The 2023 FREE Network Retreat, an annual face-to-face event for members of the FREE Network, gathered its representatives to share and exchange research ideas and to discuss its institutes’ respective work and joint efforts within the Network. An academic session highlighted multiple overarching areas of interest and opportunities for research collaboration and included a plenary session on topics ranging from theoretical underpinning of Vladimir Putin’s regime to climate change beliefs and to consumer behaviour in credit markets. A session addressing the respective institute’s work during the last year also demonstrated the importance and relevance of the FREE Network’s joint initiatives on gender, democracy and media, and climate change and environment: FROGEE, FROMDEE and FREECE. This brief gives a short outline of the plenary session and an overview of some further topics covered during the conference.
The Academic Day
The Academic Day consisted partly of a plenary session and partly of an academic session. The academic session was outlined to demonstrate the wide spectrum of research interests within the network and to promote and highlight the opportunities for research collaboration. Designed as a series of poster sessions, each organized around a common research theme, it allowed for an exchange of ideas between presenting researchers and the audience while displaying the overlap of the various research interests across the institutes. At the same time, the poster session combined the broad range of topics within 10 overarching subjects (trade, gender, migration and education, public economics, energy, labor, political economy and development, macro, conflict, and theory and auctions).
The plenary session further illustrated the wide variety of topics the FREE Network researchers’ work on. During the plenary session, three distinguished presentations were held, summarized in what follows.
“Why Did Putin Invade Ukraine? – A Theory of Degenerate Autocracy”
Firstly, Konstantin Sonin, Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, gave a presentation of his working paper (with Georgy Egorov, Northwestern University) in which the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is explained through a theoretical framework on dictators’ decision-making in degenerate autocracies.
Sonin outlined how the beliefs about Ukraine in Kremlin, prior to the invasion, were factually wrong. For example, Kremlin believed that Ukraine, despite plenty of facts pointing in the opposite direction, lacked a stable government and had an incapable army. Further, it was believed that the US and Europe wouldn’t care about Ukraine and that Russian troops would be welcomed as liberators – the latter exemplified by the fact that Russia sent police and not the army during the first phase of the invasion. He also stressed that the decision to invade Ukraine is likely to have disastrous consequences for Vladimir Putin, his regime, and for Russia as a whole. This is, however, not the first example of a disastrous decision made by a leader of an autocratic regime, leading up to the question: What explains such choices that should not rationally have been made? And how can leaders make them in highly institutionalized environments where they are surrounded by councils and advisors who are supposed to possess the best expertise?
The model presented by Sonin assumes a leader in such highly institutionalized environment that wishes to stay in power and whose decisions are based on input from subordinates. The subordinates differ in level of their expertise and the leader thus chooses the quality of advice that he receives through his choice of subordinates. In turn, while giving advice to the leader, the subordinate considers two factors: the vulnerability of the leader and their own prospects should the leader fall. In equilibrium there is a tradeoff as competent subordinates are also less loyal (since a more competent person might know when to switch alliances and have better prospects if the regime changes).
The leader also has access to repression as an instrument. Repression decreases his changes to be overthrown but raises the stakes for a potential future power struggle, as a leader with a history of repression is more likely to be repressed by his successor.
This interaction creates a feedback loop. If a dictator chooses repression, he feels more endangered, and he then chooses a more loyal subordinate who is less likely to deceive him for personal gain under a potential new regime. However, this leads to the appointment of less competent subordinates whereafter the information that flows to the leader becomes less and less reliable – as illustrated by Kremlin’s beliefs about Ukraine prior to the war.
There are three types of paths in equilibrium, Sonin explained; 1. “stable autocracy”, with leaders altering in power and choosing peaceful paths without repressions 2. “degenerate autocracy” – where the incumbent and opponent first replace each other peacefully and then slide into the repression-based change of power (until one of them dies and the story repeats), and 3. “consecutive degenerate autocracy” – where each power struggle is followed by repression.
Concluding his presentation, Sonin highlighted that in a degenerate autocracy such as Russia, individual decisions by the leader are rarely crucial due to the high level of institutionalization. However, as shown by the model, the leader is inevitably faced with a situation where he is surrounded by incompetent loyalists feeding him bad intel and setting him up to make disastrous decisions – most recently displayed in Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“Facing the Hard Truth: Evidence from Climate Change Ignorance”
Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, gave the conference’s second presentation, which detailed her work (with Ferenc Szucz, Stockholm University) on climate change skepticism.
Campa opened her talk with the current paradox regarding climate change, where, in the scientific community there is a strong consensus about the existence of climate change, but in society at large, skepticism is largely prevalent. This can be exemplified by one quarter of the US population not believing in global warming in 2023, and Europeans not believing in the fact that humans are the main driver of climate change.
According to Campa, the key question to answer is therefore “Why does ignorance about climate change persist among the public – in spite of the overwhelming evidence?”. One possible explanation may be a deficit in comprehension; people simply don’t understand the complexity of climate change and thus follow biased media and/ or politicians more or less sponsored by lobbyists. However, research have shown scientifical literacy to be quite uncorrelated with climate change denial, contradicting the above explanation. The second hypothesis, and of focus in the study, instead revolve around the concept of information avoidance. To test the hypothesis that people actively avoid climate change information, the authors key in on coal mining communities in the US having been exposed to negative shocks in the form of layoffs. These communities are of interest given their strong sense of identity and the fact that they are directly affected by the green transition. Arguably, a layoff shock would negatively affect not only their economy, but also pose a threat to their perceived identity. Given the context, it can thus be assumed that these communities to a larger extent would avoid information on climate change and information post-shock to restore the threatened identity.
The authors consider US counties experiencing mass layoff (more than 30 percent of mining jobs lost between 2014 and 2017) as treated counties, finding that in these counties, learning about climate change is 30 to 40 percent lower than in counties having experienced no mass layoffs. To account for the fact that the layoff itself may cause changes in learning, the authors also consider an instrument variable analysis in which gas prices are exploited as instrument for the layoffs – once again displaying the fact that people in affected communities believe climate change to be caused by humans to a lesser extent, when compared to counties in which no mass layoffs had occurred.
Interestingly, when controlling with other industries with somewhat similar characteristics (such as metal mining), the drop in climate change learning disappears, feeding in the notion of “identity-based information avoidance”.
The lack of support for and consensus among the public of the ongoing climate change and its drivers might pose a threat for the green transition as well as reduce personal effort to reduce the carbon footprint, Campa concluded.
“Consumer Credit with Over-Optimistic Borrowers”
In the plenary session’s last presentation, Igor Livshits, Economic Advisor and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, presented his working paper (with Florian Exler, University of Vienna, James MacGee, Bank of Canada and Michèle Tertilt, Mannheimer University) on consumer credit and borrower’s behaviour.
There has been much debate on whether and how to regulate consumer credit products to limit misuse of credit. In 2009/2010 several initiatives and regulations (such as the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act) were introduced with the aim of protecting consumers and borrowers from arguments that sellers of credit products exploit lack of information and cognitive capacity of borrowers. There is however a lack of evaluation of such arguments and subsequent regulations, which Livshits explained to be the motivation behind the paper.
The paper differentiates between over-optimistic borrowers (behaviour borrowers) and rational borrowers (rationalists). While both types face the same risks, behaviour borrowers are more prone to shocks and are at the same time unaware of these worse risks (i.e., they believe they are rationalists). Focusing on these types of borrowers, the paper introduces a model in which the lenders endogenously price credit based on beliefs about the borrower type. Households decide whether to spend or save and if to file for bankruptcy in an environment in which they are faced with earning shocks and expense shocks.
In this structural model of unsecured lending and default, Livshits finds that behavioral borrowers’ “risky” behaviour negatively affects rationalists since both types are pooled together and, thus rationalists are overpaying to cover for the behaviour borrowers. A calibration of the model also suggests that behavioral borrowers borrow too much and file for bankruptcy too little and too late.
Livshits argued that the model does not provide evidence of the notion that borrowers need protection from lenders, but rather that borrowers need to be protected from themselves. In fact, had behaviour borrowers been made aware of the fact that they are overly optimistic about the actual state of their future incomes, they would borrow 15 percent less.
To address the increased risks behaviour borrowers take at the cost of rationalists, policies such as default made easier, taxation on borrowing, financial literacy efforts and score-dependent borrowing limits could all be considered. Such policies may lower debt and reduce bankruptcy filings but as they may also reduce welfare and exhibit scaling difficulties.
Updates from the Institutes
During the Retreat, the respective institutes shared the previous year’s work, and updates within the FREE Network’s three joint projects were also presented. These go under the acronyms of FROMDEE (Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe), FREECE (Forum for Research on Eastern Europe; Climate and the Environment) and FROGEE (Forum for Research on Gender Economics in Eastern Europe), and address areas of great relevance in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Researchers from all FREE Network institutes work on these topics, with the most recent policy paper written in coordination by SITE, KSE and CenEA (with expert Maja Bosnic, Niras International Consulting). The policy paper focuses on the gender dimension of the reconstruction of Ukraine – putting emphasis on the necessity of gender budgeting principles throughout the various parts of reconstruction. An upcoming joint research paper will consider the effects of gasoline price increase on household income across the Network’s countries, written under the FREECE umbrella.
The three themes of gender, media and democracy, and environment and climate are not only purely research topics within the institutes. They also reflect developments and challenges that the institutes to a various extent face in the respective contexts in which they operate. The work focusing on the reconstruction of Ukraine is an excellent example of an area that encompasses all three.
