Is Russia a normal country?

Conventional wisdom in the West says that post-Cold War Russia has been a disastrous failure. The facts say otherwise. Aspects of Russia’s performance over the last decade may have been disappointing, but the notion that the country has gone through an economic cataclysm and political relapse is wrong–more a comment on overblown expectations than on Russia’s actual experience. Compared to other countries at a similar level of economic and political development, Russia looks more the norm than the exception.

That’s the take of Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman. Here is the full article. Here is a longer unpublished version.

Here is their view on economic performance:

The best estimate is that Russia’s genuine output decline between 1990 and 2001 was small and that it was completely reversed by 2003, following two additional years of rapid growth. Considering the distorted demand, inflated accounting, and uselessness of much of the pre-reform output, it is likely that Russians today are on average better off than they were in 1990.

My take: Mostly I agree. Remember how The New York Times speculated about mass famine, civil war in the streets, or attempted reconquests of the Soviet empire? None of those dire events have come to pass. Parts of the Shleifer piece might be interpreted as Putin apologetics, but put that question aside. For the most part the former Soviet Union has made unexpected progress. If you don’t believe me, read my post from yesterday.


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