Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear;
I thought you’d want what I want:
Sorry, my dear…
And where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns:
don’t bother…they’re here
Very likely the most oft-quoted of Marx’s observations on the human condition is taken from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; to wit, “…all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Say what you like about Marx, he had a flair for philosophy. Not to mention for forecasting. Alexei Kudrin appeared first as a tragic figure, tormented beyond endurance by being denied the appointment that was rightfully his and forced instead to serve under a man he likely considered not only his inferior, but a poor choice for the post. He…well, he lost his head and said some things – to the delight of the western press – that could not be unsaid, immolating any chances he might have had to be part of the new government. Not surprisingly, he was fired immediately, as we discussed in detail here.
Right on schedule, Kudrin descended into farce, trying to manage an ugly-duckling-to-swan transition at Sakharov Prospekt, only to have his coming-out speech drowned in “boos and catcalls”. Correctly assessing that his electoral appeal suggests he might as well take up the electric guitar if he wants to draw a crowd, Mr. Kudrin has taken the next step. From PV Mikhail on the Hungarian Desk, we learn that Mr. Kudrin is forming his very own think tank. Of course, the Intertubes are all atwitter about it, reporting it in the Kyiv Post, the Washington Post and Reuters. Mr. Kudrin has assumed a newsworthiness known only to those who oppose the Putin government, or who are found hanging in their closets wearing their wife’s underwear.
What’s all the excitement about? Let’s see.
Mr. Kudrin, we’re told by the Moscow News, is “a respected ex-politician”. Really? Respected by whom? The Moscow News must have a short memory, because it was the source which reported his speech at Sakharov Prospekt was drowned out by boos from the people who are supposedly eager to participate in the political process with Mr. Kudrin. Commenters here have accurately pointed out that Mr. Kudrin is, strictly speaking, not a politician of any kind, considering he has never successfully stood for election to any office, but has instead been appointed to his positions. The definition of “politician” would seem to include him, since it includes anyone who pursues politics as a profession, so I’ll leave it to you, although it seems to me he gained his political status as a result of appointment rather than political popularity. Well, no use being mean, I suppose. But I can’t help noticing the “respected” part seems – lately, at least – to come mostly from western pundits. Respect for a Russian public figure from western sources, oddly enough, seems to accompany a western perception that the person might be instrumental in forcing Vladimir Putin out of office. That could be just a coincidence, of course.
Anyway, let’s move on. The Committee, whose membership is not yet complete, but in which a couple of journalists were accidentally incorporated, has released a statement – a manifesto, if you like – which announces it intends to “unite professionals from a range of different spheres, including science, healthcare and culture” (sounds like a good job prospect for any crank who considers himself an “elite” and believes the future for Russia lies in extensive privatizations and letting the market take its course) and to “openly oppose the actions of the government, regardless of who they are or their position”.
Regardless of their position. Maybe something got lost in translation there, but it sounded an awful lot to me like, if the government proposed raising the minimum wage again, Kudrin’s Komittee would reflexively oppose it, because it was put forward by the government. Sure; that’ll work. How long do you think it will take people to predict the way the Komittee is going to jump on every issue? Or to notice that lockstep opposition and wailing that it can only end in the collapse of the country will accompany every initiative, whether it is brilliant or awful? Or for the government to just carry on as if Kudrin’s organization did not exist, since they can be relied upon to fight against whatever the government does no matter what it is? What’s “Tea Party” in Russian? I’ll tell you what; there’s a group of people that needs remedial instruction in how to write a mission statement.
Where’s the money going to come from to stroke this panel of experts? Oh. From Russian businesses. Well, good luck with that. Just off the top of my head, I would guess that Russian businesses who depend on government spending in order to turn a profit might be somewhat reluctant to finance an organization that vows to fight government spending tooth and nail. But that’s just a guess – don’t take my word for it, I’m not a Russian businessman.
Of course, Mr. Kudrin might mean businesses that work for Mikhail Prokhorov, with whom he on-again-off-again talks about forming a “rightwing party”. Say, can you think of a Russian businessman who tried to use his wealth to overthrow the government of Vladimir Putin by financing the opposition? I can. Want me to tell you where he is right now? I think Mr. Putin made his position on oligarchs and political meddling quite clear.
Anyway, that’s enough of that for a minute; too much politics is kind of a downer. I know – let’s play a game. I’ll give you a set of conditions in a hypothetical country, and you form a hypothetical opposition committee that can expect popular support for a position whereby the committee opposes every action the government takes. Ready? Here we go. Interest rates dropped from 25% to around 7% in the past 6 years. Tick tick tick. Balance of trade doubled in the last 5 years. Tick, tick. Third-largest cash reserves in the world. Tick. Come on, there’s a time limit! Poverty cut by more than half in a decade. Tick, tick. Steady per-capita GDP growth year-over-year.
Nothing? What are you telling me; that an opposition organization that resolves to throw itself against the government on every issue stands little chance of gaining popular support as long as the country continues to prosper? You don’t say.
We’ve been over and over this business of Putin-is-playing-a-dangerous-game-relying-on-high-oil-prices, but much of the English-speaking media seems to think it’s a pearl of wisdom every time Kudrin says it. You know; him being the brilliant fiscal architect who steered Russia through the treacherous seas of the financial crash, and all. Well, for the record, Kudrin sang that same oil-prices song pretty much every year he was finance minister, foretelling disaster if Russia did not diversify. Was he ever right? No; no, he wasn’t. Is it smart to suggest that a major energy producer start trying to sell less than it is capable of producing? If it is, nobody has discovered that yet, because nobody advises any other major energy producer to do it. Until that becomes conventional wisdom, any nation that has a lot of oil but decides to sell cars or refrigerators instead is simply giving up market share to other producers. If Russia began cutting production, they would be accused of price-fixing and trying to create a world shortage to make energy prices increase, because that would be the net effect whether it was deliberate or not. And every time Russia announces it is trying to break into the auto market or the nanotechnology market, the response is laughing and finger-pointing from the western idiot-savants who are currently riding cratering economies. Is there a lesson in there? There sure is. If you really want Russia to succeed in diversifying the economy, shut up while they’re doing it. If you don’t care about Russia trying to diversify the economy, stop pretending to be concerned, because nobody is falling for it.
So, not to disturb a sugarplum dream of President Kudrin shaking hands with President Palin or anything, but here’s what you should keep in mind about Mr. Kudrin: One, despite a reputation for economic brilliance that verged on mind-reading, Alexei Kudrin in fact opposed the very reliance on energy prices nearly every year that they continued to improve the standard of living for ordinary Russians. He did recommend saving the money instead of blowing it on hookers and Jack Daniels, and that was smart, but let’s not get carried away. Two, Alexei Kudrin argued against all the wage and pension increases that saw Russians’ Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) move upward all the time Putin was running the show. Unless you’re prepared to argue that PPP should go down and that citizens have far too much money, you kind of have to go with that being bad advice, since Russia demonstrably could afford it. And then Mr. Kudrin told eager English-speaking reporters that this was an example of how the Russian government could correct its mistakes, when it really didn’t make a mistake (not about that, anyway), but would have if it had listened to him. Three, Alexei Kudrin is not the charismatic, dynamic leader-in-waiting of a revolutionary caretaker government that you are looking for, and would have a hard time getting elected mayor of his home town. I hope that wasn’t you I heard laughing just then, Nemtsov.
Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late
in my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns..
well maybe…next year