin wouldn’t think twice about and gets to sit around his house in internal exile while Reagan capitalizes on Nixon’s work. RFK gets dropped by the anti-Communists the moment he’s perceived as being squishy. And so on.

And the anti-Communists are perhaps the worst actors in modern US history. But even they don’t seem to have much interest in backing any of their above champions to offices beyond the bounds of liberal democracy. They want their champions to achieve higher office, get rid of the Commies and after that proceed to be standard-issue politicians within liberal democracies.

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soru 08.31.11 at 11:32 pm

@179: I suspect the problem is that you are actually implicitly making a rather different claim: that the problems of Russia are just the problems of the USA written a bit larger.

I’d say it is far from obvious that is a useful model. Even sticking to a linear spectrum, and restricting discussion to countries that have some kind of election, then I think you could quite plausibly draw a line with Russia at one end, and Iran at the other.

One has elections that determine a very strong leader, who gets to throw around money and bullets as a consequence of that victory. With there being a feedback loop that that power makes them not only very unlikely to be arrested and tried for anything they do in the exercise of that power, but also more likely to be voted for next time. There is widespread scepticism about the possibility of anyone else being able to compete.

The other has elections that produce a nearly powerless figurehead. All real decisions are justified with reference to a predefined set of theological doctrines. There is widespread scepticism about there being any point in participating in the electoral process, _even if your preferred candidate is likely to win_. In short, a republic not a democracy.

Italy is the western country that is more obviously Russia-lite. Whereas most of the real problems of the USA seem more a consequence of it being rather too much like Iran.

Only the nature of the theology changes (capitalism instead of Sharīʿah, bankers instead of clerics) .

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burritoboy 08.31.11 at 11:55 pm

“McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover went precisely after the people and organizations that represented a danger to big businesses, not necessarily to Shell Oil, but certainly to ExxonMobil, or whatever it was called at the time.”

Again, that’s not a good analogy to Putin’s regime. McCarthy and Hoover cared primarily about ideological threats. They would get (more or less) equally upset if a Red went after capitalism in general, after a subset of big corporations, or after any particular one of the big corporations. They weren’t really in the business of protecting one corporation versus another – they wanted to protect the entire system.

Putin doesn’t care about ideological threats. It’s a very close patron-client relationship between specific members of the regime and specific business interests. Putin has no interest in defending capitalism itself. The analogy would be if Hoover had an extensive business relationship (not just minor bribes or campaign contributions but making enormous amounts of money – as much or more money that GE’s investors are making) with General Electric specifically. Hoover then would defend General Electric, but he wouldn’t care much about GE’s competitors. You could complain about GE’s competitors all day long, as long as you were silent about GE. In fact, Hoover would (if he could) try to attack GE’s competitors.

But that’s not what we see in McCarthy or Hoover in the main. Most of Hoover’s pursuit of Communists was not motivated by Communist Joe Smith complaining about Hoover Pet Corporation, which Hoover in particular was in alliance with. Hoover got pretty much just as upset if somebody opposed capitalism in vague generalities but had no idea that Hoover Pet Corporation even existed.

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john c. halasz 09.01.11 at 3:14 am

mossy @ 178:

Well..of course, you lived through it, whereas I was just distantly observing from “across the pond”. And, of course, the Soviet economy was in long decline, especially after the collapse of world oil prices in the early 1980′s. And Gorbachev’s dithering basically sealed his fate, as, if I understand it, he basically tried to reform the central planning mechanism by de-centralizing it, without realizing that it actually was already de facto highly de-centralizated, and he was really re-centralizing it. (In another context, I compared Obama to Gorbachev, as another lawyer with only a dim grasp of economics, who constantly tacks to his right to maintain his dwindling base of support). And, yes, then there was the rejection of the Yavlinsky plan, which might have been the last chance. But as to the “Congress of Peoples’ Deputies” granting Yeltsin emergency powers, well, 1) he was the hero of the moment, having faced down the coup at the White House and 2) it hardly amounts to a ratification of what he would do subsequently. But the basic package of the radical “liberal” reformers such as Gaidar was entirely “Washington Consensus” prescriptions, in which those reformers had been thoroughly indoctrinated. I will grant you that events were moving very fast and unpredictably, but you yourself indicate in your comment factors for why it couldn’t possibly work. (I mentioned that above in terms of Minsky’s institutionalism). At the very least, any genuine reform program that sought to salvage some remaining value from installed legacy capital stocks, (which weren’t “competitive” by international standards, but did retain residual value, given the factors I cited above), would have had to retain capital controls and maintain domestic markets and domestic demand for output, and would have had to gradually withdraw subsidies and work through the on-site industrial managers, granting them discretion, rather than just “privatizing” ownership, which meant nothing more than a corrupt swindle by a few well-placed insiders, who were interested in anything but actual management. Once any industrial base was liquidated, the plain fact is that “structurally” zero-sum contests over resource rents was all that was left.

So my dispute with you has been to reject the aura of historical inevitability and the claim that the troubles were entirely endogenous and had nothing to do with foreign impositions and intervention. Which is just the sort of thing that the Clintonoids and others such love to hear. (Remember when Yeltsin had a 9% approval rating in the polls and yet managed “gloriously” to secure re-election, because of those God-damned commies?). It would have been interesting to give the German proposals an airing, since, aside from the fact that that they and their interests were regionally most directly affected, and the fact that for obvious reasons they had plenty of inherited guilt,- (they do that shtick rather well, having been well trained in it, and, being German, well-disposed toward accepting their training),- their “social market economy” is far more institutionalist in its mentality than the American model. The Cold War was finally over, and after its insane and supremely dangerous excesses, a new turning of what we are too pleased to call history was possible, (yea!). But, no, there was only to be an inertial repetition of more of the same. (You do recognize the difference between George Kennan’s original “containment” strategy proposal and what was made of it by the Cold War hawks, who were especially in power during the Gorbachev and after era, eh? Which is why he was rather quickly shunted aside. Oh, and who subsequently returned to power in the most virulent form, long after the Cold War was a relevant framework).

There were also some inferences, though no actual knowledge, to be draw from the textual evidence you present here. Which stuck me as somewhat glib and flighty. You’re fairly obviously an educated member of a rather narrow slice of the professional middle class, (perfect English, without even the typos that I regularly produce, the notion of emigration and the brain-drain, the reference to dachas, etc.), in one of the metro areas. (B. Kagarlitsky mentioned the point in one of his essays: a certain slice of the former professional/technical Soviet intelligentsia benefits form “globalization”, whether domestically or through the possibility of emigration. If one has an advanced degree in physics, maybe one can emigrate to Wall St. and design neutron bombs,- oops!, I mean derivatives. But most have no such luck and are utterly entrapped.) And there seemed to be a certain nostalgia for the “reform” era and perhaps even sympathy for radical “liberals” such as Gaidar. So, I surmised, perhaps your particular experience is not typical for most Russians and contains a certain ideological slant. Which I took issue with.

Yes, we do hear over here occasionally of some “unexplained” murders, (Anna P. being a particularly prominent case, though IIRC that had a Chechnya connection), and of general intimidation tactics. But the reports from the Yeltsin era were of wide-spread “gangland-style” contract killings and extortion rackets. So on the evidence I have, (which obviously is spotty), I have a hard time crediting that things are so much worse under Putin than Yeltsin, since most of the population seems to be left alone in a policy of malign neglect, apathetic, cynical, and alienated. But mostly it seems that people are left to their own devices, a kind of “negative freedom”, so long as they don’t directly threaten the hierarchy, which could be worse. (The comparison with Mexico, both with the PRI and after, suggests itself). Nor is it clear from here, that the “human rights abuses”, (always a euphemism), are somehow centrally planned, as in olden times, rather than ad hoc “expressions” of various factions. Though, if some robber-baron gets sent to jail or driven into exile, that scarcely gets my dander up. Does it really matter that killings were conducted by non-state actors before, but fewer killings and less repressions occur, though at the behest of shadowy state agents? As I said, that amounts to an upgrade in the quality and the predictability of the mafia involved. Though Russia et alia have never really had any tradition of the “rule of law, not men”. But if that is an assertion of the difference between personal rule and publicly mediated rule, it’s a meaningful distinction. However, if it’s an assertion of the autonomous, self-regulating nature of legal systems, as not rooted in sovereign power as the “organized monopoly of legitimate violence” as at once necessary to the promulgation and coercive enforcement of any system of laws, then it’s just a liberalistic illusion. At least, without any account of the actual political economy involved.

