Malaysian Airlines MH17 shoot-down in Eastern Ukraine


Image: Wikipedia

Regarding same, a lot of self-professed ‘military experts’ have been saying that the pro-Russian rebels/separatists could not have shot down MH17 with a “Buk” missile because “it would take too much coordination” or “many years of training” or “they would need manufacturer codes” or even “they did not have a radar”, and possibly other equally absurd statements. Now I have studied 9K37 SAM system “Buk” during my military training in university, and my military rate is commander of a 9A310 self-propelled launcher (in the middle on the image to the right). I admit upfront I’ve never shot one for real, university trainees are second-line reserves, but we did do some simulations and practiced taking the system online from cold shutdown and back. Here’s what I have to say on the matter of “Buk” and MH17.

First of all, a 9A310 is capable of fully autonomous operation. It is equipped with a search, tracking and illumination radar (mechanical scan in older versions, phased array in newer versions; it is hidden under that green bulbous cover in the image) and a simple computer capable of detecting and locking onto targets, and normally has 4 missiles ready to fire. No codes need to be input for launching a missile, it’s not a nuclear weapon or anything, you only need the key to open the lock on the launch buttons. In a military setting, 9A310 usually acts as a part of a radar and command network on battery and battalion levels, but this is not mandatory.

As for training required to use the system, this depends very much on the circumstances of its use. In a tight anti-aircraft fight, when there are many targets on different altitude levels, maneuvering and employing anti-radar and anti-missile measures, with radar jamming active and radar-homing missiles around, it takes a highly trained officer and crew to use the system (I’m not nearly qualified). You can’t just rely on default automatic tracking modes to do the job for you. However, a commercial airliner is a single, non-maneuvering target flying at altitude, employing no counter-measures and with a radar signature like a barn. If any of the thousands and thousands of students who took the same military training course in universities in various locations in ex-USSR had their notes or a manual, they could take a functional 9A310 online (you have to throw some twenty switches in the correct order, check some lights and dials etc.) and shoot it single-handedly. The system would detect and track the plane automatically. The shooter would only have to move the cursor and push a couple of buttons to designate it as target, possibly throwing a switch to override IFF identification (I have no idea how would a Boeing-777 respond to a Soviet IFF ping), turn the key and push the launch button. Automatic tracking would do just fine guiding the missile. The shooter would keep an eye on the radar and tracking display until the hit. Commercial airliners are not built to withstand hits by high-explosive fragmentation warheads such as the one used in the 9M38 missile. My guess is that some hot fragments punctured the MH17’s fuel tanks — the plane was 3 hours out of Amsterdam and had already burned some fuel off — and the fuel-air mixture exploded, ripping the plane apart in mid-air. Or the fragments could hit and fracture the structural elements of the plane; the warhead creates several thousands of these fragments, which fly in a cone along the missile’s flight path, and a 777 is a big object. I hope the person who finds the tail of the missile (it should fall down mostly intact) has enough conscience to turn it over to the international investigators, once these are able to reach the site. My sincere condolences go to the friends and relatives of the deceased.

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Putinophilia and Ukraine

The ongoing Ukrainian crisis has produced, especially in the last month, an explosion of odd bedfellows, stupendous displays of credulity and motivated thoughtlessness (I like this better than motivated cognition) among the so-called alternative media and on the right generally. Infowars syndicates material from the Progressive, Gates of Vienna runs stuff from Russia Today, and Marie Le Pen’s FN endorses Russian seizure of Crimea. Rumors and unsubstantiated claims are reprinted (and translated) until the Chinese whispers chamber magnifies them into established fact. Now that I think of it, the phenomenon is quite a nice CT scan of the various parts of the body politic, if only one had the time and capacities to interpret it.

Let’s work through a couple of examples. First is the often-quoted purported admission by Ms. Nuland that USG has spent $5 billion on revolution in Ukraine. Having seen something of said revolution, I prefer to believe my own lying eyes rather than the legions of nameless commenters on the internet, but this ‘fact’ was apparently too juicy for anybody to bother with actually checking what relationship it had to reality.

To begin, here is the original speech by Ms. Nuland on Ukraine. I spent all of 15 minutes finding it on teh internets, obviously too much to ask of the average content creator in the Twitter age. The part that raised up all the stink is the following two sentences:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they built democratic skills and institutions, as they promote[d] civic participation in governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over 5 billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.

Now, I bear small love towards USG in general and Ms. Nuland in particular; I thought her handing out cookies on Maidan in December (another beloved staple of Putinophiliac propaganda; one gets the distinct impression that for three months Maidan subsisted exclusively on Ms. Nuland’s cookies) was cheesy. However that may be, her original statement is very far from what Putinophiliacs, of all stripes, commonly make of it. I won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out the specific differences. Instead, I’ll note that Ukraine’s economy is bigger even than Fairfax County, where a billion dollars is petty cash, and list some details on how much has actually been spent, and on what.

The most recent and relevant data can be seen on USG’s retarded ‘user-friendly’ website, where you can see a detailed list of USAID disbursements for 2013, totaling a little less than $160M. The biggest single item is $37M added to EBRD funding for Chernobyl NPP’s New Shelter, a largish piece of pork for European atomics and construction companies. The first items which could be plausibly considered related to the recent events is $6M for something called Ukraine Media Project, and $5M for a fair judiciary project. Field note: in modern Ukrainian justice, $5M only gets you in the door in a high-stakes case, although methods are less crude than the cartons of cash emblematic of the halcyon days of the ’90s; frequently, a friend or relative of the judge manages a ‘charity’ and you are expected to make a generous contribution.

For older and slightly less detailed data, you can turn to USAID loans and grants website. This Excel table shows data for FY2001-2012. You can see for yourself the scale of the machinations of the National Endowment for Democracy, Millennium Challenge Corporation and other worthy outfits. The fuss raised in some quarters over these pathetic puddles of mouse piss strongly reminds me of the screeches of AGW credulists over the funding of the Heartland Institute.

To check up on the whole interval since the breakup of the Soviet Union, head over to this custom query builder. It does not compute totals, but you can do the sums and see that Ms. Nuland was not far off the mark with her figure. Then you will be equipped to tell the $5B-for-Maidan people to eat it, but of course they won’t listen.

Now the funny thing is that until Russia more-or-less kicked out foreign aid in 2012, it used to receive at least 3-4 times as much economic and military aid from USG as Ukraine did (1, 2, 3). Much of it went towards managing and securing Russia’s crumbling nuclear weapon infrastructure (that’s what Kevin DrumEzra Klein’s ‘loose nukes’ probably meant), but, Russia being what it is, the money frequently went to such mundane but useful stuff as fighting AIDS or building sewage treatment plants in St. Petersburg. Funny how Russians have billions for Gazprom City but somehow can’t scrape together funds to manage city wastes without EBRD’s help. (Reportedly, this project only got off the ground when the Finns across the bay got disgusted with St. Petersburg’s untreated effluvium and started making noises. Russians’ noises about, e.g., their hospitals are easily ignored and the money is much better spent building roads for the Olympics at ten times the market price.)

