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Putin's Russia: Book Review

Putin's Russia: How it Rose, How it is Maintained, and How it Might End, Leon Aron, ed, American Enterprise Institute (2015). Putin has been president since 2000 (except from 2008-2012 when he was prime minister). He was in the KGB from 1975-91. He was initially successful due to a boom in commodity prices early in the 21st century. Reform was possible during this period. However, economic success dried up with declining oil prices after 2008. Major problems in Russia are absence of rule of law, corruption, and lack of protections for private property. (Academic Francis Fukuyama would say there is not political order in Russia.) The elites continue to succeed, while lower classes suffer. A major problem is capital flight, both foreign and domestic. With no rule of law, capital investment is unattractive. Reform is possible according to the book, but rising authoritarianism under crony capitalism more likely. The calculation is Putin and cronies are more likely to stay in power by force using a growing police state than reform. Major opposition centers exist in Moscow and other large cities, where people are better educated and ready for economic success. Here Putin is the least popular. Putin remains popular in smaller urban and rural areas, in part because these are subsidized as they were under the Soviet Union. Old tech and inefficiencies continue as does stagnation.

Brutal military power seems to work for Putin, including the takeover of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. Putin remains anti-west, including instigating unrest through computer hacking and disrupting elections of the US, EU and other developed democracies. Much of the Russian public applauds these moves, again to Putin's advantage. As with much of the world, democracy and reform have trouble succeeding. Political order is necessary and even then, success is not guaranteed. Hobbes developed the original idea of the social contract, in his case people trade freedom for protection. Perhaps this is success for much of the world.

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