Boris Altshuler: 'The ritual killing of old people, followed by the consumption of their flesh' - on the appointment of Aleksei Kudrin as economic adviser to the President

posted 19 Jun 2016, 05:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2016, 06:06 ]
23 May 2016

Commentary by the NGO Right of the Child on the appointment of Aleksei Kudrin as economic adviser to the President of the Russian Federation 

Source: Right of the Child

The ancient Patagonians of South America had the ‘good’ custom of the ritual killing of old people, followed by the consumption of their flesh, something that if put into practice today would be doubly beneficial to the State: economizing on pensions and solving the problem of providing the population with cheap meat. ‘Innovative’ thoughts of this kind involuntarily come to mind in connection with the following statements by Aleksei Kudrin, chair of the Committee for Civic Initiatives, chair of the board of trustees of the Egor Gaidar Institute of Economic Policy, and newly appointed Advisor on economics to the President of Russia, Aleksei Kudrin:

- On the need to raise the pensionable age and the shortage of labour in Russia;
- ‘The people have been getting fat for long enough’ -
- ‘An excessive burden on the budget of social obligations’ -

(In the same spirit is the notion of Evgeny Yasin, one of the leading experts of the Committee for Civic Initiatives, Senior Lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council: ‘We can’t overcome the crisis unless we put our hands in the people’s pockets’) and so on.

It’s terrible to read all this against the background of an avalanche of appeals from families that we receive at the Right of the Child NGO, and at the website Movement of Families SOS: nowhere to live, nothing to feed the children: ‘I am a mother with four children. I work in a kindergarten….I am simply in despair, the prices are out of this world. I am terribly tired…’; ‘Three children. No residence permit, money, work or home….NOTHING!!! Renting an apartment, debts…’; ‘I am mother of three children aged 11, 9 and 3. I’ve lost my job. I have some savings, but we are terribly short of money…All our money is going on paying for kindergarten and food’; ‘After the operation I can’t work anymore, I have a lot of debts, I live in a rented apartment with two children, I am afraid we’ll end up in the street. There is nothing to eat at home’; ‘We have five children. We live in a village, my husband was a security guard, but he’s lost his job. We owe money to the local shop for food. We have to pay for kindergarten. We are just eating potatoes’; ‘We are in great need of housing. We are going hungry. Tomorrow we’ll be in the street. For God’s sake, help us…’

We have asked various people for help and collaboration in an attempt to find an answer to the desperate question, ‘How to help?’, including more than once Aleksei Leonidovich Kudrin himself. I give as evidence two letters of August 2012 and November 2015 (the last letter was jointly written with the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva).

We received NO response at all to these letters.

But the trouble is not only that respected economists are unable to notice from their Olympian heights the woes and problems of concrete people. How, alas, they differ in this from Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov!!! – see two publications on the 95th anniversary of his birthday on 21 May this year: in the newspaper ‘Troitsky variant’ and a speech at a celebratory conference in Nizhny Novgorod.

The problem of our leading economists is their catastrophic professional incompetence.

So far as ‘raising the pensionable age’ and ‘shortages in the labour force’ are concerned, does Aleksei Leonidovich know that today millions of Russians are feeding their families solely by means of occasional work because in those places (and whole regions) where they live there is simply NO work? And do Mr Kudrin and his colleagues know that today a great number of families with children are surviving solely thanks to the pensions of grandmothers and grandfathers? So who is raising the pensionable age going to affect most? In Russia there is an evident lack of jobs, not a ‘shortage in the labour force’. Throughout the 25 years of the existence of the New Russia millions of Russian citizens have been artificially deprived of the right to work and feed their family by their labour because, where monopolies and corruption reign, there can be no effective economy or production.

The basic truth of the market economy is that a free competitive market, lowering prices and raising the quality of good, is itself unstable and always and everywhere needs strong protection from the government against monopolies and cartels. This government protection of a competitive market is the basis of the well-known ‘economic miracles’ of post-war Japan and Germany, in Singapore and so on. Nothing like that has been put in place in Russia. The popular view that ‘the market will sort everything out’ is, as Talleyrand said, ‘worse than a crime, it is a mistake.’ One is obliged to recognized that with regard to anti-monopoly and anti-corruption policy, the Russian Federation is a dwarf, a homunculus in comparison with the United States of America, neighbouring Finland and other countries with a market economy (I’m not speaking here about Ukraine and so on, where the economic situation is probably even more complicated that in our own country).

Why does no one notice this ‘elephant in the room’. Why don’t the liberal market economists, the opposition Yabloko Party, or the ‘statists’ from the ‘Stolypin Club’ that criticize them so harshly (but whose programme only talks about ‘infrastructure monopolies’ when the metastases of monopolies and cartels are ubiquitous in our economy) talk about monopolies as the main structural economic problem facing Russia? (see my letter to Igor Artemyev, head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency and member of Yabloko’s political committee).

Moreover, for the sake of fairness I must point out that Vladimir Zhirinovsky, at a recent meeting of the State Council in the Kremlin on 17 May 2016, asked the same question, ‘Why does no one talk about monopolies as the main problem facing the construction sector?’ But this key question was somehow lost in the discussion that followed.

At the same time, the proposals of the joint Working Group of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Construction of Russia presented to the Organizing Committee of this State Council would allow the ‘eternal’ housing question to be resolved without excessive budgetary expenditure and in a rapid manner. The basis of these proposals is to create favourable conditions for those builders who are not chasing super-profits. There are many builders like this in Russia, but no one lets them get on with their work.