Another famous example is the recording of a call between Ms. Ashton and Mr. Paet, Estonian foreign minister, intercepted by Russian security services and published on YouTube, apparently, in a fit of public-spiritedness in the interest of justice and world peace. This recording is often cited as an admission by the parties responsible that the sniper shootings at the Maidan on the 20th of February was a false flag operation by nefarious Maidan leadership. First, here is the text of the call, transcribed by yours truly, with the exception of the first two minutes covering the secretaries’ back-and-forth and the salutations.

A: I just wanted to catch up with you on what you saw when you were there.
P: Okay. I returned last night so I was one day.
A: Yuh. Yuh. Impressions?
P: Impressions are sad. I met with representatives of Regions Party, also new coalition representatives and also civil society, there is this lady called Olga who is head of the doctors, yes, you know her.
A: Olga, yuh, yuh, I do.
P: Yes. So that, well, my impression is, in recent sight[?], that there is, well, no trust towards also these politicians who return[?] now to the coalition. Well, people from Maidan and from civil society, they said they know everybody who will be in the new government, all these guys have dirty past (A: Yeah.) so that, well, they made some proposals to the same Olga and some others from civil society to join new government, but this Olga, for example, she says directly that she is ready to go to the government only in the case if she can take with her her team, foreign experts, to start real health care reforms. (A: Yeah.) So that, well, they sicdit[?] that the trust level is absolutely low, on the other hand all these security problems, these integrity problems, Crimea, all this stuff. (A: Mhm.) Regions party was absolutely upset, they said that, well, they accept that now there will be new government, there will be extraordinary elections, but there is enormous pressure against the members of parliament, that there are uninvited visitors during the night to party members, well, journalists, some journalists who were with me, they saw during the day that one member of parliament was just beat in front of the parliament building by these guys with the guns on the streets, so that all this mess is still there, and of course this Olga and others from civil society were absolutely sure people will not leave the streets before they see that the real reforms will start (A: Yuh.) so that it’s not enough that there is just change of government. (A: Yeah.) So this is the main impression, so that from EU’s and also, well, Estonians’ point of view, of course, we should be ready to put this financial package (A: Yuh.) together, also together with others. (A: Yuh.) This very clear message is needed that it’s not enough that there is change of government but the same real reforms, rail[?], real, you know, action to increase the level of trust, otherwise it will end badly. (A: Yeah.) Because the Regions Party also said that, well, you will see that if the people from the Eastern part of Ukraine will really wake up, and, and, and will start to demand their rights, some people also admit they were in Donetsk, there people said that, well, we can’t wait, how long still the occupation of Ukraine lasts in Donetsk (A: Yuh.) that it is really Russian city and we’d like now to (A: Yuh.) to see that, well, Russia will take over, so that, well (A: Yuh.) short impressions.
A: No, very very interesting. I just had a big meeting here with Olli Rehn and the other Commissioners (P: Yeah.) about what we can do. I mean, we [inaudible] financial package is short, medium-long term. Every (P: Yes.) how we get money in quickly, how we support the IMF and how we get kind of investment packages and business leaders and so on. On the political side, we’ve [?] resources we’ve got, and I offered the civil society and to Yatsenyuk and Klichko and everybody I met yesterday (P: Uhm?) we can offer you people who know how to do political and economic reform. The countries that are closest to Ukraine have been through dramatic changes and through damn big economic reforms, so we’ve got loads of experience to give you, which we’re happy to give. I said to the people in Maidan, yes you want real reforms, but you got to get through the short term first, so you need to find ways in which you can establish a process that will have anti-corruption at its heart, (P: Mm.) that will have people working alongside until the elections, and that you can be confident in the process. And I said to Olga, you may not be health minister now but you need to think about becoming health minister in the future, because people like you are going to be needed to be able to get, to make sure that it will happen. But I also said to them, if you simply barricade the buildings now, and the government doesn’t function, we can’t get money in, because we need a partner to partner with.
P: Yeah, absolutely.
A: And I said to the opposition leaders shortly to become government, you need to reach out to Maidan, you need to be, you know, engaging with them, you also need to get ordinary police officers back on the streets under a new sense of their role for the people feel safe. I pled to the Party of Regions people, you have to go and lay flowers where the people died, you have to show that you understand what you have, what had happened here, (P: Absolutely.) because what you’re experiencing is anger of people who’ve seen how Yanukovich lived and the corruption, and they are seeing you’re all the same. And those people who’ve lost people and who feel that, you know, he ordered that to happen, there’s quite a lot of shock, I think, in the city, a lot of sadness and shock, and that’s going to come out in some very strange ways if they’re not careful. (P: Mhm.) I think all of this, we’ll just have to work on it. We’ve done a big meeting here today, (P: Okay.) to try and get this in place [inaudible] very interesting, your observations.
P: It is, and, well, actually the only politician people from civil society mention positively was Poroshenko. (A: Yeah, yeah.) So that he has some sort of, how to say, trust among all this Maidan people and, and civil society. In fact it was quite disturbing, the same Olga told that, well, all evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers, killing people from both sides. (A: Well, that’s… yeah. That’s) So that [inaudible] and she also showed me some photos, she said that has medical doctor, she can, you know, say that it is the same, same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new, new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate, what exactly happened. So that there is now stronger and stronger understanding that the hiring[?] snipers, it was not Yanukovich, but it was somebody from the new coalition. [9:09]
A: I think we do want to investigate, however, I don’t know [inaudible] gosh.
P: Yeah. So that it was indeed[?] disturbing that if it starts now to live its own life very powerfully, that it already discredit dates[?] from very beginning also this new coalition.
A: I mean this is what they’ve got to be careful of as well, that they need to demand great change, but they’ve got to let the Rada function. If the Rada doesn’t function, then (P: Absolutely.) complete chaos. So that it’s all, you know, being an activist and a doctor is very very important, (P: Mm.) but it means you’re not a politician, and somehow they’ve got to a kind of accommodation for the next few weeks. (P: Absolutely.) have the country that she’s going[?] to run, and that’s the[?] elections when things can change, (P: Mm.) and that’s [inaudible] going to be quite put[?]. I’m planning to go back early next week, probably on Monday. (P: Mm.) [inaudible]
P: It’s really important that now when people from Europe and also West show up there, so that it’s absolutely [inaudible]
A: [inaudible] from where Slav[?]‘s going with the Visegrad group on Friday, [inaudible] William Hague on Sunday, (P: Yes.) I’m back again Monday…
P: Yes, I’ve heard also that Canadian minister is going on Friday, and yesterday also William Burns was, was there so we met (A: Yeah.) and we met also with Burns there in Kiev yesterday. (A: Yeah. Good.)
A: [inaudible] and I know John Bird was going, I’ll get hold of him. (P: Um-hum.) Okay, my friend, [inaudible] to you.
P: Well. Thanks for these comments, and I wish you well. Nice Australia.
A: Uh? What?
P: Nice Australia. Enjoy.
A: Oh, I’m not going to go, I’ve got to delay it ’cause I’m going to do more Ukraine instead.
P: Okay, good, good.
A: Alright, speak to you soon.
P: Thank you and all the best. See you.

