Monday, October 9, 2017

‘Siberians Now Living at Level of the Poorest African Countries’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 9 – Siberia, an enormous region whose people are fleeing or dying out because they have seen their standard of living reduced in recent years to the level of “the poorest African countries,” Yakov Mirkin says, should be declared one of “the zones of national disasters.”

            But what is still worse, the Moscow commentator suggests, is that what is happening to Siberia now may happen to Russia as a whole, in large part because the authorities are reinforcing the same negative trends that have hurt Siberia and failing to turn the country around (

            Moscow is proud that Russia as a whole has achieved an increase in life expectancy to 72.5 years, a figure that puts it between 95th and 100th place in the world. It is less enthusiastic about telling the world that in Siberia, the figure is much lower and is in fact at “the level of the poorest African nations,” Mirkin says. 

            People who live in Moscow often forget about these differences or about the differences in GDP per capita. In the Russian capital, residents were responsible for about 33,000 US dollars in GDP per capita in 2013 and now in the midst of the crisis for about 17,000 US dollars in GDP per capita.

            But in Siberia, the figure now is only “a little more than 8,000 US dollars per capita,” one roughly half of that in Moscow and closer to sub-Saharan countries than to European ones. This reflects the continuing dependence of Russia as a whole and Siberia in particular on the export of raw materials rather than on a more diversified economy.

            Mirkin notes that it is sometimes said that ten million people could handle the extraction and export of raw materials. “But then the question arises: If 10 million people [are enough for that] what are the remaining 136 million people with their abilities and talents supposed to be doing?”
            Over the last two decades, he continues, the Russian economy has seen its structure simplified with many branches simply ceasing to exist and only the raw material exporting sector showing any significant growth. But instead of trying to help diversify the economy and promote economic development and a better life, the government is moving in the opposite direction.

            Its tax policies and its banking policies are driving things in exactly the wrong way, Mirkin says. It needs higher taxes so as to be able to deploy more resources to promote development lest the country fall further and further behind the rest of the world; and it needs banking policies that promote the development of new firms not simply support old ones.

            If there is not a change in direction soon, he suggests, Siberia’s sad fate will be Russia’s as a whole. 

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