If You Set Yourself Ambitious Tasks
On November 15 Daniel Treisman, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, gave a lecture on ‘Topical Problems of Teaching and Research in Political Economy’. One of the leading political scientists in the world, Professor Treisman arrived in Moscow as an expert member of the International Advisory Committee for the HSE’s Programme of Development as a National Research University. What does he think about the prospects for our university?
— Please tell us more about the main goals of your current visit to Moscow.
— First of all, I would like to find out more about the university, its key departments, faculties, the HSE’s educational and research activities. A closer acquaintance with the university will give me the opportunity to make and present my suggestions on a number of important aspects of the university’s long-term development plan. That’s why I’m spending most of my time in Moscow meeting people from different HSE faculties and administrative departments.
— Have you been involved in education management before? Did you make administrative decisions in your home university?
— Yes, for several years I served as Vice Chair for Personnel of the Department of Political Science, and my job involved recruiting for the faculty so I know what interuniversity competition for personnel is. In addition to that, I worked as Lead Editor of the American Political Science Review journal, and now I take part in the work of the admission committee and other university committees and organizations.
— Recently you gave a lecture at the Higher School of Economics on the essential issues of teaching and research in political economy. Could you please tell us about modern international trends in this field?
— My lecture at the HSE was about several aspects of the contemporary political economy. I based it on recent publications and the most interesting research carried out by my colleagues in different countries. I tried to present arguments and points of views from various economists and political scientists on the laws and contemporary trends of development of political economy as a science today. Many researchers believe that the economic development of a society directly depends on the activity of various institutions and organizations within this society. Others think that culture plays major role in the stages of any society’s economic development. For example, there is a widely spread belief that innovation technologies develop faster in countries with a prevailing individualism culture – they say that this is why West European countries have achieved such high a level of industrialization. A third group of researchers believe that the most important factor in economic development is geography: countries with unfavourable climates considerably lag behind in their economic and political development. There are also advocates of the psychological theory of successful economic development who try to measure why citizens of some states are more happy or, at least, satisfied, with their lives in comparison to those in other countries and how this positive atmosphere in a society influences the country’s economic development. During the lecture I also spoke about teaching political economy at universities in general and at the HSE in particular.
— For many years you have been studying Russian politics and economy. In your view, what are the prospects for Russian development, taking into account the geographical and cultural factors you’ve just mentioned?
— I’m afraid I have no clear answer to this question. Firstly, it is difficult for me to define the main contents of Russian culture. Secondly, it is still not quite clear to me which theory of political economy we should or can use to explain the successful or unsuccessful economic development of a country. None of the theories mentioned above seems to me convincing enough, since they cannot suggest a clear explanation of the general laws of economic development. I don’t think that Russia’s geographical position can in any way hinder your country’s economic prosperity, and see no cultural obstacles for successful economic development. By the way, I think that people are often wrong to think that national culture is something constant, formed once and forever. In fact, culture changes quite rapidly. An example of instant cultural changes is Germany which went through a real cultural revolution after World War II, when the values in society changed radically. A similar process has also takes place in other countries. The institutions of society are also not permanent. Especially as no one can say for sure what exactly institutions are necessary for economic growth. So, Russia’s future cannot be predetermined by its geographical position, culture or social institutions.
— As an expert member of the International Advisory Committee for the HSE’s Programme of Development as a National Research University, you are, of course, aware of the HSE administration’s ambitious plans to make the School an international-level university. What steps are the most important on this way?
— I believe that it is impossible to achieve anything in life if you do not set yourself the most ambitious tasks. The Higher School of Economics has much to achieve in order to reach its goals. The university’s strategic plan of development already implies considerable changes. The key task is the progressive integration of the university into the West European and American academic environment, which involves joining the most promising programmes and projects, attraction and recruiting the best Russian and Western researchers in joint research and educational activities and considerable growth of the number of publications in international journals. All this will demand serious investment and resources, and I hope that the Russian government will continue to support the university, and the HSE administration will be able not only to set the right priorities for its strategy, but also to realize them. On one hand, the university’s plan of development should be clear and approved by all HSE departments, and on the other hand, it should be very flexible, since it is impossible to foresee everything. Success often comes unexpectedly, and we should learn to quickly latch on to new trends and methods in science and education in order to give timely support for the most promising innovative projects.
— Are you planning joint research projects with Russian colleagues?
— In fact, I have been cooperating for many years with a remarkable scientist in labour economics, Tenured Professor of the HSE, Vladimir Gimpelson. We work together on several projects in political economy, including those in the sphere of public employment. I very much hope this collaboration will continue and look forward to the launch of other joint projects with HSE staff. I know that the HSE has many prominent researchers, and I follow their successes and publications with interest.
— As far as I know, soon your new book about Russian political and economic development will be published. Would you please tell us more about this work?
— The book is called The return: Russia’s journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev. It includes a broad historical review and analysis of Russia’s trajectory since 1985. One of the main ideas of the book is that during this period Russia’s administration was often unable to control the economic circumstances of the country’s development, but it was the economy which had a major influence on the country’s domestic politics. The popularity of Russia’s presidents grew and decreased in direct relation to the state of the country’s economy. I can say that the book is a kind of portrait of modern Russia and gives an explanation of important events and phenomena which are often unclear to a Western reader.
Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service
Photos by Nikita Benzoruk