Downhill

"Lose weight with us. LPG from 890 rubles. You'll feel thinner after the first procedure." Photo by the Russian Reader
“Lose weight with us! LPG from 890 rubles. You’ll feel thinner after the first procedure.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Raw Materials, Grain, and Transport
The Russian economy has been shrinking and devolving
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
November 9, 2016

As many experts had predicted, the inertia of economic policy has led to an ever-increasing shrinkage of the economy and devolution of its structure. In the last two years, the role of primary industries and the cargo haulage they generate has grown even more.

In the latest issue of Commentaries on the State and Business, Nikolay Kondrashov of the Higher School of Economics has calculated that, in the third quarter of 2016, agricultural output grew in comparison with the annual averages for 2014 by 6.6%, mining by 3.6%, and cargo haulage by 3.4%. During the same period, the volume of retail trade has decreased by 14.7%, construction by 12.8%, and manufacturing by 7.2%. According to Rosstat, real wages decreased by 13% from the third quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2016. This has reduced domestic demand, purchasing power and, consequently, the production of a number of consumer goods and the tempo of new construction. Sales of domestic products have increased relative to banned or seriously inflated imported goods, but overall food consumption has fallen. The contribution of manufacturing, construction, and trade to GDP has decreased, while, on the contrary, the role of extractive industries, agriculture, and the cargo turnover they generate has grown.

It is extremely difficult to break away from a resource economy and get on the path of growth. It is impossible to radically restructure the economy without major investments. They are currently at a low level and, according Vladimir Nazarov, director of the Finance Ministry’s Finance Research Institute, they are unlikely to increase. Stronger guarantees of property rights are needed,  at least, for investments to start flowing.

We can take satisfaction in the growth of agriculture, which has received a good deal of government subsidies and import-substitution preferences, but it is unlikely to provide a robust multiplier effect: the agricultural sector is heavily monopolized, and it requires less and less manpower. Agricultural equipment manufacturers may still profit, but they face serious competition from the Belarusians. Given low economic growth, the best we can look forward towithin the current framework is a slight downtick in the primary industries due to an increase in retail sales and construction, notes Nazarov.

Some growth in the manufacturing sector can be attained through defense contrats, whose impact on demand and economic growth is generally quite small. Russia can produce a limited number of products that are popular not only in the domestic market but also foreign markets, but we should not expect them to be the source of structural improvements.

The Russia economy’s structural focus on extractive industries was also typical during the fat years, but then it was mixed with windfall profits from oil sales. Nowadays, there is no hope that oil will generate growth. During a crisis, we need freedom of entrepreneurship and the development of new sectors from the bottom up, thus increasing the demand for human capital, more than ever. Otherwise, human capital degrades as well. It does not take a lot of smarts to maintain pipelines and a small number of latifundia.

Translated by Death of a Salesman. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the heads-up

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