The cause of the chronic lack of nutrition of millions of children is well-known: virtually all retail sale of food in Russia is controlled by about 30 monopolistic chains that receive very high profits on account of excessive profit margins (of hundreds of percentage points) generated by the law prices at which suppliers sell their produce, and the high prices in the shops. Over the 10 years from 2005 to 2015, the number of markets in Russia fell by a factor of four (there were 6,444, but now only 1,447 according to the INFOline agency). At the same time hundreds of billions of roubles provided by the government to the agricultural sector have ended up in the pockets of agricultural oligarchs and monopolists (chief among these being the federal Minister of Agriculture, Aleksandr Tkachev) with their ‘golden’ dairy farms, where the cost of a single cow reaches a million roubles or more, while an ordinary farmer could produce the same amount of milk four times cheaper (‘The dairy sector demonstrates one of the paradoxes. Despite unprecedented support for dairy farmers, in Russia which has a deficit of its own milk production, milk production is falling’ – Izvestiya on a meeting of the Russian government of 20 January 2016).

We – the NGO Right of the Child – work with many organizations of farmers and builders, we are familiar with their proposals to develop cooperative food markets, cooperation in rural building, and other programmes to overcome the monopolies in construction, and so on. We know that these proposals that promise to be truly effective have for years been ignored by government, and we clearly see how impenetrable is this monolith based on corrupt monopolies, both in government itself and in circles close to government. And of course, we must comment on the policy proposal produced in September 2015 by the federal Ministry of Industry and Trade, ‘The System of Targeted Food Assistance to Russian Citizens in Need’, which is remarkable for the fact that, at the same time as providing food for people in need, it would support the sale of produce from ordinary farmers. But this proposal has got nowhere, at least in part because the Chief Economists of Russia are silent about this proposal that could bring great benefits. You can read more about this in the articles (in Russian): ‘Methods of protecting social rights’ (October 2014); and ‘Save our children from chronic malnutrition’ (September 2015).

Everything said above is the banal truth that everyone knows. Vladimir Putin has also talked on a number of occasions about the role of monopolies in artificially increasing the prices of the necessities of life, and various media, including Novaya gazeta, regularly write about it. For example, in Novaya gazeta of 25 April this year two articles were published that deal with this issue: To avoid fainting from hunger our parents gives us potatoes’ (this just says how much ‘people have been getting fat’), and also my article ‘Whoever ordered that NGOs should be “dealt with” ordered Russia to be “dealt with” as well.’ The main argument behind these articles is that the security services’ attack on active human rights organizations was organized by these very dealers in corruption and monopolies that do not want anyone to talk about how they are robbing the country.

Why don’t Aleksei Kudrin, Evgeny Yashin, Grigory Yavlinsky and others ever talk about this main structural economic problem, at least not publicly??? At the same time, the national campaign to monitor artificial increases in food prices and other necessary household items, with public exposure of those guilty of these increases, could be a powerful move in an election year for those parties seeking to win victory in the September elections. I suggested this idea in the letter to Igor Artemyev to which I referred earlier, but evidently to no effect.

Two additional points in conclusion:

1. The task of overcoming corruption and monopolies obviously lies not in the sphere of economics, but in that of law enforcement. The question of overcoming poverty effectively boils down to the question of overcoming corruption in the law enforcement agencies. But here there is no ‘squaring the circle’. Back in December 2009 the former Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliev proposed that regional agencies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs responsible for combating wrongdoing by ministry employees (so-called ‘internal security) should be subordinated solely to the central administration of the Ministry so that even the heads of police departments in the regions would not know who was watching over them and their staff. However, this proposal by the Minister was taken no further. As is well-known the universal method for combatting corruption is the organization of preventive, targeted investigative police actions (in other words preventive surveillance of one group of officials by another group of officials, on a mutual basis). Naturally a person taking up a position as a public official must sign a voluntary declaration that they accept a restriction of their constitutional right, and that of their families, to privacy. Human nature is the same everywhere, but in developed countries methods have been worked out to overcome the temptations of corruption.

2. Will other countries come to our aid? Of course the obligations imposed by international treaties can provide a positive underpinning for the struggle against corruption and monopolies (and this means actually overcoming the mass poverty of the population) in Russia, Ukraine, and in many other countriesа.
In August 2015 the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Group Yury Orlov and Liudmila Alekseeva, along with a majority of other members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, appealed to the leadership of the OSCE to work out and adopt one more ‘basket’ of obligations for the Member-States of the Helsinki process in the sphere of protecting social rights (‘Violations of Social Rights are a Threat to International Peace). In November 2015 Liudmila Alekseeva and I set out this proposal in a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier (since Germany has the presidency of the OSCE in 2016). Over the last two months I have written three letters on the same issue to Gernot Erler, member of the Bundestag and Special Representative of the Federal Government of Germany for the OSCE. See also on this issue my articles: ‘Violations of Social Rights are a Threat to World Peace’ and ‘Global Security, Sustainable Development and Social Rights: Human Rights Proposals from Moscow’.

Not one of these appeals received any answer! It seems clear that ‘real politicians’ are everywhere the same, both in Russia and in other countries.

23 May 2016
Boris Altshuler
Chair of the board, Right of the Child
Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Member of the Working Group on Realizing the Rights of Citizens to Accessible Housing of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Construction and Housing of the Russian Federation
Senior Researcher in the Department of Theoretical Physics of the P.N.Lebedev Insitute of Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences