When I was a kid, hardly a day went by when you didn’t get called a “retard” by someone, usually another kid. The slightest mistake was enough to get you branded a retard for a day or two; growing up was tough then, and it’s tough now. But the term “retard” was common then, and its use is anathema now (although the terms “conservatard” and “libtard” are still frequently bandied back and forth in political arguments on American media sites, presumably to convey the degree of stupidity vested in those who oppose the other’s ideology). I suppose we didn’t mean any harm; we didn’t know any better, and believed retards were regular people who, through some accident of birth or generations of inbreeding, were slower than everyone else. I know now those people were born that way and couldn’t help it; I also know a lot of the people who came under the retard umbrella were simply stupid, and most certainly could help it.
Exempting, then, those poor souls who are victims of God’s disfavour from birth, let’s imagine an intense concentration of retards who are retards simply because they choose to be stupid. There have been lots of sci-fi/horror films about small towns affected by something in the water supply or some other localized mutating factor; let’s imagine something like that has resulted in stubborn, intellect-sucking obtuseness. Let’s further imagine that, rather than all living in the same town, they all work at the same newspaper.
By that roundabout route, we arrive at “Russians are Leaving the Country in Droves“, by the stubbornly stupid Los Angeles Times (thanks, Cartman), often a bastion of bedrock conservatism in an otherwise pretty liberal state. Certain media sources – excluding committed bloggers (some of whom should be committed) like La Russophobe and her latest effort, “Dying Russia” – who owe the public a duty to at least pretend objectivity are instead stubbornly slanted in their view of Russia, and consistently misrepresent the actual situation in Russia so as to make it appear catastrophic. The Los Angeles Times shares this category with the reliably Russophobic Time Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor and often the Washington Post.
Ever heard the expression, “Too stupid to come in out of the rain”? The Los Angeles Times can claim credit for describing this past summer as one in which “heat and aridity records were bested across the United States“, apparently unaware that California experienced its wettest summer on record. You’d sort of expect them to notice that, considering that’s the state they’re….ummm…located in.
I’d have been prepared to swear one of these, “the intellectuals are fleeing Russia” stories comes up every couple of months, they seem that frequent – but according to my research, it’s only this past year that the meme has reached a crescendo of crap. I did a post on the issue myself, last spring, on the occasion of yet another disinformation dump from the Siamese brains of Miriam Elder and Time Magazine‘s Simon Shuster, and the issue has come up as a discussion point in a variety of fora. That wasn’t exactly the same rubbish as this – Simon and Miriam were howling about closure of small towns in remote areas of Russia in favour of consolidation in larger cities: something that is taking place all over the world, but is naturally somewhere to the right of terrible when it happens in Russia.
Anyway, these “catastrophic exodus of Russia’s best and brightest” pieces do come up with annoying frequency. The earliest I found during the era of highest Russophobe interest – the “Decade of Putin” – was the Christian Science Monitor, kicking it off in 2002 with, “Russia’s Population Decline Spells Trouble“. According to none other than The Doofus Of Doom, Fred Weir, “The only obvious solution – to encourage youthful immigrants from overpopulated Asian neighbors such as China – is so politically sensitive that Russian leaders refuse to even discuss it”. Well, that might have seemed the obvious solution to Fred Weir, but here we are nearly 10 years later, the population has shrunk by about 2 million from the 2002 census (although the current figure is estimated), and Russia is still just as Russian at about 80% Russian ethnicity. In 2002, there were about 30,000 Chinese, and Chinese are still somewhere in the 12% of the population identified as “other races”. So you were wrong, Fred. Get used to it; you did it a lot between 2002 and now. Oh, here’s a good one before we leave this piece of nonsense behind; “Demographic experts say that the country is losing one million of its population annually, and the nosedive is accelerating.” Were that actually so, the population of Russia would now be less than 133 million. Is it? Ha, ha…No.
Next came Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb“, in 2009. Eberstadt, at the time a political economist at – surprise! – the American Enterprise Institute, would fit right in at today’s Los Angeles Times; whenever a figure doesn’t suit him, he says, “(insert state agency here) says the total is (whatever) – but the figure is surely much higher”. He’s also smugly in agreement that “Russia’s adult population—women as well as men—puts down the equivalent of a bottle of vodka per week.” Virtually every statistic quoted is “chilling” or “grisly” or “numbing”. This “study” remains a go-to reference for Russophobes, and smirking Washington Post popinjay George Will was happy to pick it up the same year. He was also quite taken with Woodrow Wilson Centre alumni Martin Walker’s term, “hypermortality” as applied to the Russian decline, and was happy to nod along with the bobbleheads who agreed that Russia “…is suffering a demographic decline on a scale that is normally associated with the effects of a major war.” Once again, the figure of a million per year came up. Finally, serial muckraking fabricator Paul Goble jumped on the bandwagon with “Depopulation Threatens Russia 10 Ways” (hint – one of them was increasing mental illness), and cited Olga Lebed of Moscow State University as his source for the fact that even with immigration, Russia’s population was shrinking by a million a year. The year Mr. Goble penned (or typed) that doleful epitaph, Russia’s population was 141,903,979. The following year it was 141,914,509. Quick – which figure is larger?
