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WHAT ECONOMY DO BELARUSIANS NEED?

The national polling results over the last fifteen years have been showing that two thirds of the adult citizens quite steadily deem the market economy preferred for our country (Table 1). At the same time, we can see that the quantity of the proponents of the planned economy for the same period has reduced more than twice, and today one can state that only every seventh adult Belarusian is a proponent of the socialist economic model. It is half as many as the number of pensioners.

Table 1. Dynamics of the choice of the preferred type of economy for the country, %

Variant of answer

06’97

08’01

06’06

03’11

Market economy,
including:

65.4

57.6

63.6

67.7

– with minimum governmental control
– with significant governmental control

30.4
35.0

33.3
24.3

34.8
28.8

42.0
25.7

Planned economy

30.3

18.2

13.2

14.1

Other types of economy

1.3

3.3

4.5

5.5

The ratio of proponents of different market economy subtypes shows, as is seen from Table 1, the market with minimum governmental control has 1.63 times more supporters today than the market with significant governmental control. In other words, the economic model of ‘market socialism’ now being implemented by the government is not so popular among Belarusians; it meets with the support of a little more than a quarter of population. Just to the contrary, the damage of the governmental control of the economy suffered by the people is gradually enhancing the preferability of a more liberal economic model. At least, the number of its supporters over the analyzed period has increased more than by a third (by 38%).

Meanwhile, not all things are so well-defined in the Belarusian reality. In particular, the data of Table 2 suggest that while in the beginning of the given period there was a gradual increase of the share of those willing to work in the private sector, in the following five years, this trend turned in the opposite direction. And in 2006 the ratio of the sectors appealing for employment became almost similar to the ratio that had been registered ten years before. The reason lies in the economic policy implemented by the government, which hinders normal market relationships: the work conditions for the private sector were constantly deteriorating, while the state sector received every support with the same regularity, which resulted in the corresponding changes in the people’s preferences. The current situation looks more optimistic, since the economic problems have forced the government to loosen the slipknot on the neck of the private business a little bit. However, not to the extent that will improve its appeal greatly. On the other hand, material degradation of the state sector operation resulted in that rather a big part of those who had preferred it started seeking other variants of answer, including exotic ones. In other words, the reality is again rather vividly adjusting the theoretical concepts.

Table 2. Dynamics of the choice of an enterprise most appealing for employment, %

Variant of answer

11’97

08’01

06’06

03’11

State

53.5

47.3

52.0

43.0

Private

35.7

38.5

33.0

36.2

Other variants

4.5

2.2

2.7

12.5

The analysis shows that today among the proponents of the liberal economic model there prevail younger people (71% are under 50) and more educated, private sector employees and city dwellers. Of these, 70% use the Internet. The majority of them think the situation in the country is developing in the wrong direction (61.3%), they disapprove of the actions of the “top-down command structure” created by the president (57.7%), do not trust A. Lukashenko (62.8%), and at the latest presidential elections, voted for his opponents (46.4%). Instead of integration with Russia, the majority of them would prefer the integration in the EU (67.7%), while 72.8% would not want resurrection of the USSR.

The quantity of the young and the elderly, of the urban dwellers and villagers among the supporters of the governmental control of the economy is approximately equal. Of them only 42.2% use the Internet. Every third of them is a pensioner. The majority of them think that the situation in our country is generally developing in the right direction (66.6%), approve of the actions of the “top-down command structure” (68.6%), trust the president (71%), and voted for him at the latest elections (69.2%). Among them, the number of the supporters of the EU integration and the union with Russia is the same, while only 52% would not want restoration of the USSR.

Among the votaries of the planned economy prevail the elderly (58.4% are over 50) and less educated people, 42.7% are pensioners. The shares of urban dwellers and villagers among them are also approximately equal. Less than a third of them (32.3%) use the Internet. The majority of them think that the country is developing in the right direction (65.2%), trust the president (60.9%) and voted for him at the elections 2010 (65%). Nevertheless, there are quite a large number among them, who disapprove of the actions of the top-down command structure (30%). At the same time, there are more proponents of the integration with Russia in this group than in the other groups (45.1%) and of those, who would want the restoration of the USSR (37.5%).

