Surprised he lasted this long

Apparently Boris Yeltsin is dead. In the West he was viewed as a sort of bumbling but almost lovable drunk (the Simpsons had an episode where the top reading on a breathalyzer test was “Boris Yeltsin”).

I don’t know if we should be so kind though.

Everyone will be quick to deliver an encomium that praises him for winding up communism. Fair enough, but the job he did in ending it was terrible, so completely terrible, that for generations it will be a case-study in how not to do economic transitions.

The people that conceived the program of “shock therapy” (such as Jeffrey Sachs) insist that the problem was that their prescriptions weren’t properly followed. There are others though that insist that even perfect execution of shock therapy would have still resulted in a mess.

Let’s not forget that what we ended up with was the worst sort of banana republic crony-capitalism where the lines between government, business, and organized crime were murky at best.

If anything Putin has simply fine-tuned and improved the management of Yeltsin’s system of authoritarian rule. Putin is seen as a bit of pariah, but he’s really just competent whereas we excused Yeltsin’s excesses as a function of his perceived incompetence.

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