Posted 17 апреля 2023,, 08:10

Published 17 апреля 2023,, 08:10

Modified 17 апреля 2023,, 08:29

Updated 17 апреля 2023,, 08:29

Economist Zhukovsky: "The quality of life of the middle class in a year has deteriorated by 40-50%"

Economist Zhukovsky: "The quality of life of the middle class in a year has deteriorated by 40-50%"

17 апреля 2023, 08:10
Annual inflation in March was 3.51%, the official unemployment rate fell to 3.6%. Did Russians really not live worse during the year of the crisis? Economist and blogger Vladislav Zhukovsky, in an interview with Novye Izvestia, assessed the tricks of statistics and described the scenario for most citizens.

Yekaterina Maximova

— Some key indicators related to the quality of life of Russians, according to the results of the first quarter of 2023, show that we, if we recall the meme of a decade ago, “began to live better.” What explains such statistics?

— It is clear that there is an embellishment of official statistics. The authorities need to report: they have overcome the crisis, overcome the sanctions. And that in general the worst is over, the stage of "transformational restructuring of the economy" has been passed.

Therefore, unemployment, according to Rosstat, is 3.5%, and inflation has decreased. And if in March 2022, for example, inflation was 17.8% year-on-year, then in March 2023, due to the effect of a high base, 3.5% was drawn. And the rest of the indicators are trying to attract to the fact that the rise in prices and the fall in the standard of living of the population have somehow stabilized. But in fact, this is not quite true.

We understand that inflation is much higher than the same official 12% by the end of 2022. Prices have increased by 30%, 40%, 50%, 100% – it depends on what products we are talking about. This is almost all imports, including medicines, clothing, cars, tourist trips, construction materials, etc.

And real disposable incomes officially fell by 1%, real wages also by 1%, net of inflation. And here you need to understand that the real recession was much stronger, many times stronger, because it is necessary to clear not from 12% of inflation, but from 120-125%. And depending on the structure of the consumer basket of a particular Russian - even more so.

— So it turns out that for the middle class, inflation turned out to be prohibitive?

— The higher the share of imported goods and services in the structure of the consumer basket, the higher the standard of living and living standards, the drop there was much more severe. Low-income people also felt inflation, only their price growth was not 50-100%, but conditionally 25-30%.

We now have a kilogram of cucumbers can cost 500-600 rubles, a kilogram of tomatoes 800-1000 rubles, in Khabarovsk and 1000 rubles, and of questionable quality. Therefore, of course, the population tightened their belts.

Buy less, eat worse

— Rosstat recorded a serious drop in retail. Lost almost 10% - how serious is the decline?

— This is a big fall. Of course, this is not the collapse of the economy, not the collapse of everything and everything, but it is a very strong blow. Moreover, the fall is distributed unevenly across the country, distributed unevenly across commodity groups. And if we look at retail trade by structure, then, for example, there is a decline in food products of 1.5%, and non-food products - a decline of more than 11%.

Moreover, for example, car sales - a three-fold drop. And tens of percent, if we talk about expensive goods.

Wholesale trade - there is an even more serious drop. Last year -14.5%. Moreover, in the fourth quarter, the year-on-year decline accelerated to 19%. This year, by the end of January-February, it is already -15.4%.

— For business - losses, and for the population, what processes have these figures launched?

— This means that the structure of consumption is degrading. People are switching to cheaper, lower-quality, less useful goods, including food. There are more and more people who can no longer afford high-quality food. And someone is still just switching from European clothing brands to Chinese. Or forced to buy the same brands that were, but at a price one and a half times more expensive than they cost before.

And if we go back to statistics, then due to underestimation, manipulation of price indices, underestimation of inflation, it turns out that formally the standard of living has not fallen so much. Plus, Rosstat shows an increase in salaries last year and at the beginning of this year by 12.5-13%. This is growth in nominal terms. It's not clear who they grew up with. In business, in the economy as a whole, wages either stagnated, or even people lost their source of income due to the departure of European and Asian companies.

— State employees were promoted. There are many of them.

— Not only doctors and teachers, where the amount of surcharges did not even cover the inflation rate. There were also payments to deputies, senators, ministers, governors.

