Russian Progress

My mother’s family migrated to the United States in the early 1900’s. They left Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution traveled through England to Canada, and then to Nebraska. My Grandfather was a successful businessman and farmer in Bayard, Nebraska. I am proud of my roots, and my mother-in-law has proof of my heritage dating to the 1760’s in Russia, which is when Catherine the Great moved many Germans to the Volga River area.

Sigrid Weidenweber, who lives in Portland, OR, has written a series of books discussing the Volga River Germans. The first volume deals with a young German princess who married the grandson of Peter the Great and became Catherine the Great who led an amazing transformation of a backward country. She was not a perfect woman, but she did a great job ruling Russia and the people liked her.

Today, Russia is a country of paradox. It was once a world power, but is now seen as on of the BRIC countries with growing economic opportunities. I remember standing in Red Square looking at Lenin’s tomb, the Kremlin, and St. Basil’s Cathedral thinking about the May Day parades of the cold war and wondering where Russia would end up. Would it return to the Communism of the past, or will it continue to evolve into a well functioning capitalist economy? Although I don’t think Russia will ever regress to the old Soviet Union of the past, I wonder where the modern Russian Tsar, Putin, will take it?

We do know that later this year Russia will be joining the World Trade Organization. This means that Russia will need to “establish predictable tariff rates, ensure transparency in the publication and enactment of laws, and adhere to an enforceable mechanism for resolving disputes.” Hillary Clinton wrote about this event today in the Wall Street Journal. She argued that Russia joining the WTO will be an opportunity for businesses in the US. Currently American exports to Russia represents about 1% of our global exports. This means that improved trade opportunities with Russia will represent an opportunity for increased exports. However, this can only happen if we make Russia a normal trading partner.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment restricts US trade with countries that restrict emigration rights. It was created in the 1970’s to help thousands of Jews to leave the Soviet Union. Hillary is calling for this to be repealed, thus creating a normal trading relationship with Russia. As a result of Russia joining the WTO its markets will open, and just like how our current tax system hamstrings our commerce, we will miss an opportunity for increased trading.

I agree with Hillary. She states, “Russia’s membership in the WTO will soon be a fact of life. Failing to extend permanent normal trading relations will not penalize Russia, nor will it provide a lever with which to changes Moscow’s behavior. It will only hurt American workers and American companies. By extending those trading relations, we can create new markets for our people and support the political and economic changes that Russia’s people are demanding.”

I met a plethora of young people when I visited Russia. All of them had hope for the future. I think Hillary is right. We need to continue to develop our relationship with Russia. Thomas Friedman has a theory. He calls it the McDonald’s Theory. He proposes that two countries will never go to war if they both have McDonald’s restaurants. It other words, they do business together. I can’t believe that I agree with Hillary.
And that is my thought for the day!

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