Russia’s government mafia isn’t cutting back, it’s redoubling its aggressiveness. With less money coming in, it’s relying more and more on wholesale confiscation. Confiscation was how the regime built up its original fortune, but the problem is that it’s eating up the business ecosystem and running out of money to confiscate. Every 6th businessman in Russia has been prosecuted in the last decade. Three million have been sentenced in that time. Half are planning to leave the country. And the numbers are increasing sharply because the clock is ticking.
If Obama had gotten a complete blank check for a decade and his backers had been allowed to operate with no legal constraints on their authority, then the United States in 2020 might look like the way Russia does today. But the good news is that government mafias have a limited shelf life. Four years ago the Russian flavor looked unchallengeable. Fast forward to economic decline leading to a rigged election and widepsread contempt for the out-of-control corruption at the top, and there’s a reason for the Soviet-grade repression being applied to the Russian street and the number of dual citizenships in the Russian government. When things go south, the mafia needs a fast plane, a good passport and a lot of gold fixtures on the plane that can be unscrewed and resold once they’re safely on the ground in Finland, Venezuela or Syria.
Government mafias have bad taste but good investments. No, they don’t really need gold on everything or a new 5,000-dollar jacket for every event. Think of those things, whether it’s Putin’s toilet or Michelle’s outfits, as a portable investment that can be easily loaded on a plane in case the peasants outside the palace get too rambunctious and suddenly a commission is investigating you when it was under explicit orders to never ever do that.
The good news from Russia is also good news for those who fear the shadow of eternal Chinese hegemony. The century of the dragon cannot be ruled out, but the Chinese system is just the Russian system with a better work ethic and more cheap labor. And like the Russian ex-commies, the Chinese ex-commies have very poor self-control when it comes to not robbing the country blind. Communism was the ultimate government mafia, and its practitioners, whether they call themselves presidents, premiers, commissars or community organizers, never know when to stop stealing.
The media is paying little attention to the trial of Bo Xilai, because he isn’t a Muslim, isn’t involved with Muslims and his case in no way demonstrates that Islamophobia is the greatest peril to the world since Red-Baiting. But Bo Xilai did happen to be a red, a fervent and committed red, who became tangled in an embarrassing scandal when his wife tried to move money abroad and had to kill the British businessman who was supposed to do the moving.
Bo Xilai might have been the future leader of China’s Communist Party, but he was too busy eavesdropping on the wrong people who were also busy eavesdropping on him. Now Xilai is being ritually shamed for his corruption, but it’s a corruption that is universal in a corrupt system. China’s wealth, like its dragons, is partly real and partly fictional. And it’s only as real as putting a lot of men under a giant cloth can make it.
Communist China will never dominate the world, for the same reason that Putin’s Russia has trouble dominating its own backyard. It’s a mafia state that opened up the system, but kept it crooked, and is feeding off it at a high enough rate that an economic setback will also lead to a dieback.
A political dieback is ugly business for a government mafia that exists by taking a percent of everything and distributing it throughout its vast network. What happens when the mafia keeps growing but the economy is no longer growing fast enough to keep all the wolves fed? The wolves begin frenziedly feeding on the sheep and then on each other. They grab police powers and begin cracking down on even the smallest sign of dissent, and those crackdowns only spur more dissent. Either a tyrant emerges to massacre everyone and rule over a state of universal misery, or the mess ends with a tyrant on the plane trying to sell gold-plated bathroom fixtures on eBay.