Plus payments to the mobilized, those who have signed a contract. When residents from severely depressed regions, where partial mobilization was most active, begin to receive 200 thousand, this statistic, of course, reflects. The Republics of Buryatia, Tuva, Transbaikalia – people lived there on a salary of 25-30 thousand rubles (if you work two jobs, 35 thousand rubles, maybe you can hardly get enough).

There salaries are not 40-50 thousand rubles, as recorded by official statistics, and even more so not 60 thousand rubles. According to Rosstat, the average salary in Russia was 63 thousand rubles. Of course, this is not the case, it is always smaller.

This partly brightened up the picture, showed a certain increase in income in nominal terms. In real terms, again, it's still a fall. And in any case, officially 15 million 200 thousand people with incomes of 13600 rubles remain below the poverty line. For 13,600 rubles, it can be proposed to transplant deputies of the State Duma, senators of the Federation Council, federal ministers and the government so that they can assess how much they can survive on this ration at all.

The advice "eat pasta" is relevant again

— Once an official from the Saratov region advised to eat "pasta"...

— If you look at the receipts, by what people buy, then the consumption of vegetables, fruits, greens, meat, especially red meat. But the consumption of cereals, bread, potatoes, and the consumption of "pasta" is growing again.

That is, people are switching to a simpler consumption model for the time being. On net calorie intake, if you will. Of course, this is a blow to both the health of the population and the health of the nation. This will also hit demographics.

2,330,000 people are the so–called natural decline, although in fact it is not natural, and it is partly due to the extremely low standard of living, the quality of medicine, the optimization of the social sphere, the use of all these surrogates, palm oil and everything else.

The middle class has shrunk

— The figure, of course, will be incorrect, but how would you roughly estimate the deterioration in the quality of life of the middle class over the year?

— If we take a wide range of goods and services: medicines, clothes, appliances, electronics, and tourist trips, when it was possible to fly for seven thousand rubles “By winning” to Spain, then we can really talk about a decrease in the purchasing power of percentages, so 40-50%.

That's about it. Maybe 30-50%, depending on which category of citizens. If we take from the beginning of 2022 and 2023, and look at the accumulated total, then I think there is definitely a reduction of 30%. For some product groups, even a little more.

You just need to weigh what you can buy in kilograms, in pieces for your salary, pension. Units of clothing, units of pills, units of a car… So it turns out that, in principle, the drop will be 25-30%, someone may have more.

— And the poor segments of the population, whose basket is dominated by the same pasta, kefir and potatoes, the prices of which are not growing much?

— The same potatoes, kefir and everything else are not produced on Russian equipment. On average, the share of imports in the structure of the consumer basket of Russians is about 45%.

We see footage not only from distant regions of Russia, but also from Moscow and St. Petersburg, as pensioners stand in queues and wait for them to write off and throw out the delay. What kind of battles are going on for this delay, right? These are the capital's St. Petersburg pensioners, whose pension is not 12 thousand rubles, not 10 thousand, as we are told, but more.

The standard of living is extremely low, very low, very depressing. This can be seen by the faces on the streets, by the faces on public transport, in shops and everywhere.

Adaptation and complacency

— Judging by the capital cities, little has changed outwardly. Restaurants are crowded, shoppers have returned to shopping malls.

— Life goes on, people still have a family, a job, children and everything else. People are even trying to psychologically support themselves in this way, such a compensatory effect, an attempt to preserve their previous consumption model, their habitual way of life. They are trying to prove to themselves and reassure themselves that in fact everything is not bad, that it is possible to live.

The fighting, they are going somewhere far away. And residents of large cities see only banners with a call to join the armed forces.

People continue to live according to their old former model. Somewhere they saved money, somewhere they switched from European brands to Chinese, somewhere they switched from Volvo and Mercedes to some JAC or Geely.

Therefore, this story is about the fact that the economy is also an adaptive thing, and it is very inertial.

— Entrepreneurs learn quickly...

— All economic entities are trying to survive: small businesses, exporters of raw materials, exporters of processed products, IT specialists, and trade with catering.

Nobody's going to just lift their paws and die, right? Therefore, everyone adjusts, adapts to components, suppliers are changed, the product matrix is revised, discounts are given, margins are reduced, salaries are increased to their workers.

Formally, yes, of course, people go to restaurants, cafes, bars. Only now the average check, if we clear it of inflation, is shrinking. In some places, even in nominal terms, the average check in Russia is declining. The processes are simply stretched over time.

