In Putin’s Russia, the Poor get Poorer

Paul Goble reports:

The real incomes of the two least-well-off quintiles of the Russian population have fallen since 1991 while those of that two best-off have risen significantly, dramatically increasing income differentiation and potentially exacerbating class-based tensions, according to two studies by the Higher School of Economics.

“If one considers the overall figures concerning how Russia lived in 1990 and 2009,” Andrey Polunin of  Svobodnaya Pressa says in reporting on these studies, “it turns out that citizens have only won as a result of reforms. Thus, consumption has gone up overall 1.45 times. But this is like an average temperature in a hospital”.

That is the trend Moscow and its supporters normally report, but if one unpacks the figures as the Higher School of Economics experts do in two reports (“The Level and Way of Life of the Population in 1989-2009” and “A Comparative Analysis of Consumption and Expenditures”), Polunin says, the picture is far more complicated and less positive.

The bottom 40 percent of the population has fallen behind over this period, he reports. The level of real incomes for the lowest 20 percent has fallen 1.45 times and the next lowest quintile by 1.2 times. At the other end, the top 20 percent have seen their incomes double, and the next highest quintile had their incomes go up a quarter.

This change in the distribution of real incomes has hit the least-well-off groups especially hard because of the decline in state support for housing, education and especially medicine, with the lower quintiles forced to spend a higher proportion of their incomes for all these things or do without them, the studies found.

The situation in medicine is particularly striking, Polunin observes. In the European Union, for example, individuals directly bear 24 percent of the cost of medical treatment while in Russia that figure is now 40 to 50 percent, a dramatically higher fraction than only twenty years ago.

And this increase is hitting Russians, especially those least well off, because the average rate of illness among Russians rose 43 percent per 100,000 population over the period 1990 to 2008 and because many of the illnesses involved, such as cancer and heart disease, are particularly expensive to treat.

But the most striking findings of the report concern income differentiation, Polunin suggests. “In Soviet times, the earnings of a worker (120 rubles a month), an engineer (180 rubles a month), and a colonel in the KGB (350 rubles a month) of course were different, but not by ten times as much as is the case today.”

The Soviet system’s commitment to wage equality “froze the development of the economy,” the report says, “but still more abnormal has been the gigantic growth in inequality which the establishment of the market economy has involved.” In Russia, it has been especially severe, eight times more rapid than in Hungary and five times more than in the Czech Republic.

The reports of the Higher Economic School nonetheless generally stress the positive aspects of the changes, something that is not surprising given the liberal views of most of those working there. But they do acknowledge that for many of the poorest in Russia today, the Soviet past does not look altogether bleak.

The reports note, for example, that “Soviet people strictly speaking did not suffer impoverishment. In the USSR [at least at the end of the Soviet period] there was no hunger, the population was guaranteed state services for health and education, often not of bad quality, and practically free housing. Besides, in the USSR there was no unemployment.”

“On the other hand,” the reports say, “there were shortages of practically all consumer goods and those available were not of high quality as a result of the absence of competition.” These conclusions prompted the “Svobodnaya pressa” journalist to ask three people whether people lived better “in the same of the USSR or now.”

Yevgeny Yasin, a former Russian economics minister and one of the senior scholars at the institution which prepared the reports said that “it is incomparable better to live now,” but he acknowledged that was true only for those near the top of the income pyramid and said that if he were had the bottom, he “would certainly have a totally different impression.”

He added that the government should address the consequences of income inequality not only as a matter of justice, something the reports did not address but to ensure propitious macro-economic conditions. Just raising pay will not be enough; productivity must be increased as well, Yasin said.

Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Moscow Center of Political Information, in contrast, said that “of course, it was easier to live in the middle 1980s. Life was predictable,” although he acknowledged that after 1991, there appeared “greater possibilities for the realization of creative potential.”