But maybe as well, you should attempt to grasp the perspective of us foreigners. The answer to the “extra credit” question I posed above, as to the first European country to undergo IMF-sponsored,- and thus effectively imposed,- “shock therapy” is Yugoslavia in late 1988 to early 1989. How well did that work out? And surely you haven’t forgotten the “Coalition Provisional Authority”, which attempted to impose a “vision” of “free market” utopia on Iraq, after the unprovoked invasion of that country? Yikes! So we’re fairly inured to this sort of thing and bemused as to what exactly is “our” responsibility. I think a lot of the attitudes expressed by Western commenters here are born out of a recognition that “liberal democracy” isn’t a panacea and doesn’t automatically confer political “legitimacy”, but rather has been degenerating in the West for quite some time now. (I did mention the case of that malignant clown Berlusconi above, which another commenter just repeated). So, while we might offer “tea and sympathy”, there’s little else we can do. Given our own abysmal cynicism. On the other hand, disgust and outrage are understandable emotive reactions. But, aside from limitations on personal “carrying-capacity”, they are emotive reactions, which might distract from cool, though not to say cold-blooded, analysis of what might still, in fact, be possible to be done. Since such emotive reactions, based on the sense of one’s own political impotence, might be precisely what “they”, the “authorities”, wish to produce. Maybe keeping a cool clear head is the most resistance anyone can be expected to muster. Before the next seismic tremor.

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john c. halasz 09.01.11 at 3:16 am

@180:

Why are you addressing your remark to me, bb. I never mentioned McCarthy.

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ejh 09.01.11 at 7:22 am

So yes, I contend that the Russians made the initial decision to institute what they called radical economic and political reforms largely by themselves.

This I think is certainly true: it’s the rest of the argument I disagree with, not least the inability to tell disagreement from support for your enemies, which is silly at best.

There’s a few things I’d pick you up on (I am quite sure, for instance that the foreigner-hating skinheads predate Putin by quite a while) but specifically, when you wrote this

There were virtually no murders of politicians or journalists – that’s all new under Putin.

I recall that I had a friend who in Yeltsin’s last years was working in St Petersburg. She was subsequently in Kyiv and Moscow, and where she is now I don’t know so I can’t ask her, but I vividly recall her tellling me that she’d attended a demonstration after the killing of a liberal figure in 1999. Couldn’t tell you the name, I’m afraid, it was in the days before we had infinite amounts of email storage, but that was under Yeltsin all right.

(Also, you know, Larisa Yudina. I know that was Kirsan, but he’s not wholly independent.)

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.01.11 at 8:37 am

Soru 181, I quite agree that Iran is a useful comparison, and that its model of democracy is very similar to the US model, but Iran is not a liberal democracy. For a democracy to be liberal its God has to be called Dollar, not Allah, and its Guardian Council/Supreme Court has to be made of Property lawyers, not Islamic lawyers. So, I think Iran really does belong to a different category.

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Britta 09.01.11 at 9:57 am

This seems to be in some ways a rehash of Weber: charismatic leaders are incapable of sustaining power past one or maybe two generations, and generally their regimes evolve into some sort of bureacratic regime or slide back into chaos. A question might then be, as Doug M points to, what has changed in the past 30 years or so which makes charismatic leaders less likely to develop? Is it neoliberalism? Circulation of global capitalism?

On the Russian stuff, I also don’t get what’s at stake at insisting it’s a liberal democracy. I also think it’s entirely possible to believe 1) the US is becoming an authoritarian regime, and 2) does not (yet) resemble Russia. As much as I dislike the US, it seems to be a bit of a willful misreading of history the current political situation to claim that Russia and the US are just a few degrees apart. (and for the record, I think that the US is inching towards Fascism, although without the social welfare state traditionally provided by Fascist governments.) However, I’d say that, to the extent the US resembles Russia, that is because it is not a liberal democracy. For those who argue that Russia is a liberal democracy (and I think Henri Vieuxtemps did make that argument, so it’s not a strawman), I would want a definition of “liberal” and “democracy.”

On China though, I agree that dictatorship is the wrong term to describe the country. At the lowest level, China is a straight up democracy, with village level elections that appear to be reasonably fair. In terms of higher level control, I agree with Henri Vieuxtemps that the CCP resembles the US army more than an oligarchy: ostensibly anyone can join the party, and through hardwork, ambition and loyalty, it’s quite possible to rise to the top ranks. Although there appears to be some nepotism in terms of wealth and connections of the children of leaders (where doesn’t this exist?), children generally do not succeed their parents in high ranking positions, and if they were to do so, they would have had to work their way up the party ranks like anyone else. I think that unlike oligarchies or nepotistic regimes, meritocracy is too strong a concept in China for that to function. People expect their leaders to be competent here, and they get upset when gross incompetency is exposed (and heads do roll when that happens). If I had to put China into a typology, I would say it’s a mix of meritocracy, technocracy, bureaucracy, and a bit of authoritarianism thrown in. Perhaps one difference from other non-democratic regimes is that the leaders of appear to be China smart and competent and that, while not democratic, there does seem to be a balance of power.

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Doug M. 09.01.11 at 11:39 am

“A question might then be, as Doug M points to, what has changed in the past 30 years or so which makes charismatic leaders less likely to develop? Is it neoliberalism? Circulation of global capitalism?”

Pretty much the same reasons I gave above — the end of decolonization, and the end of the Cold War. They hit dictatorship generally, but charismatic whackaloon dictatorship even harder.

1) The end of decolonization meant fewer anti-colonial revolutions. That’s how a lot of these guys came to power in the first place, yeah? Qaddafi, Mugabe, Afewerki, Castro — all classic “Bonapartist” hijackers of what started as revolutionary movements with broad popular backing. Mugabe and Afewerki were fighting actual colonial regimes. Castro and Qaddafi overthrew post-colonial governments that could still plausibly be accused of being client states or puppets of the colonial powers.

Revolutions and coups continued for a long time after decolonization, of course. But “I overthrew Smith who overthrew Jones who fought the imperialist colonizers” doesn’t deliver the same charge of nationalist legitimacy as “I fought the imperialist colonizers — and won!” As the leaders of their nationalist struggles, Mugabe and Afewerki gained immense and lasting gravitas, plus the intense personal loyalty of the guys who held the guns. That has allowed them a much wider scope for aberrant and obnoxious behavior.

Not all first-generation anti-colonial revolutionaries turned out nuts, of course. But enough did to suggest that this group had a fat-tail distribution compared to the more generic successful revolutionary leader.

2) End of the Cold War. The US and USSR were both willing to tolerate malignant narcissists among their client states for strategic reasons — Kim _pere_, Mengistu, Somoza Debayle, Mobutu. Between the cracks, maniacs like Amin and petty totalitarians like Enver Hoxha could thrive, as neither superpower cared to intervene and trigger a possible proxy conflict. (Note that Amin was eventually taken out by foreign intervention… by Tanzania. One of the very few examples of this in modern Africa.)

– A bit of trivia: Somoza Debayle escaped to Paraguay, where he lived the life of a billionaire playboy… for a while. In 1980 the Sandinistas sent a hit squad after him and took him out. (RPGs vs. unarmored Mercedes. RPGs won.) Ironically, this made life much easier for the anti-Sandinista Contras, since they were no longer tainted by association with the despised ex-dictator.

Doug M.

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mossy 09.01.11 at 11:41 am

But as to the “Congress of Peoples’ Deputies” granting Yeltsin emergency powers, well, 1) he was the hero of the moment, having faced down the coup at the White House and 2) it hardly amounts to a ratification of what he would do subsequently.

Don’t get this. Logically the communists would have supported the coup (to reinstate the old regime), not Yeltsin, who defeated it. And it was a ratification of what he would do – he laid out the plan for releasing prices, privatization – the whole thing. They knew what they were voting for, and in fact they knew that they were voting for a process that was unpredictable, but sure to be miserable.

I don’t get the air of inevitability bit. I’m arguing that this wasn’t imposed on Russia from abroad – prove that Gaidar was “indoctrinated” please – but was chosen by Russians as the best choice out of a bad lot. Did they consider “the Chinese model?” Yes. Did they consider the option of spending a year putting in place legislation before releasing prices? Yes. Did they consider what happened in Poland? Hell, yes. The Russian gov’t was very close to the Polish gov’t in those years. They didn’t chose other options not because they had been “indoctrinated” or had been given no option by the IMF and the Harvard boys, but because they thought any other option would risk famine, total economic collapse, unrest and possibly civil war. Do you want to argue against that? Go ahead. A lot of people do, and many of their arguments are valid, although they are also based on speculation about variables (the govt feared unrest; opponents say it wouldn’t have occurred). (On the other hand, I reject arguments like “they should have invested in infrastructure first” because it ignores the fact that the country was bankrupt.) My argument is not that their choice was inevitable or that it was ideal, but that it was their choice based on painstaking analysis of what they knew. The initial choice was not forced upon them.

People didn’t starve (especially later, when what Russians call “Bush legs” – cheap American chicken legs – appeared on the market). But they lost a lot of money and their world turned upside down. Of course it was horrible economically for most of the population. And even when it wasn’t horrible – for example, when in polls people said they were eating more meat than pre-1992 – people still hated the uncertainty and instability. But in April 1993, there was a referendum with 4 questions. After very vociferous, open, passionate campaigning on all sides, the vote went like this: Do you trust President Yeltsin? Yes: 57.8%. Do you approve of the President and govt’s socio-economic policy? Yes: 53 %. Do you think there should be a preterm election of the President? Yes: 49.5%. Do you think there should be preterm elections of the parliament? Yes: 41.2%. (The govt was frankly flabbergasted by the support.) I cite this to suggest that the Yeltsin era should not be painted in black and white. That 53% who voted to stay the course lost their savings, struggled to make ends meet, and all the rest. But still, they voted for it.