Another example of the relevance of the three themes features prominently in one of the institutes’ most tangible contribution to their respective societies: their education programs. Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), emphasized how KSE has – amid Russia’s war on Ukraine – managed to greatly expand. Over the past year, KSE has launched 8 new bachelor’s and master’s programs, some of which are directly targeted at ensuring postwar reconstruction competence. On a similar note, Lev Lvovskiy, Academic Director at the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) mentioned the likelihood of next year being able to offer students a bachelor’s program in economics and several business courses in Vilnius – BEROC’S new location. BEROC’s effort in providing quality education in economics to Belarus’ exile youth is considered a fundamental investment in the future of the country – providing a competent leading class capable of installing democracy and fair elections in Belarus once the current regime is gone. The emphasis on education was further highlighted by Salome Gelashvili, Practice Head, Agriculture & rural policy at the International School of Economics Policy Institute (ISET-PI) who not only mentioned the opening of a master’s program in Finance at ISET but also the fact that an increasing number of students who’ve recently graduated from PhD’s abroad are now returning to Georgia. Such investments into education are necessary to counter Russian propaganda in the region all three agreed, emphasizing the need to continually stem Russia’s negative influence in the region. This investment into education is also important to hinder countries from sliding away from democratic values – realized in Belarus and threatening in Georgia.
To further delve into the issues of democratic backsliding, a tendency that has been recently observed not only in the region but also more widely across the globe, FROMDEE will organize an academic conference in Stockholm on October 13th, 2023.
The 2023 FREE Network Retreat provided a great opportunity for the Networks’ participants to jointly take part of new research and to share experiences, opportunities, and knowledge amongst each other. The Retreat also served as reminder of the importance of continuously supporting economic and democratic development, through research, policy work, and networking, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
List of Presenters
- Konstantin Sonin, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
- Pamela Campa, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics
- Igor Livshits, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
There is growing concern that democratic institutions in Eastern Europe are fragile. This brief compares two perspectives on the state of democracy: expert assessments and surveys of the general population. We show that while experts’ perception of some countries’ institutions has worsened in recent years, voters are increasingly satisfied with their own democracies. This trend is broad-based, encompassing almost all new EU member states and all age groups. We provide evidence that over time, survey respondents’ assessment of democracy has become more closely tied to the outcome of elections rather than actual institutional change. Where governments have imposed restrictions on media freedom or judicial independence, their supporters continue to report high levels of satisfaction with the way democracy works.
“Across the world, democracy is backsliding”
UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres, 2022
In recent years, the prevailing narrative around democracy in Eastern Europe has been negative. The reform momentum that propelled countries towards EU membership has not been sustained after accession. Discussions of global democratic backsliding frequently cite countries from the region as examples (Grillo and Prato, 2023; Chiopris et al., 2021; Mechkova et al., 2017). Following restrictions on judicial independence and media freedom, some new EU members have seen their ratings slide on indices that measure the quality of democratic institutions based on expert opinions. This brief contrasts these expert assessments with a different perspective on the state of democracy: that of the voters themselves.
Data from Eurobarometer surveys show that satisfaction with ‘the way democracy works in our country’ has been increasing in the new EU member states. This upward trend is visible for all age groups and in almost all countries – including those where experts’ assessment of democracy has worsened. We document patterns in the data that may help to explain this divergence. Survey responses increasingly reflect an instrumentalist view of democracy; respondents who are aligned politically with the winning party are more likely to feel that democracy is working well. This trend can be observed across the EU, but it is most pronounced in the new EU member states where the governing parties are right-of-centre.
Perceptions of Democracy
The quality of democracy is hard to measure. A range of indices classify countries by regime type or provide numerical ratings of institutional quality (the Polity, V-Dem, and Freedom House measures are among the most prominent). These indices have somewhat different objectives and methodologies, but they all rely on subjective judgements by expert coders.
Some academic research casts doubt on the prevailing narrative of a global phenomenon of democratic backsliding. For instance, Treisman (2023) and Lueders and Lust (2018) show that there is little consensus across indices, both in terms of individual countries and the global trend. A recent paper by Little and Meng (2023) contrasts subjective indices with more objective indicators of democratic health (e.g. the rate at which incumbents lose elections). The authors find no evidence for global democratic backsliding using the objective measures and suggest that the pessimistic narratives around democracy may have biased coders’ assessment.
There is less disagreement about the development of democracy in Eastern Europe. Treisman (2023) cites Hungary as the only example of a country that has recently been downgraded both from the status of “liberal democracy” by V-Dem and “free state“ by Freedom House. Little and Meng (2023) highlight three cases where both objective and subjective measures indicate backsliding: Hungary and Poland (as well as Venezuela). Further, Becker (2019) shows that downgrades to V-Dem democracy scores in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania are relatively broad-based, driven by declines across multiple sub-categories including freedom of expression and constraints on the executive.
Surveys of Public Opinion
We use individual-level data from the Eurobarometer – a survey of public opinion in the EU Member States and candidate countries conducted by the European Commission. The surveys are conducted at an approximately monthly frequency and comprise of a representative sample (about 1000 face-to-face interviews) for each state. We combine data from 42 surveys, spanning 20 years (2002 to 2022), with a total of 1.3 million respondents. The main question we are interested in is: “On the whole are you very satisfied, rather satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in [our country]?”
At the beginning of the sample period in 2002, around a third of respondents in Eastern European EU countries were satisfied with their respective democracies compared to close to twice as many respondents in Western Europe (Figure 1). Over the past 20 years, the share of Eastern Europeans satisfied with their democracy has grown to around 50 percent, narrowing the gap with Western Europe. Figure 2 shows that this pattern is broad based across age groups. All cohorts of Eastern Europeans are more satisfied with democracy than earlier generations and among the youngest respondents, satisfaction is almost as high as in Western Europe.
Figure 1. Satisfaction with Democracy vs V-Dem Score.
Figure 2. Satisfaction with Democracy by Age Group.
Figure 1 also shows a stark divergence in expert assessment of the state of democracy in Eastern Europe compared to public opinion in the same countries. While the V-Dem democracy scores for Eastern Europe have declined rapidly since the mid-2010s, average satisfaction with the own country’s democracy has increased. A much smaller gap between these two measures has also started to open up in Western Europe over the past couple of years.
In Figure 3, we show the same patterns of satisfaction with democracy and expert opinions for individual countries. Satisfaction with one’s own democracy has increased in almost all Eastern European countries, including in Poland and Hungary which at the same time showed the largest declines in democracy scores.
Figure 3. Satisfaction with Democracy vs V-Dem Score by Country.
This divergence in individual survey responses and expert assessments is not altogether surprising. First, the Eurobarometer surveys a sample of the population in each country, while V-Dem (and most other similar democracy indices) relies on country experts. Another likely explanation for the difference is the interpretation of the question. Democracy ratings tend to emphasise institutional aspects of a democracy, for instance, the V-Dem liberal democracy index is designed to capture rule of law and checks on executive power (see, e.g., Becker, 2019). In contrast, the survey responses are likely to reflect both satisfaction with the state of democracy in a country, as well as the outcomes of that democracy.
Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Alignment
In this section, we investigate whether stated satisfaction with democracy depends on the outcomes of elections and the political ideology of the respondents. A common way of measuring political ideology is the placement on a right-left scale, where the right favours a free-market economy and traditional values while the left favours economic redistribution and socially progressive policies. We compare the right-left placement of each country’s governing party as coded by the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES), with the self-identified right-left placement of Eurobarometer respondents. We calculate the ideological distance from the government as the absolute difference between these two scores.
Figure 4. Relationship Between Ideological Distance from Government and Satisfaction with Democracy.
We find that people are on average less satisfied with their country’s democracy when they are ideologically further from the parties in government (Figure 4). This is consistent with prior evidence (Anderson and Guillory, 1997; Ezrow and Xezonakis, 2011). The alignment effect has become stronger over time – even when taking into account average satisfaction levels for each country and demographic characteristics of the respondents, such as their age and gender. In the past three years, political alignment with the government has become a major factor in explaining satisfaction with democracy, especially in Eastern Europe. Svolik (2019) suggests that voters trade off democratic principles and partisan interests. As political polarisation increases, voters become more willing to accept a government that undermines democratic institutions, as long as it is on ‘their side’ ideologically.
Figure 5. Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Ideology. Western Europe in the Left Panel and Eastern Europe in the Right Panel.
In Figure 5, we break down the effect of political alignment on satisfaction with democracy according to individuals’ political leanings. On the x-axis is the respondents’ left-right placement and on the y-axis there are two series of dots showing satisfaction with democracy depending on whether the government is left of centre (lighter coloured dots) or right of centre (darker coloured dots). As before, being politically aligned with the government increases satisfaction, that is, to the left of the chart, the lighter coloured dots are placed higher than the darker coloured dots and vice versa for the right of the chart. The further from centre a person’s political leanings, the less satisfied they are with a government of the opposite ideology. There is also some evidence of asymmetry across the political spectrum in Eastern Europe, with respondents on the political right reporting much higher levels of satisfaction with right-wing governments compared to voters on the left under a left-wing government.