But not surprisingly, Oleg Kulikov, a KPRF Duma deputy, argued that “of course, people lived better in Soviet times. Today, life expectancy compared with the Soviet past has fallen by more than ten years,” as has the birthrate, which reflects the fact that people have children only when they have “confidence in the future.”

Kulikov adds, “it is possible to say that now the people are voting for the USSR by their premature departure from life and their decisions not to have children. Moreover, Soviet times lacked many of the features of today: inter-ethnic conflicts, poverty, and bums on the streets,” all developments that make the past look better.

Moreover, he says, “we were certain that the difficulties which did exist were temporary and that the situation would improve. There was hope that this great country could deal with them.” Now, ordinary people do not have that experience or that feeling, he said, and they are understandably upset.


36 responses to “In Putin’s Russia, the Poor get Poorer

  1. Putin`s democratic experiment has failed.Having high rating for 8 years president Putin have splitted the power between the weak president and himself-PM. But the Russians don`t like the splitting supreme power and weakening Putin inspire hostility(like ill Eltsin did).That mass psychology have been explained by historian V.Kliutchevsky.

    • ‘Democratic experience’ putin style includes, political murders, political manipulations, total lack of freedom, barbaric treatment of the opposition – – the most important thing is tha russians ACCEPT it. So off you go back to the gulags – this is the only place that russians deserve to be……

      • macusa,

        With all due respects, you forgot to say anything about the billions that Putin is stealing from the Russian economy! to feather his own nest.

        Billions that would be much better spent on the plight of the downtrodden sheeples, to raise their sad and tragic lifestyle above that of a third world country.

      • Manfred Steifschwanz

        I’d say he deserves Guantánamo Bay. There he at least can grovel before civilized Amurrrkans, or else…!

        • Why don’t you get off your fat arse and read up on facts, M. Stiff Dick, your untermensch naivete is starting to show up again!!

          You must also read some of the stories by Russians imprisoned there (i. e. they had converted to Islam, and were captured fighting for their new belief).

          None of them, but none of them wanted to return back to that hell hole – you know your beloved ‘ruSSia’. In fact they said their treatment there was better than how they lived in Russia.

          Now I’m not saying that Guantánamo Bay is a ‘sanitarium’, or the Ritz, after all, ‘all wars are pure hell’. But as sure as ‘God made little apples’ if they were in Russia they would all be dead by now, extinguished/snuffed out in that terrible manner that is want of the FSB, who after all had superb training from teachers, you know their predecessors, the NKVD.

          And what’s more all this would be kept out of the world’s limelight, so that slimes like you would never learn of it and would continue to praise this criminal and brutally repressive/suppressive Moscali mafia.

          • Manfred Steifschwanz

            You sort of prove my point, then. A Pshek in Guantánamo is way better off than his compatriot in Russia. Last but not least, as I said, Guantánamo with its drooling Yanks on duty would make mccusa feel all but elated. Get it?

            • Me proving your point? No way brain dead and brainwashed comrade.

              Reread the comment, before you open your ridiculous mouth.

              • Manfred Steifschwanz

                I wrote about Guantánamo in reply to Pupsik whose post was subsequently deleted. Pupsik put forth the argument mccusa deserved to be in Smolensk. I kindly suggested Pupsik was wrong on that one.

                You know how much I long for your appreciation, Boredan. Can’t we agree on this one, pretty please? To wit: mccusa would be better off in Guantánamo than in Smolensk.

                • Aw gee MS, and since you said “pretty please”, OK! but now you are making it hard for me, as both places are, as we put it “the Pits”, i.e. very undesirable. But if I was forced to make a decision, I’m sure it would be Guantánamo, by a long shot.

                  Since you were talking about mccusa, maybe you should redirect that question to him, as I cannot speak for him. Although I am 99.9% certain I know what his answer will be.

                  Best of British luck to you!

                  • Manfred Steifschwanz

                    As for me, I’m (100 – ds)% sure as to mccusa’s response, with ds being an infinitesimal abberration:


                    A challenging exercise, in case you’re REALLY interested: Use the above as a regular expression and walk through all of mccusa’s postings (as far back as is possible) and measure the pattern matching accuracy.

