Could Americans Benefit from a Little Russian Love?

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If push came to shove, who would you sacrifice food and electricity to support? Your kid? Your spouse? Your parent? Maybe your best friend? How about the President of the United States? Eh, in all likelihood, probably not. The guy's got a secure job (at least for the next year and a half), topnotch security, high-speed Internet, and an entire wait staff bringing him high cuisine. 

Well, that might be the case in America, but a top official in the Kremlin thinks it's just the opposite in Russia. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov weighed in on the Russian spirit -- especially in contrast to the Western one. "When a Russian feels any foreign pressure, he will never give up his leader. Never," he proclaimed. "We will survive any hardship in the country "” eat less food, use less electricity." 

Considering that the entire Russian economy is shrinking, a consequence of a downturn in global oil prices and Western sanctions to punish it for annexing Crimea, are we really supposed to believe that the regular family woman or man would give up a piece of their hard earned pie to keep Putin comfortably sitting pretty? Or at the very least stable on his throne? This has got to be some fat cat politician's way of drumming up support for his fearless leader, covering his own butt, and inspiring fear in Russia's "enemies" "“ almost everyone.

 
Would you like some more, sir? Courtesy of Cineguild 

It should be noted that Putin's approval rating, as of November 2014, was at a record 80 percent. That's telling, especially when juxtaposed with the souring financial climate. But it should come as no surprise when we also know how Putin pushes pro-government propaganda through Kremlin-dominated media outlets like he's shoving meat through a grinder. As we've seen with North Korea, brainwashing is a thing. 

Now, is it possible that Shuvalov knows the people would only offer up their goods because they've been hypnotized so long by corrupt news and reports, and because all dissent is swiftly suppressed? Very possible. 

And yet, if Shuvalov's assertion is right, it means that there's gotta be something about the Russian personality that makes them more ready to give selflessly than the American. And give something as necessary to sustain life as bread and utilities to someone they may never have even met "“ a president. Call me tight-fisted and hard-hearted, but I'll give a freshly bought sandwich to a homeless woman asking for change outside the grocery store before I fork over anything to my Commander in Chief. 

Now, there are studied cultural differences between Americans and Russians. For instance, in a Gallup poll almost half of the Russian population that answered believes "being lucky" is important to succeed, whereas only 19 percent of Americans feel that way. To me, this signifies that Russians place more hope in chance than Americans do. Similarly, only 53 percent of Russians believe in the superiority of a free market economy (as opposed to 70% of Americans). 

Presumably this has something to do with a faith in the leaders of a command economy to deliver just what they need and just how much they need of it. That takes a whole lot of trust in leaders and each other. And trust is something Americans are pretty short on right now "“ today, only 1/3 of Americans believe they can trust each other. Not only that, but while researching for his book in Russia, author Josh Weil spoke with a school teacher who painted a rather homegrown, welcoming picture of the Soviet Union culture: "under communism, everyone knew their neighbors, shared what little they had," was how this educator characterized the era. At its most fundamental, communism is about sharing, and sharing is caring. Capitalism, on the other hand, is dog eat dog. Does that make Americans self-centered misers?

 
Sisters, can you spare a dime? Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Well, maybe a little bit. In an American Enterprise Institute survey, half the respondents believe the amount they pay in taxes is "just right." However, in a Mother Jones survey, 92 percent of Americans polled preferred a tax model that placed a heavier burden on the nation's wealthiest (i.e. the 1%). So, that must mean that there's at least 42 percent who either already (ignorantly) believe the current system is working, or they won't give up any more of their money for the people. 

The hesitance to give comes at a dangerous time, when the wealth gap in America is the worst it's been in 30 years. The country's richest is seven times wealthier than the middle-income family. A lopsided tax model, too low capital gains and estate taxes, and all kinds of loopholes are all too blame for this kind of asymmetric wealth distribution, and it's very dangerous to the long-term productivity and health of this beautiful nation. 

But perhaps at the root, the problem is one of blind greed. I feel that there are a few reasons people hoard money: they just want to buy stuff with it, they don't want to see someone else have it, or they're protecting against an uncertain future, or all three. All three of these roadblocks to wealth equality could be demolished easily, if only people could adopt a little of that Russian spirit of giving. 

Here's what I mean: Shuvalov's characteristic Russian is one who would part with anything to ensure the safety of their big cheese. Could you imagine if, instead of freely giving to a corrupt dictator like Putin, people were as openhanded with their money and possessions towards each other? I know not everyone can afford to give "“ in 2013, 14.5 percent of America lived in poverty. All we need to do is channel whatever kind of love for Putin this idealistic Russian has into a love for a country's entire population, and we're one step closer to a fair and equitable financial system. Sounds easy enough, right? Lol.
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