LI urges our readers to go to James Meek’s article about Siberia and Russia in the LRB, here: He takes down, with exemplary disdain, a Brookings Institute study by two residents, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, of Russia’s climate problem – which problem being the results of two centuries of Russian empire building that has left a considerable portion of the population in a part of the world where temperatures shift from the merely nippy, on the odd June day, to the deeper pockets of the frost-bite zone. Stalin’s mad and cruel relocating of significant masses of Russians to Siberia, in order to hack out the natural wealth of the region, has left Russia as a country that resembles an efficiency apartment connected to an industrial sized freezer.
This, at least, is an observation that binds him to the people in the book he is reviewing. But he is unbound from the book by retaining a humanity that escapes the untrammeled and witless rationality of people in think tanks. We like, for instance, these two grafs:
Hill and Gaddy's conclusion - that the coldest and most remote parts of Russia, as currently developed, are a constraint on the country's prosperity and happiness - is correct. Some of their insights are useful. Yet their tone is condescending, their methodology flawed and their central recommendation to the Russian government smacks of the same callous social engineering that made Siberia such a mess in the first place.
'The government should place a priority on relocating Siberia's youth,' Hill and Gaddy declare. 'While it may seem harsh, the challenge of maintaining the stranded elderly population of Siberia is something of a finite proposition.' Well, it does seem harsh. To subsidise the young to flee Siberia, leaving their parents and grandparents behind to die off in the land of ice and snow? When Hill and Gaddy know perfectly well that the Russian bureaucracy is not yet capable of exercising a proper duty of care to the weakest members of society, and that the elderly are often dependent on their families for support? What if there had been a team from the Brookings Institution on board the Titanic? 'Young, able-bodied males and females first! The rest of you finite propositions, carry on dancing.'
We also were cheered by the scoring off the Yanks that occurs in the last graf. Hmm, we wonder if his conclusions could be transposed to other, um, recend foreign policy disasters?
“Not the least of the attractions of The Siberian Curse is that it shows how little US academia has learned from its clumsy interventions in Russian economic policy in the early 1990s, when a flood of America-knows-best advisers introduced unscrupulous Russians to the Pandora's box of shareholder capitalism without taking any real interest in the checks and balances - trade unions, subsidies, lobby groups, public transport, welfare - which enable the 'free' market to work without complete brutality, even in the US.”