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The High Price of Long Vacations

Published: January 15, 2014 (Issue # 1793)


Russians enjoy longer holidays than people in any of the other 40 countries tracked by the travel website Hotels.com, combining the generous 28-day paid vacation required by the labor law with 12 days of official public holidays adds up to 40 days per year, compared to 36 days off work for second-place Italy.

Some aspects of such long vacations are undoubtedly positive. A long summer vacation combined with more than a week off at the start of the year and a holiday many people create for themselves in early May gives families more time together and allows them to travel abroad. In theory, this should remedy the pernicious effect of the Soviet-era Iron Curtain and make younger Russians more knowledgeable about the world, more tolerant and open-minded. The shrillness of the current xenophobic campaign in the state media, attacking the West in general, may be the Kremlins desperate, irrational attempt to stem the tide of pro-Western sentiment among well-traveled Russians.

But many who stay home actually hate the extended New Year holidays. They complain about the hangovers after drinking, wasteful spending and boredom. But there is also a broader economic impact of generous vacations, which is similar to what Russia experienced under communism and which could come to haunt it once again in the near future.

Whether or not people worked longer hours in the Soviet Union is beside the point. Pay was low, but productivity was even lower. They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work, went the popular saying. Much time was wasted on party meetings and indoctrination, and the system itself was economically inefficient. The Soviets mined coal and ore to make machinery to mine more coal and ore. The added value of such activity was negligible.

Once communism collapsed and Russia became integrated into the world economy, the economic value of Soviet communism was appraised by the market. The result was a sharp devaluation of the ruble. The Soviet ruble went from parity to the dollar artificially set by the state, or about 10 rubles per dollar on the black market, to the equivalent of about 33,000 rubles to the dollar, which is what the Soviet ruble is worth today. This destroyed all savings accumulated during the Soviet era and made a mockery of pensions.

Russia is now relatively wealthy once more. Its gross domestic product is valued at more than $2 trillion based on purchasing power parity, not much lower than Britain. Unlike the Soviet era, it is market evaluation, not an arbitrary figure set by state planners. But to a large extent, Russias elevated GDP reflects high commodity prices, notably oil, which in turn have been inflated by the U.S. Federal Reserves relentless printing of dollars.

Meanwhile, productivity in Russias non-oil economy is generally low. Where productivity is higher, such as in the automobile and food-processing industry, it is also largely a reflection of petrodollar-driven consumer demand. Moreover, even in those industries unit labor costs are high, since employers have to pay for government-mandated fringe benefits and generous vacations.

If oil prices drop, Russia may suffer a decline in wealth similar to the one that occurred after the fall of communism, albeit on a smaller scale. In particular, falling oil prices would require a devaluation of the ruble, with sharply negative consequences for dollar-denominated national accounts.

This is not a far-fetched scenario but something that happened several times to Venezuela, Algeria, Mexico, Indonesia and other oil producers even to the Saudis in the early and mid-1990s.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, lives in New York. His detective novel Murder at the Dacha was published by Russian Life Books in 2013.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmChams Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaacs Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburgs showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literatures most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poets birthday. The tragic tenors work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russias greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Strategically dominate your foes at the British Book Centers Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test ones intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only mans best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Honor the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during todays reenactment titled Winter War: How it Was. More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Culture Palace on Petrograd. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie Black Cat, White Cat, as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of Takoy Festival, a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonights festival finale is Fathers and Sons, a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenevs classic about familial relations.



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