Anders Aslund proves me wrong, over and over again. Every time I think I’ve seen the stupidest, most pedantic, most off-the-wall leap for mediocrity from the atrophied pecan in his head, he surpasses his previous foamy wild-eyed assessment of reality. Rodeo clown dressed as economist. All of it delivered in that whiny Swedish accent that makes him sound like he needs to be changed, and put straight to bed for a nap. I hasten to add that the Swedish accent is not annoying in all its speakers – pretty much only Aslund and the Swedish Chef from “The Muppets”, to whom he bears an astonishing resemblance. And it doesn’t end with physiognomy; they share a similar grasp of economics and government.
I can’t wait, I’m lowering interest rates, my people say:
“King, how are you such a genius?
There’s a roof overhead and food on our plates!”
It’s laissez-faire, I don’t even care
Let’s make Friday part of the weekend.”
Moxy Fruvous, from “King of Spain”
Hey, remember when Aslund was president of that country; Jeez, what was it called? Anyway, he became president way back in the late 90’s, almost further back than pterodactyls can remember, it’s not surprising that the details are a little fuzzy. I do remember that when he became president, the country was on the ropes: the inflation rate was around 27% (now it’s 11.4%), the unemployment rate was 12% (now it’s 5.2%), and per-capita GDP was about $3,500.00 USD (now it’s $7,000.00 USD). Adjusted for PPP, it’s about $25,000.00 per year, the highest it’s ever been. Personal income tax rate was a flat rate of 13%, and it still is. In how many other countries has the electorate seen its tax rates remain the same for 14 years? Not the UK, that’s for sure – they started the same period at 40%, went up to 50% from 2010 to 2012, and after that 45% looked like a tax break – neat, huh? The USA’s tax rate has remained stable, which is a remarkable achievement…but it’s at 35%, more than double what president Aslund was able to offer his electorate.
Of course Anders Aslund was never president of anywhere. That was Russia, and Putin was – and is – president. I introduced that short and harmless deception merely to showcase what a self-important, pompous toad Aslund is, when he says “In short, Putin – who is no economic expert – makes all major economic policy decisions in Russia, delivering orders to top managers of state-owned enterprises and individual ministers in ad hoc, one-on-one meetings. As a result, Russian economic policymaking is fragmented and dysfunctional.” Aslund wants you to know that he is an economic expert, and that Russia would be in so much better shape if only Putin would obey Aslund’s advice and step down, turning the presidency over to a brilliant fellow economist like, say….oh, I don’t know…Alexey Kudrin.
Aslund is at his entertaining best in his latest blowhard epic, “Putin in Denial“. World oil prices have halved since June, he says (he knows juicy insider stuff that you and I don’t because he’s an economist), and the value of the ruble has plunged along with the oil price (ditto). And, he warns, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Which he would know, of course, being an economist and consequently such a reliable engine of prediction. Like when he said back in 2009 that Gazprom – and whenever he speaks about Gazprom he has to switch over to his reserve vitriol tank, since he really, really hates Gazprom, probably because they will not “open up” to western investment and share ownership – was failing, citing the excellent book co-written by co-numpties Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov. The following year, Gazprom overtook Exxon-Mobil as the world’s most profitable company. His masterwork, “Think Again: Russia” contained more stream-of-consciousness bullshit than you could carry home in an eighteen-wheeler; I think Foreign Policy Magazine became ashamed of the flash flood of drivel in it and deleted it. If you have a hard-copy subscription, you can probably still read it and marvel at the mental grounding of anyone who could argue that political stability is undesirable because it is poorly suited for reform; I quoted from it here, but the electronic link is now dead. He described the voucher scheme introduced under Yeltsin – which resulted in Mikhail Khodorkovsky making the leap from ambitious geek to oligarchical geek virtually overnight – as an acceptable way to create an owner class, and the oligarchs as “engines of capitalist development”. Describing that view as wrongheaded would be an understatement on the order of describing Bill Gates as financially secure. Better wrap the belt from your bathrobe around your jaw before you read “An Assessment of Putin’s Economic Policy“, to stop it from dropping to the floor: penned by Aslund in 2008, it describes Putin as “one of the lucky ones who happened to be in the right place at the right time, as Talleyrand said about Lafayette, but accomplished little that was positive”, and blithely informs the reader that “Lucky” Putin took over the helm in Russia after Boris Yeltsin had already successfully set it on the road to a market democracy. It is for howlers like this that some long-ago Suffolk writer coined the word “flabbergasted”.
