Most Moscow brokerages have their resident middle-aged Russian academic economist. Wearing that perpetually-worried look of the older Solzhenitsyn, he is to be found lurking in a windowless office somewhere near the research department – from which he only rarely emerges, like some Old Testament prophet to issue terrible admonitions. Generally ignored by
the traders (some of whom may have sacrificed a bonus or two by heeding his warnings of impending catastrophe), he is dutifully trotted around London by salespeople on their way to see the more respectable class of global fund managers – whose egos he flatters by engaging them in learned, technical and generally apocalyptic discussions of Russian macroeconomics.
Slightly embarrassed to be Russian, his most cherished wish is that his poor country be more like the America he so-worshipped during his Soviet youth. Having bravely supported liberal reform in the 80s, and thrown in his lot with the Yeltsin governments during the turbulent 1990s, he has is now increasingly reduced to irrelevance, issuing his grim predictions to a shrinking audience.
As befits his orthodox Marxist education, he elevates economic theory to the level of a sacrament – while inconvenient empirical data are treated as suspect – The Theory is, after all, infallible… Our friend’s belief in free markets is indeed fervent – not as a useful economic construct, but rather more akin to a suicide bombers’ belief in the 10,000 Virgins and the eternal Gardens awaiting him in Heaven. The WTO, the Invisible Hand and the ultimate benevolence of
multinational companies are the fundamental source for Good – with government- (as opposed to corporate-) bureaucracies, industrial policy, and state management of the economy by definition Evil.
In general, our friend’s economic advice has proved to be of modest practical utility – despite his warnings, the Russian equity market soared a screaming 16-fold since the 1998 crisis, the best performance of any equity market anywhere on the planet – oil producer or otherwise. Therefore, perhaps prudently, he is now concentrating his ire on the Russian political context – where his statements are less obviously falsifiable, at least in the very near term. Our anonymous sage was a committed supporter of Yukos, warning that God’s wrath would be visited upon the Motherland should even a hair on Khodorkovsky’s scalp be harmed. He is now demonstrating his admirable talent for selective memory by begrudgingly shifting his affections to Kasyanov. His great point of pride is set to become the classical boast of the beleaguered American Liberals – i.e. of never having supported a winning candidate!