Even in this transcript, it is clear that Mr. Paet doesn’t state anything about snipers: he merely repeats some hearsay while discussing very low levels of trust in the politicians in the ‘new coalition’, and expresses his dismay at the idea that such rumors might gain wider circulation and damage the ‘new coalition’. (This is inconsistent with his earlier statement about very low trust towards it — which is quite true and mostly deserved — but no matter.) In response to this recording, Olga Bogomolets, the doctor he refers to, most importantly stated (1, 2, 3) that she didn’t examine any bodies of the policemen killed by snipers. (Their bodies weren’t available to Maidan medics for obvious reasons.) Also, she’s a dermatologist, not a military doctor or a forensics expert. She would be an idiot to pronounce on bullet types etc., still less from seeing only photos of killed policemen. As for wound locations, any competent sniper shooting to kill will target the same locations, dictated by human physiology.

Now let’s take up the plausibility of opposition leaders hiring the snipers. I’ll borrow some ideas from Ms. Latynina’s March 8 talk radio show.

First, it is inconsistent with previous events: it was clearly Yanukovich government’s special police forces who cleared out and beat the students on November 30, attempted to clear out the Maidan camp on December 10, shot rubber bullets and car-stopping rounds over the barricades in mid-January, stripped people naked and posed them for victory videos etc., and it was his party people who hired thugs to beat up Maidan people in random locations, set fire to cars, kidnap and kill members of Automaidan etc., and after all this didn’t work for him, suddenly, the opposition hires snipers to shoot people in the Maidan? Not very likely.

Second, with all the mutual suspicions between opposition leaders, it is difficult to see how any one of them could hope to keep such an explosive thing secret. Note that even a month after the event, Russian propaganda does not make any concrete allegations: just repeating the same vague general statements to keep the fires going.

Third, what could have been their motive? To infuse fighting spirit into Maidan defenders? They have been showing a profound lack understanding of same for three months; they could hardly expect to predict what their reaction would be. In fact, the very next day, February 21, when in the evening they were on the Maidan stage proudly announcing the EU-brokered power transition deal, Mr. Klichko was shouldered aside by a Maidan platoon leader who said, in effect, fuck your agreement, if Yanukovich isn’t out by tomorrow morning we’ll go and take him out. The opposition leaders tried to argue, but it was no use, they were booed off and that platoon leader became the hero of the day. That was a colossal live-action flop if I’ve ever seen one, but it followed other smaller ones of a similar nature.

Fourth, Russia was and is waiting for situation in Ukraine to deteriorate sufficiently for them to take over Ukraine on the pretext of protecting the populace from lawless gangs. In February, Yanukovich government was looking for a way to announce a state of emergency; it needed a compliant Rada and he could not push it through over the resistance of his own party, most of whom have a fine survival instinct and little personal loyalty, without a lever — he had already been obliged in late January to rush personally to the Rada to bully them into refusing to vote for a mere opposition-sponsored Maidan amnesty law. Clearing Maidan out would have given him this lever, or, if Maidan got out of hand, he would have been in a position to declare emergency and move in the army. But what good would any of this be to opposition politicians? If emergency were declared and/or Russia came in, they would be among the first to be proscribed, just as Ms. Tymoshenko was when Mr. Yanukovich came to power in 2010.

Now Mr. Yanukovich certainly understood the Maidan situation even less than the opposition politicians, and he (as well as not a few of the latter) despises the people from the bottom of his heart. That these cattle should have the cheek to demand rule of law (make no mistake: this, rather than democracy as such or the ill-fated EU agreement, was and is Maidan’s principal demand) and an end to luxury lifestyles funded by pillaging state budget and private business on the Russian model, was unthinkable. It is also extremely likely that his information was one-sided; ensuring a supply of objective information is difficult even for smart and level-headed leaders, who aren’t apt to assault the messengers with fists (he famously broke his ex-wife’s jaw in 2004 for trying to reason with him). I can totally imagine him believing that, though batons and rubber bullets didn’t work, destroying the barricades with APCs and shooting a couple hundred people would. What finished him was, probably, that the actual ready army units ultimately refused to involve themselves. Except some top officers in charge of procurement, the Ukrainian army was never integrated into the feeding system and had little reason to like or support a cheap crook like Mr. Yanukovich.

Now consider Russia’s position. Russia has nothing to lose by destabilizing the political situation in Ukraine, as long as natural gas pipelines remain reasonably secure. On Ukraine’s part, blowing them up would anger customers on both sides and thus would probably be counterproductive. Russia has many cards to play, from rabidly pro-Russian organizations like Kharkov “Oplot” all the way to paid ultranationalists, although I believe the most potent card is the homesick feelings of millions of members of that new historical entity, the Soviet People. They really do fear and hate Ukrainian nationalists of any stripe, even though most of them have never seen one. They will ignore low living standards, thieving local officials, corrupt police and general degradation, as long as nobody forces them to speak Ukrainian and lets them keep their Lenin statues and fond memories. Ukraine’s various law-enforcement structures are another strong card; they are very well adapted to the Russian system, whereas under rule of law they would be useless and, quite possibly, open to criminal prosecution. If Russia wanted to stimulate Mr. Yanukovich into shooting people in Maidan with snipers, it would have no need to do anything so blatant as sending its own soldiers or hiring mercenaries; controlling Mr. Yanukovich’s information would have done the trick with little risk, and opportunities were ample, seeing as, for instance, Mr. Yanukovich’s closest aides, Mr. Klyuev and others, are great friends of the pro-Russian politician Mr. Medvedchuk, an ex-KGB man whose daughter’s godfather is Mr. Putin himself.