If we compare social characteristics of all the three groups, we would note that the most radical are the differences between the first and the second groups. Moreover, this difference is so significant that their grouping together in a single group of supporters of the market economy makes no sense. While the members of the first group treat the market as a liberal economic environment, which makes it possible to provide normal living conditions due to one’s own aptitudes, professional skills and experience, for the second group it is a way to a life of ease due to the redistribution of the national output for their benefit with the help of state power.

As for the third group, these are true outsiders, who are getting thinner each year. Their values remained in the past, while the majority of them cannot tune themselves to the new standard of life.

Now, let’s consider some economic preferences of the people depending on their age, as well as in dynamics over the last 10 years. As can be seen from Table 3, young age groups demonstrate a stronger support of the market economy in general and its liberal variant, in particular. Thus, while in the groups of 18-29 and 30-49 today the proponents of the market economy rate more than 70%, in the senior group there are a bit more than 60% of those. However, it is notable that while in the first two groups the number of proponents has increased by 5-6 percentage points, in the senior group the increase was almost 18 points (or 1.4 times). This is more likely to be explained by the natural generation change.

Age differences are even more prominent in relation to various types of the market economy. Expectedly, the majority of the proponents of the liberal variant are members of the youngest group (54.2%). Over 10 years their number has increased almost by a quarter or 10 percentage points. The liberal market proponents number a little bit less than a half in the middle-aged group, i.e. 47.5%. Over the decade, their number has increased by 20% (by 7.6 points). Least of all this variant of economy meets with the support of senior citizens, only 30%, however, the growth over a decade was equal to more than 52% (more than 10 points)!

However, only in this group further thickening of the proponents of the controlled market occurred, truly, only by a third or by 7.6 points. Today, there is an approximate parity of the proponents of both the types of the market economy in this group. Younger groups have fewer proponents of the controlled market: by 21% less in the youngest group and by 4% less in the middle-aged group. Meanwhile, in the youngest group the liberal variant drew thrice as many votes, and in the middle-aged group, almost twice as many.

Table 3. Dynamics of the choice of the preferred type of economy for the country depending on age, %

Variant of answer

Age, yrs:

18-29

30-49

50 +

08’01

03’11

08’01

03’11

08’01

03’11

Market economy,
including:

66.6

71.9

66.3

72.7

42.7

60.6

– with minimum governmental control
– with significant governmental control

44.2
22.4

54.2
17.7

39.9
26.4

47.5
25.2

19.7
23.0

30.0
30.6

Planned economy

11.2

7.9

14.5

11.3

26.4

20.6

Other types of economy / NA

22.2

20.2

19.2

16.0

30.9

18.8

Concerning the planned economy, in the younger group less than 8% support it (an almost 30% reduction), in the middle group, slightly more than 11% (by 22% less). And even in the senior group only every fifth supports this type of economy, their number has reduced over ten years by as much as 22%, too.

It should be also noted that the choice determination has enhanced in all the groups; the number of those who chose various exotic variants of economy or evaded the question has reduced. It is especially vivid within the senior age group.

The analysis of age-dependent trends allows comparing the changes in economic viewpoints of people within one age group but born in different times, i.e. representatives of different generations. To follow up the changes in the viewpoints of people of one generation in the course of time is no less informative. It is possible to make such an analysis using the data of the national polls conducted in 2001 and 2011, which let us compare the present economic viewpoints of the respondents within an age group with the ones the same group had ten years ago. In other words, we can trace the changes in the viewpoints of people born within a definite period over one decade. For this purpose, let us confer the answers of the groups of people born in 1972-81, 1962-71 and 1952-61 to the one and the same question about the choice of the preferred type of economy in 2001 and in 2011 (Table 4).

Table 4. Dynamics of the choice of the preferred type of economy for the country by the groups of 1972-81, 1962-1971 and 1952-61 year of birth, %

Variant of answer

Year of Birth:

1972-81

1962-1971

1952-61

08’01

03’11

08’01

03’11

08’01

03’11

Market economy with minimum governmental control

45.5

50.2

43.8

45.1

35.9

40.3

Market economy with significant governmental control

22.0

20.2

24.4

29.9

28.5

25.4

Planned economy

11.9

9.7

10.4

12.7

18.8

14.9

Other types of economy

2.9

4.9

4.5

5.6

2.7

7.5

As can be seen, there was a growth of support of the liberal variant of the market economy in all the three groups (by 1.3 to 4.7 percentage points). The first and the third groups show a significant weakening of support of the controlled market and planned economy. Only the second group demonstrates a slight strengthening of support of these types of economy.