In fact, the year before Ms. Lebed’s pronouncement, the population of Russia contracted by 211,162, less than a quarter of her tally. The year of her feeding salacious stories to an eager Paul Goble (if in fact that was what she said at all, as Mr. Goble has been known to take artistic license with figures and to quote selectively) it contracted by 104, 859. The year after, as I mentioned, the population expanded. You have to wonder how someone who can’t add and subtract ascends to university tenure. And if it’s Mr. Goble who’s mathematically confused, then it doesn’t much matter what people tell him; he’ll just apply the Eberstadt Doctrine; “the result is this, but the real number is surely much higher (or much lower, if you were talking about something good)”.
Fast-forward now to this year, 2011. Blogging from darkest Staunton, Virginia, Mr. Goble – unrepentant as always for peddling twaddle – informs us the “Middle Class is fleeing Russia“, according to Moscow experts. Never one to back away from a challenge, Paul the Mathematician and Sometime CIA Intellectual doubles down, telling us 1.25 million of Russia’s middle-class earners have fled the country in the last 3 years. Keep that figure in mind, because that’s how many of Russia’s artists and intellectuals have left in the last 10 years, according to the Los Angeles Times. They’re plainly talking the same figure, they just adjust it to fit a different time period and social class. Paul Goble’s source is the New Times, run by Crackpot of All Trades Yevgenia Albats, who serves as Editor, Investigative Journalist, writer and Political Scientist. Charmingly crazy, Ms. Albats distinguished herself by demanding to be arrested during the “Dissenters March” in June last year – presumably so that she could write a feverish jailhouse rant about being roughed up and incarcerated as a prisoner of conscience when she was just minding her own business. Needless to say, news about Russia that originates with the hysterical New Times might just as well come from…well, Staunton.
Not to be outdumbed, the irrepressible Simon Shuster of Time Magazine chimes in with the inside scoop that 1.25 million young entrepreneurs and businessmen have fled Russia (literally; not bothering to sell their homes or property, but simply locking up and sprinting for the airport) within, you guessed it, the last 3 years. Allegedly, his and Mr. Goble’s root sources are Russian ministers and political figures. But during the last 3 years the population of Russia experienced a net contraction of 325,460. It would take a pretty wild leap of imagination to make that look like 1.25 million, especially when Ms. Lebed tells us that immigration in does not affect Russia’s dizzying losses at all. In fact, in 2005 Russia was second only to the USA in terms of inward migration, according to the U.N. Report, “World Population Policies 2005“.
Getting the picture? Even though official state census data and international reports paint a picture considerably less grim, Eberstadt brightly infers they’re full of it, and the nightmare is orders of magnitude worse than they portray. Paul Goble insists migration from Russia under Putin’s jackboot is spinning wildly out of control, but World Bank data show us not only that migration from Russia trended steadily upward since the 1960’s, but that its only sustained and steady decline has been under the leadership of…Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin. Simon Shuster points out the departure of the last desirable group of Russians, young entrepreneurs, leaving nothing behind in Russia but the mad, the old and the crippled – yet Intel’s Steve Chase endorsed Russia as a go-to source for complex programming (not a skill you’d expect of the doddering Stalin-loving octogenarian set), and its workforce is described in outsourcing sites as “abundant, sophisticated and well-educated, with high competency in science and mathematics”. Anatoly Zhuplev’s “Small Business in Russia – Trends and Outlook” concluded, “SME’s in Russia tend to demonstrate growth in the number of companies, the number of persons employed, the volume of sales and the number and share of female entrepreneurs (the latter is particularly evident in the service sector). This growth has been facilitated by positive changes in the taxation regime and streamlining of the licensing procedures…” although he cites bureaucracy and bribery as continuing problems (worsening, in the latter case).
