The last 13 – 14 years will be remembered in Russia as the epoch of the most grandiose leap of living standards throughout history country. Even the fierce critics of Vladimir Putin agree that life has become much better with him. They explain this indisputable fact by exceptionally high oil prices, and Putin, respectively, is assigned the role of a ruler, who is just suspiciously lucky with the world trading environment.
There is a lot of truth in this explanation, but not all. After all, with the high cost of oil, Putin began to "carry" only with 2003, sometime in the fourth year of his reign. But the standard of living in the country reached a low point at the end of 1998, after which it went to growth - not waiting for Putin to be appointed prime minister, and then elected as president.
Obviously, the phenomenon of our newest well-being requires more thorough study. We will use the official statistics - although it is not particularly accurate, sometimes it contradicts itself and always embellishes the picture, but, for lack of other information, this will do. Especially since the phenomenon itself can be determined by eye, without any numbers: the growth of well-being is obvious and looks even more impressive against the background of that during previous 20 years (somewhere from the end of 1970 and until the end of 1990) life steadily declined. Therefore, the triumph of ordinary people, who suddenly began to join in all the new material benefits, their naive enthusiasm for the benefactor Putin, is easy to understand.
According to the calculations given in a recent article by Alexey Kudrin (and based on Rosstat data), in 2000, the average Russian salary was $ 79, and in 2012, $ 835. Even when adjusted for a decrease in the purchasing power of the dollar over the years, growth is still a factor of six, if not more.
But does this mean that the standard of living of the average Russian has actually grown six times in twelve years? No, it does not mean.
The income of people is not only salary, but also pensions, payments and much more. Therefore, we take an all-encompassing indicator such as per capita cash income. It is measured not in dollars, but in rubles. In 2012, the average per capita ruble cash income was almost exactly 10 times more than in 2000. However, inflation in these years has not been canceled; according to official data, the consumer price index for goods and services has grown 12 by 3,5 over the same years. From which we can conclude that the real consumer capacity of the average Russian increased slightly more than three times (10 divided by 3,5). But this would be a simplification - because the above-mentioned consumer price index is not only embellished by the statistical service, it also does not include fundamentally important things. For example, the rise in housing prices.
However, the very real and very sharp increase in the availability of various consumer goods does indeed take place. If you believe the state statistics, then in 2012, the average Russian could buy twice as much as three times more goods than his average per capita ruble income in 2000. Moreover, food is likely to double, and other consumer goods - three times.
We really "began to dress better". Only to this we must add that we did not at all become “more less” paying for utilities, and even more so we did not “more easily" acquire new apartments.
As for utilities, as well as the services of all kinds of state monopolies, they have risen in price in the last 12 years with the same or almost as fast as the monetary incomes of citizens have grown. This is if the official account. And honestly, then faster. And for some positions - even much faster.
More interesting with the purchase of apartments. In none of the years of the consumer boom have they been built (in square meters) at least as much as in 1970, at the peak of Soviet housing construction. Moreover, the current apartments in terms of the average area are larger than the then (which means the total number of rented apartments is now less), and in addition, some of them are purchased not for housing, but for the purpose of investment. From the foregoing, among other things, it follows that the apartments being built today are simply not enough for those who need housing. Today, only about a quarter of families have material opportunities to acquire their own apartment - this is little better than at the end of 1990, and a big step back compared to the Soviet system. Consumer miracle, so brilliantly manifested itself in clothes, for some reason passed by the housing sector.
But here are the details that show that this did not happen right away. Over five years, from 1999 to 2003, the average price per square meter in a newly built economy class apartment has increased (in rubles) 3 times. And the per capita income for the same years increased 5 times. In addition to the reminder that inflation in those years was much higher than the current one, these figures report surprising: it turns out that buying housing in the first five years of economic growth (which began, I recall, at the end of 1998) has become clearly more affordable for the average Russian. Food and other commodities were then also made more accessible, but not as fast as apartments. Thus, the consumer miracle at the first stage was arranged differently than in the future.
