Russia is due to hold presidential elections next March, but there is no point, as Vladimir Putin settled the matter long ago. To resort to a sinister phrase of his own invention, he has set up “managed democracy,” and this means that absolute power stays in his hands. From 2000 to 2008 he served as president, and the constitution specified that nobody could hold that office for more than two four-year terms. It was child’s play for Putin to devise a way around that: Nothing prevented four terms as president so long as they weren’t consecutive. Putin duly exchanged places with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, a cipher who lacks character and can’t conceal what may well be justified fear of Putin. At a mass meeting of United Russia, their party, Putin and Medvedev announced that they are once more going to exchange places. In the finest Soviet tradition, 11,000 delegates gave them a standing ovation. Putin has successfully neutered opposition parties, arrested challengers, bought or broken oligarchs, taken control of almost all media outlets, and arranged to extend the term of office from four to six years, taking his presidency to 2024. It shouldn’t be necessary to fix the ballot, as Putin made sure to do in previous elections.
As the eurozone’s turmoil grows worse, its options dwindle to three: inflation, bailouts, or breakup. If Europe’s distressed economies still had their own currencies, they would depreciate and thus bring their wages and prices to competitive levels. The European Central Bank could accomplish something similar if it inflated the euro. Prices and wages in the region’s healthy core would rise faster than those in its troubled economies, and thus the peripheral countries would become competitive again. If European elites are unwilling to give up on the euro, and unwilling as well to allow inflation to rise, then their only alternative is to persuade reluctant electorates to approve massive bailouts — assuming they have enough money. The euro was a political project of elites who thought it would foster a European unity that itself did not enjoy much popular support. They no longer have good choices, and will on past performance probably pick the worst.
Ireland’s fiscal-austerity measures had no greater enemy than Paul Krugman, the economist turned New York Times attack dachshund. Such austerity measures were undermining the Irish economy, driving away investors, eroding confidence, sending incomes plunging, hindering growth, etc. He compared the austerity measures to medieval bloodletting, called them “savage” and their architects superstitious. Suffice it to say, he was not a fan. And then came the Irish economic-growth numbers: considerably stronger in the past two quarters, with GDP up 1.6 percent, exports strong, and domestic demand rising. Professor Krugman, rather than admitting his error, claims to be vindicated: “Standard Keynesian models,” he says, helped him see it all coming, even when he was denouncing it in articles with headlines like “A Terrible Ugliness Is Born.” Krugman has come in for some gentle chiding from his fellow economists. Comparing economists’ forecasts to the Irish facts, economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University wrote: “It ain’t a pretty picture, and I’ll be the first to admit (and apparently I am) that my predictions were incorrect.” No such admission is forthcoming from Krugman. Alex Massie, writing in The Spectator, sees what is really going on: “When Paul Krugman spends a summer writing about Ireland’s enforced austerity, he’s not really writing about Ireland at all. He’s arguing about the United States, and never mind what the hell happens to the poor, miserable Irish. The worse things go for them, the better they go for the Krugman school.”
It would be too much to say that King Abdullah is an acolyte of John Stuart Mill. And yet he seems inclined to grant women in Saudi Arabia the right to vote and even to submit their candidacy for municipal office “in accordance with sharia.” Abdullah justified this shift thus: “We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society in every field of work,” leaving the unsettling implication that marginalization will continue in other areas. One of these will be behind the wheel of a car, where women are prohibited from sitting, hindering their ability to reach polling centers. So long as this wider “marginalization” (known outside the Wahhabi realm as subjugation) persists, equality under the law will remain a fantasy. And so long as the electorate at large is unable to elect — and dismiss — its leaders, universal suffrage will continue to be a mirage.