Russia is the least loved of the BRICs, constantly derided for its “primitive” natural resource dependency, its rapacious government, and its complete inability to “modernize.” But despite this backwardness, Russia is vastly wealthier on a per capita basis than its BRIC peers as a quick glance at any IMF or World Bank dataset will tell you.
Many people think that Russia’s relatively high per capita GDP is somehow inaccurate or misleading, that Russia’s economy is “artificially” boosted by the production of oil and natural gas, that “in reality” it’s doing a lot worse than its increasingly dynamic competitors and that it doesn’t belong in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China). I want to push back against this narrative of a collapsing and decrepit Russia because it’s both extremely misleading and incredibly persistent. I would actually agree with some Russia bears that Russia doesn’t really belong in the BRICs, but this is not because it’s an outmoded dinosaur but because it’s simply too wealthy and developed. If you look at things like electricity production, food production, and living standards, Russia is just much closer to Western norms than it is to the other BRICs.
Economically Russia, as ever, is in a somewhat unique position: it’s much wealthier on a per capita basis than other dynamic emerging markets, but much poorer than developed Western countries. Likewise its growth rate, expected to be around 3.7% in 2012, is marginally higher than those of Western countries, but much lower than those of its supposed peers. Russia needs to be understood on its own terms and in the context of its past history, and not crammed into an analytical structure for which it’s ill suited. When you look at Russia as Russia, and not as China or India, the country isn’t doing all that badly. Russia’s future course is very much open to doubt, but in 2012 it’s safe to say that it’s much better off than countries that have supposedly left it in the dust.