Politics With a Human Face

Without anyone much noticing, Russia has become the most liberal country in Europe - at least insofar as taxes are concerned. Today, no one here pays more than 13% in personal income taxes. As a result, people pay their taxes more willingly and state revenues are increasing.

Russia's President Putin may be few people's idea of a liberal, but his policies are undoubtedly such. Only for reasons that are peculiar to Russia, his is a liberalism that dare not speak its name.

I have opposed Putin in the past, and may oppose him in the future, but credit should be given where it belongs. Serious judicial reform is under way. At long last, Russia's ``third branch of government'' is becoming less Leninist and less corrupt. Land sales, too, have moved beyond the talking stage, with a Land Code near to adoption. Labor relations are becoming more predictable, serving both employers and employees. Indeed, a new Labor Code was approved on its first reading in the Duma.

Many of Putin's social policies are also quite sensible. Expenditures on education are to increase by almost 60%. Pensions are rising. Of course, there is a need to update the pension system, or else many of the elderly will remain indigent. We also need a more effective system of social security: after all, 100 million Russians are nowadays entitled to various privileges, and far from all of them are poor. Reform should give everyone a chance to make a decent living, but not subsidize those who are not really eligible.