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Main | Archive | Issue 1/2007

Ethics of National Capitalism
Column: Reading About Russia



Diplomat continues reprinting the most noteworthy publications in the Russian-language press of this country. This time, it is an editorial from the newspaper Kommersant that first appeared on October 23, 2006.

A lot of what is happening in our country is commonly attributed to peculiarities of the Russian character, including why capitalism is taking so long to strike root on Russian soil. Capitalism is known to require such Western traits as enterprise and responsibility, which are arguably not found among the labor values of the Russian people.

Max Weber, a German sociologist, tried to prove in his classical work that capitalism was born out of Protestant ethics that encourage work and the accumulation of wealth. Weber regarded Confucianism as the opposite of Protestantism. According to him, Confucianism allegedly cultivates passivity and contempt of material values. The economic accomplishments of Confucian Asia raise doubts about this theory, however. According to the World Values Survey, the majority of Koreans polled (92 percent) considered the opportunity to achieve something in their life an important aspect of their work. Even in such a classical capitalist country as the U.S. this figure reaches a mere 84 percent. It may well be that the values that Russians embrace are also changing quite fast and that may bring about an economic breakthrough before long.

The latest study by Vladimir Magun of the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences suggests an affirmative answer to this question. The findings of public polls conducted between l991and 2004 indicate that the labor values of Russians have changed so dramatically over these 14 years that it makes no sense to speak about the invariability of the Russian character. The following four values have become the most important for Russians: good wages (85 percent of those polled in 1991 and 96 percent in 2004); job security (40 percent and 80 percent); interest in ones job (68 percent and 72 percent), as well as the above-mentioned opportunity to achieve something (28 percent and 44 percent, respectively). By contrast, Russians now less appreciate a long vacation (46 percent and 32 percent), the correlation between ones job and ones ability (57 percent and 34 percent), as well as the possibility to display ones initiative (30 percent and 24 percent). Some things have not changed, or the changes have not proved to be statistically significant. As before, we want our work to be respected (40 percent and 36 percent), we are not ready to assume responsibility (21 percent and 20 percent), but we are ready to do hard work (80 percent and 82 percent).

The transformation of values that has taken place in recent years is not surprising. Russians needed to meet their basic needs, Magun thinks, and, to do so, they sacrificed their vacation and the possibility of fulfilling themselves and displaying initiative. All non-material demands placed on the job center on interest in ones job. Similar findings were made by researchers of the Ethnology and Anthropology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences over the period 19992005. The last six years, such values as enjoying ones life, power and the possibility of social recognition and creativity have lost their importance considerably. On the contrary, self-fulfillment (ones ambitions, success and choice of ones own goals, etc.), security and stability (including social justice) have increased.

As a result, the labor values shared by Russians today have actually become identical to those of the citizens of the G7 countries in terms of good salaries and wages, interest in ones work, job security, a convenient work schedule, vacation and public respect for ones profession. There are serious differences that persist, however: only 24 percent of all Russians value an opportunity to display their initiative versus 54 percent of the people in the G7 countries; a mere 20 percent of all Russians compared to 53 percent of the citizens in the G7 countries are ready to take responsibility upon themselves; and the correspondence of ones job to ones ability is 34 percent in Russia versus 61 percent in the G7 countries. Most importantly, however, only 44 percent of all Russians value the possibility to achieve a goal versus 67 percent of the people in the G7 countries. The Russian indicator is not only lower than the Korean figure (91.8 percent) but also than the average of five Islamic nations (56.3 percent in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan), although Islam, like Confucianism in earlier times, is regarded by many researchers to be an anti-market religion. Having said that, Russians are ready to work hard: 82 percent versus 11 percent in Korea and 62 percent within the G7. It is noteworthy that the value pattern in South Korea also differs from the values shared inside the G7, but the difference is quite the opposite. There the desire to get a more responsible job (91 percent against 20 percent in the RF and 53 percent in the G7 countries) and one respected by society (68 percent versus 36 percent in Russia and 39 percent in the G7 countries) is more pronounced.

Today, the labor values shared by Russians have actually become identical to those of the citizens of the G7 countries in terms of good salaries and wages, interest in ones work, job security, a convenient work schedule, vacation and public respect for ones profession.

The bottom line is that the labor ethics of global capitalism is fairly multi-faceted today. Classical Western capitalism is based on private enterprise, whereas Confucian capitalism on a desire to have more weight in society. On the whole, the Russian model could be called un-enterprising capitalism. Striving for hard and stable work aimed at getting a high salary is at its heart. For all that, researchers take the view that as the well-being of Russians grows, they will less and less be focused on the quest for money and will increasingly strive for self-fulfillment and social recognition.

On the whole, the Russian model could be called un-enterprising capitalism. Striving for hard and stable work aimed at getting a high salary is at its heart.





-, 2006