Over the past decade, there has been increasing concern over democratic backsliding in some of the Eastern European countries that are members of the EU. This is reflected in commonly used democracy indices whose country experts note the worrying trends in countries’ institutions – such as the reduction of freedom of expression, the strengthening of rule of law and constraints on the executive, all hallmarks of a liberal democracy. In this policy brief, we investigate whether this erosion of institutional safeguards affects people’s stated satisfaction with democracy in one’s respective country. We find a broad-based increase in satisfaction with democracy in the Eastern European EU countries, including in the countries that have seen some of the largest declines in liberal democracy ratings. We show that stated satisfaction with democracy reflects less the institutional changes in countries, but more the outcome of democratic elections. Voters who are politically aligned with their government are systematically more likely to report that they are satisfied with the state of democracy in their country. And this effect has become stronger in the most recent years, particularly in the Eastern European EU countries. We also find that this effect is not symmetric across the political spectrum. In the Eastern European EU countries, respondents on the political right are more satisfied with right-wing governments than those on the left are with left-wing governments.
The descriptive patterns outlined in this policy brief illustrate a worrying disconnect in the minds of many voters between institutions and outcomes of the democratic process. The threat of democratic backsliding in Europe and across the globe is predominantly not due to electoral democracies being replaced by autocratic regimes. Rather, genuinely popular (and often populist) governments are democratically elected and, once in power, proceed to undermine and dismantle liberal democratic institutions, such as a free press, an independent judiciary, and a fair electoral system. This process in turn makes it more difficult for opposition parties to win future elections, further cementing the power of the rulers of these illiberal democracies. While the electorate might support these governments now, voters need to be aware that these liberal institutions are designed to safeguard their democratic future.
- Anderson, C. J. and Guillory, C. A. (1997). Political institutions and satisfaction with democracy: A cross-national analysis of consensus and majoritarian systems. American Political Science Review, 91(1), pp.66-81.
- Becker, T. (2019). Liberal Democracy in Transition – The First 30 Years. FREE Policy Brief.
- Chiopris, C., Nalepa, M. and Vanberg, G. (2021). A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Citizen uncertainty and democratic backsliding. Working Paper.
- Döring, H., Huber, C. and Manow, P. (2022). ParlGov 2022 Release. Harvard Dataverse. https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/UKILBE
- Eurobarometer (multiple waves: 2002-2022), European Commission. Brussels
- Ezrow, L. and Xezonakis, G. (2011). Citizen satisfaction with democracy and parties’ policy offerings. Comparative Political Studies, 44(9), pp.1152-1178.
- Grillo, E. and Prato, C. (2023). Reference points and democratic backsliding. American Journal of Political Science, 67(1), pp.71-88.
- Little, A. and Meng, A. (2023). Subjective and Objective Measurement of Democratic Backsliding. Available at SSRN 4327307.
- Lueders, H. and Lust, E. (2018). Multiple measurements, elusive agreement, and unstable outcomes in the study of regime change. The Journal of Politics, 80(2), pp.736-741.
- Mechkova, V., Luhrmann, A. and Lindberg, S. I. (2017). How much democratic backsliding?. Journal of. Democracy, 28, pp.162-169.
- Svolik, M. W. (2019). Polarization versus democracy. Journal of Democracy, 30(3), pp.20-32.
- Treisman, D. (2023). How great is the current danger to democracy? assessing the risk with historical data. Comparative Political Studies, https://doi.org/10.1177/00104140231168363.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe: Climate and Environment (FREECE) would like to invite you to its 2023 SITE Energy Talk. This year it will focus on the opportunities and challenges that the energy infrastructure will face in the near future.
As we move towards sustainable, low-carbon energy systems, it is essential to guarantee the energy infrastructure’s resilience against various challenges, such as supply chain disruptions, network congestion, rising energy costs, and other potential threats. Valuable insights have been gained from recent shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the energy crisis, and the ongoing Ukrainian war concerning the energy infrastructure’s resilience.
The next SITE Energy event will focus on the opportunities and challenges that the energy infrastructure will face in the near future.
Associate Professor at Reykjavik University and also affiliated to Luleå University of Technology
Lazarczyk Carlson will focus on the Baltic Sea region’s energy security and the network dependency on Russia as an electricity power supplier.
Ph.D., Head of the Center of Public Finance and Governance at the Kyiv School of Economics, Associate Professor of Finance at the State University of Trade and Economics
Markuts will address the energy of Ukraine during the Russia full-scale invasion: resilience and future prospects for transformation.
Analyst on Energy sector Damages and Losses, Researcher at the Center for Food and Land Use Research at Kyiv School of Economics
Piddbunyi addresses the question of Ukrainian energy infrastructure, its current status, and damage evaluations.
Senior Advisor at Ramboll Management Consulting
Toll will discuss how well-prepared the Nordic energy infrastructure is for the green transition from a security of energy supply perspective, in the light of recent and current energy crises.
The event will take place in Terrasrummet at Holländargatan 32, 113 59 Stockholm (near the main building of SSE) and the registration opens at 11.45 near the entrance of Holländargatan.
The event will also be streamed online via Zoom for those who cannot join the event in person. Please register via the Trippus platform:
NOTE: A light lunch will be provided for those who will participate the event in person.
Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions regarding the event.
The labor markets of many transition countries are characterized by two features: a spike at the minimum wage level in the wage distribution and widespread use of so-called envelope wages, i.e. non-declared cash payments in addition to the official wage. In this brief, we present a body of suggestive evidence showing that tax evaders are overrepresented among minimum wage earners in Latvia.
Labor markets in many transition and post-transition countries are characterized by the prevalence of payroll tax evasion in the form of envelope wages, i.e. non-declared cash in addition to the official wage (see for instance Putnins and Sauka (2015) for Latvia, Paulus (2015) and Kukk and Staehr (2014) for Estonia and Bíró et al. (2022) and Elek et al. (2012) for Hungary).
Another defining characteristic of these transition economies is a very large peak at exactly the minimum wage in the wage distribution. To explain this phenomenon, Tonin (2011) argues that the mass of individuals at the minimum wage level is composed to a large extent of workers receiving envelope wages, where employers and employees collude and agree on reporting only the minimum wage to minimize tax liabilities while remaining under the radar of the tax authorities. In such a setup, the minimum wage policy becomes an enforcement tool for the fiscal administration, as it pushes non-compliant firms to convert part of the envelope wage into an official wage so that it reaches the new minimum wage.
However, only scarce concrete evidence shows that payroll tax evaders are overrepresented among minimum wage earners. Considering the regular minimum wage hikes in the region (e.g., a 95 percent increase in Latvia in 2010-2022 and a planned increase by another 24 percent in 2023), understanding the interaction between minimum wage policy and labor tax evasion is crucial.
In this brief, we present a body of suggestive evidence highlighting the prevalence of wage underreporting at exactly the minimum wage level in Latvia.
Data and Methodology
We use Latvian administrative employer-employee data for 2011 to 2015, covering the full Latvian employed population at a monthly rate. To identify tax evasion, we rely on the comparison between small and large firms. The literature studying tax evasion provides considerable evidence showing that small firms tend to evade more taxes than large firms. Kleven et al. (2016) provide a theoretical foundation for this result, showing that collusive evasion is more difficult to sustain in firms with more employees. Empirically, this effect has been documented in many countries (see for instance Putnins and Sauka (2015), Gavoille and Zasova (2021), and Benkovskis and Fadejeva (2022) for the results on Latvia, Bíró et al. (2022) for Hungary, Paulus (2015) for Estonia, and Kumler et al. (2020) for Mexico).
In this brief, we use a very broad definition for firm size categories and divide firms into firms employing 30 or fewer employees as small and firms with more than 30 employees as large. With such a crude definition, it is inevitable that firms below and above the threshold are highly heterogeneous, implying that some firms below the threshold are tax-compliant, while some firms above the threshold are tax-evading. For our purposes though, it is sufficient to assume that the share of evading employees in small firms is larger than that in the sample of large firms.
We begin by plotting the distribution of wages in the private sector. Figure 1 plots monthly wages in the range of 0–1000 Euros in 2011. The right most dashed vertical line in the figure marks the minimum wage (284.57 Euros per month in 2011) and the left most dashed line marks 50 percent of the minimum wage. There are clear spikes at the minimum wage (and at half of the minimum wage). The minimum level wage spike in small firms (top graph) is much more pronounced than in large firms (bottom graph), which is consistent with the idea that the spike is driven by income underreporting.
Figure 1. Gross wage distribution in the private sector in small (< 30 empl.) and large (> 30 empl.) firms in 2011.
This explanation implies that employers and employees choose to declare employment and underdeclare earnings instead of staying completely informal, which is consistent with the available evidence. Staying completely informal involves much higher risks of detection if authorities perform regular inspections of workplaces, and in many Central European countries with prevalent income underreporting, completely informal employment is not very common (OECD, 2008). In Latvia, firms have to register employees in the electronic system of the State Revenue Service before they start to work, hence the probability that an unofficially employed person is detected during a workplace inspection is very high (State Labor Inspectorate, 2010). Existing empirical evidence on Latvia also suggests that income underreporting is much more widespread than completely informal employment, which is estimated at only 2–3.5 percent (European Commission, 2014; Hazans, 2012). Hence, we interpret the spikes as indicative of tax evaders bunching at the minimum wage.
Wage Growth Among Minimum Wage Earners
Wages are expected to grow with tenure, but if minimum wage earners receive part of their income in cash, their reported wage can remain unchanged even after years of employment within a firm (as any increase would arguably go through the non-declared cash). To examine if this is the case, we exploit a period when there were no changes in the Latvian minimum wage (January 2011–December 2013). We select employees who were employed by the same firm in all months of 2011–2013, assign them to wage bins according to their wage in 2011, and in each wage bin calculate the share of workers whose wage in 2013 was the same as in 2011. We assign workers to 10-Euro bins, with the exception of minimum wage earners, whom we assign to a bin of 1 Euro.
As evident from Figure 2 minimum wage earners clearly stand out from other employees. In small firms, almost 45 percent of employees earning the minimum wage in 2011 had the same reported wage in 2013. There is also a spike at the minimum wage in large firms (28 percent), but it is less pronounced than in small firms.
Figure 2. Proportion of continuously employed workers facing no wage growth between 2011 and 2013, by wage bins, in small (< 30 empl.) and large (> 30 empl.) firms.
An alternative explanation for the large share of minimum wage earners who experience no wage growth could be that, for many of them, the minimum wage is binding. To rule this out, we perform the same calculations on a sample of young employees (24 or younger in 2011). Workers in the early stages of their careers tend to have higher returns to experience and tenure; thus, young workers are less likely to have no wage growth after three years of employment with the same firm. Figure 3 plots the results for young workers. In large firms, the spike at the minimum wage is more than twice as small as for the full sample of workers (12 percent vs. 28 percent), but in small firms it remains very high (33 percent).
Figure 3. Proportion of continuously employed young workers (aged 24 or less in 2011) facing no wage growth between 2011 and 2013, by wage bins, in small (< 30 empl.) and large (> 30 empl.) firms.
This brief documents highly prevalent tax evasion among minimum wage earners in Latvia. In such a context, the minimum wage is a powerful fiscal instrument as a higher minimum wage pushes non-compliant firms to disclose a larger share of their employees’ true earnings. In addition, wage underreporting among minimum wage earners can act as a shock absorber and cushion the negative employment effects of a minimum wage hike in countries where a large share of workers officially receive the minimum wage.
These upsides however come at a cost. The results presented in this brief by no means imply that all minimum wage earners are tax evaders; a notable share of employees receiving the minimum wage on paper do honestly earn only the minimum wage. In our paper (Gavoille and Zasova, 2022), we show that the flip side of the positive fiscal effect of a minimum wage hike is job losses among genuine low-wage earners and closures of tax-compliant firms that are affected by the hikes.
This brief is based on a recent article published in the Journal of Comparative Economics (Gavoille and Zasova, 2022). The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from LZP FLPP research grant No.LZP-2018/2-0067 InTEL (Institutions and Tax Enforcement in Latvia).
- Benkovskis, Konstantins; and Ludmila Fedejeva, 2022. “Chasing the Shadow: the Evaluation of Unreported Wage Payments in Latvia“. Latvijas Banka, Working Paper Nr. 1/2022.
- Bíró , Anikó; Dániel Prinz, and László Sándor, 2022. “The minimum wage, informal pay, and tax enforcement“. Journal of Public Economics, 215, 104728.
- Elek, Péter; János Köllő, Balázs Reizer, and Péter A. Szabó, 2012. “Chapter 4 Detecting Wage Under-Reporting Using a Double-Hurdle Model“. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Rochester, NY, pp. 135–166.
- European Commission, 2014. “Undeclared Work in the European Union“, Special EUROBAROMETER 284.
- Gavoille, Nicolas; and Anna Zasova, 2022. “Minimum wage spike and income underreporting: A back-of-the-envelope-wage analysis“, Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming.
- Gavoille, Nicolas; and Anna Zasova, 2021. “What we pay in the shadow: Labor tax evasion, minimum wage hike and employment“. SSE Riga/BICEPS Research paper No.6.
- Hazans, Mihails, 2012. “How many people are working without a contract in Latvia and neighboring countries?”. Technical Report, University of Latvia.
- Kumler, Todd; Eric Verhoogen, and Judith Frías, 2020. “Enlisting Employees in Improving Payroll Tax Compliance: Evidence from Mexico“. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 102 (5), 881–896.
- Kukk, Merike; and Karsten Staehr, 2014. “Income underreporting by households with business income: evidence from Estonia“. Post-Communist Economies, 26(2), 257-276.
- OECD, 2008. “Declaring Work or Staying Underground“. OECD employment outlook 2008.
- Paulus, Alari, 2015. “Tax Evasion and Measurement Error: an Econometric Analysis of Survey Data Linked with Tax Records“. Working Paper 2015-10. ISER Working Paper Series.
- Putnins, Talis; and Arnis Sauka, 2015. “Measuring the shadow economy using company managers“, Journal of Comparative Economics, 43(2), 471-490.
- State Labor Inspectorate, 2010. “Latvia: Annual Report 2010”
- Tonin, Mirco, 2011. “Minimum wage and tax evasion: Theory and evidence“. Journal of Public Economics, 95(11-12), 1635-1651.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
This brief presents an analysis of the magnitude of the intergenerational occupational mobility in Belarus, taking into account a differentiated gender effect. The analysis considers movements along the occupational scale for individuals with respect to their parents, both through an aggregate magnitude (using transition matrices and mobility rates) and in detail (using a multinomial logit model), using data from the 2017 Generations and Gender Survey for Belarus. The findings show, firstly, that the downward intergenerational changes of occupational status have a strong gender bias: downward mobility is higher for men than for women. Secondly, the probability of moving up the social ladder is higher for women than for men in Belarus. Additionally, the results verify the important role of education as a mechanism towards reaching a society with more equal opportunities. In particular, the effect is more intense for individuals with higher education.
Intergenerational social mobility is defined as the movement of individuals from the social class of the family in which they lived when they were young (the origin class) into their current class position (the destination class), where social class is determined by as decided by income, occupation, education etc. (Ritzer, 2007; Scott and Marshall, 2009).
One of the main results from the economic literature on intergenerational social mobility shows that the degree of social mobility depends on the characteristics of an individual’s family background. These characteristics include an individual’s choice to acquire human capital and corresponding type of education, innate and acquired abilities, gender differences, or the knowledge people acquire through lifelong learning or work experience (Behrman & Taubman, 1990; Dutta, Sefton & Weale, 1999).
However, such characteristics may encourage children to work in the same occupations as their parents, slowing down intergenerational change. Research on intergenerational mobility can help identify and remove barriers to mobility which could improve the effective distribution of human skills and talents, in turn increasing productivity and promoting competitiveness and economic growth.
This brief summarizes the results of the first research focused on intergenerational occupational mobility in Belarus (Mazol, 2022). The research attempts to obtain new empirical evidence on intergenerational social mobility in Belarus by examining the movements of individuals along the occupational scale in relation to their parents, while taking into account other relevant factors such as gender differences and educational background of the individuals. Two specific gender dimensions are introduced: on the one hand, this study analyzes whether mobility in occupational categories differs for men and women; on the other hand, it examines whether there is a difference in the transmission of occupational categories from fathers to sons in comparison to mothers to daughters.
Data and Methodology
The study makes use of data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) conducted in Belarus in 2017 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) within the framework of the Generations and Gender Program of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The survey provides information on a range of individual characteristics (age, gender, marital status, educational attainment, employment status, hours worked, wages earned, etc.) as well as household-level characteristics (household size and composition, religion, land ownership, location, asset ownership, etc.).
The research considers the subsample of respondents between 25-79 years old and utilizes the information on occupation of the respondent and his/her parents. In order to evaluate the intergenerational occupational mobility, occupations are ranked by their position in the occupational ladder according to the National Classification of Occupations, based on the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08) This defines a ranking of occupations based on the performance area and qualification required to carry out the occupation, from armed forces occupations (ranking the highest), through a manager, a professional, a technician or professional associate, a clerk, a sales worker, a skilled agricultural worker, a craft worker a plant and machine operator, ending with an elementary occupation ranking the lowest. The influence from the father’s/mother’s occupation on that of the son’s/daughter’s is then estimated.
The analysis is carried out partly by estimation of transition matrices and mobility rates, and partly by the use of a multinomial logit model that aims to analyze the impact of a set of covariates on intergenerational occupational mobility. The explanatory variables are: the highest degree of education an individual has achieved (educational attainment), gender, potential labor experience (calculated as the number of years an individual has regularly worked), status in the labor market (full-time or part-time), and region of residence. The choice of these independent variables relies on channels identified from relevant sociological and economic literature.
Figure 1. Intergenerational occupational transitions in percent, by gender lines
The intergenerational transmission of occupational immobility is almost equal for men and women (31 percent and 30,1 percent respectively). Occupational upward mobility is far more common as compared to downward mobility. 39.7 percent of men, compared to their father’s, and 50.6 percent of women, compared to their mother’s, have better occupations. The gender differences may be explained by the high proportion of women with higher educational levels in Belarus.
The estimates of the marginal effects obtained by the multinomial logit model indicate that social occupational mobility in Belarus depends on personal and labor characteristics. Three possible states are considered in relation to father-son and mother-daughter gender lines: the individual experiences downward intergenerational occupational mobility as compared to their parent of the same gender (Y = 0); they remain in the same occupation (immobility) (Y = 1) or they experience upward intergenerational occupational mobility (Y = 2) (see Table 1).
Table 1. Estimates of the marginal effects corresponding to the multinomial logit model
As evident from Table 1, gender is an important determinant of intergenerational occupational mobility. In particular, the results show that women are more likely to move up the social ladder than their male counterparts, as men are 10 percentage points less likely to have upward occupational mobility than women with similar (on average) socio-economic characteristics, with all coefficients being statistically significant.