              • Glad to have spread comradely coexistence to this dump of a place. Makes me remember the good-old days :)

                • Runet,

                  Your “comradely coexistence” is just the usual lie, at which you excel so magnificently. Do keep up the unbelievably stupid trash, it shows you up for what you really are.

            • ‘A psekh in guantanamo’ what about, kleine schwaine, the ruskye barakhlo in guantanamo – they will have for first time in their lives three meals a day and a clean toilet…..

  2. “No hunger in the USSR”
    errrr So, all the stories my Ukrainian relatives have told me were lies?

    • Well said James.
      Not to mention all the queues of Soviet citizens waiting to get anything from empty food shops in the 80’s etc.

      • Andrew I lived through the 1980’s in Russia, the stores only went empty after 1989, before that while the range of offer was rather limited, you could still get pretty much all you needed without having to stand in line for it. People standing in line for sausage were usually those who wanted to get a marginally better deal at a state owned store, my mom would also go down to the market where you could get real fresh meat at very decent prices (a bit more expensive that you’d pay for sausage at a state owned store) without standing in line of any sort. And despite the fact that my mom was a teacher she could afford to buy meat at the market several times a week without running out of cash.

        • She must have been a lucky one. A lot of people I know who were places outside Moscow and Leningrad were and are of the opposite opinion:

          Then there is the book “The Queue” by Vladimir Sorokin from 1983

          • It wasn’t luck it was choice on the part of my mother. She just never liked standing in lines so she chose not to. There were ways of avoiding lines in the USSR, perhaps the only place in the USSR and now in Russia where lines often simply can’t be avoided is the public healthcare system. In everything else there was also a choice, however limited.

            Take that picture of people queuing up for ‘ imported footwear’; there were at least two alternatives:
            1) People who were really into imported shoes, clothes etc. would make friends with people employed in the retail system and then buy all those ‘deficit items’ long before they ever hit the shelves and people started lining up for them. Usually such purchases were made at a premium but this system of personal ties in the retail industry offered a fairly easy way to buy what you really wanted without having to stand in line and many people used it.
            2)People who didn’t really care much where their clothes or shoes had been made could always just buy locally made stuff. Granted, the quality was usually not as good and often they looked kind of plain next to their foreign made counterparts but still the option was there and there were never any lines for locally made shoes for example. (and many cities had their own shoe factories and textile factories)

            So in a way those lines in Soviet times could be compared to the lines outside Apple stores when a new iPad, iPhone or iWhatever comes out. There is a product that’s in high demand and of which there is a shortage so people who really want to get it end up having to stand in line for it. But those who don’t care can always order a Dell off the Internet.

            Lines outside liquor stores only appeared after 1985 when Gorbachev launched his anti-drinking campaign and passed a law under which liquor stores would only open at 2 pm and then close at 7 pm (the idea was to stop people from drinking in the mornings). The public response was that people started stockpiling on liquor, thus the lines, some of which were really huge. But then again there was always the choice of either getting liquor through personal connections in the retail industry or in this case of not buying any liquor at all, after all it was never a necessity.
            On that page you linked to they claim that people even had to stand in line to buy bread; well as far as bread was concerned while I was growing up in the 1980’s it was never my experience that you had to spend hours queuing for bread, it was always in ample supply, you could go and get it at the local bread store (they didn’t bake it there, just sold it) whenever you felt like it. Loaves were laid out on shelves and special metal spoons with long handles were provided for people to poke the loaves with to see if they were fresh or stale.

