This Dog Won’t Hunt

Uncle Volodya says, "I named my dog "Herpes", because he won't heel"

The Russian Flag, as seen by rich and poor alike

Actually, I was kind of hoping this would come up: yet another load of poppycock about how poorly Russians live compared to other societies, and their government’s misplaced priorities gives me another opportunity to show you what a farcical, hypocritical nutcase the author of La Russophobe is. According to the article, Russians (generally speaking) live no better than stray dogs – and, moreover, deserve this because Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin remain popular with Russians. If they were only savvy enough to make Boris Nemtsov or Mikhail Khodorkovsky their leader, all their troubles would be over.

Numbers don’t lie, it’s true. The minimum wage in the United States, as a national benchmark, is indeed more than six times higher than that in Russia.  By this author’s analysis, minimum wage and the way money is apportioned are a measure of how much your government cares about you. Keep that in mind; it’ll be instructive later. For now, let’s take a look at how Russia stacks up against the world. Gee – not that bad. According to this reference, about 16% of Russians live below the poverty line.  That’s actually not dramatically worse than the United States, at about 12%. Going back to the how-much-does-my-government-love-me formula established by La Russophobe, it’s immediately evident that the government of China loves its citizens much more than the U.S. government loves Americans, since only about 8% of Chinese live below the poverty line. Oooh…look! The hated socialist French love their people almost exactly twice as much as the U.S. government loves Americans; only 6% of Les Francaises live below the poverty line, despite their being dirty socialists and cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Not to spoil the surprise or anything, but the growth in minimum wage rate in Russia was nearly twice that of the United States in 2008 (Chart 10). Warning; this is a PDF file, although not a particularly big one.

But let’s take a quick look at who fared much worse than Russia. On a list of 139 countries, Russia was 33rd from the top; the USA was 21st. Not bad. Of countries who hate their citizens much worse than Russia does, a surprise was Israel, with about 22% of its citizens living below the poverty line. How much does the USA give away to Israel every year in foreign aid? Well, almost $2.5 Billion in 2008, the last year of assessment for this reference. Here’s a thought; before handing over the next payment, the U.S. government could suggest it is conditional on Israel loving its citizens a lot more, or else it might be withheld and spent instead on U.S. citizens, to show them it loves them at least as much as the French. But that’s a side issue, a minor diversion. What I really wanted to talk about was someone who did much worse than Russia…..Georgia. Georgia, frankly, did terribly, with nearly twice as many of its citizens (expressed as a percentage) under the poverty line as Russia – 31%.

Naturally, then, the government of Georgia will be singled out for a torrent of abuse by La Russophobe – it’s only fair, right? Surprisingly, no. President Saakashvili is a hero in the pages of La Russophobe, supping champagne with Hillary Clinton  (celebrating the fact that Georgia’s minimum wage is one-tenth of Russia’s, possibly), sweeping to blinding, awe-inspiring victory in national elections, decorating the Georgian rugby team as national heroes….Saakashvili is The Man. He’s “proud, defiant”; “his nation’s trusted, democratic leader”.

What are we to make of this? A leader who has overseen a decrease in foreign investment and presided over a 10% devaluation in the national currency this year….is a hero? Yet the best Vladimir Putin can get (La Russophobe seems oblivious that Dmitry Medvedev is President) is that he’s a “proud KGB spy”, despite Russian minimum wage rising steadily during Putin’s reign and the period he has been Prime Minister. It’s worth noting that Russia’s minimum wage is still the lowest in Europe, and I’m not suggesting there’s no room for improvement. However, I’m at a loss to explain the apparent hero-worship of the failure Saaksashvili, which must call into question La Russophobe’s entire understanding of economics. If Russians live like dogs while their wages are ten times higher than Georgians’ wages, what are Georgians? Fleas? If Russians are morons because they won’t overthrow the Putin/Medvedev government in favour of Boris Nemtsov or Mikhail Khodorkovsky, what does that make Georgians for reelecting the egotistical dunderhead Saakashvili? Keep in mind that these do not reflect my personal judgments or opinions of Georgia or Georgians, nor do they reflect a desire to gratuitously insult either – they are inevitable conclusions that must be drawn as a result of benchmarks La Russophobe has set. Either that, or she’s an idiot.

I can see that makes you uncomfortable, so let’s not decide right now. Let’s go back to poverty for a minute. Specifically, let’s look at poverty in the United States – a fair subject for exploration, since the USA was held up (as usual) by La Russophobe as the gold standard, to which unfortunate Russians should aspire. But…..this can’t be right. According to this chart, poverty in the United States has increased, and was worse in 2007 (the cutoff for this source) than it was in 1975! And that’s before the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble and the subsequent free-fall of the economy. In Russia, by way of contrast, poverty and unemployment declined steadily.

This is misleading, of course, and I’m not suggesting the average middle-class Russian lives better than the average middle-class American. I wouldn’t have even brought it up if not for the outrageous hyperbole that Russians live worse than dogs. The facts suggest the American economic situation is worsening, while the Russian situation is improving.

What’d we say at the beginning? Numbers don’t lie.

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4 Responses to This Dog Won’t Hunt

  1. kovane says:

    Mark,

    please allow me to make some corrections here. A minimum wage, at least in Russia, is a figure, having little relevance to the lives of ordinary citizens. It is used in the calculations of fines predominantly. The right approach is to use an average or a median wage for comparison. Furthermore, it can still present a distorted picture. The adjustments for PPP and ‘grey’ wages in Russia are necessary. The real picture, I think, is that the US average wage is about 3 times higher than Russia’s.

  2. marknesop says:

    Yes, you’re quite right; I believe I’ve seen you mention that before, perhaps on Julia Ioffe’s blog. In any case, minimum wage is essentially an abstract for the USA as well, as most citizens do not live on it; they get paid more, or they work more than one job. The trends I stick by are that poverty is a worsening problem in the United States, while it is declining in Russia.

    Minimum wage, conceptually, is also impacted by where you live – it costs much more to live in Moscow than, say, Khabarovsk. I’ve seen opinion pieces that speculate the gain in minimum wage in Russia is being overpowered by inflation, because “more pensioners were complaining”, and I just have to laugh at something that ties the minimum wage’s rise or fall to the number of people bitching about it. Very scientific.

    The editorial leap that says Russians live like dogs based on the figure the government allows for upkeep of stray animals was just too great an insult to ignore.

    • kovane says:

      The United States treat its middle class very harshly. As far as I remember, their real wages has been stagnant since 70x, they are overburden with debt and health care bills are the main reason for personal bankruptcies. And there are no signs of any future improvement unfortunately.

      “Minimum wage, conceptually, is also impacted by where you live – it costs much more to live in Moscow than, say, Khabarovsk.”

      Yes, that is included in the concept of PPP. The proper analysis should allow for region-based price levels.

      In general, statistics leave a vast field for flagrant manipulations. You can slightly doctor input data or used methods to get completely unreal results, which have some scientific credibility and are hard to debunk by a common man. Julia Ioffe’s recent exertions are an excellent example of this:
      http://trueslant.com/juliaioffe/2010/07/27/battle-against-corruption-produces-metastases/

      ZOMG!!! Bribes have quadrupled. A misinterpretation, that was gladly taken up by some Russian news agencies.

      http://news.rambler.ru/7175538/

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