The USSR was a corrupt system based on insider connections, priviledge, and scant or no regard for the law. Under Yeltsin’s first term (his second was much different), there were broadly two trends: institution of some rule of law and opening the field of economic players (yes, really); and expanding the old Soviet system of insider priviledge, abuse of power, and disregard for the law. The second trend won out. I’m not sure that was inevitable. It might not have happened if Yeltsin hadn’t run for a second term and/or given in to it. As I wrote, second-term Yeltsin and first-term Yeltsin were significantly different.

Does it really matter that killings were conducted by non-state actors before, but fewer killings and less repressions occur, though at the behest of shadowy state agents?

God, yes, it matters. That’s much of my whole point. In the 90s the killings were largely one mafia group against another. Today it is the state doing the killing – and it’s more, not less — largely to protect specific economic interests.

In support of what burritoboy wrote, if you want the US to be on the same spectrum, here it is: Obama owns a third of the company that controls the Alaska oil pipeline. When Joe Schmo has the idea of building a second pipeline, Obama taps the DA to have him arrested for tax evasion. Michelle owns a construction company and gets 35% of all DC construction contracts. Joe Biden arranges for his son to become vice president of Shell Oil, which the US gov’t owns 51% of. When Susan Gungho, a reporter for WaPo, finds documents showing kickbacks from subcontractors (gov’t contracts) going into Biden’s son’s Swiss bank account, she is killed by a group of FBI agents and mafia thugs. It is believed, but not proven, that Biden’s son ordered the hit. Meanwhile, Chelsea Clinton decides that she’d like Microsoft. So Bill Gates is approached, told to sell it to her for half its value. While he’s thinking it over, his daughter is arrested for drug trafficking. Back in DC, a Bush appointee still heads the customs service. John Doe pays him 20% of the value of his imports of Korean cars to let them through. (If they were illegal in some way, he’d charge 60%.) Obama’s golf buddy wants the customs service job. Obama appoints him, he demands 30%, John Doe balks, he is charged with spurious customs violations and flees the country. The cars are confiscated and later sold on the black market, proceeds going to Obama’s buddy.

That’s Putin’s Russia. It doesn’t have to do with protecting business interests in general or ideology. It is very primitive use of the state apparatus to protect the specific economic interests of the people in power. On the bright side, that means that if you have a company/land/house that is not in conflict with or coveted by anyone in power, chances are you will be able to make money, keep your land, and happily redecorate your house. Of course, you’ll have to pay kickbacks and bribes to stay in business, but you factor that into your pricing and manage to make money anyway. But if someone in power wants it, you don’t have any recourse. To make sure you understand that, they arrange selective show trials, killings, beatings, explosions, etc.

ejh, you’re thinking of Starovoitova, who was killed in 1998. Did I overstate? I did say “virtually.” I can dig up the stats on journalists and politicians killed in the last 20 years. You’ll see the numbers go up dramatically under Putin. Yes, nationalists existed under Yeltsin (then more what were called “red-brown”), but the skinheads going on rampages in markets, whacking migrant workers with pipes, is a Putin-era phenomenon. Not allowing (arresting, beating up, etc.) oppositional demonstrations is also a Putin-era phenomenon, as are media black lists.

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soru 09.01.11 at 12:13 pm

For a democracy to be liberal its God has to be called Dollar, not Allah

I don’t see how what something is _called_ can really have any great impact on what it _is_. Kings, Rajahs, Sheiks and Shahs are all monarchs. Structure matters, not ideology.

Certainly Iran is not a liberal democracy, mostly because it is not a democracy. Probably 5 years ago it was possible to imagine it would be one in 5 years, without a revolution. Over that period, some of the Gulf states, such as Kuwait, have gradually shifted from being an absolute monarchy with a notional parliament to more or less a democracy with a strong but limited monarchy, like Thailand .

That’s not the way things turned out in Iran.

Thing is, as I understand it, if they did have fair elections, the policies they would vote for would be pretty much economically liberal, though naturally with Islamic cultural elements the average Guardian reader would be pretty unhappy about.

@187: China is mostly a limited franchise democracy, spookily similar to the system in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I do wonder whether someone in the current leadership read a translation at the age of 14 or so…

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.01.11 at 12:38 pm

For those who argue that Russia is a liberal democracy (and I think Henri Vieuxtemps did make that argument, so it’s not a strawman), I would want a definition of “liberal” and “democracy.”

Well, definitions of ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’ are irrelevant, but a “liberal democracy”, as I understand it, is an arrangement with (officially) more than one political party, secret ballot elections, and some basic un-discriminatory liberal (i.e. individual property-protecting) laws.

In the Soviet days there was only one party, and no secret ballot (you would state your name, get a ballot with the name of the official candidate, and immediately drop it into the box – or you would go to a booth and cross the name out, which was kind of obvious).

Under Putinism there are plenty of parties, and secret ballot elections, and basic laws protecting individuals and their property.

The way I see it, people feel that “liberal democracy” has to be a good thing, they don’t like the result, and so they say: no, this stinks, so it can’t be liberal democracy. But come on, do we have to be that naive?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.01.11 at 1:10 pm

Certainly Iran is not a liberal democracy, mostly because it is not a democracy.

How is it not a democracy (representative democracy, of course), if every individual in the government is either elected or assigned by an elected body?

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novakant 09.01.11 at 1:27 pm

Dollar, not Allah

Actually the kleptocracy running Iran is mainly interested in dollars, not Allah.

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ajay 09.01.11 at 2:21 pm

How is it not a democracy (representative democracy, of course), if every individual in the government is either elected or assigned by an elected body?

The Iranian constitution is very complicated but I wouldn’t say that the Assembly of Experts, for example, is freely elected.

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ajay 09.01.11 at 2:25 pm

a “liberal democracy”, as I understand it, is an arrangement with (officially) more than one political party, secret ballot elections, and some basic un-discriminatory liberal (i.e. individual property-protecting) laws.

This would mean that Zimbabwe counts, correct?

196

Watson Ladd 09.01.11 at 3:23 pm

Henri your definitions aren’t capturing things like freedom of assembly and speech. Liberalism isn’t just property rights.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.01.11 at 4:21 pm

According to wikipedia:

Members of the assembly are elected from a government-screened list of candidates by direct public vote to eight-year terms.

Since the government is also elected, this seems kosher enough. Certainly not any worse than the US Supreme Court.

Zimbabwe? Sure, why not. It’s useful to know how bad it can get.

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Watson Ladd 09.01.11 at 4:37 pm

So its unfortunate that due to a moderation backlog my prior comment will appear directly above this one, but I feel as though Henri has again missed something about liberal democracies with an intermediary comment.

Its not the democracy alone that makes the liberal democracy, its the liberalism. The presumption that governmental affairs will be settled without violence, that differences of creed or opinion will not result in bloodshed. Saying that the Assembly of Experts is not worse then the US Supreme Court is true if one only focuses on democracy, but it is not true if one is thinking about liberalism. A confessional state can never be a liberal democracy. The US Supreme Court has expanded rights for gays and lesbians, whereas the Assembly of Experts doesn’t have a problem with killing them and imprisoning their supporters. Maybe I am importing policy commitments in the guise of structural prerequistes on the state, but these are rights essential to debate and discussion.

Unless I am (very possibly) missing something I don’t see why the liberalism of a liberal democracy deserves short shrift compared to the democracy part in evaluating it.

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soru 09.01.11 at 4:54 pm

no, this stinks, so it can’t be liberal democracy

Yes, that is what the phrase means. A democracy that, domestically, delivers results that are satisfactory to liberals, broadly defined, is a liberal democracy. So rule of law, no arbitrary punishments, etc. One that does not is an illiberal democracy.


Since the government is also elected, this seems kosher enough. Certainly not any worse than the US Supreme Court.

The part of the government that does the screening is not a part that will ever have to stand for re-election. Which is why most observers say that those parts are the ones who, in practise, actually have the power.

Any type of representative democratic republic is going to have elected and unelected parts, of varying strength. Given unsatisfactory results, of whatever severity, it does seem useful to distinguish between those caused by pathologies of the elected parts (Zimbabwe, Russia, Italy) and the unelected parts (Iran, the USA).

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Bruce Wilder 09.01.11 at 5:31 pm

mossy @189: “. . . if you want the US to be on the same spectrum, here it is: Obama owns a third of the company that controls the Alaska oil pipeline. When Joe Schmo has the idea of building a second pipeline, Obama taps the DA to have him arrested for tax evasion. Michelle owns a construction company and gets 35% of all DC construction contracts. Joe Biden arranges for his son to become vice president of Shell Oil . . . “

I’m sure you think you are being farcical, and the farce is making some point. I don’t know if you are naive or just ill-informed.

