Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Ruthlessness of Jews (WOF)

Between the historical analysis of Jews throughout Eastern Europe and an examination of the actual "oligarchs" in question, Chua has a brief section titled "The Rise of the Oligarchs" which emphasizes how some Jews prospered during later Soviet shortages and eventually leveraged black market positions into membership among the post-Communist economic elite. She gets into the details with one anecdote from a Ukrainian Jew:
My uncle, for example, had one of those underground firms. He manufactured shoes on his own. Later he sold the shoes either at the weekend flea market or through an 'off-the-books' arrangement with a state-owned shoe store. What my uncle did was considered illegal. Yet everyone liked him and depended on him. There would have been no shoes on the shelves without people like my uncle (Chua, 83).
Conspicuously missing from this account (and from Chua's analysis of this account) is the role of black markets in exploiting consumers by demanding high prices for basic necessities (say, shoes) and establishing a bribery-based economy. Those impacts are far-reaching, with the former draining average consumers funds and the latter establishing an inefficient and unresponsive economic climate. This is one of the few cases were Chua curiously doesn't present Jews as (always) profiteers from economic instability. As soon as Chua takes over narration a more negative tone seems to return, as Chua explains that one of the Jewish "oligarchs"
started a ticket scalping agency while a student in the economically stagnant early eighties. Friedman [the "oligarch"] paid Moscow university students to wait in line to buy theater tickets, which could then be bartered on the black market. Although ticket scalping existed long before Friedman came on the scene, he was the first to organize it into a well-disciplined business, employing 150 scholars - on full salary if they waited overnight, or half salary if they queued up in the early morning - and 'managers' from every university department. Friedman, as a kind of controlling shareholder, would meet once a week with his managers to review their business plans (Chua, 84)
While clearly imply a coercive relationship with young employees during a time of economic hardship, the negativity is muted, strangely. This seems to play odds with Chua's politics. Her writing repeatedly suggests a thinking that Jews can't do anything but be oddly successful, but even she can't rationalize the excesses of the economic elite in post-communist Russia. She seems enamored with the idea of the black market - something raw but contained, where the Jews (and others) could reach their full potential without having it spill over into the larger society.

With that, she laments over the intrusiveness and corruption that has become a part of working for the new elite, one of which she notes "installed surveillance cameras in every office to monitor his new employees [...] one third of them weren't working hard enough, so he fired them" (Chua, 87). Where in Latin America inequalities were treated as either historical or passive (and above all, social rather than economic), in her analysis of Russia she writes of Jews that do monstrous things, but still seems enthralled by their capacity to do such things.