Updated Link: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State by David Satter
David Satter writes about the rule of law and its necessity in order for democracy and capitalism to succeed, something which, as the world knows, has not happened in Russia. He’s right, of course, Russia has become a horrible criminal state. But I couldn’t help reading the beginning of the article with a slowly mounting sense of irony. Consider this excerpt, from the middle section on “Kleptocracy in the Guide of Reform”:
Perhaps more important than these economic features, however, was the new system’s social psychology, which was characterized by mass moral indifference. If under communism, universal morality was denied in favor of the supposed “interests of the working class,” under the new reform government, people lost the ability to distinguish between legal and criminal activity.
Official corruption came to be regarded as “normal,” and it was considered a sign of virtue if the official, in addition to stealing, also made an effort to fulfill his official responsibilities. Extortion also came to be regarded as normal, and vendors, through force of habit, began to regard paying protection money as part of the cost of doing business.
At the same time, officials and businessmen took no responsibility for the consequences of their actions, even if they led to hunger and death. Government officials helped organize pyramid schemes that victimized persons who were already destitute, police officials took bribes from leaders of organized crime to ignore extortion, and factory directors stole funds marked for the salaries of workers who had already gone months without pay.
The most interesting thing isn’t the story about the murdered supermodel Svetlana Kotova… although that story seriously feels like something out of a Bruce Sterling novel (I’m thinking of Bruce Sterling’s novel Zeitgeist, of course). It’s not the pithy observations about what would be necessary to get Russia back on track.
No, the truly eerie about this for me is that so much of what he says about Russia, ranging from the problems of kleptocracy to Kotova’s fate and the possible fate of Russia is that it is also applicable to America and the whole world order (I guess the WTO world order) of today. I find it amusing that an American scholar is now expounding the necessity of the rule of law when it seems to me American foreign policy is about flounting any higher authority than American interests, and where using something like falsified evidence used to justify invasion before the whole world is not considered a big deal.
It seems to me looking at Russia is a very useful starting point to talking about the dangers America faces in the near future, as well as a starting point for thinking about what America will need to do to get back on track.