The previous Administration was all about Big Oil. The President and V-P were from the same state (in violation of the Constitution), but from different oil companies. The Secretary of State had an oil tanker named for her. The V-P’s former employer made billions from Iraq contracts, and ex-patriated; the V-P himself collected many millions through a “retirement” package. President Bush’s family has a business alliance with Saudi Arabia, worth hundreds of billions.

The current Administration is all about Big Finance, a sector which can be accurately described as having effected a successful coup against the government. (This is exactly the thesis of Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, a man who has witnessed a few financial crises.) Biden doesn’t own an oil company; his family, though, has been neck-deep in crooked hedge funds and hedge fund marketing. Larry Summers was paid millions to “advise” hedge funds, prior to his “service to the nation”. Rahm Emmanuel had had a very profitable sojurn at an investment bank. The rule of law protecting property doesn’t mean much in the U.S., if it’s bank foreclosing. And, if it’s an oil company frakking or destroying the Gulf of Mexico, well, ditto.

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understudy 09.01.11 at 6:16 pm

“The President and V-P were from the same state (in violation of the Constitution)”

Must be a different constitution – there is no residency restrictions on the President and VP in the US Constitution. There are restrictions on the electoral college voters, but that is not relevant in the prior administration’s election.

I mean I get snarky usually, but this isn’t a funny list, so I am missing something.

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novakant 09.01.11 at 10:00 pm

#200

The wealth amassed by US politicians is tiny compared to that of their counterparts in Russia and Iran (think hundreds of millions or billions) – I don’t think that is so because the former are less greedy or more virtuous, but rather because there are certain things they simply cannot get away with.

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Britta 09.02.11 at 12:55 am

Henri,
By your definition, what isn’t a liberal democracy? With the exception of the high-modern totalitarian states (Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany), what country isn’t at least in appearances a multi-party state with “secret” elections. Currently China more than fits your definition, but would you call it a liberal democracy? I wouldn’t, although I acknowledge that there are “liberal” and “democratic” elements to the government. I think that once your definition of liberal democracy encompasses 99% of countries in the world, the term becomes worthless. So Iran, Sweden, China, Russia, Zimbabwe, the US, Argentina, Egypt are by your definition all liberal deomacries? Fine. So what? What meaningful information does it tell us about the differences between governance in these countries? Or, if they’re all the same, what meaningful similarities do they share? You might argue that there are “better” and “worse” liberal democracies–what makes one better or one worse? If the definition comes down to “I would rather live there,” or “I have less likelihood of being shot in the head there,” don’t you think there are structural governance elements that make that the case?

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john c. halasz 09.02.11 at 1:10 am

BW @200:

I’ve been gone all day, but I was going to remark that the difference between the Russian Federation, where the Leninist party-state has disappeared, but its fusion of state and economy has not quite, and the West, especially the U.S.A., is that there the politicos own the corporations, whereas here the corporations own the politicos.

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john c. halasz 09.02.11 at 2:04 am

“prove that Gaidar was “indoctrinated” please “

Perhaps you don’t understand how U.S. indoctrination works and how Milton Friedman gibberish was so readily spouted by Russian “reformers”. Probably they had been inculcated in a doctrinaire mentality by their Soviet formation and simply reversed signs in opposition to it. (In other parts of eastern Europe, the radical “liberal” reformers resembled inverted Bolsheviks. As an example, consider Vaclav Klaus.) And perhaps you don’t understand how the “free enterprise system” and “free markets” has be so intensively and extensively propagandized over here, often in conjunction with “Christian” fundamentalism and anti-communist paranoia. But maybe just do a google search:

http://www.google.com/search?q=russian%20reformer%20attend%20harvard&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&source=hp&channel=np#pq=russian+reformer+attend+harvard&hl=en&sugexp=gsis%2Ci18n%3Dtrue&cp=17&gs_id=4&xhr=t&q=russian+reformers+attend+harvard&qe=cnVzc2lhbiByZWZvcm1lcnMgYXR0ZW5kIGhhcnZhcmQ&qesig=R_5nknMKIwQ0siv-MqZ0Hg&pkc=AFgZ2tmjGc_nCCs4P2zECtMk6T7STjfeCd3BAVecH7xo_lSehoWC6im0A-UR6xjcW3mSCaVGdfQi5PTBP7riZ4jLYDyI9HXbGQ&pf=p&sclient=psy&client=firefox-a&hs=KvJ&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&channel=np&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=russian+reformers+attend+harvard&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=67cca108e1ea2034&biw=1345&bih=744

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.02.11 at 5:44 am

@203, I thought China was still a single-party state, did I miss something? Iran, as I said above, is not a ‘liberal democracy’, it’s an ‘Islamic democracy’.

What makes them better or worse is, imo, simply the degree of concentration of power.

207

Hidari 09.02.11 at 6:56 am

FWIW China is not a one party state and never has been, although the contrary is widely believed in the ‘West’.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China

208

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.02.11 at 7:03 am

Ah, like communist Poland; they had, I believe, three parties. Well, anyway, there are no opposition parties. Officially, right?

209

ajay 09.02.11 at 8:16 am

Since the government is also elected, this seems kosher enough.

This is a pretty silly thing to say. (Also, it’s Iran. Don’t you mean halal?)

210

mossy 09.02.11 at 9:20 am

Henri, I’d have to agree with Britta. Democracy surely isn’t just some forms of a democratic system — secret ballots, more than one party, laws protecting property and other rights. Surely it would have to include lack of falsification of the results of those secret ballots, voter access to information, the ability of any party whose platform is not anti-constitutional (or in violation of the law) to register, etc. If you want to maintain that the lack of the “content” of democracy is just a continuum, well, then the whole definition becomes meaningless.

@200
Well, I may have missed some news, but I don’t think Haliburton’s competitors are languishing in jail, the reporters who provided all this information for you were beaten up, or that it’s standard procedure in every town and city and county and state to have the mayor’s and governor’s spouses and children getting state contracts and owning the main businesses and/or land.

In the past I thought that Russia’s present system is just “early democracy and capitalism.” Certainly there are characteristics that are very much like the US 100-150 years ago. But if you take the system as a whole and all its aspects, there are more differences than similarities.

211

engels 09.02.11 at 9:50 am

In the past I thought that Russia’s present system is just “early democracy and capitalism.” Certainly there are characteristics that are very much like the US 100-150 years ago.

No, it’s like the US will be in 100-150 years time. De te fabula narratur to coin a phrase..

212

ejh 09.02.11 at 11:12 am

Certainly there are characteristics that are very much like the US 100-150 years ago. But if you take the system as a whole and all its aspects, there are more differences than similarities.

You could also try England in the eighteenth century as a comparison, it might be closer, though the oligarchs weren’t yet industrialists and the element of using police as a private army would also be missing (seeing as we didn’t have police then, though come to think of it what we did have would very often have been under private control). But it was corrupt on a grand scale, everything depended on individual connections, the political system was a farce and of course oppositionists, to use a modern term, were very roughly treated. Albeit possibly without the same element of lawlessness that I think you’re getting at – people were jailed, or worse, but within the frameowrk of a deeply unjust law rather than somebody paying somebody to have them knocked off.

How we got out of that, in the long term, you’d need a better historian than I to discuss (I did actually study at university under one of our leading authorities on that period, but I didn’t care for him, nor him for me). But among the answers would be the development of independent institutions, both political and civil. And genuinely independent, i.e. neither the creations nor the playthings of wealthy people from the out-of-favour faction.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.02.11 at 12:48 pm

@208, sure, halal. Why is it silly? The UK has a monarch who can dissolve the Parliament, and it still qualifies as democracy. If you don’t want this to be reduced to “I call it ‘democracy’ because I like the place”, you need to come up with some criteria.

214

Nababov 09.02.11 at 1:45 pm

“The UK has a monarch who can dissolve the Parliament”

The UK also has a Parliament with a track record of dissolving monarchs. eg: Chuck 1, Glorious Revolution, Ed 8, etc, etc.

215

roac 09.02.11 at 2:59 pm

I don’t think Parliament had anything to do with the Glorious Revolution, having been prorogued by James earlier in the year. The Dutch Army did the deed.

216

Hidari 09.02.11 at 5:40 pm

‘No, it’s like the US will be in 100-150 years time. ‘

100-150 years?

You dewy eyed optimist, you.

If the US would reasonably be described, by most unbiased observers, as a ‘democracy’ in 150 months, I think it will be doing unexpectedly well.

217

burritoboy 09.02.11 at 9:49 pm

“The previous Administration was all about Big Oil. The President and V-P were from the same state (in violation of the Constitution), but from different oil companies. The Secretary of State had an oil tanker named for her. The V-P’s former employer made billions from Iraq contracts, and ex-patriated; the V-P himself collected many millions through a “retirement” package. President Bush’s family has a business alliance with Saudi Arabia, worth hundreds of billions.”

And what you describe was a major threat to the US’ liberal democracy. But again, you’re missing key details. Many (probably most and possibly all) liberal democracies have political elites who are tied (in one way or another) to their nation’s economic elites. In most (if not absolutely all), political elites will often take positions, consulting fees, etc from the economic elites after they leave office. If you use the mere existence of this as a metric of liberal democracy, there likely have been no liberal democracies ever – and you end up classifying Sweden as the same thing as Syria or Saudi Arabia.