In terms of educational attainment, the findings show that, on the one hand, higher educational attainment has a positive and significant influence on upward occupational mobility, with the highest values displayed for higher education. The probability of moving up to the occupational ladder is around 27 percentage points higher for an individual within this educational group than for an individual with primary studies and similar (on average) socio-economic characteristics. On the other hand, higher education has a negative and significant influence on downward occupational mobility, indicating that the probability of moving down the occupational ladder is around 13 percentage points lower for a highly educated individual compared to an individual with primary education.
Considering human capital, there is a positive impact of potential labor experience on upward intergenerational occupational mobility. Specifically, the probability of moving up along the occupational ladder increases on average by about 0.3 percentage points for every additional year of labor experience.
Finally, the results show that full-time workers are more likely to move up the social ladder than their part-time counterparts. Full-time workers are about 12 percentage points more likely to experience upward occupational mobility and 11 percentage points less likely to face downward occupational mobility compared to their part-time working counterparts.
This brief summarizes the findings for the first study on intergenerational occupational mobility in Belarus.
Firstly, the findings indicate, from a gender perspective, that the probability of moving up the social ladder is higher for women than for men in Belarus.
Secondly, the research results verify the important role of education as a mechanism to reach a society with more equal opportunities. In particular, the effect is more intense for individuals with higher educational attainments.
Thirdly, potential labor experience positively influences the upward intergenerational occupational mobility. This may reveal an underlying effect from training (however an unobservable variable given the data provided by the GGS).
Lastly, the impact of employment status on intergenerational occupational mobility in Belarus depends on the stability of labor relations, where possessing a part-time job worsens one’s probability of accomplishing a social class advancement.
- Behrman, J., and P. Taubman. (1990). The Intergenerational Correlation between Children’s Adult Earnings and Their Parents’ Income: Results from the Michigan Panel Survey of Income Dynamics. Review of Income and Wealth, 36(2), pp. 115-127.
- Dutta, J., Sefton, J., and M. Weale. (1999). Education and Public Policy. Fiscal Studies, 20(4), pp. 351-386.
- Mazol, A. (2022). Intergenerational Occupational Mobility: Evidence from Belarus. BEROC Working Paper Series, WP no. 79.
- Ritzer, G. (2007). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
- Scott, J., and G. Marshall. (2009). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Numerous developed countries have imposed tough sanctions on Belarus, as the Belarusian regime has become part of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, economic relations with Ukraine have been disrupted. These shocks have simultaneously disturbed the Belarusian economy and triggered a severe recession. Thanks to several positive effects from the external environment, some success from measures undertaken by the authorities to stabilize output, and some degree of resilience – all seasoned with a large portion of good luck – the situation of the Belarusian economy is however “not that bad”. Nonetheless, the Belarusian economy is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the mid-1990s, and the current path of the economy is highly unstable and associated with numerous risks and threats. In economic terms, it is likely the case that the full costs from the sanctions are yet to be paid.
Sanctions, Multiple Shocks and Their Potential Implications
As the Belarusian regime has become part of the Russian war on Ukraine many developed countries have adopted tough sanctions against Belarus. These sanctions include an embargo on a large share of Belarusian exports and imports, prohibitions and restrictions on transportation of goods of Belarusian origin, restrictions on and/or blocking actions regarding financial operations and settlements, a freeze of parts of the Belarusian international reserves, and numerous restricting and blocking actions against banks, companies and individuals. Such sanctions, combined with a new external environment, cause powerful indirect effects with foreign companies exiting the Belarusian market and refusing business with Belarusian counterparts. Additionally, some Belarusian businesses and employees have left the country. On top of this, economic relations with Ukraine, formerly Belarus’s second largest trading partner, have been virtually reduced to zero.
In economic terms, the above mentioned may be treated as a bundle of simultaneous powerful shocks to the national economy, differing in direction, mechanics, size, and persistence. These shocks may be grouped into three clusters.
The first cluster covers demand shocks, and in particular export shocks. According to our assessments, the exogenous demand shock following the sanctions may reduce Belarusian exports (in physical terms) by 40 percent, compared to previous steady-state levels. This figure should however be seen as a potential lower bound which may be realized if no measures to mitigate the impact from the sanctions are undertaken. Belarusian authorities and businesses are however doing their best trying to find new buyers for the “vanishing” exports, bypass restrictions in order to connect to “old” buyers, and establish new logistic and financial chains. The extent to which these attempts may be successful depends on the global environment, the degree of the price competitiveness of Belarusian producers, and numerous non-economic factors. Additionally, all factors affecting exports are unstable and volatile. Exports under these new conditions are therefore less sustainable and may fluctuate in an extremely wide range. Shocks to consumption and investments stemming from weakened sentiment and expectations further amplify the demand shocks.
The second cluster of shocks relates to the supply side of the economy. It includes business closures, emigration that weakens labor supply, and production bottlenecks due to the inaccessibility of imports. Supply shocks are hard to quantify, but we perceive them as persistent and cumulative. Business closures and emigration have irrevocable effects on the national economy (at least in the medium-term), and a continuation of such drop-outs will likely amplify the size of the shock.
The third cluster combines different primarily nominal shocks: price, exchange rate, financial stability and fiscal ones. Such shocks have become permanent companions to the Belarusian economy under the sanctions, and they are volatile in terms of size. As a result, the corresponding economic indicators are likely to also become highly unstable.
This bundle of adverse shocks shifts the economy down from the previous, close to steady-state, trajectory. A new trajectory is however far from predetermined. Firstly, it depends on the effectiveness of the government in curbing the shocks stemming from the sanctions, as the actual path of the economy may be considerably affected by monetary or fiscal policy and other interventions. Secondly, some positive exogenous shocks may partially offset the effects from adverse ones. Lastly, the economy, at least for a while, may resist through exploitation of accumulated buffers (such as, international reserve assets, financial reserves of State-owned enterprises that were accumulated under favorable conditions in 2021 etc.).
Considering the worst possible assumptions regarding the above mentioned issues, our model-based simulations predict a severe recession of about 20 percent (as compared to the output peak in 2021-Q2). This recession is accompanied by a sharp increase in inflation (which in turn is highly likely to be supplemented by a full-fledged financial crisis). This simulation should however be regarded as the potential rock bottom. Whether it will become reality or not critically depends on the Belarusian government’s policies.
Policy Response by the Authorities
The root cause of the problem, namely the provision of Belarusian territory for the Russian army, has never been publicly discussed by Belarusian officials. Instead, the government has focused on strategies which treat the symptoms, rather than focusing on curing the disease itself. The main coping strategies that were publicly discussed include: 1) expected increase in Russian support and exports to Russia 2) re-orientation of exports towards Asian and developing markets 3) greater mobilization of domestic resources and 4) monetary, fiscal and other stimuli.
The Russia-related initiatives are often beyond convention and include some radical proposals. These are, for instance, accelerating the establishment of sea terminals in Russian ports, promoting exports to Russia, and requesting greater financial support from Russia linked to the so-called “deep integration” package (mainly in the form of energy subsidies, import substitution investments and direct subsidies). Adherence to these proposals would mean that Belarusian authorities de facto accept serving as a Russian protectorate and correspondingly take on the role of a puppet government.
Belarusian authorities have reached some success from choosing the “Russian track” as the debt payments to Russia were postponed, new cheap gas and oil prices were granted and export to Russia increased by 15 percent in the first 8 months of 2022. The Belarusian regime’s $7 billion compensation claim for incurred economic losses due to the war has however been rejected by Russia so far.
The coping strategy of export re-orientation serves primarily as a rhetoric intervention as China and other Asian countries considered by the government cannot fully replace the European market. For many Belarusian exports, the EU was a premium, high-margin market while re-orientation means at best lower margins. The success of re-orientation depends on the degree of price competitiveness, which can change greatly over time. The only success from this strategy to date is the re-orientation of 10 percent of potash exports to China via railroad (incurring greater transportation costs).
The third strategy “greater mobilization of domestic resources” firstly assumes more interference with the business activity of State-owned enterprises (SOE). Despite severe demand shocks these are pressured by the government to maintain production and/or salaries, the latter in order to support output via sustained consumer demand. Further, a “discipline” component of the strategy is implemented through renewed catch-pay-and-release practices. In effect, businessmen are arrested based on anti-corruption or tax fraud criminal charges. They are then offered to pay certain amounts to the state and released if they choose to pay.
Since late spring, when direct financial shocks have been suppressed, the authorities have intensified stimulus measures to the economy. In the fiscal sphere, these are aimed at promoting exports and mainly provided on an individual or sectoral basis. To a large extent, these stimuli may be seen as partial compensation to SOEs for their output-supporting role. In the monetary sphere a specific environment in which the Russian ruble is appreciated vs. the US dollar, despite the worldwide strength of the latter, has allowed the authorities to implement a “magic” (but highly likely temporary) solution: The Belarusian national currency is manipulated to depreciate vs. the Russian ruble (both in nominal and real terms) but appreciate vs. the US dollar. The former leads to a great increase in price competitiveness (as Russia is today the dominant trading partner), while the latter serves as a buffer for fragile prices and provides financial stability. Moreover, the authorities have excessively softened monetary policy, trying to spur domestic credit. These measures lead to heightened inflation pressure, which is however somehow suppressed by reinvigorated direct price controls.