— While its going statistically, will everything be tolerable?

— If not for these emergency payments from the state, if not for this insane increase in budget expenditures last year by 8 trillion rubles, the statistics would be different.

It is clear that the lion's share went to the armed forces, to the security forces. Their total funding has increased almost one and a half times, Rosstat records. That is, these expenses increased from 6 to 9.5 trillion rubles in total. This is open data, open sources of Rosstat. Plus, part of it went to some payments, to capacity utilization.

Investments in Russia as a whole collapsed last year, that is, people went into such a state of total savings, business began to collapse, businesses began to shut down enterprises, production, there was no talk of any investments, while, for example, Rosstat showed at the end of last year that investments in fixed assets (that is, in machines, in machines, in equipment, in buildings, in general, in anything) not only did not fall, but they also grew, it turns out, according to their calculations, by 4.6%.

— This is the defense industry and some infrastructure projects are important.

— Yes, we have loaded the military-industrial complex, the production of tanks, shells, cartridges, submachine guns, machine guns, missiles, whatever you want. The increase in financing by trillions of rubles, respectively, is formally GDP in statistics, but you cannot consume this GDP. It does not improve the quality of life. This commodity mass will be destroyed on the battlefields.

The same GDP officially fell by 3.1%. But again, if we remove from here the military-industrial complex and state-owned enterprises that are tied to it, it will turn out that the decline in this sector will be double-digit. Roughly speaking, the economy has fallen at least, excluding defense-industrial enterprises, by 10 percent, and industry – by 15-20 percent.

But statistics do not show this, because huge government spending has formally straightened out this matter. At the cost of a budget deficit and without economic growth, which was planned at 3.5% of GDP. Instead of a plus, we got a decline of 3%, that is, minus -6.5% of GDP – the price of these hostilities, foreign policy and everything else.

Oil and gas revenues -45% for the first three months of this year. How should power balance? Only by raising tariffs, utilities, excise taxes, prices, extortion from the population, from business, partly by printing money. Of course, the issue is already going on in a hidden form.

All this will eventually also fall on the shoulders of the population through a decrease in its purchasing power. That is, the economy regime will increase, people will live worse, live poorer, switch to cheaper goods, buy second-rate food…

We will live worse, we will live poorer

— How much time will it take for the country to catch up with other sectors of the economy?

— Small and medium-sized businesses that do not sit on state contracts, that do not sit on state orders, do not sit on cutting money, on corruption, on theft by officials, on feeding the whole ROSE economy (cuts, kickbacks and drifts), it is actually very flexible, very adaptive.

Such a business shows high survival rates, as in the nineties and in the noughties. It's hard to destroy it, burn it out with napalm. A business needs one condition to survive: so that the population has money. If there is money in the pockets of Russians, then he will adjust anyway.

But this is possible in a situation where you can predict something, when calculations are going well, when you can transfer money from your accounts to your suppliers abroad, when you understand what the situation will be in the labor market, in the lending market.

It's harder now. More than a million people left Russia after the start of partial mobilization, some people were taken away as part of this mobilization. Accordingly, the business was also hit, because some of the qualified personnel and specialists left, some of the workers left, respectively, too, and those who went and bought moved to Turkey.

The situation as a whole is as nervous as possible, all this negatively affects all indicators. Literally on everything: on business, and on the demand of the population, and on the consumption model, and on demography.

— If nothing changes by the end of the year, will all these indicators deteriorate further, or can we balance at about the same level for a long time?

— It will be such a slow slide. Radical collapse, collapse will not happen. Unless, of course, there is some dramatic drop in oil prices, some new shock wave of devaluation - 100 rubles per dollar. And from June of last year to April of this year, the ruble has already fallen by one and a half times.

If this does not happen, then in general the situation will remain approximately at the same level. With a small such reduced demand within, maybe, 3-5%. But this is conditional, because it is difficult to predict.

If the situation worsens, the state budget will not meet the expenses of 29 trillion rubles (and the deficit may be 32-33 trillion, taking into account its own), then it will already be a crackdown on inflation, a reduction in social spending. It is possible to stop civil investment projects, economic projects, projects in the field of housing and communal services, the pace of construction of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, polyclinics in the regions and everything else will decrease. That is, then, yes, indeed, there will be an even more serious drop in the standard of living of the population.