So that can’t be our metric. Is our metric how much monetary gain political elites get from the economic elites? Well, that is one helpful metric. In what are traditionally regarded as the best examples of liberal democracy, political elites will get comparatively modest monetary benefits from the economic elites – funding for a non-profit the ex-politician might run (and pay themselves at most modestly from), funding for a university chair the ex-politician will occupy, speaking fees perhaps and things along these lines. In worse examples, the ex-politicians get direct employment from the economic elites, etc. And so on.

Under this analysis, Putin’s Russia is very different from countries regarded as good example of liberal democracies, as mossy has described. Further, Putin’s Russia is relatively similar in this respect to countries which are generally regarded as dictatorships or tyrannies. And using this (admittedly crude) metric along with other obvious governmental norms and institutions, we have some metric that seems to correctly identify Finland, say, as a liberal democracy, identifies Berlusconi’s Italy and GWB’s US as still liberal democracies but ones that are becoming problematic and identifies tyrannical governments as such.

Or we could use metrics like the willingness of political and economic elites to observe norms like property rights. That could be a useful metric as well.

But in neither case does Putin’s regime resemble what we generally regard as the better liberal democracies. It more resembles the tyrannical regimes – the political elites in Russia get gains that look like those of tyrannical regimes – we’re not talking cushy jobs or lobbying gigs in Russia, but political elites taking major slices of the overall economy for their personal wealth. Cheney, perhaps the worst malefactor of this in US history, absconded with amounts that are trivialities to the overall US economy. Cheney didn’t get a notably large pay package on the scales of US CEO’s (US CEO’s are grotesquely overpaid, but Cheney wasn’t vastly overpaid in comparison to other US CEO’s).

Also, there are plenty of competitors to Halliburton. While I do think Halliburton got quite a bit of business that they wouldn’t have had if Cheney hadn’t been their CEO, Halliburton’s competitors weren’t driven out of business. Yes, it’s likely true that Halliburton’s competitors got less revenue than otherwise, but none of Halliburton’s competitors were worried that the government was going to come down on them harder than normal, or arrest their kids for phoney drug charges, or tell the IRS to audit them every week.

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burritoboy 09.02.11 at 9:54 pm

The US will probably be a liberal democracy in 100 – 150 years. A Caesar might well be coming within a few years, but after the first Caesar or two, we will (perhaps gradually, perhaps not) revert to being a liberal democracy. The process of getting there, however, could cost any number of lives you wish to specify.

219

Britta 09.03.11 at 12:24 am

Henri,

What makes China’s multiparty state not a liberal democracy, by your definition, but Russia’s is? Why aren’t China’s other parties opposition parties? I believe there is still a Guomindang party presence in China. (I mean, I wouldn’t call China a multiparty state, but neither would I call Russia a multiparty state.) All things considered, I’d much rather be a member of one of China’s opposition parties than Russia’s. I’d rather put up with potential house arrest and possible police surveillance than the threat of having my kneecaps broken, my house firebombed, and my entire family murdered. As people are pointing out, you seem to contrarily naive or to accept things on face value when it comes to Russia, but not so in regards to other countries.

220

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.03.11 at 6:37 am

Britta, the horrors you imagine, and whatever it is that you would personally prefer is irrelevant. Russia definitely does have opposition parties, and all its parties are equal, by law. That is not the case in China; the CPC is special, it (and only it) is the leading, dominant party, and that’s in the constitution. Don’t you see the difference?

221

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.03.11 at 7:09 am

…take the Church, for example. Priests molests children, bishops know and do nothing. This is not what’s supposed to happen in a religious Christian organization. Nevertheless, we don’t say: ‘no, this is not a religious organization’. We know it is one, and we know that it must be that this sort of organization, whatever its stated ideals and goals are, creates the conditions for child molestation by priests to occur. Why should it be different for liberal democracies?

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Bruce Wilder 09.03.11 at 7:59 am

@217

You’ve pretty much destroyed your credibility with me.

223

Hidari 09.03.11 at 9:25 am

‘A Caesar might well be coming within a few years’.

Yes but which Caesar? We will remember that it was Augustus Caesar who finally turned the Republic into an Empire. But he did not do it by saying: ‘right that’s it, lads,your democratic experiment is over, time for dictatorship.’ Instead he posed as being a friend of democracy, a restorer of the Republic, a moderate centrists after the rule of the ‘extremists’. And this was so incredibly successful that it took a few generations for educated Romans to realise that their democracy had been gutted, by which time it was too late.

Since this discussion seems to be getting quite high-faluting, may I lower the tone by referring to the best of a Star Wars films (a view that is shared by no one else on the planet except myself) The Revenge of the Sith. In that film, you will remember (or maybe, if you have a life, you won’t), Palpatine turns the Republic into an Empire (many dark references to Dubya here) in the name of saving democracy. Indeed, it is the ‘real’ friends of democracy who are traduced as being traitors, fascists, totalitarians etc. And since everyone thinks that democracy has now been ‘saved’, no one fights against The New Order.

You assume that Americans will cast off a Caesar because you think they will realise that they no longer live in a democracy. But they might not.

As someone above pointed out, the classic example here (apart from Augustus’ pro-democratic propaganda) is the 1688 invasion of England by the Dutch. If the English had become aware that this was actually what was happening, they would have fought against it. So huge efforts were made to portray the invaders as the friends of national autonomy, and the rightful rulers of the country as the ‘invaders’ (invading from within, presumably): hence the empty phrase The Glorious Revolution. And this was so successful a feat of propaganda that it was really only in the 20th century that people started to question it, although a second’s thought and a quick glance at the historical record reveals that it was self-evidently a crock of shit.

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Hidari 09.03.11 at 9:34 am

I should have added that, whereas the English were fooled, many Irish and Scots did accurately see what was happening and did fight against it. Luckily the English then had them all killed, thereby winning that argument.

225

mossy 09.03.11 at 11:43 am

@220
Henri, what “oppositional parties” do you mean in Russia — and did you really write the bit about protected by the law with a straight face?

The only parties that would be truly oppositional — that is, that threaten the system of power –either can’t get registered, or were dissolved administratively, or can’t get past the 7% barrier largely due to vote falsification and the use of what are called “administrative resources” (like media black lists, etc.).

@205
No, I don’t have to google that stuff. I’ve read that stuff. I know that’s where you get your conviction that it’s all the fault of the West, Harvard, USAID, etc. that Russia took the radical reform route. I’m saying it’s largely wrong. The decision was made before these guys came in. I gave you proof; you ignored it.

Have you noticed in all your googling that these accusations come from Americans and Westerners?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.03.11 at 11:55 am

Mossy, I didn’t study Russian law, but I doubt there is a law against forming political parties that disapprove of Putin. If there is such a law on the books, post a link. If not, what’s your point? Like I said: you have a liberal democracy there, and it stinks; join the club.

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mossy 09.03.11 at 12:03 pm

Okay, I was being both snarky and coy. What don’t I drop coy?

The thing is, when you are not living in the US but rather living in a country that is going to hell in a handbasket by the efforts of Ivanov, Smirnov, and Petrov, who don’t read English, have never heard of Milton Friedman, and think a neo-con is a new kind of Apple computer, but who have a millenium or so of genetic experience fleecing the masses, and when you read about how it’s all the fault of the US — well, it’s very Americentric, you know? It’s like you guys have to be the most powerful people in the world, whether you are doing right or wrong. And that the rest of the world is made up of “natives” who can be “indoctrinated.”

Instead of reading Wedel, read Dead Souls or The Inspector General. Or some Ilf and Petrov.

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mossy 09.03.11 at 12:13 pm

But Henri, are you serious about this “find a law” bit? What if the country doesn’t follow its laws? There isn’t a single law on the books that says someone can’t campaign to vote “none of the above,” but Boris Nemtsov just got arrested for doing that. There is a law against falsification of ballots, but that happens all the time. There is a law against in-fill housing construction, but the wife of the former mayor has been building exactly that sort of house two feet from my window for the last five years. There is a law against tearing down houses on the preservation list, and yet hundreds have been torn down in the last few years. There is a law against building a road through a forest preserve, and yet they are cutting down the Khimki forest to build just that (Why? As Medvedev admited, it’s because the land next to the existing highway was sold — much of it illegally — and although they can claim eminent domain, they guys who own it are in the govt or close to it, so instead they’re ripping out a forest.) Need I go on?

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Josh G. 09.03.11 at 12:39 pm

Responding to Hidari @ 223.

Yes but which Caesar? We will remember that it was Augustus Caesar who finally turned the Republic into an Empire. But he did not do it by saying: ‘right that’s it, lads, your democratic experiment is over, time for dictatorship.’ Instead he posed as being a friend of democracy, a restorer of the Republic, a moderate centrists after the rule of the ‘extremists’. And this was so incredibly successful that it took a few generations for educated Romans to realise that their democracy had been gutted, by which time it was too late.

