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An Economic Lesson for Tom Friedman: Putin Brought Russia Out of Poverty

As a long-term columnist at the NYT, Thomas Friedman apparently never feels the need to know anything about the topics on which he writes. This explains his sarcastic speculation that Putin could be a CIA agent, since he has done so much to hurt Russia.

For all his authoritarian tendencies, it is likely that most Russians think primarily about Putin’s impact on the economy, just as is typically the case among voters in the United States. On that front, Putin has a very good record.

According to data from the I.M.F. Russia’s economy had plunged in the 1990s under the Yeltsin presidency. When Putin took over in 1998, per capita income in the country had shrunk by more than 40 percent from its 1990 level. This is a far sharper downturn than the United States saw in the Great Depression. Since Putin took power its per capita income has risen by more than 115 percent, an average annual growth rate of more than 3.9 percent.

While this growth has been very unequal, that was also the case even as Russia’s economy was collapsing under Yeltsin. The typical Russian has done hugely better in the last two decades under Putin than they did in the period when Yeltsin was in power.

For this reason, there are probably few Russians who would have sympathy for Friedman’s speculation about Putin’s ties to the CIA. The same would not be the case for Boris Yeltsin.

This column originally appeared on Beat the Press.

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Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

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