Finally, what about the EU and USG? I understand people like to compare events in Ukraine to the Arab Spring and Syria, but I don’t think the comparison is valid. First, on the geopolitical level Ukraine is more important than Syria or Egypt. Second, after the USSR broke up, Ukraine was left with a lot of nuclear weapons and, in 1994, was persuaded to give them up in exchange for security and territorial integrity guarantees from three nuclear powers, U.K, United States and Russia (lots of Ukrainians now regret this bitterly). Even if Russia has now decided to revoke its signature, reasoning, in Mr. Lavrov’s proprietary logic, that since the post-revolutionary government is not a signatory to the relevant agreement, Russia is no longer bound by it, the United States risks seeing all its non-proliferation efforts crumble to the ground if its guarantee to a country which voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons turns out to be a worthless piece of paper. I don’t know how even Obama’s PR experts can spin that as a diplomatic victory, to say nothing of such quaint stuff as real-world effects. Second, creating a Libya- or Syria-style imbroglio in Ukraine is less than ideal ideologically, because Ukrainians are (a) white, (b) European, (c) Christian and (d) nationalistic. No combination of these elements is going to appeal to diversicrats, and in fact we have seen in January strongly-worded pronouncements by the White House and the State Department condemning violence and specifically indicating the Right Sector alongside government-hired thugs and special police forces. Also, any action or military help on the ground in Ukraine is bound to elicit huge push-back from Russia, so unless USG were prepared to make an enemy of Russia, the result of such an imbroglio would be Ukraine’s being swallowed up by Russia, except maybe a rump state of three western oblasts which would be too much bother to pacify. Since this same result (maybe with the addition of some political fig leaves) would have probably been achieved had Mr. Yanukovich continued in power, assuming USG or EU wanted this result, their actual actions don’t make sense. As for intentionally making an enemy of Russia, just recall USG’s obsequiousness to Russia in the talks around Syria and Iran.

Now let’s turn to the EU. The EU likes Ukrainian nationalists even less than the United States, having some trouble of the same sort inside the EU (Greece, Northern Italy, Flanders etc.) Since they brokered the February 21st deal, they were obviously willing to keep Mr. Yanukovich in power until early elections in December (in effect, pushing them forward four months) in exchange for letting opposition politicians into government as figureheads (guaranteed with Mr. Yanukovich around) and screw the hoi polloi on Maidan. The opposition politicians cooperated eagerly and earned the citizens’ contempt thereby. This was not to be, however, and they found themselves in actual power, for which they were completely unprepared. They floundered and meandered, lost Crimea, wasted time and people’s trust, and if this is all a cunning scheme by the EU then I want to know what its objective is. I don’t see any. If they wanted Ukraine that badly, they had merely to drop the demand that Mr. Yanukovich free Ms. Tymoshenko during the association agreement negotiations last autumn, and maybe throw in a couple billion euros more money. Why start the hullaballoo?

Anyway. The most depressing thing about all this is the spectacle of intelligent people, especially people who ought to know better, who distrust Western media as self-serving and ideologically driven (both true), lap up any rumors and even material published by Russia Today, the Russian state news agency and the direct organizational successor of Sovinformburo, or Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Russian government, if they show USG/EU in a bad light. (This is especially aggravating when these people’s knowledge of Ukraine could be put down on the back of an envelope.) At times, they almost slide into the NWO conspiracy-theory gutter. I am strongly reminded of leftist intellectuals during early and middle Soviet era, admiring USSR’s democratic, egalitarian and peace-loving nature and all that crap. This time it’s the rightist intellectuals who admire Russia’s autocratic, traditionalistic and peace-loving nature, with just as much (meaning little) grounds for it. Pfui.

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Sochi

This post expands on a comment I made a week ago at Isegoria’s, about the Russian system as reconstructed by Putin. I said that Putin has consolidated his control of Russia to such an extent that he need not bother anymore about political opponents. Last year, he permitted Navalny to run for mayor in Moscow because there was no danger of his winning. He can tolerate the existence of journalists such as Latynina, because their audience is very narrow and unimportant in the Russian scheme of things. No real opposition is permitted on air TV, and now cable TV operators got the idea and took the last opposition channel off their distribution lists. Putin didn’t even have to order it, it could have just happened because the cable operators don’t want any trouble.

All nice and dandy, so where’s the catch? Some NRs prefer to think there is no catch, that Putin is the best leader Russia had for a century, and that under his gentle rod Russia has been rising off its knees on a cushion of hydrocarbons. However, I think this is an illusion, and Sochi games provide a very nice illustration to this. Consider first that the Sochi Olympics were nothing if not a huge prestige project for Russia and (more importantly) for Putin personally. He wanted to show off the new, risen Russia, prosperous and respected by foreign nations, both to those foreign nations and to his own people. Obama’s and Merkel’s decision not to attend the opening ceremony must have hurt plenty. Anyway, there is no way Putin would have wanted to look bad in the eyes of the foreign media (his own media, of course, being no problem). Otherwise what would have been the point of rounding up stray dogs, hiring volunteers etc. Naturally, he could not yield on the gay question, because that would have been seen as weak, but he could count on the West swallowing this with minimal protest, like the ridiculous rainbow Google doodle. But my point is that he would have avoided any potential problems if he could.

And problems there were. Even ignoring the Olympic ring malfunction (which was covered up on Russian ‘live’ TV by splicing in a rehearsal video), what can any reasonable person make of the Sochi toilets? Of the not-quite-completed media and sports hotels? Of construction garbage hidden by untidy fences and fresh pavement already crumbling due to the patented post-Soviet technology of putting asphalt on raw ground? I ask, is this the Olympic Games of an effective ruler?I mean, who and how can install a fucking squat toilet upside down?

Obviously, this is a big bucket of fail. Putin could not manage his cronies and contractors enough to ensure that Olympic roads and hotels are constructed on schedule and up to snuff. Putin has consolidated his control of Russia, but he did it by constructing (or rather reconstructing) a system of governance which is useless for anything except extraction of revenue. If it does anything productive or generally useful, it is to keep up appearances or by oversight. It turns all projects and initiatives into villas in UAE, Lamborghinis and Swiss bank accounts like a pig turns everything into turds.

This example shows that, contra Moldbug, mere financial incentives are not enough for effective governance. Putin and his people have financial incentives all right, they use them plenty; capital outflow is measured in tens of billions of dollars per year. Would the revenues be bigger if the country was well-governed? You bet they would. But he doesn’t do it. Something stands in the way. And that something is himself and his people, and in a more diffuse way, many of the Russians themselves — Putin and his people aren’t foreign or alien. In econo-speak, since the marginal utility of wealth slopes downward, at a certain point other considerations take over. And these considerations are, I think, fairly simple: the bummers know they cannot rule a well-governed Russia.

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Putinophilia

Recently I have been observing a mild attack of Putinophilia in the neoreactionary circles specifically and on the Right generally. I can distinguish three sources of this phenomenon, more or less corresponding to our three components.

The first source is the most primitive: the natural monkey reaction to an alpha male. In contrast to the insipid and dithering Western leaders, Putin is unquestionably a macho man. He does not try to hide his affairs very much, and was unapologetic when discovered. He is tough and mean, and is not at all shy to display this (and to use such displays for his purposes). This wins him respect and admiration from our manospheric component.

Second, he publicly makes much of supposed Russian spirituality and of the Russian Orthodox Church (R.O.C.) in particular, extolling Russia as the defender of the faith. This appeals to our traditionalist component, and kindles vague hopes that holy mother Russia will lead the West out of its quandary, possibly via an Orthodox Christian revival (I believe Bruce Charlton has an especially bad case of this malady).