            Real shortages of even the most essential goods, including bread, began in 1990-1991, at least where I live, before that essentials such as bread, milk, cereals were in plentiful supply at every grocery store and whenever there was a queue it meant something more exotic and rare was on sale

    • James, in order to learn more details about the Ukrainian genocide, read the book by Timothy Snyder, a Yale University history professor., ‘Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin’. Not only the russian/soviet instigated this – while people started dying by millions, the russian/soviet SEALED the border of Ukraine so they wouldn’t have a chance to survive. And a few years later they relocated millions of russians into Ukraine. So today, almost 50% of citizens of Ukraine are ethnic russians. The soviet/russians used the communist ideology to russify non russians. By the way, there must be some ‘poetic justice’ because if you look at today’s moscow you have 80% of populations that is not only muslim but also asian – the russification is simply a cosmic failure.

  3. Klaine Schwaine, that obssession with Poland reflects the deeply rooted and justifiable russian inferiority complex. You russsians are for ever a ‘nation’ of slaves without NO dignity, selfrespect, or honor and you proved it so vividly by marching to the gulags, by millions, being deprived of any humanity, worked to death, starved to death by your OWN government. By the way, Guantanamo could be good for the poor russians – at least they will have three meals a days………

    • Manfred Steifschwanz

      What about the Swedes?

      • kleine schwaine, by changing the topic you, of course, agree with me that the majority of russians would LOVE to move to Guantanamo to have a three meals and a clean toilet!!!!

        • Manfred Steifschwanz

          Non, j’ai posé cette question afin que tu expliques la raison pour laquelle des gens non-Russes se moquent de toi et méprisent les Pchèques. Pauvre con — t’es vraiment un gros trou de cul puant.

    • Can I say it once and let it be heard; after WWII out of 1,800,000 Soviet soldiers that survived German captivity (thats out of 5,000,000 that were captured, nice western hospitality) 280,000 were sent to the gulag. 200,000 of them (despite ‘not getting three meals a day’) survived and were freed during the Khrushev thaw, when the gulag was abolished. AND THERE WAS REBELLION. Thousands of Soviet soldiers joined the Germans, so as to ‘free Russia’ from the evil sovetskaya vlasti. And those are the ones that were either slaughtered in battle or tried to change hands again; and were put in the gulag.
      Gulags were mere prisons no worse than guantanamo bay. In fact, based on what source you chose to believe, if guantanamo stands as long as the gulags did; it will kill more than they ever could.

      • Kleine Schwaine, you are a russian that pretend to be a Swede – how pathetic – by the way, how a non russian can know all the filth and vulgarity of your native language. By the way, the ONLY people who really know how barbaric, perfidious, dirty and revolting the russians are are POLISH PEOPLE hence that pathological hate toward Poland by the poor russians. By the way the whole world hates russia except fidel castro, ahmadinejad, and, of course, evo and hugo what a duo!!.

        • Manfred Steifschwanz

          And you’re an authentic Pshek — the worse for you and your ilk.

          • kleine Schwaine, you are truly pathetic, so I was 100% again, hence your retarded answer …..

            • Manfred Steifschwanz

              Arschloch von Arschau, weiBt du wer am zwanzigsten April geboren ist? “Polen hat heute Nacht zum ersten Mal auf unserem eigenen Territorium auch mit bereits regulären Soldaten geschossen…”

              • Kleine Schaine, this stupidyt written in german should be translated into mandarin chinese your future language – impress us ….

      • runet, I love it – it is a vintage russia – you are justifying the gulags so you can justify your own barbarity. By the way, EVERY SOVIET SOLDIER WHO HAD ANY CONTACT WITH THE WEST WAS SENT TO GULAGS JUST IN CASE THOSE SOVIET/RUSSIAN SLAVES WILL START THINKING AND COMPARING ….

      • “Gulags were mere prisons no worse than guantanamo bay.”

        Is that a common view of Russia? Do you really believe that? Then you must be out of your mind or some kind of sadistic Stalinist or both. Mere prisons my foot. Millions died there from starvation, exposure and overwork. Are you denying that? Just read Solzhenitsyn or Ginsburg, or any other account among hundreds that are available.

        “In fact, based on what source you chose to believe, if guantanamo stands as long as the gulags did; it will kill more than they ever could.”

