Here I am going to tell you a story of one country. I guess you’ve heard some facts on its past but I am practically sure you don’t know some exact details. So the country in question is USSR, the country which doesn’t exist now, since 1991.
The topic of the article is connected with richness, but it’s impossible to understand the roots of the problem if not to make a little digression and to learn some facts about USSR. The main thing I want to point your attention at was a fact that in USSR there was no right for private property for individuals. This might seem unbelievable but it’s true. Nobody was allowed to own things greater than his toothbrush or tv-set. Just stop for a second and try to imagine if all the things that you are got used to would become impossible for you to own. You can’t own your house or apartment (apartments in USSR were just registered for a person’s name but belonged to the state). You don’t own your property so you can’t sell it and buy new, you can’t just sell it and get money for it! In USSR nobody could buy a property for himself, property was assigned to a person or to a family by a decision of a local branch of Communist party. And more than that you are not allowed to start a business and to own the things connected with business – you can’t have a shop, a warehouse, a service company, actually only state could own any companies. Tell me, but please honestly, can you imagine yourself living in such a place?
If you can’t imagine, then I’ll try to give some more clues how did people live. Many of people that were living during that times don’t have bad memories. You would wonder, how comes? I can explain, they got used to such a life from their birth. If you never knew that you can have more than you already have then probably you won’t desire or regret about this.
All the information, regarding the life abroad of USSR was restricted. If some information appeared – it was totally censored and was limited to criticizing “evil capitalism”. There were even no mass media that you could get information from. Remember, nobody was allowed to own a business? So there were no private TV or radio stations, or not even private newspapers. The number of TV channels were limited to two, yes two. Till the end of 80s people were getting only two TV channels and both of them of course were belonging to the state. Just imagine for a while you have two TV channels? What shows did they have on those two channels? No shows at all. These were governmental channels, only Soviet movies, Soviet singers, some Soviet educational programs and Soviet news. That’s all.
How about newspapers? Could people freely subscribe to newspapers and magazines they desired? Yes they could unless this newspaper or magazine is of a Soviet origin. People couldn’t have a right on getting newspapers from other countries. And Soviet papers had some weird names like “Red Star”, “Lenin’s Truth”, “Soviet Russia” etc. Remember that “iron curtain” term? That’s where it comes from.
More than that people couldn’t buy cars freely. There were no retail shops selling cars. You could get a special entry to a queue of around a few thousands of people before you. And then you had to wait a few years, or maybe more than 10 years to get your turn to spend your money on buying a car for yourself.
Was there something worth of living you might ask? Or it was really so bad bad bad? I can’t answer this question, because as I told you already there are numerous people, the old people, who now are nostalgic about that period in their life. What did they like there? I just can imagine a few things. First, you didn’t have to pay anything for your health support. No health insurances, no paid doctors, no need to save money for your new teeth. Everything is paid by government for you. You could visit any doctor in any part of Soviet state for free. You could live a whole life and don’t pay a penny for your health. Or how about going to college for free? Any high school student who graduated could go to a college, university or institute of his choice totally for free, of course if his knowledge level corresponded. Another thing – there were no poor people in terms of living on the street eating from trash bins and burning fires to warm themselves. Because all people were obliged to work and all jobs were in the hands of the state everybody worked and also because as I mentioned all the apartments belonged to the state – everybody had a place to live. But in general all the people, except top management of the Communist party, top scientists, top military man and other tops were poor if to compare with a middle class of any European country for that period of time. And that’s probably all of the positive that I could spot in the Soviet system from a first sight. Oh I forgot, people were even not allowed to travel abroad. Those who traveled were under strict control of KGB or intelligence service, just as well as all the foreigners that were allowed to pay a visit to a Soviet state.
Ok, and in the end of 80s the Soviet state collapsed. We won’t here touch all the reasons why, but mainly the reason was just because the system itself couldn’t any more support the citizens so the citizens were given a freedom. So the private property appeared and just imagine you lived your whole life without even knowing that you can buy things bigger than a bicycle, that you can own flats, houses or even factories and now you can. Of course 99% of people were shocked and helpless. 99% of people older than 40 couldn’t find themselves in the new situation.
But there were two groups of people who began acquiring the new horizons fast fast fast. First it was the former leaders of communist party from different levels (city leaders. Regional leaders and of course federal leaders). They all had knew necessary people, knew many ways in and out and most of them succeeded in becoming capitalists. How pathetic. And another group – it were a younger people, who could fast rearrange their inner system of beliefs for a new reality and start getting benefits of it fast.
So that was a situation in the country at the beginning of the 90s – a facresh class of young capitalists appeared, doing regular stuff – selling, buying, offering services and lying. And here we approach the most important event. The even that allowed a few people become the richest people in the world.
That event occurred when the Russian government decided that they can’t maintain all that property they had. Most of the factories, plants, commercial property was abandoned due to inability of the state government at that time to pay salaries. Many huge loans were taken from Worldbank and other foreign structures but they also couldn’t cover the needs. So at that time the government made a decision which became a goldmine for all those whose names you can meet on TV screens, with “Richest Russian” titles. The government decided to sell everything it has owned. Now, just imagine, the country where nobody had a right for a private property, has build thousands of world greatest factories, plants and other objects that can shock imagination. Those objects belonged to “everybody” formally, and belonged to the state actually.
The greatest factories producing steel, oil, mineral fertilizers etc etc were sold for a small group of people who were close to elite for prices hundreds times less their actual market price. The scheme was simple – the governmental clerk who for example sells a plant – he actually is not supposed to get anything from this act himself, he is acting on behalf of the state. But a guy who is going to buy comes to him and tells “I am giving you 1 million dollars in cash now, and tomorrow you make me a paper that I am now the owner of the great steel factory worth of $100M for another $1M.”. And practically all the deals were conducted in such a way. The main condition there was to have an acquaintance with a clerk who was in charge in selling this or that property on behalf of the state. Those clerks actually robbed the Russian state for billions of dollars.
So these was a way how the “Richest Russian People” became rich. They got all their great capitals from buying properties that belonged to Soviet people from a state for a low low price. And most of the Russian people now hate them. They understand that the state they live in was totally corrupted at the moment when this privatization happened, and stays totally corrupted now, when all the power in the country is warmed with the money of those who made the privatization deals earlier.
Probably you have heard a story of imprisonment of the Russia richest person Mikhail Khodorkovsky. All the polls in Russia show that most people don’t sympathize or feel any regret for such “unlawful act” as it is often being positioned in Western media. Why? Just because they know that he is actually a criminal as well as other “Richest People” because every man in Russia knows how all those people earned their capital. The process that took hundreds and hundreds years in the civilized countries took just a few years in Russia. Just imagine.