Third, he is not afraid of standing up to the US-led ‘international community’. He supports Assad in Syria, sells weapons to Iran and hobnobs with China. He regularly denounces the State Department’s meddling and interference (which by no means prevents him from happily meddling and interfering himself). Lately he often makes noises criticising the modern Western nations, multiculturalism and political correctness, like his last year’s speech[] at the Valdai conference. His propaganda media, of which Russia Today is only the most visible organ (and which he reorganized late last year into an even more powerful structure), often present facts about the West which Western media prefer to ignore. This cannot fail to please our political philosophy component, sick of Cathedral’s lies and obfuscations.

Regretfully, I must smash these pleasant delusions. Like Lincoln’s speeches, Putin’s public pronouncements are dictated solely by expediency and can never be taken at face value. For all his bombast about the Russian people’s historic mission and his support for the R.O.C he does little for the Russian population beyond what is necessary to prevent rebellion, and it is unclear whether he has the desire, the ability or capability to do anything effective, because of Russia’s peculiar constitution (I use the word in its original, small-c sense). More on this later.

Now I don’t deny that the Russian Orthodox world has produced some good and interesting theology and religious philosophy over the centuries, although most well-known names — e.g. Berdyaev, Florensky, Soloviev, Shestov — belong to the long XIX century (this is not an accident). Splinters of the R.O.C. — especially the so-called Church of the Catacombs — did display wonders of faith and resisted the Soviet power. Nevertheless the main body of the R.O.C. has been a tool and organ of the state from its very beginning (after Stalin decided to permit the Church during WWII, it became for all practical purposes a branch of the KGB, with its top hierarchs being on the nomenklatura list of CPSU’s Central Committee). This being the preferred reactionary arrangement, the R.O.C. never suffered much from the pull of the leftist singularity and was ever a pillar of support to the government, but form alone is not sufficient. Content does make a difference, and the content of the R.O.C. was never up to snuff. The unculturedness, ignorance and even illiteracy (!) of its country priests was and still is a persistent problem, precluding any actual pastoral activity except the bare administration of the sacraments, the payment for which constitutes the priest’s livelihood. The parishioners, on their side, tended and still tend to view the sacraments as a sort of magic, and happily combine bits and pieces of Christianity with folk superstitions, witchcraft, magic and, recently, New Age and pseudo-scientific nonsense. The vaunted Russian spirituality has always existed principally in the imagination of the intelligentsia, who, conscious of the huge gap separating themselves from the masses and haunted by a feeling of being somehow inauthentic, idealized and even idolized the wise, authentic peasant people (this sounds familiar). The depth of their misunderstanding became clear in the failure of the narodnichestvo movement, which, in modern terms, was an attempt by members of intelligentsia at community organizing the people. The peasantry remained very lukewarm and conservative until Lenin recycled the program of the Socialist Revolutionary party and won their support by a transfer of land. However, this decree did not jibe with Communist ideals (it was superseded only four months later), and the peasantry had to be beaten down again and again to ensure compliance, until it was ground to atoms or destroyed.

To review the current state of the Russian masses. The demographic situation in Russia proper is dire. To be sure, TFR has been recovering since the 1999 low, but to what extent this represents shifts in maternal age at birth, responses to the Russian financial crisis in 1998 etc., is unclear. Although the Russian government does not publish fertility statistics broken down by nationality, a glance at the maps suffices to see that TFR in the regions predominantly populated by ethnic Russians is far below replacement, while for Turkic-speakers and Chechens it is well above replacement. Various efforts to stimulate fertility — cash handouts, cheaper loans, medals etc.— have met with failure, or stimulated undesirable or dysgenic reproduction. For 7 years the Russian government has been trying to woo back ethnic Russians from former USSR republics with perks and subsidies, but so far only 150,000 have signed up for resettlement, probably because most of those who wanted to return to Russia proper did so around the time the Soviet Union collapsed. Labor migration has been much more in evidence. Russia’s principal export is energy in various forms, almost all of it funneled through state-owned companies, and the redistribution of this Niagara of export profits produces billions of dollars worth of federally-funded boondoggles, inefficient infrastructure projects (the principal aim of these being to steal and embezzle state funds, nobody cares if villages rot, roads vanish and the bridges collapse next year) and private housing construction financed by the funds so embezzled. These projects generate construction jobs. Also there are streets to be swept and other menial work to be done, and the supply of immigrant labor from neighboring countries not blessed with hydrocarbons is huge, so why pay more? Besides some 3 million legal immigrants, there are at least 4 million illegal immigrants, mostly from USSR’s former Central Asia republics, who frequently live and work in truly Dickensian conditions. (They are less liable to binge drink, as well.) On the other hand, tens of thousands of educated Russians emigrate yearly to the Western countries, and a similar situation obtains in the second-largest post-Soviet state, Ukraine.

A discussion of quantity, while important, is not sufficient without a discussion of quality, and the situation here is no better. Russian love for alcohol in all forms is and has always been legendary (alcohol trade was heavily taxed when not monopolized by the state, and this “drunk money” constituted up to a third of state revenue). On top of this, criminality and drug use is rampant, and general squalor and degradation widespread, especially beyond the bubbles of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Work ethic and civic virtues are next to non-existent (not that they ever were that strong). Shoddiness, littering, neglect and destruction of communal property are closer to African than to European standards. Nothing in an American slum or a French ZUS would startle the median Russian. School quality, which used to be a bright spot in Soviet times when it was needed to produce competent engineers and scientists for Cold War, has deteriorated, partly as a result of state neglect (taking the shape of constant ‘reforms’) and partly due to the importation of progressive educational ideas and policies, increasing paperwork load on teachers, lowering standards, cutting material from the school program in favor of ‘patriotic education’ and so on. Higher education has become a joke, with grades, tests, exams and papers up for sale, both as direct and indirect bribery and as a lucrative business — belonging to the service industry, I suppose. Campuses abound with blatant advertising for paper- and thesis-writing, including Ph.D. theses, which nobody bothers to remove. Students don’t bother to learn, and teachers don’t bother to teach. Finally, what still remains of Russian science suffered a very heavy blow last autumn, when after an ineffectual protest the government ‘nationalized’ the Russian Academy of Sciences — which was not a scientists’ club like the American one, but rather an independent research body like the German Fraunhofer Institut and Max Planck Institut. This reform certainly had valid grounds — there was much ballast and dead wood in RAS’s institutes, the legacy of Soviet nomenklatura hankering for sinecures for their offspring, wives and paramours, as well as garden-variety academic log-rolling — but now that everything will come under direct control of the government with ornamental advisory input from RAS, which will be managed and funded according to the preposterous scientometric criteria so successful in the West, even the most die-hard patriot scientists begin considering emigration or a career in the private sector, which again usually means emigration. Only the offshore IT industry is flourishing, partly because there still are quite a few smart wild-growth Russian hackers and partly because the industry is so isolated from the rest of the country and from its government.

