Russia: how the crisis might affect future growth

The performance of the BRIC economies over the past decade or so has been mixed. Russian growth, though impressive by Western standards, has lagged that of both India and China. This is particularly true since 2008. I got an insight into the problem at a conference last week at the Economics Institute at St Petersburg University. Incredibly, it has a total of 64,000 students. Cynics might say that a country which produces so many economists is bound to perform badly.

We went to the Rector’s office. On the staircase immediately outside was a massive bust of Nikolai Voznesensky, Chairman of the State Planning Commission in the Second World War, responsible for organising the entire Soviet economy. Voznesensky was described to me in glowing terms as ‘a great man’. But there, too, were photographs of all the previous Rectors, prominently displayed. There had been a very rapid turnover in both 1937 and 1938, with one man lasting only six weeks in the job. Why?

I looked up the Collected Works of Stalin. Anticipating Andy Warhol by decades, he wrote ‘Under socialism, everyone will have the right to be Rector of Leningrad University for 15 minutes’. Well, of course, this last bit has been made up. The years 1937/38 were the very height of the Soviet show trials and purges, and all the Rectors had been shot in rapid succession.

So, standing in front of these rather moving and haunting photographs of leading intellectuals, all victims of socialism, I was receiving a eulogy of the man who ran the Stalinist command economy. This seems to encapsulate Russia’s problems. What is the dominant narrative? Is it to break with the past, honour those whose lives were destroyed, and in so doing move forward? Or is to look back with nostalgia at the apparent security of the planned economy?

Talking to the students, there were much more optimistic signs. They were lively, enthusiastic, wanting to speak better English and do interesting work. We could almost have been anywhere. But even here, a theme ran through the narrative, the overall view of the world, which they had constructed about Russia’s future. None of this group wanted to restore socialism, the idea did not even cross their minds. Nor were they entirely sure of the blueprint to try and follow. But the financial crisis has clearly compromised the view that the Western model is the one which must be followed to generate successful economic development.

The recent crisis has simply not been on the same scale as the Great Depression of the 1930s, when output in the US fell by nearly 30 per cent. Mere facts, however, do not shake a settled narrative. The psychological impact of the crisis has been to give countries like China and Russia even more confidence that they can reject the free market, private property, liberal democracy model of development. Outside the developed economies, it is a seductive message.

Paul Ormerod

As published in City AM on Wednesday 2nd October 

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

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Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.