24 June 2012

Life is a Dog

I found this trained begging dog on the grounds of Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (ВДНХ) in Moscow.  The irony, of course, is a beggar dog on the grounds of "Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy."

The youngster was very well-behaved and cute.  I take it that the irony of the situation was part of the art portrayed by the dog - whose job can be defined as a street performer, social commentator, or political activist under better interpretations.

23 June 2012

Something To Celebrate

Here is a bit of self-organization to perform something fun and amazing.  With this spirit - if sustained - Russians could take their country far into the future.

03 June 2012

Keynesian Economics

Keynesian economics, among other things, posits that an active participation by the public sector (government) is needed in certain points of the economics cycle to eliminate uncertainty, stabilize the system, and incite national growth.  In particular, the government may be called upon to create jobs, no matter how inefficiently, to put money in consumers' pockets and stoke spending.

The construction of the fabled Golden Gate Bridge has aspects of Keynesian economics:  Assembled in San Francisco, the bridge's parts were constructed on the US East Coast and transported via railroad across the country to spur economic on a wide geographical basis on the tails of the 1929 market crash and ensuing Great Depression.

I am sort of witnessing my own version of Keynesian economics here in Russia, except the Russian version appears to be a public-private partnership:  You see, several jobs are protected to secure a simple outcome, no matter how inefficiently.

John Maynard Keynes: A Giant Among Men

As a foreign worker in Russia, I have the privilege of bringing a personal car with me to Russia without paying import duties.  That privilege has to be renewed annually by, effectively, reimporting the car.  This means that I have to drive my Toyota minivan across international borders and drive back into Russia.  The closest border to Moscow is Belarus, but Russia and Belarus have a common customs regime, making that border impractical.  The next closest border is Ukraine, but I have been advised that border officials (on both sides) behave more professionally at the Finnish border, some 600 miles (1,000 km) away and back.

To drive the car to the border, I have to reclaim my California license plate (I used to have two plates, but someone stole one of them) from the Transportation Authorities.  As in almost every case when on deals with Russian government authorities, one has to show legal residence (this applies to Russian citizens as well).  In foreigner's case, legal residence is established through a registration process, and that process needs to be kicked off upon every entrance into the country.  Because of my job, I travel abroad frequently, so I have to register frequently.

Except, that I did not register last time I entered Russia.  Realizing this, the good folks around me urged me to quickly register before the end of the day.  I kid you not, but the process was like this:

  1. A helpful and knowledgeable HR professional took on the responsibility to register me.
  2. The registration requires the CEO's signature.  The CEO was out of the office, so we had to get a courier to take the forms to him.  The courier was not reachable, so we used a driver to do the same thing.
  3. Once the forms were signed, they were to be taken to the right authorities for finalization; except that drivers only drive.  Because the courier was unavailable and because time was running out, the HR professional, her director, and I had a firefighting meeting to discuss what to do.
  4. We called my wife and asked her if one of her employees would be able to intercept the forms from the driver and deliver them to the authorities before 5:00 pm.  
  5. She reached out to two people, and got one of them to sign on.
  6. He sprinted from my wife's office to the authorities (about a 2 km run) and got into the door at 4:57 pm.
  7. Once the forms were signed, the brave runner handed back the forms to my wife, who handed them back to me so that I can hand them back to the helpful HR professional.
It took seven people, several calls, a couple of meetings, and a mad dash to get me registered (hats off to Keynesian job creation).  

The next day, I accompanied my driver to the Transportation Authorities to exchange my Russian plates for my California one (singular).  My driver had already scouted the Transportation Authorities to ensure that we understood the process there.  Luckily, things went smoothly:
  1. We showed up at one window to make a petition;
  2. We then drove to a nearby inspection site to ensure that all was OK with the automobile;
  3. We then went back to the same window to await to be called with the final forms;
  4. With the final forms, we went to another department to get the California plate and answer questions of why we only had one.
This phase took six people.

Now comes the drive to Finland.  I have developed a phobia of sorts here:  I limit my driving whenever I can (hence my driver and the extra cost that goes with it).  To take the car across the border, I will ride a couple of trains to a border town, pick up the car from my driver, exit Russia after completing some customs forms (it will take two customs officials per my experience last year), drive to Finland and get through their customs (it involved three Finns last year), and then drive back to Russia and engage another two Russian customs officials over an hour or so.  This leg takes nine people.

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother:  I wish I were living in Russia!

Eliminating duplicate heads, the entire operation involves some 19 people.  That is a lot of time, people, and expenses for something rather simple:  Allowing me to keep my personal car without a $15,000 import duty for my family's private use.  Apparently, comparing personal effects import and export manifests when a foreign worker moves into and out of Russia, and collecting taxes at that juncture if needed, is too efficient and does not create or protect enough jobs.  

John Maynard Keynes is rolling his his grave now.

You Can Take a Boy Out of Russia ...

But you cannot take Russia out of the boy.

Here are some street performers playing in Salzburg, Austria, Mozart's hometown, on 1 June 2012.