Friday, July 8, 2011

letter to a colleague

of the year 2005

Dear Sir,

Occasionally I got an access to your yet unpublished manuscript on union formation in Russia. I have browsed through with rising interest and finally I liked it.


Because of your major finding: "recent marriage decline in Russia does not stem from economic crisis and uncertainty accompanying the collapse of the SU." As far as I understand, the thesis is not common for the majority of writers on Soviet/Russian issues. I am very glad that (even) in the US some scholars remain sober and pay attention to data and research instead of exercises in social mythology.

As a participating contemporary in the events of period under your consideration I would say: nothing changed (in respect to union formation), except for the collapse of the SU :) The failure of communism has many consequences but in areas other than demographics, including mortality (it is my opinion, esp. the latter). Your conclusion is near the Alain Blum thesis on the nation surviving communism.

However, I wish to oppose also. My major objection is "economic crisis". I suppose that it is just a label, a misleading label to the event taken place in real life. From my insider's viewpoint an economic development had began since Jan 1992, marked with so called Gaidar reform. It was a real shock of magic: consumer goods started to appear from nowhere. About that time Moscow major said that Moscow will produce lots of beer, and nobody believed him, since an average Muscovite was able to drink a glass of beer once a year. But he was right.

At a place in your manuscript there is a reference to a Kornai, book or whatever. And as far as I remember a Kornai thesis, he wrote that economy of communism is not the economy in common sense. Thus I say that "economic" crisis of a communist economy is very different from an economic crisis in common sense. I am not saying about uncertainty but destruction of the "economic" system of the SU was not an additional burden but a relief. Nevertheless, what took place is uniformly labeled an economic crisis. This label is as useful as adoption of basketball rules to a chess game.

My next paragraph is not an objection, it is like a shared interest in union formation. The collapse of the SU made legal marriage very different from cohabitation, in the SU they have been about the same. The (new) Civil Code introduced/legalized the property, and nowadays the spouses' properties might be very different. I suppose that the rising understanding of legal discrepancy between cohabitation and marriage is important. Perhaps your data collection contains some info about this. Another interesting subject is an impact of the military draft. The Ministry of Defense usually declares that they cannot collect all the conscripts liable to draft (sorry for my probably inadequate English), unlike in the Soviet era when it was (or seemed) really universal. I suspect that this universal military draft was a major basis for an early marriage pattern of the SU populations. Again, probably you could test this hypothesis with your data.

Enough. Too long ;(
Wishing you each and every success and waiting for formal publication.
PS Please, let my sympathy as well as criticism be known to your esteemed coauthor.

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