A determined and capable ruler might be able to turn this juggernaut around in a few decades, but bad as Russian demographics are, the situation with internal governance is even worse, although it is by no means new. Russia’s governance is often described as ‘corrupt’, but this description misses the point. The rule of law has never existed in Russia long enough to take hold. Accordingly, there is no widespread respect for law. There might be written law, but it has always had about the same relationship to actual governance as the American Constitution has to actual governance in Washington, DC. Law is for your enemies — to beat them with, or for them to beat you with. Therefore, rather than describe the whole system as ‘corrupt’, it is more enlightening to say that the legal framework is a sort of Potemkin village, intended to conceal reality rather than structure it. It is true that some pieces of the framework do function more or less as written, but it is merely because no-one important is interested in them.

Well, then, what is the system? Its first incarnation appeared around XII century, when cash-strapped or stingy princes, unwilling or unable to provide their tax collectors and other officials with expense money for trips to the country, made it the duty of the populace to support such officials with food, lodging and transportation as required. Unsurprisingly, this duty was called ‘kormlenie’ (feeding). The officials quickly began to collect such emoluments whether they really required them or not, and a pattern of officials deriving their sustenance directly from those under their jurisdiction was established. However, the feeding system expanded and developed to its full potential in the XIII century, after the Mongols smashed the fragments of the Kievan Rus and brought their military-oriented organization principles (partly borrowed from the Chinese) with them. These principles combined with internal processes in the Russian society to create a governance system wherein officials (a) served at the pleasure of the prince or superior officer as hired administrators and (b) were expected and themselves expected to derive their livelihood from the jurisdictions entrusted to them and from the official business they conducted (this extended to Church officials). In American terms, it might be called a militarized one-party spoils system. In Olson’s terms, it combines the worst features of roving and stationary bandits into a sort of stationary organization of roving bandits. It has some parallels to the sale of offices practised in medieval Europe, but is arguably even more pernicious because whereas a sale cannot be easily revoked, a hired administrator can be fired, reassigned or demoted at will.

The feeding system creates exceptionally perverse incentives and, once entrenched, is very stable. Because the officials have no expectation of permanence, they extract surplus far in excess of the Laffer limit, stifling the productive economy and starving it of investment. Even for them it is more rational to consume surplus than invest it (after capital controls collapsed with the Soviet Union, much of the extracted surplus is exported; even the Russian foreign trade bank estimates the yearly outflow of capital at 10% GDP). Any investment is unsafe and everyone, including non-government actors, avoids it. This reduces quality of capital and productivity, saps the will to excellence and contributes to the general shoddiness and temporariness of everything around. Like a badly mismanaged corporation, the feeding system does not reward competence in its officials, rewarding instead the most ruthless, brazen and conniving brown-noses (often also quite stupid: this story about Russian diplomats and spies in New York committing health care fraud is typical). What is more, the feeding system makes life is very difficult for any conscientious officials: the salary is usually very low, your boss demands his cut, your coworkers look upon you as a black sheep at best and actively resent you at worst, and you have probably paid a large bribe for the promotion/hire and now have debt to discharge. Such an example also exerts a baleful influence on the general populace, who become accustomed to the idea that honest labor or honest business is stupid and that nothing is or can be done without greasing palms and pulling connections. The legal and regulatory system is under selective pressure to become complex, incomprehensible and self-contradictory, so that almost any person or business is in violation of some thing or another, giving the officials a lever to extract the surplus.

In modern Russia, the courts, prosecutors’ offices, tax offices, police and other law-enforcement arms are all run on the feeding system (this is why legalistic resistance tactics, like Navalny’s, fails to achieve much. His organization can sometimes curb the worst excesses of minor offices that have little clout, but beyond that the government is treating him as a nuisance), while fire safety and public health offices are the bane of the service industry, customs and certification offices leech off of the importers and so on. Anti-corruption drives are mostly for show and to keep public resentment in check, although they also have some use as a tool of faction. The surpluses are distributed through state corporations, where officials and their relatives sit on boards and serve as corporate officers, and through the state budget via lucrative state contracts sold with no or only formal bidding. After distribution, what is not spent on luxury consumption is funneled through tax havens to the West, where assets are at least reasonably safe from confiscation by competing services or colleagues. Putin himself is a representative of this system, and his effusions on the war-mongering and decadence of the West and the spiritual superiority of Russia serve the same purpose as Soviet leaders’ effusions on the war-mongering and decadence of the West and the scientific communist superiority of the Soviet Union: they are part of the country’s political formula. The fact that there is more truth to the part of this propaganda which concerns the West than there was in Soviet times is, from Putin’s point of view, merely a happy accident.

Now in most of what is now Ukraine the feeding system never took hold until the XVIII century, when Russian emperors swept away the vestiges of local Ukrainian self-government and reorganized their Ukraininan holdings on the same footing as properly Russian lands. What is now western Ukraine was long ruled by various European powers — Rzecz Pospolita, the Hapsburgs etc., who introduced European ideas of law and order. Even in what is now central Ukraine, most towns had self-government rights — a thing unknown in Russia except for Novgorod, destroyed by Moskovian tsars in the XV century. Serfdom also came with Russian rule along the East-West gradient ubiquitous in Ukrainian society, as did the Soviets. On top of this, for reasons both of geographic and cultural proximity, western Ukrainians often go to labor in European countries. All these factors combine to produce a much larger proportion of people in Ukraine who wish to live in an orderly and lawful society, even if they don’t have a clear understanding of what this would entail, much less how to achieve it. In contrast, everybody understands that the current government represents the Russian governance system. This is the root of the protests and civil disobedience which started late last year. The abrupt retreat by the government from signing the so-called association treaty with the EU in Vilnius was merely the trigger; few Ukrainians have any idea what the treaty actually contains. The law-and-order faction saw that the government (which, to them, resembles hostile occupation forces) is turning decisively and probably irrevocably towards Russia, and rushed to arrest this motion without any clear plans or strategy. Certainly this rush was not orchestrated by the State Department as some claim; especially after the government used riot police in the ‘suppression of prison riot’ mode to clear away a few hundred of students who were staying overnight in the main square (some of them ran into a nearby monastery for sanctuary — this is supposed to be the XXI century), it was just obvious to everybody concerned that the next day (Sunday) they must go and join the demonstration. I don’t know, maybe it was the State Department that ordered the riot police to clear away the students with extreme prejudice? I grant that some remnants of the Otpor-trained NGOs have surfaced in such circumstances, but in fact there is no evidence of prior organization, otherwise the campaign would have been much more effective. The opposition parties seem to have been caught by surprise by the scale of the action, and did little but provide audio equipment and MPs, who serve as a sort of armored knights because the police is usually afraid to tackle them. Most Ukrainian parties have little in the way of real low-level organizations, being merely ‘political cooperatives’ joined more by business interests than by anything else. The only party that has such an organization, the nationalist Svoboda (regularly denounced as fascist, nazi, far-right, or all of the above), did the most, but even this party has no real ideological unity or consistency beyond the bare minimum of Ukrainian nationalism. As a result, although there has been a deal of self-organization — accepting and distributing donations in money and in kind, preparing food, providing medical and a bit of legal services, connecting people coming from out-of-city with locals who provide lodging etc. — even now, a month and a half on, there is no clear strategy, set goals, plan of action or even generally accepted leadership. The government seems to have realized that clearing out the demonstrators is apt to backfire even if possible, and is waiting for demonstrations to fizzle out. It has proved to be very difficult to clear out the demonstrators without resorting to actual weapons — there is not that much riot police in Ukraine, not more than six or seven thousands all told, almost all of them are already concentrated in Kiev. Therefore the government resorts to hiring thugs to beat journalists, MPs etc. to try and cow the demonstrators, while the latter’s defense in and around the main square relies on Afghan veterans. Finally, the loyalty of the army is an untested quantity. Resorting to armed force will mean an instant and irrevocable jump into Putin’s loving embrace and very probable arrest of accounts and properties held by government officials in the West, as well as travel restrictions. Thus for the moment there is a stalemate. Russia may move more assertively after the Olympics is over; some think that a repetition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is in the works, with the solidly pro-Russian (except the local Tartars — a fine historical joke) Crimean peninsula as the likely target. On the other side, there is a persistent feeling in a part of the anti-government faction that it might be easier to reform the country after shedding the eastern and southern districts most contaminated by Russian influence, though there is also strong sentiment against dismemberment of the country. Most Russians don’t even see why Ukraine should be a country at all; a reduced pan-Slavism is also a part of Russia’s political formula, while on the practical level Russia would prefer to control the hydrocarbon pipes itself and not have to split profits with their neighboring government, which, while valuing the political independence that gives them their share of the spoils, has no use for Ukrainian nationalism.