Current Situation and Future Implications
Until now, the Belarusian economy places far from the potential rock bottom. By the end of the second quarter in 2022, output losses (vs. the output peak in 2021-Q2) amounted to about 5.5 percent. By the end of 2022, they are however expected to increase to about 8.5 percent (vs. the 2021-Q2 output peak). The Belarusian economy is stuck in a heightened inflation environment – with the inflation being as high as 20 percent in annual terms. Although the inflation is considerably higher than in “normal times”, it is still not a disaster (considering the much higher projected level under the worst-case scenario and the background of 40-year peak in global inflation). Moreover, the current situation is still far from a full-fledged financial crisis, despite some financial turbulence.
The position of the economy as “not that bad”, is a result of existing buffers, positive effects from the external environment and some immediate efficiency from actions undertaken by the authorities to stabilize output – all seasoned with a large portion of good luck. For instance, the jump in price competitiveness accounts for a large share of curbing efforts that counter the sanctions. This is, in turn, due to a combination of high global prices, low and frozen energy prices for Belarus, and a very specific and unstable stance on monetary policy underpinned by direct price controls. Some buffer savings that Belarusian SOEs succeeded to accumulate during the period of the so-called “foreign trade miracle” in late 2020 and 2021 also play an important role. Last but not least, the Belarusian authorities seem to have succeeded in the partial curbing of the export shock. Since the beginning of summer, there are some signs of recovery in exports which most likely reflects a partial recovery of exports within the most sensitive domains: oil products and potash fertilizers (corresponding statistics have been blocked out).
However, the “not that bad” position of the economy does not mean good. According to all standard metrics, Belarus is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis. The notion that it could be even more severe is bad news, not good ones. Moreover, the current situation is extremely unstable and fragile. The economy is facing numerous distortions, contradictions and risks, all of which can still shift the scenario of the crisis from the “not that bad” situation to the worst possible.
The Belarusian regime’s involvement in the Russian aggression against Ukraine have propelled Belarus into the most severe economic crisis since the mid-1990s. Until recently, fortunate external economic circumstances, a specific policy mix and a good portion of luck have allowed for a partial mitigation of the crisis. The situation is however extremely unstable and the full effects from the sanctions are likely yet to be realized.
More than thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe is struck with war following the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Russia’s war on Ukraine entails lost human capital, both in actual lives lost and due to major disruptions to key functions of the society, such as education and research. In light of this, the FREE Network, together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), hosted the public conference “Higher Education and Research in War and Peace“ in Warsaw on the 10th of September 2022. This policy brief is based on the presentations and panel discussions held during the conference.
The large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted an entire society, including the education system, with Ukrainian schools just recently partially welcoming back students to the classrooms for the first time since the 25th of February 2022. Closing schools has severe impacts on a population, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown and closure of schools around the world following the virus have had and will continue to have massively negative consequences globally, with severe losses in human capital due to lost years of education. This is especially in countries where access to online education is limited or of poor quality. Inequalities also rise following the closure of schools and girls return to school in fewer numbers than their male counterparts. The disruption to the Ukrainian education system will result in lost human capital and lowered levels of knowledge among the population. The war has further restricted access to relevant information for many Ukrainians but also for Russians, making people susceptible to the increased Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war on Ukraine depicted within and outside of Russia.
In light of this, the FREE Network gathered representatives from its affiliated institutions and other relevant actors in the region to discuss the relevance and necessity of continued support for higher education and research within social sciences in Ukraine, and more broadly in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries. The conference and the overarching theme related back not only to the original ambition of the FREE Network, namely to support outstanding academia within economics and relate it to policy work but also to the current situation in Europe and the existing threat from Russia to this objective.
This brief will initially cover the work carried out by the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in response to the Russian aggression, followed by thoughts on Russia’s role in the evolution of knowledge and human capital in the region. The brief continues by covering the benefits and positive outcomes of investments into education and research and lastly concludes with reflections on the role of the FREE Network.
The Kyiv School of Economics’ Response to the Russian Aggression
The war on Ukraine put the spotlight on the importance of high-quality academic institutions as a safety net for the government to maintain vital functions to society. The Vice President for Policy Research at KSE, Nataliia Shapoval, gave a brief overview of how KSE’s work has changed since the Russian war on Ukraine and its implications. Shapoval initially painted a picture of the disruption to the Ukrainian society caused by the Russian aggression, explaining how KSE stepped up during the first months of the war, in some areas doing the work of ministries. While the government has mainly taken back some duties, the KSE is still providing policy advice in areas related to the effects of sanctions, estimates of damages, and food security among others. KSE is also highly active within the areas of education and health, working with Ukrainian schools through the KSE Charitable Foundation (KSE CF) to ensure students can safely return to the classrooms.
Another important aspect of the work carried out by KSE concerns spreading knowledge about and shedding light on the situation in Ukraine. Through the various networks, by talking to colleagues within academia but also to the media, KSE is trying to explain what has happened and is still happening in Ukraine. According to Shapoval, there is a need for delivering correct information and to keep attention fixed on the situation in Ukraine such that people are kept aware of what is going on in the region.
Shapoval also regularly returned to the role of education and research for the present and future Ukraine. According to Shapoval, avoiding brain drain and ensuring Ukrainians are equipped with the necessary knowledge is key to rebuilding a future Ukraine founded on well-functioning democratic institutions. To facilitate this, the KSE is offering two programs, Memory and Conflict Studies (a multidisciplinary field concerned with how the past can be understood and remembered, and how it might impact the present transformation of societies) and Urban Studies, both aimed at covering the future need for competence within these fields. Further mentioned by Shapoval is the fact that, due to the war, many Ukrainians have left the country and are being educated elsewhere. While this partially ensures intellectual human capital is not lost, these students must be kept anchored to Ukraine through networks to ensure they will return back to help rebuild Ukraine. This is especially important in order to counter the ongoing evolution in Russia.
Thoughts on the Role of Russia in the Region
While the recent developments in Ukraine have of course disrupted education and research in more severe and tangible ways, the situation for independent researchers in Russia has also deteriorated. Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, emphasized how several Russian colleagues in exile still collaborate with the FREE Network on policy work and research. Becker also further stressed how they will be paramount once Ukraine wins the war, as will the role of partnerships for a future transformation of the Russian society. Acknowledging that there are many Russians (especially amongst academics in exile) who oppose the war, Shapoval however stressed the disturbing fact that many Russians do seem to support the Russian aggression and that the role of Russia as a destructive force in the region cannot be understated. This was seconded by Tamara Sulukhia, Director of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). Sulukhia argued that Russian politics slow down and disturbs the free states within the region, and hampers organizations and countries from moving in the right direction in regard to democracy, economic evolution and integration toward Europe. Both Shapoval and Sulukhia reminded the audience that even with a Ukrainian victory, and this in a war which is defining the future of democracy in the region, Russia will persist. Russia has proven time and again, by effectively occupying 23 percent of Georgia as of 2008, with the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and with the most recent war on Ukraine, to be a real military threat to post-Soviet countries. Even though Russia losing the war would shift the power dynamics in the region, the ever-present threat of Russia is not only of a military character. Russia also attempts to impact education, research and knowledge more generally by promoting a Soviet-style education and by altering reality through propaganda and false information.
While discussing the current situation of higher education within economics in Belarus, Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director of the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), regularly came back to the negative impacts from Russia on the quality of education and research. Where the western style education is free but also differential, Soviet-style education is centred around learning how to fulfil instructions, according to Kruk. The Belarusian educational system is anchored to Russia and as a result Belarusians today have what Kruk referred to as a “spoilt mental map”. The necessity of free education and research outside the Russian alternative (which is mainly published in Russian and with a post-Marxist view of the world) is vital in order to equip people with the tools to respond to the new types of dictatorship evident in the region. Young people within academia who have experienced freedom and have had the opportunity of thinking for themselves will also be vital on the future path toward democracy. Kruk’s opinions were furthered by Shapoval stating how education must and should counter the risk of brainwashing in the region and in the world as a whole. Shapoval argued the necessity of countering propaganda with the help not only of education but also the legislation of media and social media and enforcement of international laws in general. The necessity of ensuring new values for intellectuals and students in times to come is of paramount value and, according to Shapoval, as important to halting the Russian imperialist visions today as it was some thirty years ago. Shapoval further argued that the threat from Russia’s ambitions should be met not only with education and research but also through installing a sense of hope and prosperity among young people.
Investments into Education and Research as a Safeguard and Development Driver
While countries within the turbulent region differ, not least in regard to overall political ambitions and structure, in most of them investments into education and research have been paying off. KSE’s expertise allowed it to work closely with the Ukrainian government, standing strong in their fight against Russia. The impact from investments into education and research in the region is also evident in both Georgia and Latvia.
Sulukhia argued ISET to be, and to have been, a key contributor to human capital among Georgians as well as others in the Caucasus region. Sulukhia argued this to be especially important when under occupation, mentioning how Georgia has, since the occupation of the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in all ways possible tried to ensure that the human capital of internally displaced people is not lost. ISET have ten folded its intake of students and is today providing world-class education in the Georgian language, effectively counteracting brain drain. Post-graduates are working in major institutions providing relevant knowledge and competence in key areas of not only the Georgian society but also other countries in the Caucasus. A similar picture was painted by Anders Paalzow, Rector at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga). Paalzow specifically pointed out how the investments in education made in Latvia in the 1990s have truly paid off, with graduates having been absorbed into relevant parts of the Latvian society and the Baltics for decades.
