Thursday, September 04, 2014

Better Off Russian?

Some have argued that the Ukrainians would be better off in Russia. That doesn't seem to have been the case for the chunks of Georgia that Putin picked up on one of his earlier land grabs. In any case, one of the prime motivations for big desertions of Ukrainian police to the separatist cause seems to have been the promise of much larger Russian pensions.

So how are Russians doing, overall? In per capita GDP, a lot better than Ukrainians. In some other respects, maybe not so hot. From Masha Gessen's story in the New York Review of Books blog.

In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner.

In 2006 and 2007, Michelle Parsons, an anthropologist who teaches at Emory University and had lived in Russia during the height of the population decline in the early 1990s, set out to explore what she calls “the cultural context of the Russian mortality crisis.” Her method was a series of long unstructured interviews with average Muscovites—what amounted to immersing herself in a months-long conversation about what made life, for so many, no longer worth living. The explanation that Parsons believes she has found is in the title of her new book, Dying Unneeded.

The story goes into her theory - mostly the shock of social disruption - but whether one buys that or no, the statistics don't paint a pretty picture of life in Putin's Russia. Men under 15 have mortality rates like those of third world countries with a tiny fraction of Russia's per capita GDP, not to mention the tremendous disparity in technological capability.