The Roman Republic was never a liberal democracy in the sense we moderns would use the term. It was always a de facto oligarchy, and in its later days had become a corrupt and brutal oligarchy that squeezed the lower and middle classes mercilessly. (That’s not even counting the slaves, who were treated about equally poorly no matter who was in charge.)

Augustus was popular because he brought competence, order, and stability to a system that had degenerated into fratricidal infighting among selfish elites. Most historians today believe, based on a variety of evidence, that the plebeians were probably better off during the Empire’s glory days than during those of the Republic. But the plebeians did not write the history books; instead these were written by members of the upper classes who nursed grudges over their lost privileges. The ancient histories remember Nero as a monster, because he treated fellow members of the upper classes badly, but many of the common people loved him.

As someone above pointed out, the classic example here (apart from Augustus’ pro-democratic propaganda) is the 1688 invasion of England by the Dutch. If the English had become aware that this was actually what was happening, they would have fought against it. So huge efforts were made to portray the invaders as the friends of national autonomy, and the rightful rulers of the country as the ‘invaders’ (invading from within, presumably): hence the empty phrase The Glorious Revolution. And this was so successful a feat of propaganda that it was really only in the 20th century that people started to question it, although a second’s thought and a quick glance at the historical record reveals that it was self-evidently a crock of shit.

Hold on a minute. An awful lot of work is being done by the phrase “rightful rulers.” We don’t believe in the divine right of kings any more, so what makes someone a rightful ruler? In England, the de facto criteria for rightful rulership had always included not pissing off a substantial fraction of important people in the country. Edward II alienated a sizable portion of the elites, so he was overthrown in favor of his son. Richard II alienated both the elites and the common people, so he was overthrown by Henry IV. Richard III appalled everyone by murdering his nephews, so he was overthrown by Henry VII. Kicking out James II in favor of an alternative candidate who promised to govern more in line with English elite consensus was well within the unwritten constitutional tradition of England.

William certainly had a larger proportion of elite support than James did – he would never have been able to succeed in his invasion if he hadn’t. It is harder to tell, but he probably also had a larger proportion of support from the common people. At any rate, there do not seem to have been any major uprisings or protests among the Commons during his reign (as there were, for example, during the administrations of Richard II and Henry VIII). By what standard can James therefore have been said to be the “rightful ruler” of England? (Regarding post 224, I agree that Scotland and Ireland are a different story.)

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John Quiggin 09.03.11 at 12:42 pm

@Hidari, I’m re-entering late, but I’m a bit mystified. The version I first learned (in Marxist terms, but I had the impression the same view in different terms was mainstream orthodoxy) was that 1688 was the English bourgeois revolution and therefore historically progressive, as well as being progressive in the ordinary sense compared to the absolutism that the Stuarts consistently pushed when they could.

The only revisionism of which I’m aware is the argument that religion should be taken seriously as an independent motive rather than being treated as a reflection of class interests. That’s obviously consistent with English support for the revolution (although Dutch William was never popular) and with the line-up of forces in Ireland.

Is there some other assessment of which I’m unaware.

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ejh 09.03.11 at 12:53 pm

As someone above pointed out, the classic example here (apart from Augustus’ pro-democratic propaganda) is the 1688 invasion of England by the Dutch. If the English had become aware that this was actually what was happening, they would have fought against it.

I am not at all sure that this is true.

The thing is, when you are not living in the US but rather living in a country that is going to hell in a handbasket by the efforts of Ivanov, Smirnov, and Petrov, who don’t read English, have never heard of Milton Friedman, and think a neo-con is a new kind of Apple computer, but who have a millenium or so of genetic experience fleecing the masses, and when you read about how it’s all the fault of the US —well, it’s very Americentric, you know? It’s like you guys have to be the most powerful people in the world, whether you are doing right or wrong. And that the rest of the world is made up of “natives” who can be “indoctrinated.”

Instead of reading Wedel, read Dead Souls or The Inspector General. Or some Ilf and Petrov.

See, this is where I have a problem. (For the record, I’ve read all of Dead Souls, and some of Ilf and Petrov.) I don’t think what’s going on in Russia was originated in the US (I think the US playd a part, mind, and not a helpful one) but I’m also suspicious of attempts to locate it too closely in a long tradition of corrupt and authoritarian rule that is particularly Russian in nature. That seems to me to blame it on Russianness, something deeply ingrained in the Russian character and historical experience, and it’s very cimilar to the arguments that people made, before this year’s events, about Arab people and why their governments were (and still are, mostly) comprised of authoritarian crooks of a type really quite similar to that which you’ve described in Russia.

But without entirely discounting the role which historical experience can play in a country’s politics, I think neither Arabs nor Russians are peculiarly attracted to lawless and corrupt government, and the reasons why both suffer from them are mostly to be found in the time leading up to their formation.

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Hidari 09.03.11 at 12:54 pm

You are right, ahem. I shouldn’t have used the phrase ‘rightful ruler’. As for the rest: the Dutch invasion was an elite affair. Unlike in the Civil War (which really was a civil war) the ‘ordinary people’ were not encouraged to get involved or, indeed, to have opinions about the issue. In any case James II was not just ‘kicked out’. He was ‘kicked out’ as a result of an invasion of the Dutch, about which there was nothing ‘Glorious’. It was simply realpolitik. You can defend it or attack it, but that’s what happened.

My point about Augustus was not about his competence, which is unquestioned, but about the propaganda by which he justified his dictatorship. And his propaganda was that he had ‘restored the Republic.’

The ordinary people (OF ROME) unquestionably benefited from his rule, and that of his successors. The ordinary people of other places whom the Romans exterminated, not so much.

Incidentally, you should be very careful about judging political systems across millenia. It’s true that by ‘our’ standards, the Roman Republic was not a liberal democracy. But ipso facto the Ancients might not have thought that our system is particularly democratic either. As a recent article puts it: ‘In America, for instance, pretty much everybody is in debt. The great social evil in antiquity, the thing that Sharia law and medieval canon law were trying to ensure never happened again, was the scenario in which a family gets so deep in debt that they are forced to sell themselves, or sell their children, into slavery. What do you have here today? You have a population all of whom are in debt, and who are essentially renting themselves to employers to do jobs that they almost certainly wouldn’t want to do otherwise, to be able to pay those debts. If Aristotle were magically transported to the U.S. he would conclude that most of the American population is enslaved, because for him the distinction between selling yourself and renting yourself is at best a legalism. ‘

I doubt the Ancient Athenians would have seen anything particularly democratic about ‘our’ politically system either, their use of slaves and their misogyny notwithstanding.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.03.11 at 1:06 pm

What if the country doesn’t follow its laws?

No country follows its laws; institutional practices trump them every time.

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Hidari 09.03.11 at 1:10 pm

John
First, I’m not a Marxist (not even in the way that Marx said that ‘I’m not a Marxist’) so I don’t care what the Marxists say. Nor do I care whether or not revolutions are ‘progressive’ in some abstract sense.

All I’m pointing out is that 1698 marked a year when England was invaded by the Dutch.*

Because that’s what happened.

I don’t see why what I am saying is in the slightest bit controversial incidentally. Cf: Jardine, Lisa (2008). Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory. Harper.

*Who then lied about what had happened.

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mossy 09.03.11 at 1:21 pm

ejh, I don’t disagree with you. The key phrase is “that seems to me to blame Russianness.” Actually, many Russians DO blame Russianness. I don’t, although I was probably too flip about the genetic memory bit.

Lots of people have changed their form of governance, for better or worse, quickly or gradually. (That was, after all, the subject of this thread.) Russians could do that, too. I think, however, that this system is very familiar, and a lot of people either feel comfortable in it, or resigned to it, or know how to operate in it. (Many of the ones who don’t are either being arrested or emigrating, or arranging for their kids to emigrate.) Polls show that people think corruption is wrong, but they also think it’s “part of Russia” and hopeless to fight it. Polls also registered, particularly in the 1990s, that although people had better living standards (food), they were very unhappy with the sense of instability and uncertainty.

The most interesting thing to happen here occurred last summer, during the endless heat wave and forest/peat fires (when the Mayor of Moscow evacuated his bees and flew to Austria, leaving the city’s residents to gasp and die). Seeing that the government wasn’t doing anything, a group of people started a website. They found out what was needed in X or Y village, posted the list, got the supplies (shovels, pails, hose, etc.), arranged transportation and volunteers. There was no ideology. It was extremely effective, and shows a change in paradigm, however small. Actually, in general there is more social activism than there was 5 or 10 years ago. That’s the third way (besides acceptance or emigration).

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ejh 09.03.11 at 2:05 pm

Polls show that people think corruption is wrong, but they also think it’s “part of Russia” and hopeless to fight it.

You’d probably find that in other countries too. You’d find it where I live, in Spain (corruption here isn’t on Russian levels, but it’s more prominent and blatant than in, say, the UK). And it doesn’t help that people keep voting for the corrupt guys.

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Hidari 09.03.11 at 2:29 pm

‘And it doesn’t help that people keep voting for the corrupt guys.’