Let me ask you this: what sophisticated, well-educated young entrepreneur with high competency in mathematics and/or science is going to lock his door and head for Europe or the west today? Hmm; Simon Shuster’s entrepreneurial high-roller, Alexei Terentev, left a country (Russia) with an unemployment rate of 6.4%…to emigrate to a country (Czech Republic) with an unemployment rate of 7.9%. I guess that narrows down whether he was well-educated in mathematics, or science. Well, how’s the Eurozone faring, generally? Spain? The employment situation is grisly, frankly – 21.52% unemployment. What about France? Ooooo…numbing, I’m afraid; 9.6% unemployed, worse than India. Tak, never mind those losers; how about the UK? They love immigrants….Mmmm, sorry. A chilling 8.3% unemployed. Well, there’s always the good old U.S. of A. What? Unemployment is at 9%??? Are you kidding??
I shouldn’t have to tell you that a higher standard of living, higher GDP, PPP, ABCDEFG are going to mean bubkes if you live in a YMCA flat or a cardboard box under a bridge because you can’t get a job.
The Irtenyevs, mentioned in the Los Angeles Times‘ maudlin goodbye story (which could not have been told without including the obligatory bottle of vodka, in which it seems every Russian baby is baptized) were headed for Israel, where unemployment is a touch less at 6% than in Russia. The Los Angeles Times doesn’t mention if Mr. Irtenyev boasts other skills, but I hope so, as I imagine Russian poetry to be somewhat of a niche market outside Russian-speaking countries – although Russian is reasonably widely spoken in Israel. In a stubborn return to the Eberstadt Doctrine, the Los Angles Times just somehow “knows” the Irtenyevs are gone for good, even though they specifically say they are only going for 6 months. You can just tell, because they look sad.
But never mind all that. Let’s pretend the worst-case scenario is accurate, and that the Russian population actually has dropped by 1.25 million Russians in the past 3 years, even allowing for the balancing effect of inward migration, despite that notion being contradicted by a variety of statistical data. Pretend it’s true.
So what? People leave the country of their birth for a broad range of reasons, including education, reuniting with family and a sense of adventure as well as economics. Russia seems to exercise due diligence in keeping an accurate count of how many are leaving, which information is promptly quoted inaccurately to beat it over the head. The United States, by way of contrast, does not keep any official figures at all on Americans who have left the USA to live abroad, although the figures are estimated by the State Department to be somewhere between 3.7 and 5.2 million. Did they flee because the country is going down the toilet, or because they couldn’t grow their fledgling businesses under the repressive fist of the government? Usually not – most left for tax advantage. Some 336,000 Britons left the UK in 2010 alone, and that figure was the lowest since 2005: that equates to more than 1.68 million Britons leaving in 5 years. Is that a catastrophe? Not unless somebody can prove they were all from the U.K.’s entrepreneurial and business community; net immigration for 2010 was a gain of 239,000.
But let’s look at that a little more closely. People leaving the country is bad, the message seems to be, while building up the national population is a matter for smug pride and cockiness. That about sum it up?
Wha….what?? I don’t understand. According to today’s Daily Mail, immigration to the UK is “out of control”. “It means that David Cameron must more than halve immigration if he is to get anywhere close to the Coalition ‘aspiration’ of bringing net migration down to tens of thousands a year…A raft of figures published yesterday delivered a series of blows to the Government’s hopes of curbing the levels of immigration that critics say have distorted the economy and deepened poverty and benefit dependency over the past 14 years.” This seems to say that too many people is bad, that having a bigger population than your economy can support “deepens poverty and benefit dependency”!
Well, everyone knows the English couldn’t be sent to look for lettuce in a green salad; no use expecting them to be able to manage anything competently. We’ll surely get a lesson in how to manage a healthy, burgeoning population from our American friends, what? Let’s look.
Oh, my. In the Los Angeles Times‘ own city, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a tidal wave of mass immigration has resulted in a region whose “resources and environment cannot even sustain the current population, and the area has simply run out of room to accommodate the expected growth…Almost all the natural locations for urban development have been consumed…Los Angeles air basin remains one of the most polluted in the nation…mass immigration has hurt quality of life in the region and can be a source of social friction…”
Let me get this straight. Russia is an abject failure for creating a climate so grisly, numbing and chilling that people can’t bear to stay there, but simultaneously the leaders of the free world are grappling with furious electorates who claim their economies cannot support the current glut of immigrants. Somehow the aforementioned grisly numbing chilling environment in Russia has resulted in steady growth, advancing prosperity and low unemployment, while Europe scrambles to pull back from the crumbling edge of a yawning pit of debt. The USA flirts with recession, and both struggle with unemployment figures that are half again higher than those of Russia. But Europe and the USA feel somehow qualified to lecture Russia on a demographic catastrophe that is largely in their own heads.
Uh huh. Okay, then. I’m glad we cleared that up.