Having previous students in key positions in society to ensure sound policy work (such as good fiscal and audit control of the countries in question etc.) is however not the only benefit of investing in education and research within the region. As emphasized by Sulukhia, institutes within the FREE Network and other networks alike are strategically vital in the sense that they ensure knowledge and evidence for policy makers and as they convey evidence-based messages for the general public. This is especially important in a time when the message of the developmental direction for the countries within the region has to be reinforced in order to stand against Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as voices questioning the benefits of European integration. Sulukhia emphasized how it is of importance that the relevance of education and research is rooted among the people and not only within academia to evade the risk of preaching to the choir. Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow at St. Peter’s College at the University of Oxford, further argued it is necessary for academia to be much more policy oriented than what is the reality today. Researchers should comment on political events and public policy to ensure the outreach of knowledge and information, not just to help the public have a greater understanding of complex issues but also to help inform experts. According to Myhnenko, other researchers are keen on getting context-relevant knowledge and insights from economists working within the region.
The necessity of communicating the outcomes from investments within economics education and research and more broadly within social sciences was a recurring theme during the conference. Presenting the University’s engagement in various programs such as Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, The European Strategy for Universities etc., Professor Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak from the Warsaw School of Economics (WSE) outlined the importance of funding from the EU. Chłoń-Domińczak highlighted how EU support has enabled greater partnerships and internationalization and pointed out that while the transfer of knowledge and internationalization of students and researchers are of the essence, there is a need for also ensuring capacity building among other staff when building sound institutions. Internationalization through the exchange as a hedge against brain drain and as a means of improving the quality of academia was further emphasized by Michal Myck, Director of CenEA.
Chłoń-Domińczak, alongside Paalzow and the Swedish Ambassador to Poland, Stefan Gullgren, further argued the necessity to bridge between business and academia. This, especially as investments in social sciences, as compared to investments in natural sciences or technology cannot be commercialized. Additionally, the former havs payoffs in the long run which lowers investment incentives for firms making it even more crucial to communicate the large benefits to society of investments into the sphere. Ensuring consistent and continued support requires not only a good connection to businesses but also proper legal structures in place. As argued by Gullgren, the Swedish model with private businesses funding about 70 percent of research and education in Sweden, is made possible largely thanks to the fact that many investments are funnelled through foundations that are exempt from taxation when set up to finance research grants and education. Thus, one should consider not only business, academia and investors when thinking about future funding for research and education, but the legislative framework as well, especially in contexts such as the future rebuild of Ukraine.
As for how the benefits from investments into social sciences best are communicated, opinions shifted among participants throughout the day. On the one hand, Becker’s argument of being visible not only in traditional media but on social media alike was met by Shapoval, highlighting the need for a regulatory framework for both platforms. On the other hand, Myhnenko’s argument for more policy oriented and outreaching research was met by Kruk claiming there is a risk of researchers within economics deviating too far from research within the field. Kruk also addressed the argument of being available on social media by countering that in his view, researchers should refrain from work based on what generates clicks or reads.
The Relevance of the FREE Network in times of War
Considering the evidence brought forth during the conference by colleagues within the FREE Network, be it the suppression of BEROC in their efforts of founding a School of Economics in Belarus, the effects on the KSE from the war on Ukraine, or the rise of anti-European expressions in Georgia, the necessity of the network was at the end of the day perhaps clearer than ever. As highlighted by virtually all speakers during the conference, internationalization through networks such as the FREE Network fosters open minds, allows for improvements within all aspects of academia, and enables the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Although the heterogeneity of the region should not be overlooked and investments made in accordance with this, the similarities between the countries within the FREE Network outnumber the differences. The immediate threat from Russia must be met with knowledge and fact-based information as well as high-quality education and research being made available among the population in the region as a whole. To ensure a continued transition within the region, the risk of brain drain must be evaded through continuous support to the social sciences, as these have the power to truly transform nations.
The FREE Network public conference in Warsaw was the first in-person conference since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The benefits of meeting in person were however overshadowed by the ongoing Russian aggression on Ukraine and ultimately on democratic ideals, including those of independent academia. We hope to welcome all FREE Network institutes to next year’s conference in Kyiv, to further discuss how outstanding education and research can help rebuild a sovereign Ukraine.
List of Participants
- Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE
- Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak, Professor at WSE
- Stefan Gullgren, Swedish Ambassador to Poland
- Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director, BEROC
- Michal Myck, Director of CenEA
- Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford
- Anders Paalzow, Rector SSE Riga
- Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at KSE
- Tamara Sulukhia, Director of ISET
The concern of Russian gas supply disruption and its implications has never been as serious. Experts agree that supply-side measures would not be enough to cover the shortage. Demand cuts are needed. The EC has just proposed a solidarity-based plan of 15% gas demand reduction across the EU Member states. However, getting all EU countries to commit to this plan has been challenging due to asymmetries in their exposure to the Russian gas crisis. As a result, the EU approved a compromise plan with numerous exemptions. This brief argues that market-based solutions may improve participation incentives helping the EU to coordinate decreasing gas demand. Nudging energy consumers to lower their demand may be an efficient complementary solution. All member states should adopt this latter strategy now, as it takes time to trigger behavior changes in energy consumption. Acting now should strengthen resilience in the coming winter.
Since the beginning of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, both politicians and analysts have expressed concerns about cuts in Russian gas supply and their implications for the European economy. These concerns have only deepened as the crisis has unfolded. First, Russia stopped gas deliveries to five EU member states in April 2022 following their refusal to pay for gas in rubles. Then, Gazprom cut the capacity of the NordStream pipeline, initially by 40% and then by another 20% in June 2022, claiming technical problems originating from sanctions (i.e., a sanction-driven late return of a gas turbine repaired in Canada).
Gazprom’s July 18th announcement of its inability to deliver contracted gas amounts due to “force majeure” further added to the concern. Meanwhile the EU has dismissed the alleged technical failure stressing political reasons. According to EC President Ursula von der Leyen, the delivery stop reflects a “use of energy as a weapon”.
The panic somewhat settled on July 21, 2022, when Russian gas shipments via Nord Stream resumed at 40% of its original capacity, i.e., the mid-June level. However, Gazprom just announced another cut to 20% of the original capacity from July 27th. Overall, Russian gas exports to the EU are unprecedently low, see Figure 1.
Figure 1. Russian gas exports 2021 vs. 2022
Whether Russian gas supplies are likely to be stopped completely in a very close future is unclear. In similar vein, the IEA Executive Director, Dr Fatih Birol, warns that “…it would be unwise to exclude the possibility that Russia could decide to forgo the revenue it gets from exporting gas to Europe in order to gain political leverage”. Regardless of this risk, large-scale adjustments are necessary even under the more optimistic scenario with Russian gas supplies kept at the current level.
The most direct way to tackle the shortage of Russian gas is from the supply side. It can be done via three main channels: diversification of gas suppliers, replacement by alternative fuels, or use of storage. Multiple sources have studied these options extensively (see, e.g., SITE (2022) for an overview of earlier assessments, as well as Di Bella et al. (2022) for more recent estimates and a literature overview). Despite different shortage estimates across reports, experts agree that supply adjustment will not be enough to compensate for ‘the missing Russian gas. This suggests that curbing demand will be a substantial part of gas crisis management.
Most of the demand-linked measures decided by the EU member states have been to counteract the sky-rocking gas prices and subsidize gas consumption by setting a price cap or providing an energy check (see von der Fehr et al. 2022 for an overview). While such measures may protect consumers against increased energy bills in the short run, they foster energy consumption rather than curb it. However, on July 20th, the European Commission issued a plan for the EU nations to cut their gas consumption by 15% between August 2022 and March 2023. This move is part of a wider EU strategy to respond to the gas crisis by pushing for a solidarity mechanism between the member states, including pooling (i.e., sharing) of economic losses. While the targets in this plan would be voluntary, the restrictions could become binding in an emergency. The main demand restrictions would apply to the industrial consumers, but countries are also expected to facilitate households’ demand adjustments. This plan faced resistance from a range of EU Member states, claiming unfairness of 15% cut for their countries, or objecting binding demand cuts for their countries. The resulting compromise agreement, accepted by the EU states on July 26th, incorporated numerous exemptions for both countries and industries.
This brief focuses on the current options in the EU to curb energy demand. We discuss the feasibility of a solidarity mechanism in this context and offer economic mechanisms that may improve its functionality. We also stress the important policy features in incentivizing consumer response.
Solidarity Rule and Market Mechanism
Solidarity and coordination between Member states constitute a crucial part of EU’s response to the current gas crisis. Implementing these rules would limit the direct (gas shortage) and indirect (price-driven) shocks through, e.g., mutual backing-up and buyer power (see, e.g., Le Coq and Paltseva, 2012, 2022 or IEA, 2022).
The solidarity approach was discussed long before the current gas crisis, at least since 2006 (EC, 2006). However, its implementation has proven challenging because of the energy-related asymmetries between Member states in terms of import dependency, diversification of suppliers, energy portfolio, etc. These asymmetries undermine a “one size fits all” policy approach and make some countries consistently benefit more from solidarity mechanisms than others. The solidarity mechanism may also create moral hazard problems (Le Coq and Paltseva, 2008). As a result, the EU could never fully adopt a common energy policy approach.
