‘The Mix of Policy Debates and Academic Discussions’
On the eve of the XII International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development which will take place from April 5th – 7th at the Higher School of Economics, some of the forum’s international participants answered a few questions from the HSE news service.
Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology at the Columbia University (New York, USA), Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
— What are your expectations concerning the forthcoming conference?
— These conferences have become well-known events and I have long wanted to come to one of them. What matters is the focus — economic development, social conditions in the current types of economic systems, and the setting from which this is examined — today’s Russia, — even if some of the participants often meet in other settings as well. I find some interesting parallels between the US and Russia, notably that they both make very visible and legible some of the negative consequences for large sectors of the people that result from their economies today. They are different economies, Russia and the US, but they have far fewer intermediations and safety nets than the Northern and Western European countries.
— The Higher School of Economics is the only national research university in Russia which has a socio-economic and human science profile. How would you evaluate the development of social studies in Russia?
— This is not easy for me to respond because I do not know too much about how social studies is taught at the Higher School of Economics. But I do know that the School has a reputation as the best university for the social sciences in Russia.
Alexander Libman, Assistant Professor at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management
— The April Conference at the HSE is, as usual, highly heterogeneous, so it is hard to even keep an overview of all papers and topics covered by the conference, yet alone select the most interesting ones. For me personally, probably, the sections on Theoretical Economics and Economic History include the highest concentration of interesting papers (although there are many contributions it would be a pity to miss in other sections as well). Furthermore, the section on the Methodology of Economics is likely to provide an interesting debate.
— At the April Conference you will speak about your research concerning the link between tax compliance and political attitudes of Russian governors. Will this study be further developed? Will it include, for example,the political attitudes of ordinary people?
— An empirical researcher is restricted not only by the presence of interesting topics, but also by access to data. It is, generally speaking, extremely difficult to collect any individual-specific information on taxation; some countries give access to selected datasets for research purposes under certain conditions, but most countries don't. It is also the case that one is usually unable to match the political attitude data and the tax compliance data; one could attempt to do it in a survey, yet the information one obtains is unlikely to be characteristic of the individual-specific tax compliance. Thus, looking at high-ranked Russian bureaucrats in my study seems to provide a rather special case of data availability (and of the underlying mechanism analyzed), and it is unlikely that I will ever be able to replicate it for other groups, let alone 'ordinary people'. The topic is very interesting, but I do not know of any feasible way to solve the data availability problem.
— What are you expecting from the upcoming conference?
— I am expecting stimulating debates both about Russian economic policy and about recent developments in economic theory. Indeed the mix of policy debates and more academic discussions is what makes these conferences such an exciting event. As a scholar working on Russia but not being able to spend as much time in Russia as I would like, the plenary sessions are especially important for me to get an impression of how Russian colleagues perceive recent developments.
— At the April Conference you will speak on 'EU conditionality and Bulgaria’s and Romania’s economic transition performance'. If the development of not very effective national economies intensifies when they start playing by the economic rules of a united Europe, is it possible to talk about any general approaches to this process? Or, taking into account cultural traditions, is it possible to forecast and use only the development of some separate, specific spheres of national economies as a driving force for reforms in developing countries?
— The idea of the paper is precisely about the question whether EU conditionality functions the same way in different environments or whether, due to historical specificity, its impact is different from country to country. If we take the experience of Bulgaria and Romania, they definitely improved their transition performance due to EU conditionality, but at the same time they are still marked by typical problems of the region, such as corruption. So, all in all, what we see is a mixed picture. The question is not what is more important - conditionality or cultural traditions - but how the two factors interact.
— National economies improve as they cooperate with the EU. Is it possible to get some advantages in the opposite direction - from national economies to the European economy, or is the ineffectiveness of a national economy an unconditional sign of 'wrong' and 'ineffective' cultural traditions?
— I find it rather problematic to speak about 'wrong' or 'inefficient' cultural traditions. The final aim of economic activity is human happiness. Imagine that it would be possible to turn 'inefficient' cultural traditions of a society into economically 'efficient' ones overnight. There are good reasons to believe that this would make the people living in that society quite unhappy. Again: This is neither an 'either/or' question. The problem is to introduce some new formal and informal institutions that make the economy more efficient without sacrificing national traditions. By the way, in my view, The Russia of the 'Silver Age' is a good example of how a certain 'Westernization' can go hand in hand with maintaining national culture: For it was precisely in a period in which Russia came closer to Western Europe that its arts and literature came to full bloom.
Timothy Frye, Professor of political science at Columbia University, Director of the Harriman Institute
— How would you evaluate the prospects for the development of the Russian judicial system?
— If we speak of the courts of arbitration, it is important to recognize the large increases in funding and considerable improvement in the physical infrastructure of the court that have taken place in the last five years. This was much needed and a positive step. To make further improvements in the arbitration courts, it is important to increase the insulation of judges from powerful groups within the state and the society. The court as an institution has been hurt by public perceptions of the dependence of judiciary on outside forces. In addition, strong judicial systems rely on many supporting institutions within society that help to resolve disputes and instill norms of legality, such as professional associations, business groups, and regional associations. These social institutions are very important in transmitting business reputations and help prevent disputes and conflicts before they happen. Moreover, they can decrease the burden on state courts that are often overburdened. Thus, strengthening these institutions should be an important part of the agenda of legal reform.
— As a researcher in Russian studies, what are you expecting from the upcoming conference?
— In addition to seeing old friend and colleagues, I am particularly interested in the policy discussions that I expect will dominate the first day of the conference. Policy debates have become much more intense in recent months and I am eager to hear how various policymakers and scholars view the possibility for change in the process of state procurement and the role of state officials on company boards. In addition, as always, I look forward to seeing cutting edge research on political and economic developments in Russia.Maria Pustovoyt, HSE News Service