Lucky Russia

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: August, 1998

As early as August 17th, a few minutes following the devaluation, the financial markets predicted that the Rouble will stabilize around 18-20 Roubles to the US dollar. This was the price quoted for CME forward Rouble contracts. Moreover, not everyone think that hyperinflation is imminent. Simply, there is not enough purchasing power to generate this kind of surge in prices.

Russia is lucky. I am not being cute: this crisis could not have come at a more opportune time. Russians have witnessed (if not actively enjoyed) the advantages of a consumer capitalist economy. For one thing, most of them have some kind of private property and the abundance of all types of products together with the elimination of queues and shortages served to provide a foretaste of the "capitalist heaven". They are not likely to go back, politically or economically. That capitalism is not well entrenched is a blessing in no disguise: this crisis does not deprive people sufficiently to foster a revolution. Social unrest, a dramatic rise in crime rates, more crony capitalism and other malignant forms of "get rich quick" schemes - perhaps. But not another revolution.

Russia and Russians are prone to dramatic extremes. Russia is simply going through a crisis which will ultimately engulf all of Eastern, Central and Southern Europe and, more generally, all the protective, etatist economies. From Macedonia to the Czech Republic, from Kazakhstan to China, from Slovenia to Bulgaria - all are likely to experience a similar shock. This is because none has really reformed. Under the banner of "capitalism" a small, corrupt elite of oligarchs and politicians robbed the assets of the state. Industry is still protected against outside competition, tax collection is a farce, the banking system a shambles, Western handouts the only pillar of the economy. This cannot and will not go on. The invisible hand of the market will devalue overvalued currencies, force industry to restructure, force the banking system to amalgamate, force inept and corrupt politicians out. The Day of Judgement is here. Russia is lucky to go through all this now - because it will be uniquely positioned, as a result.

The Russian banking system will be forced to restructure. Hundreds of banks will go insolvent and bankrupt. The rest will consolidate. But this will only result in the formation of a few "bad banks". The next stages will involve the formation of healthy retail activities, where none exist today. Banks will begin to compete for savings. They will diversify their portfolio and, as a result, their exposure (risk) will diminish. Then they will have to invest this money to generate the kind of returns that will attract the savers. They will not risk another asset bubble. They will not invest in brokerage operations, speculate, or bet against the Rouble anymore. Their future profits will be the result of investments in real assets: industry, the services sector, new and small businesses. These are very good news: the banks have been taught a lesson they will not easily forget. It is: paper profits and paper assets are on paper only. Here today, gone tomorrow.

A devalued Rouble will enhance the competitiveness of the Russian industrial and commodity production sectors. Rouble inflation will not fully reflect the devaluation for a long time. This difference will allow Russian manufacturers and commodity producers to compete vigorously.

Russia was long subjected to the quack "medical experiments" of the IMF. It was led down the path of deflation, which the IMF has plunged half the world into. It needed to reflate urgently. It could not have "chosen" a better way to do so. The devaluation will reflate the economy. It is equivalent to the infusion of new blood to a body dilapidated by endless austerity and economic bloodletting.

It might sound outlandish - but Russia is showing the way to other countries in the Third World as it has so often done in the past. It, in effect, has acted against the IMF dictates and by devaluing its currency it has readopted the path of John Maynard Keynes. It was about time.

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