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The prophecy should come true, but I won’t explain it. Then it will be remembered and restored in due course. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.FM Dostoevsky

In November 2021, the world will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. For me, as a Russian economist, a real discovery and revelation was the economic article Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote in “A Writer’s Diary”, which was in fact one of Dostoevsky’s last articles on the way Russia was developing. In this article, Dostoevsky largely anticipates important themes for the Russian economy such as the “turn to the east”, the prioritization of long-term development guidelines (as an argument for the creation of the stabilization fund in our time), the fight against bureaucracy, the importance of public confidence in the authorities’ economic policies, and much more. Dostoevsky’s economic legacy can serve as a kind of moral compass for Russian economic policy in our time.

In the context of Russia’s experience in the 1990s and the current crisis of the global economic system, which is too focused on achieving short-term benefits/results, Dostoevsky’s arguments for a short-term economic policy reorientation are to long-term guidelines are very relevant: “What if at least halfway through we were able to force ourselves to forget the current situation and turn our attention to something completely different, in a certain depth, that we had never really looked at, because we were looking for the depth on the surface?” But Dostoevsky is ready to soften his formula, and “here’s what I’ll suggest instead; not half to forget the present – I refuse half of it – but only a twentieth”.

As Dostoevsky points out, the refocusing of funds on the most important long-term tasks can become a guarantee of achieving important long-term development goals, despite short-term obstacles and difficulties: “refocusing attention from current problems in the amount of at least a twentieth year on a yearly basis, on something else, then things almost don’t seem fantastic, but quite possible to start.”

Dostoevsky associates such redistribution of budgetary resources for long-term development with what he calls “root healing”, which in today’s budgetary sphere we might associate with our “national projects” intended to enhance Russia’s “human capital”. ” to develop.

Because of this we can say that Dostoevsky formulated a kind of budget rule, which largely anticipates the principles of the modern budget rule and our Stabilization Fund (National Welfare Fund): “My thought, my formula is this: a state that has experienced the known upheavals, please think don’t think too much about the present needs, no matter how loud they shout, but only think about healing the roots – and you will get money.” This formula largely corresponds to the priorities we observe in Russian fiscal policy today, with an emphasis on building reserves to finance longer-term economic needs.

Another area of ​​economic policy that Dostoevsky writes about – administrative reform and reduction of bureaucracy. As Fyodor Mikhailovich points out, reducing bureaucracy often results only in an increase in the number of civil servants due to the creation of numerous administrative reform committees. “Can we, for example, achieve such a reduction: from forty civil servants to four at the same time? Of course, no one can doubt that four officials will often do what forty do, especially reducing paperwork and, in general, radically transforming the current formulas of business.”

Dostoevsky’s most important economic proposition is undoubtedly the problem of popular lack of confidence in economic policy, or, as Fyodor Mikhailovich himself puts it, “the problem of the moral/spiritual concern of the population . ” Moreover, Dostoevsky notes the tendency that has become painfully familiar in Russia in recent decades towards an outflow of capital, while it is precisely this confidence/”moral calm” that is undermined: “How can we change the minds of the people, desiring and concerned everywhere, be encouraged and soothed? After all, even capital itself and its movement seek moral rest, but without moral rest it hides itself or is unproductive.”

The problem of the people’s lack of confidence in economic policy remains acute to this day – in Dostoevsky’s time, the writer noted the importance of gaining long-term understanding and trust among the population: “We have little peace of mind, especially spiritual peace, that’s the most important thing, without spiritual peace there will be nothing. They do not pay much attention to this, but only achieve a temporary, material effect on the surface. There is no calmness in the mind, and this is in all layers, nor calmness in our beliefs, in our conceptions, in our nerves, in our appetites. There is no work, nor the awareness that by working alone you are ‘redeemed’ – not at all.”

Perhaps one of Dostoevsky’s most interesting predictions relates to the priorities of foreign economic policy and our regional development. In fact, in his economic article, Dostoevsky substantiates the need for a Russian “turn towards the East” and the active development of Russia’s Asian regions: “It is therefore a necessity, because Russia is not only in Europe, but also in Asia; because a Russian is not only a European, but also an Asian. Besides, there may be even more hope in Asia than in Europe. Moreover, Asia may be our most important gateway in our future!”

For Dostoevsky, turning to Asia is part of that very fundamental process of “healing of the roots”, while for Russia Asia can be a means of uplifting the spirit and gaining greater independence: “Meanwhile, Asia can indeed be our gateway to our future – I cry out again! And if we had at least partially assimilated this idea – oh, what a carrot would have been healed! Asia, our Asiatic Russia – after all, this is also our sick carrot, which must not only be refreshed, but which needs to be fully resurrected and remade!!… with a turn to Asia, with our new perspective on it, we might have something like what happened to Europe when America was discovered, because Asia is the same to us undiscovered America of that time. With the pursuit of Asia, we will revive the rise of spirit and strength. Once we become more independent, we will immediately know what to do while with Europe in the past two centuries we have lost the habit of any business and have become talkers and lazy people.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve read Dostoevsky’s economic article, and every time I find something new in it for myself, a kind of new look at the problems we face in Russia today. Dostoevsky also writes about the exchange rate of the ruble, about the need for Russia to value its national currency – and then it will be valued by foreign investors too. Fyodor Mikhailovich’s observations about the possibility of imitating European economic practices on Russian soil are also extremely interesting and relevant. After 140 years have passed since the writing of the economics article, many of our great writer’s observations remain highly relevant. This is a testament to Dostoevsky’s astonishing foresight and brilliance, but also to how entrenched some of the fundamental foundations of our land system appear to be over time. Or could it be that we are dealing with the long-term Dostoevsky cycles, even more long-term than the Kondratiev waves? Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme choosen.

From our partner RIAC