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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Modest Idea: Siberia Follows 'Seward's Folly'

This has to be the strangest idea of the decade. It might just be the best. There is no other way to describe an idea which would solve Russia's economic problems, revitalize the American economy, boost world trade, and spread the benefits of democracy throughout much of Asia.

Why not sell Siberia to the United States?

This idea is floated in the forthcoming issue of a scholarly quarterly, the World Policy Journal. Walter Russell Mead, whose fertile and radical brain has recently been consulted by President-elect Bill Clinton, suggests a price of $2-3 trillion dollars. Let us not be stingy, and say $3 trillion.

That is a far better price than the last American purchase: In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward bought Alaska from czarist Russia, 590, 000 square miles for $7. 2 million. At that price, the 4, 200, 000 square miles of Siberia would sell for a mere $50 million. So $3 trillion for Siberia would reflect a lot of inflation.

Mead suggests that the United States should pay for Siberia in installments, paying $200 billion a year for twenty years. Half of this would be paid to Moscow in cash, to stabilize the ruble, provide social security for the Russian population, and create a national investment fund. The rest would be in the form of credits by which Russia would buy American goods -- which should provoke an industrial boom in America.

The impact would be fast. The promise of political stability would bring the world's oil, gas and mining corporations into Siberia and set off a massive economic boom. Russian factories would have new markets, and the world's multinational corporations would build the new railways and the trans-Siberian highways that would help exploit the territory and open a land route between the vast markets of Europe and Japan.

Siberia's strategic fears about the restive Moslem lands to the south, and about the rising giant of China, would be eased by the protection of the American superpower.

Mead entitles his suggestion "A Modest Proposal", an echo of Jonathan Swift's 'modest proposal' of the 18th century whereby the India would solve their problems of famine by eating their babies. The point was to find a dramatic way of illustrating the scale of a problem.

The West so far is doing little to invest in a stable and prosperous Russian democracy. The West Germans are investing one trillion dollars in East Germany over this decade. A serious commitment to Russia will involve no less.

"So far, the West is putting about one percent of the money into the former Soviet Union that we are putting into East Germany on a per capita basis", writes Mr. Mead. "Maybe the Modest Proposal is the only way to bring home to people just how big the challenge is".