Johnson’s Russia List #8103. 6 March 2004
My toilet is not flushing right, and I can’t repair it. My wife does not think I am very smart, and she is right. So, I returned to my study and closed the door. Fortunately, there is no easier task in the world than to write a proposal to reform the Russian government. This task, I am up to. Just give me ten minutes without the sound of our toilet flush.
There are governments that actually think that God has created a Man to His image. What does that mean? It means that every Man should have the right to follow the lead of God in Creativity and Morality (in this order). Once you create and provide for yourself and enjoy this process, you come to appreciate that the others also have this right. This appreciation is called morality. Accordingly, the government creates conditions whereby every citizen can create, and since creative abilities of citizens are not equal, the government enforces the rules that simply say that taking that which does not belong to you is a grave affront to God’s design for mankind. In return for enforcement of such a morality and in return for provision of public goods, such a government respectfully requests that citizens pay an insignificant portion of their earnings in taxes. Such a system creates an unstoppable economic prosperity. It also leaves citizens to their own devices, completely free to develop themselves as best they could. And people do just that: they watch TV for hours on end, grow fat an unhealthy, cannot tell right from wrong anymore, and eventually elect a President with a deeply worrisome gleam in his eye. Anyway, this is a Good Government. Most people are simply too lazy to fully develop themselves, but this is not the government’s fault.
There are other governments as well. These governments think that human beings are animals that should be strictly managed to reduce the chaos and the level of noise they make. These governments also discover that these animals are able to provide milk and honey, meat and hides, and zillion other things besides. And so these governments graciously consent that some of these animals are conditionally useful. They then set out to implement the devices whereby the products of these animals could be harvested, after which the animals would be disposed of. The twentieth century saw some bold attempts at scientific husbandry. Hitler saw some animals as vermin, while others were thought to be promising if only they could wear a helmet long enough. Khmer Rouge government saw people as flies and conducted a successful extermination program. The Soviet government also conducted quite an experiment of improving the breed. But how about God, one who is all-powerful and all-knowing, one who is perfect in every respect? After all, we are talking about a human society, and all humans cannot be reduced to flies. That is why this type of government has a strong tendency to designate its head as living god, all-powerful and all-knowing all right, but also very modest and endearingly human-like, with arms and legs and a little cute doggie.
Thus the real reform of the Russian government depends on the answer to the following question: “Is Russia populated by humans that are entitled to enjoy their God-given rights, or is it populated by conditionally useful animals that need to be strictly controlled so that they do not damage the fleece before we are ready to shear?”
These are two entirely different governments, with different attitudes, consisting of a different type of people, and, most importantly, occupying different legal territory. A democratic government occupies the no-man’s land between citizens, so as to make sure that no citizen’s rights are being violated. A non-democratic government rides every citizen roughshod, pounds him with a stick, and holds its hand over his eyes and mouth. A democratic government is a service government, a strictly limited government, at least in theory, it should be. A non-democratic government is an occupying force, whose greed and cruelty is limited only by its cynical far-sightedness.
Now, the Russian government is huge. Since redistribution and control are hostile to production, production is unprofitable and risky, while control is respected and potential profits are limited only by how hard the desperate animals are driven before they drop dead. The Russian government is mature: most thugs with homicidal tendencies now join the police, and bandits are left with slim pickings. Indeed, it is conceivable that soon mafia will go out of business for lack of available criminal element. Who wants to be a racketeer when Tax Police is hiring?
A desire to reduce the bloated government is natural. The problem of every gang of highwaymen is that every successful robbery carries the danger of them starting a fight for the loot. That makes the gang very unstable, and nobody can ever afford any sleep.
Also, Russia has reached the point where uproarious laughter gives way to tears. Controlling the economy is profitable as every economic decision has to have dozens of (expensive) signatures on it. But for an economy that produces nothing whatsoever, twenty economic ministries may be too much, and reducing their number to ten is a bold move. It could actually be effective for the time it takes a bureaucrat to pick his new chair and settle in it. A day when a bureaucrat picks a design of his new brass plate is a day lost for stealing.
Also, the Election Day is upon us, and it is time for the Old Gang to be driven out so that the New Gang could be installed in its stead. But this will change nothing, unless there is a significant ideological change. This change could grow only out of a radical reassessment of what the word “people” stands for. Once that happens, Russian laws must be completely rewritten to fit the formula “public servants exist to protect creative activity of every individual”. A government created to fit this formula will be radically different from the one that exists today.
This change is very unlikely to occur. But I can’t wait to see Fradkin reverse the results of loans-for-shares auctions by confiscating the ill-gotten stakes. Go for it, Mikhail!
My wife has fixed the flush. Now, I feel humiliated. She’s done a bit of useful work.