What the Russians and Chinese Have in Common

If your personal economic situation is improving you’re more tolerant of infractions on your social or political freedoms.

That’s a basic but central lesson I take away from my travel the past year to China and Russia. Both economies are growing, growing, growing, but at a cost to free press and political opposition, to name two.

When I’ve talked to 30 year-old or younger Russian or Chinese people, they say that they prefer stability and a fatter wallet than all the "freedoms" that America and Europe celebrates. After all, they say, history shows that the freedoms will come in time — but first people need to live above the poverty line.

Here’s a good article in Dissent magazine titled The Russian Conundrum: Growing Economy, Failing Society. Here’s my post on lessons learned from China. Below is a picture of me from two days ago in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral outside the Kremlin in Moscow. Stunning structures there.


10 comments on “What the Russians and Chinese Have in Common
  • Ben, the Russians and the Chinese have not exactly had tons of social and political freedom to begin with. If they have not learnt what it tastes like, how will they know how it hurts to lose it or indeed not have it?

  • How many of those long sleeve fishing shirts do you have? At minimum a blue one (see your blog bio pic) and that khaki green one (see Moscow pic).

    I bet most guys have multiple of the same shirt in different colors…I was just making an observation.

  • I agree with Shefaly. There is no “cost to free press and political opposition” there. None of those places, save Russia for a brief period in the mid 90s, have *ever* had either of these “currencies” in the modern era.

    Which doesn’t excuse it, but no one talks much about the same situation in, say, Singapore.

  • Hopefully there exists a considerable amount of the “psychological infrastructure”–the infrastructure of the heart–upon which they may advance the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.

    That said, it’s also possible for free economies to have enormous political freedom and yet follow policies that severely limit economic freedom. Political democracies that have pushed tax and spending levels to 50% and more of the economy illustrate this point. It’s a form of forced deprivation that is invasive enough.

  • Derek and Shefaly — THanks for the reminder.

    The Show — I own two of these shirts. Blue and tan. They’re great for traveling b/c they breathe and have lots of pockets.

  • Such long hair outside the Kremlin… how disrespectful, young man!

    OK, joke apart, Derek has a very good point above. The “boom” in Russia (and I suspect you’ve seen the sunny side) is not a direct result of the political situation, in fact it’s the result of their relatively new market economy, which never existed before – just like democracy.

    Singapore, on the other hand would be a perfect example. For 3 decades after splitting off Malaysia, they had a fairly totalitarian regime, and one could argue that the hyper-growth they experienced is a direct result of the policies of Lee Kuan Yu, strongman, Premier and the nations “father” through that period.

  • Hmm.

    I think their new ‘market economy’ is probably why there is a spate of Russian billionaires suddenly living in LONDON! Must be their deep interest in social and political freedom…

  • Zoli: The move to London did not protect Litvinenko, although he was admittedly a different breed!

    It is amusing to see tourists now snapping photos of the restaurant Itsu where he was allegedly poisoned.

  • The more I “grow up”, the more traveling to Russia, where I am originally from, angers me. Each year, I understand more and more what freedom means. I understand how important property rights are and how absolutely crazy was the prosecution of Khodorkovsky.

    Criticizing Putin in public has become not necessarily dangerous, but not completely comfortable either.

    When people grow up without the notions of freedom, they do not even have a concept for it. When they grow up not believing anything in the media, they cannot expect it to ever report the truth. I am amazed at Americans’ belief in the truthfulness of its media (or at least a much higher degree of faith in it than Russians’) and I really admire that about this country.

    Most Russians grow up without questioning the government. They are not taught to do it. So when they become adults, they naturally do not know where to start.

    There are only a handful of Russians who understand what’s going on in the country and most of them live in Moscow.

    I would love to see Russian transitioning into a freer country, but I doubt that it will happen in the next 30 years.

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