As regards the groups of people younger and older than those listed above, in accordance with the applicable statistical age grouping they are not compatible. Nevertheless, the trends observed in these groups are rather challenging in terms of their relation to the problem concerned (Tables 5-6).

Obviously, the support of the liberal variant has grown more than 1.5 times (from 38.7% to 60.4%) within the youngest age group. At the same time, other types of economy have lost the support to a significant extent. We can say that moving into adulthood and the associated acquisition of life experience have led over a 10-year period to the strengthening of the support of the liberal variant of economy among the youngest. The oldest group, on the opposite, revealed an essential weakening of the support of that variant (by a third). Meanwhile, the preferability of the controlled market has enhanced greatly enough (by 25%) and of the planned economy (by 17.3%). It confirms the supposition of some analysts that the age-dependent decrease of living resources of people results in the enhancement of their dependence on the state, which, consequently, arouses a higher support of strong governmental control of the economy in them.

Table 5. Dynamics of the choice of the preferred type of economy for the country by the group of 1982-83 (86) year of birth, %

Variant of answer

1982-83 (08’01)

1982-86 (03’11)

Market economy with minimum governmental control

38.7

60.4

Market economy with significant governmental control

24.2

18.1

Planned economy

8.1

7.4

Other types of economy

3.2

5.4

Table 6. Dynamics of the choice of the preferred type of economy for the country by the respondents born before 1951 (including), %

Variant of answer

1942-51 (08’01)

Before 1951 (03’11)

Market economy with minimum governmental control

33.3

22.1

Market economy with significant governmental control

27.6

34.7

Planned economy

20.8

24.4

Other types of economy

3.1

2.9

Thus, young people are not only more inclined to the free economy, but this choice of theirs becomes more determined in the course of time. However, the advance of old age results in the gradual re-orientation for the economy with stronger governmental control. These trends are observed not only at the generation change, but also within one and the same generation group. That is the Belarusian public opinion as regards the so-called theoretical conceptions of economy.

As far as empirical preferences are concerned, such as, for instance, the choice of the type of enterprise (form of ownership) for employment, here we see more diversity in the public opinion (Table 7). Though, in general, we can observe the same pattern – younger people tend to prefer private ownerships more – over a period of 10 years, however, there have occurred such changes that have modified this pattern materially. In particular, the choice of the private sector in the youngest group has reduced almost by a third (by 17.6 points): while 10 years ago the support ratio of the private sector vs. public sector was 2 to 1, today it is already 3 to 2, whereas the number of those preferring state-run enterprises has not changed. As a result, the quantity of those, who have evaded the question, has grown thrice (from 8.8% to 26.7%).

Table 7. The choice of the preferred form of ownership dependent on the age, %

Variant of answer

Age, yrs:

18-29

30-49

50 +

08’01

03’11

08’01

03’11

08’01

03’11

Public, state-run

29.5

29.2

42.2

40.1

63.0

53.8

Private

61.7

44.1

45.0

40.8

17.8

22.7

Other variants / NA

8.8

26.7

12.8

19.1

19.2

23.5

In the group of middle age (30-49 yrs) a slight decrease in the choice of both public and private sectors has occurred (more marked for the private sector), meanwhile, the number of evading respondents has increased 1.5 times (from 12.8% to 19.1%).

Yet, in the senior age group, the choice of the public sector has decreased almost by 10 points, while the support of the private sector has increased by 5 points. While 10 years ago the support ratio of public vs. private in this group was 7 to 2, now it is 5 to 2. Herewith, the respondents evading the question number a quarter more.

In our opinion, these changes, as we have noted earlier, are connected with the governmental policy in the real sector of economy, where the periods of strangling of the private sector alternated with a slight easing of its living conditions together with the shrinkage of the budget support margins for the state-run enterprises.