Here, from the subject article, are a few glittering examples of Aslund reasoning; (1) cutting Russia’s imports in half is going to worsen Russians’ living standards considerably (now that they presumably cannot afford to vacation in New York or buy milk packaged by Pepsi); (2) Russia, which has greatly increased its holdings in gold by dumping its useless dollars to buy it, suffers from “ever-worsening corruption and a severe liquidity freeze”; (3) Because he is unprepared to act, Putin continues to pretend there is no crisis at all; (4) Putin could withdraw his troops from eastern Ukraine, whereupon the benevolent USA and Europe would lift their crippling economic sanctions, but he won’t do that because he can’t stand losing, and (5) Putin’s failure to use the internet prevents him from grasping the magnitude of the crisis because he does not have access to up-to-date statistics. I have to stop now, because I can’t focus on the screen while I’m shaking my head.
“Likewise, short of initiating a major war, Putin has few options for driving up oil prices. Moreover, even before the oil-price collapse, crony capitalism had brought growth to a halt – and any serious effort to change the system would destabilize his power base.”
Really? I can think of a way, although I won’t pretend I thought it up myself, because it’s already happened – shut off Europe’s gas. Did you forget that one, Anders? All based on a very strange piece in the Daily Mail in which they appear to have copied and pasted part of it, since it reports that Mr. Putin is the Prime Minister – which he was, for a time – but it is dated today and several other details suggest they meant it to be now. No major war. Have energy prices risen? You tell me.
Whether six European countries are without gas tonight and blubbering in terror as they try to marshal their reserves, or it is all a big hoax, some of that famous British humour, it is apparent that the suggestion it could really happen is enough to make energy prices jump, so don’t fool yourself.
“Though accurate and timely statistics on Russia’s economy – needed to guide effective measures to counter the crisis – are readily available to the public online, Putin claims not to use the Internet.”
I can’t think of a more reliable way to inspire commentary by western leaders that Putin had “lost touch with reality” than to learn he was trying to run the country using the Internet as a guide. Because every leader knows the Internet is more reliable than your closest advisers who are, theoretically, experts in their fields. That might be true if you were George W. Bush, surrounded by a sycophantic circle of people who took turns blowing sunshine up your ass because it made you so happy when things were going well regardless how they were really going, but there is no evidence at all that Putin is that kind of leader and ample evidence which suggests he is not. And the United States seems to still be slogging along, despite the description of the Internet by one of its elected representatives as “a series of tubes“.
“His actions suggest that he considers economic data to be far less important than security information – perhaps the natural attitude of a kleptocrat.”
It becomes steadily more evident that Aslund simply loathes Putin so deeply that his desire to rant and call him names seizes complete control of his brain so that he can’t think – his entire mental hard drive is focused on talking smack like a six-year-old. There is absolutely no evidence at all that Putin is so preoccupied with security that he is oblivious to the economic situation. If he were, the deliberate effort to cause a panicky run on the ruble that would collapse it entirely might have succeeded. It is Aslund who is totally oblivious to the fact that Russia’s economic woes are caused largely by a bitter economic war of which it is the sole target and against whom are arrayed the entire forces of the NATO powers, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Aslund is acting as if the price of oil is the only consideration, and that Putin is mismanaging it terribly.
“If Putin wants to save Russia’s economy from disaster, he must shift his priorities. For starters, he must shelve some of the large, long-term infrastructure projects that he has promoted energetically in the last two years. Though the decision in December to abandon the South Stream gas pipeline is a step in the right direction, it is far from adequate.”
There you have it: Putin’s decision to shut down South Stream was a wise one, but not near enough. He must stop all the big projects that he only uses to steal from the Russian people anyway. What do the European Union’s mandarins think of the decision to shut down South Stream? I think it’s safe to say their take on it is all the way across town from Aslund’s.
I’m not sure how much more evidence anyone would need to conclude that Aslund was born an idiot, strove all his life to be an even bigger idiot – largely succeeding – and will likely be carried in his pine box by six of his most thickwitted contemporaries in a celebration of idiocy that will see the grief-stricken pallbearers pass under an arch of giant crossed dunce-caps, to be laid to final rest under a stone which proclaims, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made economists.”