March 19, 2021

Coming Up Roses


Coming Up Roses
Maybe the value of the ruble will rise again soon. Petar Milošević, Wikimedia Commons

Russia has apparently emerged victorious from the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in two key ways: its vaccine has turned out to be highly effective even as Europeans struggle to get vaccinated, and its economy has turned out to be more resilient than most.

Moscow's Higher School of Economics (HSE), named after the London School of Economics, released a report showing how Russia's GDP remained happily consistent in 2020 relative to the rest of the world.

An ironic consequence of the 2014 economic sanctions against Russia is that the economy contracted well before 2020 and began preparing for the worst of times. According to this new research, this shift brought stagnation to the pandemic-era Russian economy rather than recession or depression.

Typically, Russia is hit worse by global economic problems. In the 2008-2009 recession, the world economy declined by (only?) .01%, while Russia's economy declined by 7.8%. Conversely, in 2020, the global economy receded by 3.5% and Russia came out looking better than the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, and Spain.

The HSE report outlines three key reasons for Russia's macroeconomic success: 1. The so-called "budget rule," 2. Business loans, and 3. State-sponsored businesses.

Russia had hedged against a falling oil price by "saving, not splurging" the revenue generated in periods of a high price per barrel. This is the "budget rule." It is the same kind of economic thinking that makes subsistence farmers invent ways to preserve surplus food for leaner times. The budget rule is smart, not sexy, policy; you will not see any $1.9 trillion stimulus packages coming out of Moscow.

The second key to Russia's economic success is giving businesses loans to cover salaries and lowering insurance premiums for businesses during the pandemic.

The third aspect is that more Russian businesses were already state-sponsored and larger than in the West. The service sector is also smaller in Russia.

Praise for Russia's economy has come from the International Monetary Fund and even The Moscow Times. Compare this to The Moscow Times' prediction last March that the pandemic might destroy Russia's "isolated" economy.

It turns out that isolation is an advantage when it comes to a global pandemic.

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