By Paul Goble
Income inequality in Russia may not be significantly greater than in other BRICS countries, but its nature, the rapidity of its onset, and the particular groups it has affected most mean that it is threatening the political stability of the country, according to Vasily Anikin and Natalya Tikhonova of the Moscow Higher School of Economics.
In a 37-page study of the specifically Russian features of income inequality that were identified in the course of a study of income differentiation in the BRICS group, the two say that Russian income inequality now greater than that in Europe or the US threatens to destabilize the Russian political system (hse.ru/pubs/share/direct/document/179645132).
Over the last 25 years, the two researchers say, the bottom deciles of the Russian population, a group that includes the educated middle class, have been impoverished while the share of national income going to the highest deciles has risen from 33 percent to 47 percent, a change and a speed of change which many Russians feel is unjust.
The most important conclusion of the report is that the Russian poor are not like the poor in other BRICS countries: They do not consist of poorly educated, agricultural or lumpen populations. Rather, most of the poor in Russia are “employed city residents who usually have at a minimum a full secondary education.”
Consequently, the gap between their expectations and the reality of their lives is extraordinarily large, especially give the conspicuous consumption of the very wealthy. (On this phenomenon, see also novayagazeta.ru/comments/73796.html.) Not surprisingly, many of the uniquely Russian poor are angry and blame the government for their situation.
Anikin and Tikhonova argue that the Russian authorities must do more to combat this kind of poverty, pushing up wages where possible, improving education in rural areas, and providing special assistance to young people who for reasons not of their own making find themselves in difficult straits. Otherwise, there will be problems.