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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oligarch Amnesty Is Not on the Money

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"The symbiotic relationship between political parties and the oligarchs is surprisingly transparent. Voters see it, and they are disgusted by the whole political system. This situation is reminiscent of unstable oligarchic democracies in Latin America."
-- Anders Aslund, a Carnegie Endowment thinker, writing in Friday's The Moscow Times.

Wow. That sounds bad.

Luckily, though, this problem is easily solved. As Aslund explains in "Amnesty the Oligarchs," an op-ed piece that appeared on these pages, President Vladimir Putin simply needs to guarantee the oligarchs their property rights -- see, he should "legislate an ironclad guarantee of property rights starting from a certain date." Aslund thinks a "natural choice" for this date would be Jan. 1, 2000. This amnesty would "reduce corruption," "revive the housing market," and make oligarchs stop investing money in politics, which in turn would force Russian political parties "to organize, formulate credible electoral programs and mobilize their voters, thereby strengthening democracy."

What a beautiful vision.

A man surveys the nation and sees a handful of fat cats have bought all the political parties and much of the federal and regional bureaucracies; he sees voters aware of this and disgusted by the whole political system; he sees parallels to history's worst banana republics.

But he also sees a solution: The president, a Christian of deep feeling, simply has to make these fat cats assemble contritely before him; and then in his most sincere voice, say, "By the power vested in me by a corrupt political system that disgusts the voters, I absolve you of your sins. Keep your stolen oil companies, nickel mines, gas fields; keep the unpaid taxes and gobbled-up budget money; keep it all, as long as you took it before Jan. 1, 2000. Go in peace, your 'property rights' secure."

Then the president makes the sign of the cross over the oligarchs, thunder peals and lightning flashes, and oligarchs rise reborn. They will say, "Look, we're safe. We no longer have to spend money on corrupting the political system!"

And this will be a huge relief for these men, because throughout their careers they have amassed gargantuan fortunes by spending relatively tiny sums on bribery, graft, phone taps and videos of prosecutors cavorting with whores -- and frankly they're tired of it. They'd much rather amass much smaller profits via tiny investments into things that "add value" for the ordinary Ivan -- you know, things like art galleries in New York City, or pig farms, or, heh heh, The Moscow Times parent company.

So imagine the joy of the oligarchs when they rise from their knees and realize they will no longer suffer from "extortion" (Aslund's word) by politicians.

"We can cut all those politicians off today!" the oligarchs will cry. "And then they'll owe us nothing, and we'll owe them nothing, and they'll have to turn to the people for support. And that'll mean they'll owe the people and not us, so they'll do things the people want. You know, the people -- the ones who are disgusted with the way we stole the oil companies and the nickel mines and then co-opted the political system. ... Hmmm. Well, perhaps we should keep those politicians close after all. ... Yes, we should. At least until we get an ironclad guarantee from whomever the next president is that our 'property rights' will be respected."

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes The Daily Outrage at