At the same time, gradual development of the non-state sector of economy, within 10 years, has resulted, according to the respondents’ assessments, in the doubling of the number of people employed therein, from 11% to 23.4% (Table 8). Moreover, the number of the young people under 30 employed in this sector has doubled, too, from 13.9% to 29.8%. Though less markedly, the quantity of self-employed citizens has also increased, yet. However, the growth of self-employment of the whole population has gradually begun to supersede the growth of the youth’s self-employment: while 10 years ago there were almost by 5% more of self-employed among the young, today there are almost by 7% less of them as among the whole population. Supposedly, this is the result of the emigration of some part of active and entrepreneurial young people into the countries with a more favourable business-climate.

Table 8. Employment in the private sector of economy (% of the total number)

Employed

08’01

03’11

all population

youth
under 30

all population

youth
under 30

Total for the private sector

11.0

13.9

23.4

29.8

Incl. self-employed

4.2

4.4

7.5

7.0

Thus, the assumptions of the young as regards the fundamental economic problems differ quite seriously both from the average ones for the selection and from older age groups.

In addition, the viewpoints of the young and older people on other social questions differ materially, too. As the data of Table 9 suggest, while there are less than a third (29.2%) of young people, who think that the situation in Belarus is developing generally in the right direction (almost 54% are of the opposite opinion), in the senior age group there are as much as 60% of respondents, who are sure it is so (27.6% are of the opposite opinion).

Table 9. People’s attitudes to some social problems depending on the age, % (03’11)

Variant of answer

Age, yrs:

18-29 (23.4)

30-49 (36.2)

50 + (40.4)

Is the situation in Belarus in general developing in the right or in the wrong direction?
In the right direction

29.2

39.4

60.0

In the wrong direction

53.9

45.9

27.6

How has your personal financial standing changed for the last three months?
Improved

15.7

14.2

20.6

Not changed

51.4

54.8

56.7

Worsened

31.7

29.9

21.7

In your opinion, how will the socio-economic situation in Belarus change in the near future?
It will improve

23.9

24.0

37.0

It will not change

44.4

44.8

38.2

It will worsen

26.4

26.0

18.5

Would you wish your children to go in for private business, to tie their life with entrepreneurship?

Yes

69.9

59.5

39.5

No

21.1

27.0

47.3

Do you think young people today can make a successful career in Belarus?
Yes, young people can make a successful career here in Belarus

34.3

40.5

57.5

No, young people had better leave for another country for this

58.1

50.5

32.3

Would you like to immigrate to a different country if you had such an opportunity?
No

25.0

43.6

71.8

Yes

69.1

51.9

25.9

The correlation between age and the assessment of the changes in one’s personal financial standing for the last three months is vivid enough: while among the young there are twice as many of those, who think their personal standing has worsened (31.7%), as compared to those, who think it has improved (15.7%), in the senior group the polls have distributed fifty-fifty (20.6% noted the improvement, 21.7% – the worsening).

The socio-economic perspectives of the country in the opinion of different age groups look rather differently. While among the young there are approximately equal number of those, who think the situation will improve (23.9%), and of those, who believe it will worsen (26.4%), in the senior age group there are twice as many optimists as pessimists (37% vs. 18.5%).

As regards the entrepreneurship, here we can observe a sharp difference in the viewpoints of the young and the elderly. Thus, while among the youth almost 70% would like a career in business for their children (against 21.1%), in the senior group less than 40% of respondents hold the same opinion (opposite 47.3%). Meanwhile, three of five (58.1%) young people believe that there is no chance for young people to make a successful career in Belarus (only a third thinks it possible). Among senior citizens, we can see mirror opposite opinions about it (32.3% vs. 57.3%). And it is quite logical that it is among the young, where the number of those, who would like to leave Belarus if they had an opportunity, is the highest, almost 70%. On the contrary, among the elderly there are almost the same number of those, who would not like to leave the country at all, even if they had such an opportunity.

In conclusion, the attitudes of the young and the elderly by all the social indices concerned prove radically opposite. Concerning the respondents of the middle-aged group, in the great majority of cases the distribution of their viewpoints lies in-between these particular poles, i.e. the assumptions of the young and those of the elderly.