By Paul Goble
Moscow has been unsuccessful in reversing the decline in the number of children Russian women choose to have – its pro-natalist policies simply aren’t funded heavily enough to have a chance to do so – and so it was inevitable someone would call for imposing special taxes on those who don’t have three or more children.
The attractions of such an idea for the cash-strapped Russian government are obvious. Instead of having to come up with more money to prevent the country’s further demographic decline, it might actually force Russians to do what the Kremlin wants and collect more in taxes at the same time.
But such proposals are almost certainly dead on arrival. On the one hand, they would be extremely unpopular, especially in big cities where ever smaller families are the norm. And on the other, they likely wouldn’t work. Nonetheless, they appear certain to spark a new round of debate about what Moscow might try to do to stave off demographic collapse.
In today’s Izvestiya, journalist Darya Filippova reports that Yury Krupnov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demography has sent Vladimir Putin a proposed draft law that calls for providing more benefits for women with children and imposing a tax on those who have none or even too few (izvestia.ru/news/699494).
The demographer argues that such steps are necessary to change attitudes about having more children. At present, he says, only 6.5 percent of Russian families have at least three children; but they account for 20 percent of all children in the country. Their status and benefits need to be raised. At the same time, that of those with two or fewer needs to be lowered.
Obviously, improving the situation of those with more children will have some positive demographic consequences, and moving in that direction is something many experts support. But given Moscow’s lack of money and the general trend among urban Russians to have fewer children regardless of benefits, such steps will have less impact than many expect.
The experts Filippova queried were supportive of the goals but doubtful of the utility of taxes on those with few or new children. But the clearest indication that this idea is going nowhere has come from Elena Mizulina, a Russian parliamentarian who has championed some of the most regressive and repressive Kremlin measures in the past.
She described Krupnov’s proposal as “a provocation” intended to destabilize society rather than help resolve its problems (kp.ru/daily/26676/3699137/ and znak.com/2017-05-10/elena_mizulina_vystupila_protiv_vvedeniya_naloga_na_malodetnost).