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Bryan Caplan on Open Borders: Converting the Faithful

A week ago, Dr. Caplan has solicited opinions on how persuasive his arguments in favor of unrestricted immigration have been. His post has accumulated 102 comments as of this writing, most of them containing answers to his question. I took the liberty of classifying the answers based on two criteria, how much has the commenter been persuaded and what was his original position on the immigration question. I have found it useful to distinguish five such positions: strongly pro-unrestricted immigration, weakly pro-unrestricted or strongly pro-somewhat limited immigration, no position (people who had not considered the issue or had not bothered formulating a position), conservative pro-closed borders and reactionary pro-closed borders. Here are the results at a glance (excuse my paint skillz):

I believe this picture says as much about Dr. Caplan’s audience as about his arguments. He has been quite successful in converting those who had no formulated position and the moderate pro-immigrationists into fervent pro-unrestricted immigrationists, and equally good at increasing the fervor of those who already agreed with him. He has also scored some zealous converts from the conservative camp. However, he has been less than unsuccessful in persuading the reactionaries, and the reactionary side gained some potential members through his obstinate refusal to deal with the strongest reactionary arguments (I’m quoting the commenters, not having read much of Dr. Caplan’s writing on the subject), his moral snobbishness and hypocrisy. I suspect that these results will not change even if more reactionary commenters show up now that Foseti has linked to Dr. Caplan’s post.

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Hodgepodge

# One Stephen Steinlight, a high-ranking functionary of the American Jewish Committee, wrote a lengthy article on immigration in 2001 which gives an inside view of the Jewish community in America, its motivations, its attitudes to immigration and society in general. This article was probably not intended for public consumption, and it is therefore quite realistic and forthright. Here are some questions it asks:

[I]s the emerging new multicultural American nation good for the Jews? Will a country in which enormous demographic and cultural change, fueled by unceasing large-scale non-European immigration, remain one in which Jewish life will continue to flourish as nowhere else in the history of the Diaspora? In an America in which people of color form the plurality, as has already happened in California, most with little or no historical experience with or knowledge of Jews, will Jewish sensitivities continue to enjoy extraordinarily high levels of deference and will Jewish interests continue to receive special protection? Does it matter that the majority non-European immigrants have no historical experience of the Holocaust or knowledge of the persecution of Jews over the ages and see Jews only as the most privileged and powerful of white Americans? [...] Does it matter that in a period of unprecedented immigration combined with modern technology (e-mails, phones, and fax) and cheap airfare reinforcing the link between immigrant communities and their homelands [...] little or nothing is being actively undertaken to foster loyalty to the United States or a thoughtful adhesion to American values?

Absolutely a must read.

# I believe that Christians retain a better understanding of the self than the current platitudes, and this remark on “finding yourself” is an excellent example of this:

[Parents of criminals] imagine that the true self of the person in question is still somewhere out there, undeveloped and untainted, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. What you do is one thing—but what you are… ah, this is yet to be determined.

Except in the case of persons suffering from severe psychosis, this is sheer, tragic nonsense. We are what we do. This is who we are. How could it be otherwise? When we respond to circumstances in a particular way, then that defines what sort of person we are. Sure, we can change, we can do better, we can become more sincere, and maybe we take one step forward and three steps back. But who are we? We are the kind of person who behaves the way we behave.

# Jonathan Chait makes a victor’s admission that progressives waged a culture war on the traditional family and way of life through domination of mass culture, in particular Hollywood, and won.

» This old article by one Kevan Beary, written around a review of the 1990s movie “Pleasantville” and building on Kevin McDonald’s “Culture of Critique”, showcases a single shot in this culture war. Bonus track: after the Columbine shootings “Pleasantville”‘s director, Gary Ross, apparently had second thoughts (Kevan quotes from a NYT op-ed “Moving Beyond Blame”, May 6 1999, which is not available in NYT’s free archives), and had to suppress a suspicion that he had personally contributed to bringing about the circumstances in which the shootings happened:

I will not defend the role of movies in the culture. Despite my deep and abiding passion for the First Amendment, I will not even defend our right to make them. Let me say that movies can contribute to this desensitization. And let me promise that, on each screenplay, I will ask myself what the ramifications are to the culture in which I live and the children who may see these films.

But his conversion apparently did not last. Has he ever asked himself about the ramifications of “Hunger Games” to the culture in which he lives?

» Charles Murray’s classic 1993 WSJ essay, The Coming White Underclass, brought to the internets by Steve Sailer.

» The River Runs Black juicily describes the antifa:

Behold, the antifa! A beta male of beta males, a sore of the West’s spiritual leprosy.

Antifa pretend to stand for revolution, but in fact function as yet another social cog in the great grinding wheel of modernity. Therein lies its great appeal – the appearance of a new and dangerous movement for global good that amounts to little more than another tired rehashing of liberte, egalite, fraternite, just with gimp costumes, shitty music, and adolescent men throwing temper tantrums at riot police.

Don’t miss also his post on black metal and hipsters.