And only in the next five years, 2004-th to 2008-th, everything fell into place, so to speak. The square meter has risen in price for 3,5 in these five years, and the ruble income has grown less than three times. Apartments were becoming less affordable, and this was happening against the background of declining inflation and a sharp increase in consumer availability of food, rags and cars.
In the past few years, growth has declined, although demand is still supported by the authorities. For example, in January 2013, industrial production declined by 0,8% versus what was a year ago. But, in spite of this sad fact, real (i.e., with excluded inflation) citizens' incomes increased by 0,7% against January last year, and the average real wage (mainly due to favored police, military and, partly, teachers) rose by 8%. This is very nice if you forget that when the treasury is empty, there is only one way to really add someone a salary - namely, by some tricks to take money from others.
But there's nothing you can do. The miracle ends, and at parting we must understand what legacy it leaves to us.
In 1999-2003, the rise in living standards relied solely on increasing productivity. Consumption growth was not as rapid as it was later, but it had a healthy foundation and walked on a broad front, stimulating the production of cheap Russian consumer goods and housing construction. Labor productivity grew by about 30% in those five years, and the level of consumption, apparently, is slightly higher.
Then came the second pillar of the consumer boom - the import of goods and services, whipped up by the oil rush and paid in dollars, raised for rising prices for oil, gas and fuel oil. According to Alexei Kudrin, in 2000-2003, oil and gas exports brought in only $ 53 – 56 billion annually, and by 2012, it grew by $ 300 billion, rising to almost $ 350 billion. In parallel, imports of goods and services from abroad also grew: in 2000, it was only $ 60 billion, and by 2012, it rose by $ 380 billion, i.e. to approximately $ 440 billion. Not all of this imports were intended for consumption by ordinary citizens, but they obviously got more than half. These are clothes, household appliances, foodstuffs, and cars of foreign brands (supposedly made in our country, and in fact simply made from components imported from abroad).
According to all the rules of economics, the oil boom brought a “Dutch disease” to Russia. That is, the steady strengthening of the ruble relative to other currencies, thanks to which imported goods became relatively cheap and affordable, allowing Russians to “dress more and more better” and their own products relatively expensive and, consequently, less and less competitive. As an additional perversion, the Dutch disease, whipped up by the authorities' cash pumping, provided a “bubble” in the housing market, because of which, for ten years already, the prices are unsustainably high.
Today, more than half of the goods sold in Russia are imported. And our own manufacturers, stunned by the overswept national currency and other features of our business climate, have long lost their development incentives. After all, it is much easier to merge with the bureaucracy and cut petrodollars, imitating innovative activity and putting Potemkin summits and olympiads on the conveyor.
Labor productivity in the Russian economy is now a maximum of one and a half times higher than 10 years ago. At the same time, the level of consumption has grown much more and will remain as it is, while petrodollars will be enough to import imported goods (and they will soon cease to be enough).
Both pillars, on which the acquired prosperity of our fellow citizens keeps, are reeling.
Labor productivity is clearly insufficient to ensure the usual level of consumption. And our authorities are too incompetent and cowardly to whip up its rise with well-known but not popular recipes.
Petrodollar injections stopped growing. In 2011, they reached the maximum. 2012 remained the same. Over the past months, 2013-th, they again did not grow. The authorities dream not so much about the growth of freebie revenues, but rather that it does not fall - it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion of continuing consumer boom.
Today, we have an economy that is impressive in appearance, but less capable of competition and development than in the turning point of 2003. As well as a whole generation of citizens, whom the authorities convinced that the growth of consumption - if not the law of nature, then at least the law of Vladimir Putin.
The farewell to illusions has already begun. It can be smooth (with expensive oil) or not at all smooth (with inexpensive). But until this farewell takes place, we cannot have a new policy, including an economic one.
Reeling support well-being
- Sergey Shelin