Who else would they vote for?

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John Quiggin 09.03.11 at 2:37 pm

I’m not a Marxist either, but even so, ‘England was invaded by the Dutch’ seems like the kind of category confusion that Marxist analysis helps to clear up. A Dutch army landed at the invitation of one side in a civil conflict, and the Dutch government got an alliance in return, but on terms very favorable to the English.

The effect of the revolution was to establish the supremacy of the English Parliament, representing an alliance of aristocracy and bourgeoisie with power gradually shifting to the latter group over the next couple of centuries. The fact that a Dutchman held the title of king for a few years is neither here nor there.

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Hidari 09.03.11 at 2:57 pm

There was a 20,000 strong invasion fleet, London was put under what was (effectively) martial law for 2 years, there was armed resistance in Scotland and Ireland (which was ruthlessly crushed) , and a fear of civil war (which the outpouring of pro-Dutch propaganda was designed to nip in the bud). It was an invasion. (As those about to be outed were clearly aware: ‘”an absolute conquest is intended under the specious and ordinary pretences of religion, liberty, property and a free Parliament…”‘ as Ignatius White put it, correctly).

The ‘key effect’ of the revolution looks very different depending on whether you are sitting in Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, or Dublin. Or Belfast, for that matter. In fact, especially Belfast.

However, Wikipedia introduces a nice distinction which is of relevance here: ‘The Norman conquest is viewed as the last successful conquest of England, although the Dutch victory in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 should be identified as the most recent successful invasion from the continent; an important distinction is that the Glorious Revolution can be seen as one segment of the English ruling class centred around Parliament collaborating with outside forces to oust a different segment of the ruling classes (that centred around the Stuart monarchy), whereas in the Norman conquest the entire English ruling class was utterly displaced.’

So, if you want to differentiate the previous Roman and Norman invasions* from the Dutch invasion, you can make a distinction between an invasion and a conquest, if you want.

*Although it must be stressed that in both these cases, both Roman and Norman propaganda was devoted to the idea that what had happened wasn’t ‘really’ an invasion either, and was, in fact, something else which just looked like an invasion. And had the same name.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest_of_England

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ejh 09.03.11 at 3:05 pm

Whatever 1688 was, it certainly wasn’t a conquest.

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mossy 09.03.11 at 5:03 pm

Yeah, who else would they vote for?
In Russia there is also media control. Putin and Medvedev are shown only looking great, in control, knowing all the facts and numbers. Questions are screened and scripted. No debates. No out-takes. No bad moments aired. The only place you find the unscripted stuff is on the internet, and it’s almost always (always?) about Medvedev — boogying at a party, forgetting to put the car in park (it rolled into a crowd), etc. But that reaches a very small percentage of the population.
There has also been a rescripting of history, which gets to that bit about “it’s just Russia, can’t do anything about it.” In the Soviet period, Russian and Soviet history were portrayed as an arch of freedom-fighting, a history of the little man challenging and finally overthrowing the autocracy. Now it’s the reverse. All Russian and Soviet history is the iron fist. “Russians like a strong hand. That’s who we are.” This message has been beaten into everyone for the last decade, and the other message — we’ve fought against tyranny — has virtually disappeared.
ejh — yes, people in Spain (Italy, Turkey and Egypt) generally get this. And they usually get along in Russia pretty easily. Almost like home.

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ejh 09.03.11 at 5:19 pm

Except for the bribery. I think that’s the particularly different aspect.

Well, that and the violence against journalists and oppositionists, and even that used to happen recently enough for many people to remember it.

As for who else would they vote for – well, there are alternatives, but the fact that you can’t actually vote for individual candidates (the noxious party list system is in operation) means you’re not able to vote for the party you want, but only for a candidate that you think’s clean. You have to take clean and corrupt alike, and apart from anything else, that’s no encouragement to anybody who wants to stay clean. Also, y’know, these systems would crumble if people didn’t go along with them, and to be honest, in a system where there’s a lot of systematic tax evasion, the people who do that aren’t going to stop voting for corrupt politicians when those corrupt politicians leave tax evasion untouched. However much they themselves may complain, hypocritically, about corruption.

I would have thought the Valencian PP was quite likely the single most corrupt political operation in Western Europe outside of Italy (although Fianna Fáil could give it a run for its dirty money). But its majorities just go up and up.

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john c. halasz 09.03.11 at 8:23 pm

Well. mossy, you just resorted to stereotyping to support your flailing and failing argument. And you’re citing opinion polls for evidence, which is an extremely weak form of evidence, in gaging actual popular feelings. It’s not a matter of some sort of American self-importance, any more than it is a matter of innate Russian authoritarianism, irrationality, or slavishness. I certainly wasn’t one to proclaim the U.S. as “the indispensable nation”, or the “world’s sole remaining superpower” or even as the “hyperpower”. (Besides Henri here is Belgian, so what’s with him). Nor did I declare that it all was the fault of the Harvard boys, without considerable indigenous and endogenous factors at work. But “indoctrination” is not an inappropriate word, since you do recognize what utter crap such pure “free market” economics is and how utterly doctrinaire its tenets are, eh? And certainly the Russian reformers didn’t come up with these ideas all on their own, but had been studying them through contacts for a while and such networks were re-enforced and brought into play in the implementation process. (No doubt there were other currents of economic and social thinking in Russia that were not so, er, “privileged”). And the fact that the communists in the Russian Congress, which had only recently been open to fairly democratic election voted fairly blindly to confer “reforming’ powers on Yeltsin, is not at all extraordinary or counter-intuitive since just about everybody involved, including the radical liberal “reformers” had been involved with the communist party, and the opinion range in the communist party itself was widening and splitting apart. (Certainly Yakolov was not the same kettle of fish as Ligachev, eh?) And your idea that Russia was bankrupt is a mere analogy, since the concept actually applies to business firms not governments, and you would have to specify the problem much better. (The example of Poland is not a good one, since IIRC Poland had half of its foreign debt forgiven, some $24 billion. It helps to have a large ethic lobby on your side and a right-wing government enthusiastic for the role that Solidarity had played, though the Solidarity coalition was to break up as a result of the reforms).

So, no, you really haven’t proven your case. And, indeed, other paths to reform were possible, just not allowable by TPTB. And the destruction of the productive infrastructure and internal markets of Russia et alia did result in the sort of political economy that characterized the current Russian regime. It’s no surprise. BTW billionaires are such, not because they have a lot of money, but because they own/control productive assets, which, er, they can’t exactly eat. They are generally motivated to expand their wealth, their ownership/control, but more out of power and status drives than simple exorbitant greed. The tendency for concentrated production and thus ownership/control is a basic developmental “law” of capitalism, beyond the supposed efficiencies of competitive markets, the world over. These neo-liberal privatization programs don’t really foster “competition” and thus efficiency, but more like corrupt concentrations of underpriced assets. Carlos Slim is no different from his Russian counterparts. (And were those cheap imported chicken parts “dark meat”? If so, you not that they were dumped below cost, eh?)

I think the problem here is that you think that there is some sort of ideal-type called “liberal democracy” and that it is normative. But, aside from the fact that in the 19th century liberalism and democracy were considered opposed perspectives, for some good reasons, and that “democracy” is an exceedingly vague word, there is no way to separate out “pure” economics from “pure” politics, but, without stooping to some vulgar base/superstructure distinction, it’s always rather a matter of political economy. So economic structure is going to constrain the possibility for political reform and vice versa. You seems to have been a supporter of the “liberal” reforms and maintain some nostalgia for that era. Many other Russian might disagree. And the plain fact of the matter is that even if the Putin regime were not to interfer with the attempts of the avatars of the liberal reformers such as Nemtsov and Kasperov to organize electorally in opposition to the regime, the likelihood is that they would receive only a small fraction of the vote, probably less than Zhirinovsky. But your plight is really not all that different from intellectuals in the U.S.A., confronted with the mass stupification of the population by electronic media and propaganda and a two-party duopoly that excludes effective political competition while competing to serve there corporate paymasters, the only difference being that one party is absolutely crazy and the other is completely inept. If the rule of law is nonetheless more robust here, it’s largely because the forms of corruption are entirely legal. (You do recognize that taxes, bribes, and economic rents are, very roughly, functional equivalents as forms of extraction from the working population and productive eficiency, eh?) You are aware that the Wall St. mega-banks had instituted an open air Ponzi market, by which they looted the remaining net worth of much of the middle-class here, and then were bailed out massively by the government, which persists in covering up the malfeasance and suppressing any effective investigation,- (though, due to market “deregulation”, it’s not clear if the corruption was actually illegal, and it’s certain that the regulatory authorities were entirely complicit in it),- while imposing “austerity on the working population, eh? The biggest difference is that the U.S. is still a vastly wealthier country than Russia will likely ever be, though I’ll point out that the U.S. Gini coefficient is 46.7, whhereas Russia’s is around 41-42.

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john c. halasz 09.03.11 at 8:28 pm

Oh, and a lot of those quondam liberal reformers ended up with quite cushy spots in the Putin regime.

