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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Economic Liberalism and TV Centralism

Last week U.S. President George W. Bush equated foreign steel producers with Islamic terrorists. They both threaten the well-being of the United States. Fortunately the Novolipetsk Iron and Steel Works have not yet been slated for carpet bombing and attack by paratroopers.

It's worth noting that Russian and American interests have collided precisely in the area of steel production. The Russian metals industry -- both ferrous and non-ferrous -- is the smithy of our domestic oligarchs. The internecine wars between gangsters, thieves and other miscreants started in the raw materials sector, especially in metals and oil. Even taking into account the catastrophic state of our worn-out and outdated equipment, it soon became clear that the Russian mode of production -- replete with merciless pressure from the tax man and equally merciless pay cuts for workers -- had a head-start on flabby, heavily regulated Bethlehem Steel Corp. and others.

Measures intended to protect starving U.S. steel workers will not, by themselves, sink the U.S. economy. But keep in mind that when the Lord wants to punish a nation he sends down socialists upon it -- and protectionism is the first stage of socialism. (Protectionism is essentially non-market regulation of foreign trade; socialism is essentially non-market regulation of all trade, domestic and foreign.)

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The fate of the Russian economy, on the other hand, is total liberalism. The measures taken by President Vladimir Putin to increase the state's authority have produced unexpected consequences. Our bureaucrats, filled with a false sense of their own importance, are so lax in observing agreements that they often betray one oligarch in favor of another. They ask such enormous sums for their signature that a lobbyist's transaction costs often exceed even the most optimistic estimation of his profits.

All this means that Russia is not likely to spite the United States by announcing its own protective tariffs. Even those ill-starred American chicken legs will find their way to Russia disguised as green peas.

It seems likely, however, that elemental Russian liberalism in the economy will be counterbalanced by total centralization of the television industry. If the journalists from TV6 are put back on the air, they will report on our glorious Motherland under the dual supervision of the oligarchs -- who can always be brought into line by putting the squeeze on their factories -- and of Yevgeny Primakov, who loves the free press about as much as Bush loves foreign steel.

The plan to sic one big Putin-era loser, Primakov, on another Putin-era loser, Yevgeny Kiselyov, looks like a winner. So why does the Kremlin assume that the only way to discern its achievements is to poke out the eyes of television?

Opposition television is integral to Putin's strategy for running the country -- i.e., the denunciation game played by constantly clashing factions. Without it things could get messy, as they have in neighboring Kazakhstan. Anti-government news organizations were completely exterminated there, leaving no suitable forum in which one pro-presidential clan could do over other pro-presidential clans.

As a result, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law was forced to launch the supposedly opposition Internet site, on which he proceeded to savage his enemies. When the son-in-law was caught red-handed, however, his basically harmless attempt to play by Nazarbayev's rules was likened to an attempted coup d'etat.

It is also unclear what genius told Putin that centralized mass media lend grandeur and serenity to the business of state-building. They can serve this function, of course, but only when serenity is already present to some extent. But just let a putsch occur and those selfsame centralized mass media will put "Swan Lake" on the air with great zeal.

Elemental liberalism in the economy -- where everything is for sale, including meetings with the president and prime minister -- doesn't mix well with the centralization of ideology.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist with ORT.