15 October 2010

Actually, Russians are Black

Having grown up in America, I have a sense of America's Black and white societal view.  One of America's tendencies is to be introspective along racial lines.  While this provides a simple model for understanding how the American society works, it is oversimple and often stupid.

For instance, a simple and stupid conclusion that many Americans have come to is that African Americans have a  propensity to overspend on luxury vehicles.  The (wrongheaded) reasoning goes something like this:
  • Black people are poorer than white people (because that is what I have been told as it has been historically true)
  • I see a lot of Black people living in cheap housing (in some movies)
  • I see a lot of Black people driving nice cars (in some music videos)
  • Therefore, Black people spend too much money on flashy cars (because I deduce)

Image Perfect for Stereotyping

Extending the same loopy logic, I can "prove" that Russians are actually Black:
  • A lot of Russians live in cheap housing
  • A lot of Russians drive really expensive cars
  • Therefore, Russians spend too much money on flashy cars
  • Therefore, Russians are Black

Yo - Flavor Flav Got Nothing On This Russian Brother!

Back to the Black and white societal view in America:  It would be far more useful if Americans examined their society through income and education levels instead of race.  Although I have not done any quantitative studies, I have observed numerous cases of profligacy on automobiles by under-educated folks.  These under-educated folks, who can belong to any racial group in America, also tend to make less money.  However, by incorporating a flashy car into their image - because a flashy car is cheaper, easier to attain, and more visible than a decent house - the under-educated can project a sense of prosperity.

The flashy car dynamics in Russia are different than in the US, but the goals of projecting a sense of prosperity are the same.  It is not uncommon for a Russian to spend 2X his annual salary in purchasing a high-end car.  But, unlike the American under-educated and low-income fellow, this Russian tends to be well-educated and a professional.

It is 2010 and Russia is (still) in middle of a massive social and economic transformation.  The Russian society has gone from a command-and-control economy where resources were poorly allocated to a freewheeling economy rife with corruption and inequality.  Although today's resource allocation has significantly improved over what was in existence during the Soviet era, corruption and lack of sufficient regulatory control still lead to poorly-allocated resources.  This situation makes some Russians extremely wealthy.  And other hard-working Russians, wanting to project a sense of self-worth and success, do what they can to display the image of belonging to the high-net-worth class.

New Russian Bling

Regarding the misleading blog title: It should be clear by now that Russians are about as Black as African Americans are about spending high dollars on flashy cars.  Despite what some Americans may (incorrectly) think about their fellow colored citizen, there is no race factor driving a certain ethnic group to purchase flashy cars.  There is only the interplay of economic logic and a sense of needing to project personal dignity in some way, no matter how misdirected that method may be.

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