        GITMO has been operating for about 10 years. From what I know not a single person died there. How are you going to reach a number of victims that died in the gulags?

        • If the russians were sent to Guantanamo, they would refuse to be liberated – with three meals a day, clean clothing, medical and dental care and, above all, clean toilet, they would consider it a paradise…

        • The russians consider themselves to be such a piece of s#$%t that they don’t deserve to be free. We should respect their wishes and watch them march back to the gulags in 2012….

        • I don’t know what sort of prison Guantanamo Bay is, probably not exactly a resort, what with all the allegations of torture etc. As far as Gulags are concerned, I’ve always been under the impression that the prevailing view in Russia is that they were essentially like German concentration camps, the only difference being that their primary purpose was not to simply exterminate the inmates but to work them to death by making them work real hard for 12-16 hours a day, while feeding them meager rations that barely allowed them to stay alive.
          I remember reading somewhere back in the 1990’s that it was in Soviet labour camps that the absolute minimum of calories that would keep a person alive was calculated, experimentally by trial and error.
          The Soviet regime was unsustainable in its pure socialist form, even some of the Bolsheviks realised it and began the New Economic Policy (NEP), which was essentially a gradual transition to a controlled market economy, but then Stalin and his crew seized power and decided to implement soviet socialism in its pure form, the only snag was that in order to work pure socialism needed lots of slave labour, thus they went ahead and collectivised the peasants (which was basically a form of serfdom or slavery) and when that still wasn’t enough they started the purges in the 1930’s where millions of people were seized and sent to labour camps, thus by the late 1930’s probably 70-80% of the population had been effectively enslaved in labour camps and on collective farms.
          It’s little wonder then that in the first months after the Germans came to the Smolensk region, for example, over 80,000 people in the rural areas joined the Polizei, they’d been driven to such depths of desperation that they’d probably have been willing to make a pact with the devil himself as to them he’d have seemed a better deal than Stalin. If I’m convinced that it hadn’t been for Hitler’s totally mad Plan Ost, under which the locals in Russia and Belarus were often treated even worse than they had been by the Soviets, Germany would have won the war in the east.

  4. Mccusa, what an arrogant and ignorant rep of the Ruskie-hating Westerners you are! I am a Serbian who would never dare use such language in any context, yet you pretend to live in a civilized and democratic world! On a deeper level, it is your envy of the Russian genius that is, like satan, instigating you to vomit such poisonous and stenchy vocabulary. I want to remind you all that US has waged MORE THAN 50 WARS since the WW I!, while Russia had just a number of conflicts and solely due to Western provocations. You envious and megalomaniac Westerners better think about your perversions and sins, and leave others to handle their own destiny.

    Zoran Siriski

    If you wanted really to help Russians in their hardships (though today US faces more calamities and problems), your ezine would not bear such a telling name. If Russians had a forum propagating hate of others, the entire West would have enough material to call them barbarians. However, it is not the Russian or Slavic way. Shame on you! Do something useful to cure yourselves of the pathological hate of the hope of humanity that Russia represents. If you dug way deeper than the shallow muddy layers you have designated as your target, you would find out what I mean by this mail. I do not want a dialogue with any of your readers whose vision is smeared with narrow-mindedness and hate. I love Russia with or without the problems she must have, like any (great) nation, especially in the environment where sharks and piranhas are circling around her borders. Don’t you see who is provoking whom? I can’t believe you are all so blind. What would happen if a Russian journalist proposed , say, the US to be divided in three parts? Russia would probably have to face sanctions by the civilized West. Yet, this is what not an American journalist, but the official strategist, Brezinski, has proposed recently for Russia??? There are thousands of such filthy moves by the avant-guard of the world you Westerners paint yourselves to be. What you all need is belief in God and true love of humanity. A man who is content, wise, rich and civilized would not show such cynical behavior, hate and envy. This actually proves you don’t have the said virtues…

    Zoran Siriski

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