Staunton, August 1 – Russian officials say the declining number of working-age Russians may limit the country’s economic possibilities, but experts note the pro-natalist policies Vladimir Putin has promoted have increased fertility rates among non-Russians while doing little to stop them from falling among ethnic Russians, a pattern that is making Russia ever less Russian.
Official concern about the size of the work force is reflected, Mariya Bezchastnaya of Svobodnaya pressa says, in both the decision of the Russian Central Bank to keep interest rates high and in a report by the economic development ministry about the current state of the Russian economy (svpressa.ru/economy/article/178020/).
The Central Bank noted that “one of the limiting factors” of Russia’s economic growth is the size of the labor market “where already are being observed signs of a shortage of cadres in particular segments.” To the extent they grow or spread, that will present real problems (cbr.ru/press/keypr/).
And the Economic Development Ministry’s report says that demographic trends mean that unemployment is declining because there are fewer people seeking work even as there is agrowing demand for them (vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2017/07/31/727040-rinok-truda#/galleries/140737493462195/normal/1).
Both agencies stress that “compensation is [as a result] beginning to grow more rapidly than productivity,” something that will ultimately lead to inflation unless worker productivity goes up. If economists focus on this danger, demographers argue that “potential inflation is far from the main problem.”
Igor Beloborodov, the direction of the Independent Institute of the Family and Demography, argues that the growing shortage of workers not only threatens economic growth but will make it impossible for Russia to “maintain its geopolitical position and respected status in the international arena” not immediately but within a few years.
Frightened by this threat, he continues, many in Moscow are inclined to open the gates to far more gastarbeiters from Central Asia. But that is “an anti-Russian approach” because “in this way we will simply wreck the labor market as a result of dumping” and allow for the emergence of “ethnic monopolies on work places. This is a serious issue for reflection.”
“More than that,” Beloborodov says, “such an approach will lead directly to the collapse of the country and to ethnic revolutions. If there were causes for a Maidan in Ukraine, including the weakness of the authorities and corruption, then with us, one of these threats is the ethnic factor – and therefore one must approach the issue of migration very carefully.”
Immigration must be structured so as to correspond with the existing ethnic balance in the country rather than allowing it to undermine that balance, the demographer says. The same thing is true regarding pro-natal policies. Those are needed to boost the birthrate and produce more workers, but they too must take the ethnic factor into account.
Unfortunately, Beloborodov says, that hasn’t always been the case. The pro-natal policies of the government have boosted birthrates overall but not evenly across the country. In predominantly ethnic Russian regions with low birthrates now, these policies have done little or nothing.
But “in non-Russian republics and regions of compact settlement of representatives of other indigenous peoples of Russia,” these policies have boosted fertility rates. If that trend continues, “it will promote the deformation of the existing demographic situation in our country.”
“The share of the ethnic Russian and Slavic population will fall, and the existing relationship of various nationalities will be deformed.” Thus, any policy in this area must take ethnicity into consideration, and different approaches should be used in different regions to ensure that deformations don’t take place.
But if “revolutionary” steps aren’t taken in this area now, Beloborodov says, “we will experience the most serious problems” in the decade between 2040 and 2050.