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Statistics on sex and marriage in Japan

It appears that the Japanese society passed a turning point of some kind immediately prior or around 2005. Lots of sex- and marriage-related statistics bear this out. The freshest item is the 7th Nationwide survey of young people’s sexual behavior by the Japanese Association for Sex Education, an organization sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The data is not yet released for public, but Asahi Shimbun carried the interesting graph reproduced to the right (hover over this and the other graphs for English legend etc.) Most of the article is behind a paywall, but the chair of the JASE reportedly interpreted this result as “herbivorization” of the girls, i.e. as loss of interest in sex; undoubtedly this is true to some extent. This article generated more than a thousand responses on 2channel, the Japanese anonymous forum. One of the common opinions there was that the younger girls, seeing how hard it is for their older and looser sisters to get married, have started to moderate their own behavior. There is more realism and common sense in a single 2channel comment thread than in a dozen liberal English-speaking blogs. The Korea-haters 2channel is notorious for are obnoxious but stupid and easy to ignore.

This survey relies on self-reported behavior and as such is open to various criticisms. However, data on abortions in minors (younger than 20 in Japan) from the very useful Japanese statistics site Honkawa, which collects interesting data from various official sources, Japanese and international, show the same picture. Honkawa points out the decline, but notes that no explanation for this phenomenon is currently accepted. Of course if minors have really cut down on sex as the JASE survey suggests, this will be a perfect explanation.

Although Japan’s crude birth rate has continued to decrease for demographic reasons, its total fertility rate has been increasing since a low of 1.26 in 2005 and now stands at 1.41, something of an achievement considering that no mass immigration by high-TFR peoples has taken place. On the contrary, importation of foreign wives, especially Filipinos, has been decreasing sharply since 2006 (third graph from the top: Chinese in orange, Filipino in green, Korean in blue). It is interesting that the importation of foreign husbands (second graph from the top: wives in yellow, husbands in green, in units of 10,000) has not been affected nearly as much either way. International marriages were 4.3% of the total in 2010, a little more than half of the foreign spouses being from China, Taiwan and the Koreas.

Update III: apparently recent changes in TFR are dominated or at least strongly influenced by the proportion of childless women, because according to Ministry of Labor’s statistics (see page 14) the average number of children per household has not changed much between 1975 and 2010, decreasing more-or-less smoothly from 1.81 to 1.7. In that same time interval, TFR swung from 2.0 to 1.26 and back up to 1.41, while the proportion of childless 40yo women (table 4) has increased from 10.2% to 27%.

Looking at marriage generally, the raw marriage rate has been declining since the 70’s (top graph, blue), recently largely for demographic reasons. The raw divorce rate (top graph, red), on the other hand, more than doubled from 1960 to 2002, but has since declined a little faster than the raw marriage rate. The bottom graph shows the raw ratio between these two rates. The decline was due to a decline in breakdown of marriages lasting less than 20 years (on the right), while the gleeful predictions of a divorce spike after Japanese wives obtained legal right to half their husband’s pension after a divorce in 2007 have not materialized. Before 2002, divorce rose and fell as economic conditions worsened and improved, or rather the reverse — changes in divorce preceded changes in GDP (on the right). But after 2002, this correlation broke down. In 2006-2007 this was explained by the above-mentioned law change, but subsequent divorce figures have not borne out this explanation either.

About a third of marriages in Japan end in divorce. Japan does not have no-fault divorce and most divorces happen by mutual consent. The marriage law has not changed much since 1898, and recognizes a very limited set of reasons for one-sided divorce in court: infidelity, malicious abandonment, death in absentia, mental incapacity with no hope of recovery and ‘other grave reasons which make the continuation of the marriage impossible’. The judge even has discretion to set aside the first four reasons if he considers that the marriage should continue. According to Arudou Debito, the family arbitration “courts”, which handle 95% of cases without going to a real court, consider both refusal of conjugal rights by wives and refusal of support by husbands as grounds for divorce. Debito is a hostile witness on the matter, so I am inclined to believe him in this instance. All of this makes for a rather old-fashioned legal environment for marriage.

The cultural environment appears to be rather old-fashioned as well. Only 2% of Japanese couples cohabit. Percentage of unmarried young men (left) in the 25-29 and 30-34 age groups has been rising since the 70’s, but flatlined in 2005. The growth in the percentage of unmarried young women (right) has slowed a lot, too. This is most visible in graphs of five-year percentage changes in the unmarried rate (on the right). There is a sizeable and growing fraction of shotgun marriages (top graph, broken down by age). Japan boasts an impressively low rate of out-of-wedlock births (on the right), and its 10% rate of single-parent households is the result of divorce and bereavement rather than illegitimacy.

Finally and most importantly, opinions of the Japanese people on marriage and divorce have turned around 2000 as well. According to the most recent opinion survey conducted by the Cabinet’s information arm in relation to plans for gender-equal society, the percentage of those who think that being unhappy with your spouse is grounds for divorce has declined from a peak of 54.2% in 1998 to 46.5% in 2008, although some ground was lost in 2010 (50.1%), no doubt because of the above-mentioned ‘plans’ (on an unrelated note, opposition to the death penalty has been steadily decreasing for decades despite leftist agitation). A 2010 international Cabinet survey shows that the twenty-something generation disapproves more strongly of out-of-wedlock births (56.2%) than the 30- (48.8%) and 40-somethings (51.2%). This phenomenon was observed in the other countries covered by the survey — Korea, USA, Sweden and France — although it was much less pronounced. Moreover, Japan’s disapproval percentage in 20- and 30-somethings was the highest of all five countries, somewhat higher even than in Korea. USA sits in the middle, and in France and Sweden the percentage does not differ appreciably from the percentage of immigrant population, about 10%.

Update I: while answering a comment over at Spandrell’s, discovered another interesting survey of opinion on marriage, and it supports my turnaround hypothesis too:

Update II: 2012 government poll has uncovered that the support for the statement “Husband’s role is outside the home, while the wife defends the home” has grown for the first time since the early nineties, and by quite a large amount. The 20-somethings exhibited the fastest growth: support shot up from 30% to 50% in just three years.

To round up with a bit of data on immigration, the graph on the right presents results of a J-CAST internet poll of attitudes to immigration attached to an article on the same subject peddling mass immigration as a cure for falling working-age population. J-CAST is not noted for its reactionary views. It is if anything neoliberal (or neoconservative?); for instance, one of its associate experts has studied with Bernanke. I daresay they were disappointed by the poll results, but still more by the excellent comments to the article. The commenters made short work of the neoliberal arguments in favor of mass immigration (‘cheap labor will pay for our social security’ etc.), pointed out the problems (especially the decline of public order) that the Western countries who tried mass immigration have saddled themselves with, or rather that Western elites have saddled their populations with, doubted whether any immigrants worthy of letting in would even come now that the economy is faltering, and laid blame on the article’s author’s generation for the low numbers of the present 20-somethings. Many said “OK, let’s become poor, but at least we’ll stay Japan and we won’t have immigrants to deal with as well” — a very Japanese sentiment. May it never weaken.

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