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mossy 09.04.11 at 10:00 am

Well, I’ve run out of energy here. You keep ignoring or discrediting facts, spending a lot of ink discrediting who you think I am, and telling me what I’m thinking, what Gaidar thought, what the communists who voted for radical reforms thought – based on nothing (no primary or secondary source material) except your conviction that they – we – were indoctrinated by the evil forces of the West.

In addition to Dead Souls and The Golden Calf – which I really do recommend – you might read a book on the Soviet economy in its waning years, The Breaking Point (Shmelyov and Popov) and Gaidar’s book on the end of the empire (can’t remember the title in English translation). There are a lot of memoirs about the last years of the USSR written by Russians and translated.

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john c. halasz 09.05.11 at 6:38 am

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kosimba 09.05.11 at 9:44 am

Quiggin I think is great in general but gets it wrong about Central Africa. Anyone who says Kagame illustrates that tyranny is not so bad don’t know Kagame, or the context. Rwandan Patriotic Army persuit of Hutu refugees across DRC (using Kabila pere as figleaf) almost certainly caused the deaths of around 200,000 to 300,000 (Prunier thinks 300,000 and his figures seem as well informed as anyones). Estimates about the number killed in reprisals by the Kagame regime range from 25,000 to 150,000+ again the figures are not entirely reliable but we know it was lots. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n06/stephen-w-smith/rwanda-in-six-scenes . There is extensive eye witness accounts about heavy arms fire being used on Hutu refugee camp of Kibeho within Rwanda. The numbers killed in the Congo wars, where Kagame’s Rwanda is a major protagonist, and in the continuing instability are estimated at around 4 million+. Elections are clearly a joke – a hugely polarised coutry with a hutu majority that regularly gives a tutsi government 70% + majorities – go figure, as Americans have it. All this I think this stands up pretty well with any tyrant in history.
On the Kabila Mobutu who is worse ?kick that some commentators are going in for – they are both awful but don’t assume Mobutu wins all the prizes here. In terms of an appropriation as an annual percentage it is surely Kabila – the states resources have so dwindled that keeping various political constituencies in order consumes almost the entire official budget, while in terms of illicit resources it is of course hard to know, but the signing of ‘leonine contracts’ for mining rights during the war has left receipts absurdly low. Talk of renegotiation has been pushed to the long grass (partly via threats from interested outsiders) and the state is an abject faliure even in terms of its rentier function.
Mobutu knew from the start that he could not do anything about the term of trade – trying to look for someone else to process Katangan ore made the belgians provoke civil war and murder the prime minister who suggested it. He was not, by central african standards (very low I grant), an especially bloody dictator, and the human rights record of the current government is appalling – the slaughter of 100 unarmed protestors in Bas Congo province in 2007 for example. That said, despite huge irregularities I think it is probably true that Kabila, rather unusually in the region, did get a genuine majority of the popular vote at the last elections.

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Doug M. 09.06.11 at 9:00 am

Kosimba, I suspect John is thinking some combination of “well they were much better than what went before” and “they have brought peace and prosperity”. Ye-es, well.

I suspect Kabila is capturing a greater proportion of state revenue than Mobutu, but a smaller proportion of GDP. Hard data on this is, of course, very difficult to come by — but note that revenue collection for the DRC has been stuck at a pathetically low level for a while now. Congo’s government budget for 2010 was about $5.6 billion, which works out to about $90 per Congolese. However, roughly half of that budget was coming from donors, and another chunk (the exact amount unclear) is deficit spending. So the DRC is only managing to collect about $40 per person per year.

I agree that Kabila was probably more or less the popular choice. Whether that will be true in the next election… well, we’ll see.

Doug M.

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kosimba 09.06.11 at 9:27 am

Hi Doug – I think on Kagame etc. your ‘yes well’ is agreeing with me that John quiggin is quite wrong, or do I get you wrong? It is in no way excusing what went before to say that Kagame is sufficiently bad that he does not begin to look good in comparison with anyone and death tolls associated with him are in entirely the same league as previous genocidaires.
On GDP well there are several complications – first as you point out we don’t really have a clue how much of anything is coming and going! I am about to look at something on precisely this subject so maybe I will have a better idea soon, though I doubt it. Another one is historical – surely for much of mobutu’s rule a smaller percentage of GDP (though much larger absolute figure) would have been taken by him simply because until a certain point in the late eighties salaries in the public sector and public mining companies would still have been paid – this is of course no defence as it was Mobutu that screwed it up (with western support as you well point out). Last if it is less in percentage terms – in an important sense diminished theft by Kabila and entourage is a form of faliure (‘he ate as many as they could get’ a la Walrus and Carpiter) – the current ruling class are in an even weaker position than Mobutu was re both internal and external power brokers (end of the cold war being a key factor as you identify). That is perhaps not a point in their favour? Anyway I think we basically agree that neither is particularly good.

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kosimba 09.06.11 at 9:38 am

Oh and also on state revenue again basically we agree – I say absurdly low you say patheticly low – but on state revenues there are perhaps two ways of looking at it – there is ‘the state’ as official revenue aid official mining receipts etc. and ‘the state’ as the collection of individuals who are in charge and charging unofficial rents on things – in which case their percentage of GDP gets quite a lot more. I agree there is quite a lot of grey in all of this – are Nande Mafia’s in Ituri exporting minerals part of the state? – certainly their networks have representatives in the ruling coalition in Kinshasa. Anyway enough setting the world to rights I am supposed to be working, nice talking with you.

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John Quiggin 09.06.11 at 6:02 pm

@kosimba First up, let me concede that I don’t know that much about Central Africa and in particular that I haven’t been able to sort through competing claims about Kagame. My understanding was that he is significantly better than the previous genocidal regime, but I could well be wrong about that.

Coming back to the point of the original post, I think the typical, or at least archetypal tyrant of the 20th century had a claim to legitimacy based either on a party ideology (sometimes constructed after the fact, as in Libya I think) or a claim to be the deliverer of the nation from foreign, monarchical or tyrannical (in the ordinary sense of the term) rule, or from outright chaos. Mugabe, Museveni and (at least to some extent) Kagame have that kind of claim, as did many of the dictators who’ve left the scene in the past twenty or thirty years. Many of them had a substantial body of apparently genuine foreign admirers either in the establishment (if they were “our” thugs) or on the left (if not).

By contrast, most of the remaining dictators appear to be straightforward gangsters. Presumably they make some kind of claim to be the only alternative to chaos, but their primary claim to legitimacy is “what I have, I hold”, enforced by fear. I don’t think this can last for long, though I don’t have a fully developed argument as to why.

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kosimba 09.07.11 at 10:54 am

Hello John, I am work avoiding again – yes my post wandered miles away from you actual point about which I have no idea. I hope you did not take my post as hostile, I just meant to be informative – Kagame (and Museveni but that seems to have begun to get through) is a monster who has killed hundreds of thousands of people, (his is not crankinsh genocide denial or anything all the respectable sources concur) and I do feel this fact should be disseminated more widely. Bill Clinton and Tony – who among his lesser sins, works as an unpaid lobbyist for Rwandan government – wander around making statements about how lovely he is and it drives me nearly mad. Anyway I enjory reading your things and nice to talk to you.

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kosimba 09.07.11 at 10:57 am

for ‘his is not crankinsh genocide denial ‘ read ‘this is not crankinsh genocide denial’ . Now I am going to work I swear.

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Doug M. 09.07.11 at 11:54 am

It’s not a bad definitional schema, but it does have some problems. The obvious one is that most dictators claim to be “deliverers of the nation” — from chaos, from foreign influence, or simply from the last dictator.

Note that this is one reason the end of the Cold War led to so many dictatorships disappearing in the 1990s: without Communism, one of the best and most common justifications for dictatorship disappeared. Back before 1990, a dictator who justified his rule as a necessary bulwark against Communism immediately gained powerful allies both internal and external. Some anti-Communist dictators managed to fall anyway, of course — Syngman Rhee, Lon Nol, Somoza III, Marcos — but they had to work at it. Thing were easier back then.

Anyway: in the case of Kagame, he’s definitely much better than what came before, and he’s definitely presided over a period of relative peace, prosperity and stability. (Within Rwanda. As Kosimba notes, his foreign policy had massively lethal side-effects.) But he’s also killed a great many people, and his government is fiercely authoritarian, illiberal, and aggressively intolerant of criticism.

Similarly, Museveni has overseen some pretty good times in Uganda, and there’s no question that he’s far better than the chaos that preceded him. (When I was in Uganda last year, I noticed a very sharp generational line in support for Museveni: people over 40, who could clearly remember the bad old days, tended strongly to support him. Young people were much more likely to be critical of him.)

Museveni could be considered sort of a Kagame lite. They’ve both overseen rapid economic growth, have both been authoritarian and oppressive, have both killed a fair number of their own people, and have both exported nasty problems to other countries (in Museveni’s case, he’s largely responsible for the continued existence of the horrible Lord’s Resistance Army). But Kagame is the more extreme case — more economic growth, more stability, much more authoritarian, responsible for more deaths.

Doug M.

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