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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On Flouting The Laws Of Politics

There are certain basic rules to be observed if you want to survive in any job and the trade of politics is no different.

In centuries gone by, it was axiomatic that governments could get away with murder if they kept the price of bread down. Indeed, as many rulers found, cheap loaves allowed them carte blanche in the murder department, and gave them considerable leeway when it came to rape, pillage and extortion as well.

There are various modern equivalents of this law. One is that you should not start a land war in Asia, another, as Richard Nixon discovered (too late, as it happened) that if you are going to use government property to hatch criminal conspiracies and blaspheme, you should make sure the tape recorder is switched off first.

And here's a tip -- don't contrive to upset every single newspaper in the country at once. That is precisely what President Boris Yeltsin's government managed to do when it set in train a sharp rise in the cost of printing. Suddenly every paper in the land had its back up.

Then his administration did two things which are far more dangerous. First, it imposed a 900 percent tax on vodka, then it declined to pay what was owed to television companies, thereby risking a nationwide blackout.

Now, to deprive the people of one opiate is careless, but to deprive them of two is just plain reckless. Especially when it is the government's policies that have produced the need for instant oblivion in the first place.

This flouting of the basic laws of late 20th century governance has to make citizens wonder. After all, if you wanted to provoke revolution, what better way than to alienate the press and rob the people of their national drink and soap operas?

The masses may not have been prepared to man the barricades on behalf of former parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, but they certainly might to save their hooch and serials.

Fortunately, the government pulled back from this particular precipice. The price of vodka is now lower even than it was and the television companies have got, at least temporarily, all the cash they need to bombard us with Mexican melodramas from now until kingdom come.

What is puzzling is why the government should be continuously playing with fire in this way. Few would envy the officials their task, but that surely is all the more reason to weigh the effect of their policies before they are enacted.

At present they are fighting their problems in the manner of guerrilla warfare -- fire, duck and retreat if necessary. And there seems to be a lot more retreating than firing at the moment.