What is wrong with the Russian economy?

The Economist had a very good feature-long piece on that question this week, here is one good excerpt:

In today’s Russia, oil and gas account for 75% of all exports, compared with 67% in 1980. Although Russia no longer buys grain from America, as it did in the 1980s, 45% of what Russians buy today is imported. Walk around a department store in central Moscow, and it is hard to find anything that is produced locally. The state remains the single largest employer, while its corporations—controlling natural resources, infrastructure, banking and media—dominate the economy.

As Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes, two American economists, have argued, the highly inefficient industrial structure of the old Soviet economy, based on misallocation of both resources and people, remains intact. The oil rent reinforced and perpetuated it: it has bought political stability and the loyalty of the population, but has slowed down modernisation. Inevitably, the result is stagnation.

…The state is one of the chief obstacles to Russia’s modernisation. During the 2000s the number of bureaucrats almost doubled. A quarter of the workforce is employed in the public sector. The total number of people who depend on the state is between 35% and 40%, says Boris Grozovsky, a Russian economic observer. This, he says, points to the share of the electorate that benefits from the status quo. At election time municipal workers are bused in to show support for Mr Putin. Meanwhile, the main purpose of Russia’s civil service is to shuffle papers around and extract administrative revenue from firms and private citizens. The bureaucrats have little interest in fostering competition that might cost them their jobs.

The piece is interesting (and depressing) throughout.


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