Streetwise Professor

January 14, 2011

Battle of the Tools

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:43 am

If you had asked me to choose between the egregious (soon to be ex-) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and a reporter from ITAR-TASS, I would probably have responded “Is death an option?”  But yesterday, a face off occurred between Gibbs and I-T correspondent Andrei Sitov, and Gibbs actually came off well–although given the circumstances, it would have been hard not to.

Sitov snottily asked the usually snotty Gibbs:

This is America, the democracy, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to petition your government, and many people outside would also say — and the quote-unquote freedom of a deranged mind to react in a violent way is also American. How do you respond to that?

To which Gibbs creditably responded:

“No, no,” Gibbs said, his voice growing firmer and more direct. “I would disagree vehemently with that. …There is nothing in the values of our country, there’s nothing on the many laws on our books, that would provide for somebody to impugn and impede on the very freedoms that you began with by exercising the actions that that individual took on that day.

“That is not American. … Violence is never, ever acceptable. We had people that died. We have people whose lives will be changed forever, because of the deranged actions of a madman. Those are not American. Those are not in keeping with the important bedrock values by which this country was founded and by which its citizens live each and every day of their lives in hopes of something better for those that are here.”

Apparently unsatisfied, Sitov was heard bitching later:

Sitov said he had heard of Russians who reacted to the shooting by saying, “and these people lecture us.””If you want to stop this,” Sitov told Politico, “you have to be willing to restrict some freedoms.”

You can watch for yourself:

Sitov’s questioning goes beyond chutzpah. Apparently he never heard Jesus’s injunction “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” For it’s not as if mass killings, including mass public shootings are a rarity in Russia. Remember the police chief in Moscow who strode through a supermarket shooting people? How about the shooting in the open air market in Samara Or about the murder of 12 people in Krasnodar? I could go on.

Just look at murder rates more generally.  Between 2000 and 2009, Russia’s murder rate varied between 15 and 28, in contrast to the US’s 5-5.7.

Sitov asserts a trade-off between murder, or mass killing, and freedom.  He insinuates that Russia has chosen order and safety, whereas the US has chosen freedom and vulnerability to the predations of the deranged.  He flatly states that restrictions on freedom are necessary to achieve safety.

Well, look at your own country, dude.  You have neither freedom nor safety.  Great job!

As a general proposition, what Sitov says is readily debunked.  I have at hand the country rankings for the most recent Index of Economic Freedom (which my daughter helped to compile last summer).  The top six countries: Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada.  Their murder rates are all near the bottom: .5, .38, 1.2, 2.0, 1.0 and 1.81, respectively.

You might object that Singapore and Hong Kong are not particularly free politically.  Fine.  The Economist’s Democracy Index top six: Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia.  Murder rates, in order: .6, .31, 1.0, 1.25, 2, 1.2.  All well in the lower end of the table.

In brief: the data decisively reject Sitov’s hypothesis of a positive association between freedom and murder/public safety.  Indeed, if anything there is a negative correlation.  (Which actually makes some sense.)   Not that he’s likely to care.

The determinants of violence are many and complex–as are the determinants of economic success.  There is likely a strong social and cultural component, as the presence of many Scandinavian countries among both the low murder rate and high freedom rankings attest.  And, if you transplant Scandinavians to the US–as happened in droves in the 19th century, as my family tree (dad’s side) attests–they don’t commit murder here either.  (Which brings to mind Milton Friedman’s retort to a Swedish economist who told him “in Sweden we have no poverty”: “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.”)  Celts–e.g., a few branches on mom’s side of the tree–a very different story, both on poverty and violence.

Sitov was engaging in all too common Russian ploy: attempting to rationalize Russian repression of social, political, and economic freedom by claiming some (entirely chimerical) benefit, in this instance, lower rates of violence.  This is an absolute crock.  Russia has both little freedom and high violence.  (Russian repression is also justified as a means of ensuring greater social solidarity and harmony–also a crock.)

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Sitov is a tool.  But to be a bigger tool than Robert Gibbs–that’s quite an accomplishment.

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  1. Professor,

    You forgot to mention “genetic”. Western countries are in fact far more socialist than Russia. If anything, Russian governance is aloof.

    Comment by So? — January 14, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  2. If it were true that Russia is not socialist but capitalist, then it would be a truly sad commentary, because COMMUNIST China is far more receptive to business than Russia.

    But, of course, that’s another ridiculous neo-Soviet lie. The Russian government is pervasively involved in every aspect of Russian society, right down to telling schools what history to teach and dictating what Russians can watch on TV and read in the newspaper.

    Granted, of course, Russia does leave the West in the dust where actual contempt for its own citizens by the government is concerned. But the USSR, a Communist country, proved that this is hardly inconsistent with the existence of socialism.

    Please stop lying.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 15, 2011 @ 6:55 am

  3. SWP, Russia has the worst of all possible worlds. With a murder rate THREE TIMES that of the USA, Russia has none of the peace-and-security benefits of dictatorship, yet it has all the drawbacks of that system. Conversely, pandemic crime and corruption Russia has all the vices of a free state but NONE of the benefits, such as innovation and consumer economics.

    It is Zaire with permafrost. It is a nightmare. And it will not admit it, but insists on living in a world of neo-Soviet denial, until the problems get big enoug that, once again, they destroy the country.

    Russia is a nation of maniacs, and this neo-Soviet imbecile is FAR more dangerous to his country than a thousands Loughtons to America.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 15, 2011 @ 6:59 am

  4. please comment on bp-rosneft whenever you can.

    i like this piece of information:

    Having invested around £5bn, BP has reaped, on our calculations, around £16-£18bn in dividends from TNK-BP, plus the value of the assets. On today’s valuations, having rolled up its sleeves and got seriously involved in Russia, BP has made eight to 10 times its original stake. TNK-BP represents, quite possibly, the best investment in BP’s history.

    people like yourself and robert amsterdam and the like have been telling us all these years how russia has raped bp and shell, expropriating their assets and whatnot… in reality, bp and shell might beg to differ? reality is different than the fiction we get when anti-russian interests corrupt the news about russia that we get in the western world.

    just something to say ‘hmm’ about. hmm.

    Comment by jennifer — January 15, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

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