The recent EU call to cut energy demand by 15% is subject to the same shortcomings. The EU countries are unequally affected by the current gas crisis due to differences in their exposure to Russian gas, access to storage or alternative fuels, gas transportation bottlenecks, etc. These differences undermine countries’ willingness to coordinate as witnessed by Portugal’s and Spain’s explicit opposition to the call on the ground that their energy reduction would be unfair given their energy portfolio with almost no Russian gas. Poland, whose gas storage is full, and Hungary, whose government imposed an export ban on gas earlier in July, have also objected the deal.
There are several ways to improve coordination: one could provide part-taking incentives via a monetary transfer scheme, incorporate demand-side energy cuts into a larger political agenda so that the (asymmetric) losses in one area are compensated by gains in another one (Le Coq and Paltseva, 2008). However, both solutions are likely unfeasible in the current, relatively short-run context, as they require the collection of large volumes of information to determine the correct transfer size. Additionally, the incentives for EU countries to correctly report such details might be low. One can also design a mutual support scheme with country-specific participation requirements/exemptions. This solution, while also informationally demanding, may be easier to achieve. It is likely to improve participation incentives, but the effects of solidarity may be weaker than under a plan without exemptions.
The EU decided to follow this latter route: On July 26th, the EU managed to reach an agreement on a softer plan with multiple exemptions from the 15% cut, accounting for countries’ energy market asymmetries (as well as much more demanding procedure to make the demand cut binding). While this agreement is definitely a step forward, it is currently uncertain whether it would be sufficient to meet the gas demand challenges in the coming winter.
A number of market solutions can potentially improve on the situation. For example, one could establish a market for energy demand reduction quotas in line with the cap-and-trade program designed for CO2 emissions. Alternatively, an emergency gas auction (like the one discussed in Germany for industrial firms) could allow gas savings to be offered in an auction. The winning, cheapest bid would get a market-price level compensation. Of course, such market mechanisms are likely to imply (at least some) consumers will face surging gas prices, but this appears inevitable in view of the difficulties to implement rationing mechanisms to cope with the reduced gas supply.
Market solutions could also be implemented at member state level. However, such an implementation would likely limit solidarity between member states and increase the costs associated with reduced gas consumption. Indeed, purely national solutions (almost by definition) lack solidarity mechanisms between member states and in addition inhibit that the gas reductions take place where they are the least costly.
Nudging and Information Campaign
Given the gas crisis and implementation frictions, the EU should benefit from complementing the regulatory and market solutions (mainly targeting the industry) by incentivizing the demand-cutting behavior of private consumers. There are many ways to trigger behavioral change, from changing legislation to nudging consumers to persuade them to lower their gas (and energy) consumption. Some nudging policies have been successful in the past. One example is Japan’s “setsuden” (electricity-saving) campaign, run after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. It started as an unofficial movement and continued into regulatory restrictions for large firms and voluntary but highly encouraged household targets. The information campaign stressed how close the country was to blackout and successfully prevented blackouts.
In the current crisis the EU states’ policies towards consumers were concentrating on shielding them from high energy prices (see von der Fehr et al, 2022 for an overview). Nudging and energy-saving information campaigns in the EU are yet to gain momentum. Some of the larger EU members are leading the movement. For example, in France, the president called for an immediate “energy sobriety” on the last National Day. Businesses and public buildings were asked to switch off the light at night and anticipate a lower winter heating consumption. While fines for infringement are under discussion, the French government is hoping for a nudging effect. Similarly, Germany has started an intense information campaign to convince individuals to reduce their electricity consumption by taking fewer showers and turning down the air conditioning. However, much broader, intensive energy-saving campaigning is urgently needed to lower energy demand effectively.
Several results from the experimental economic literature motivate such campaigns. The first point concerns the usefulness of nudging in the energy context. The evidence on the effect of incentivizing consumers’ energy saving behavior via monetary or non-monetary interventions is mixed (see Andor and Fels, 2018 and Lingyun Mi et al., 2022 for an overview). However, a recent meta-study combining the results from 112 field trials between 1976 and 2021 (Lingyun Mi et al., 2022) supports the effectiveness of non-monetary incentives (such as nudging by providing information or offering social comparisons) in creating energy-saving behavior. Moreover, it finds that non-monetary incentives are also more effective and longer lasting in promoting energy conservation than the monetary ones. One possible reason for this finding is that non-monetary incentives may affect individual’s values and their intrinsic motivation to save energy. This result implies that information campaigns, target-setting, and providing social comparisons can be an effective and relatively cost-efficient way to lower energy demand.
The second question concerns the timing of such intervention. Again, while there is no clear-cut evidence concerning the long-term impact of nudging, some literature documents effects lasting months and even years after the intervention stopped (Andor and Fels, 2018 overview a few such studies). Further, the same meta-study by Lingyun Mi et al., 2022 found that interventions lasting 1–6 months were the most effective. A combination of antecedent (before actual behavior, such as goal setting) and consequence (when the incentives to act are affected by the results of the action) nudge-based interventions produced the best energy-saving effect. These findings suggest that campaigns should start now to be ready for the winter 2022-23 season.
Last but not least, there is evidence that energy conservation goal-setting is effective only when the goals are realistic. For example, in Harding and Hsiaw (2014), a moderate energy saving goal set by a household led to a sizable consumption reduction, and the effect lasted for one and a half years. With more ambitious goals the initial strong response quickly vanished. Finally, there is no consumption adjustment pattern with unrealistically high goals. One possible, even if somewhat stretched, interpretation of these results could be that a drastic change in consumption may be more challenging to incentivize through nudging than a series of more minor adjustments. This consideration provides another rationale for the early start of nudging policies, suggesting a meager initial consumption reduction, and gradually increasing the threshold.
Cutbacks in gas consumption are essential to surviving the EU energy crisis, especially in case of a complete Russian gas halt. The EC has recently proposed a plan for the EU nations to decrease their gas consumption by 15% between August 2022 and March 2023. This plan is included in a wider solidarity approach to EU energy crisis management. However, approval of this plan by the EU nations faced difficulties due to asymmetries in exposure to Russian gas across EU member states and the resulting unwillingness to share the costs of the crisis. The resulting compromise plan features multiple exemptions from the 15% rule. Market solutions, such as trade in demand reduction quotas, may help to improve EU coordination on demand reduction. Another essential component of crisis management is the EU-wide nudging of private consumers encouraging energy saving behavior. Based on historical examples and the experimental literature such nudge-based policy may be effective and cost-efficient if started now.
- Andor, M. and K. Fels, 2018. “Behavioral Economics and Energy Conservation- A Systematic Review of Non-price Interventions and Their Causal Effects”, Ecological Economics, 148-C
- Di Bella, G., M. Flanagan, K. Foda, S. Maslova, A. Pienkowski, M. Stuermer and F. G. Toscani, 2022, “Natural Gas in Europe: The Potential Impact of Disruptions to Supply”, IMF Working Paper No. 2022/145
- Le Coq, C. and E. Paltseva, 2008. “Common Energy Policy in the EU: The Moral Hazard of the Security of External Supply”, SIEPS Report 2008:1
- Le Coq, C. and E. Paltseva, 2012. “Assessing Gas Transit Risks: Russia vs. the EU”, Energy Policy, 4: 642-650.
- Le Coq, C. and E. Paltseva, 2022. “What does the Gas Crisis Reveal About European Energy Security?” FREE Policy Brief
- European Commission, 2006. Green Paper “A European strategy for sustainable, competitive and secure energy“, COM (2006) 105.
- von der Fehr, N.-H., C. Banet, C. Le Coq, M. Pollitt and B. Willems, 2022. ”Retail Energy Markets under Stress – Lessons Learnt for the Future of Market Design”, CERRE report
- Harding, M. and A. Hsiaw, 2014. “Goal Setting and Energy Conservation”. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 107
- IEA, 2022. “Coordinated actions across Europe are essential to prevent a major gas crunch: Here are 5 immediate measures”
- Mi, Lingyun, Gan, Xiaoli, Sun, Yuhuan, Lv, Tao, Qiao, Lijie and Xu, Ting, 2021. “Effects of monetary and nonmonetary interventions on energy conservation: A meta-analysis of experimental studies”. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 149
- McWilliams, B., G. Sgaravatti, G. Zachmann, 2021. “European natural gas imports”, Bruegel Datasets, first published 29 Oct
- SITE, 2022. “The EU Import Bill and Russian Energy Sanctions”, FREE Policy Brief
The (Ce)² workshop is a joint initiative of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA, Poland) and the Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice (CeMMAP, UK). The seventh edition of the workshop will take place in Warsaw on 27-28 June 2022.
The 2022 keynote lectures in the Lecture Series in Honour of Leonid Hurwicz will be given by:
- Professor Anna Aizer (Brown University)
- Professor Daniel Hamermesh (the University of Texas at Austin and IZA Bonn).
In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its consequences, we issue a modified Call for Papers. The workshop will feature sessions on forced migration which will be organised in cooperation with migration experts from the University of Warsaw. We extend the list of fields from which we welcome studies to the following:
- Human capital development
- Intergenerational mobility
- Poverty alleviation
- Discrimination and inequality
- Domestic violence
- Forced migration
- Internal displacement
The preliminary programme can be found here. There is no conference fee but participants are expected to cover their own travel and accommodation costs.
Only full papers will be considered (early versions are welcome). Authors will have 50 minutes for their presentation and they will be expected to discuss another paper presented at the workshop. The total number of presentations will not exceed 20.
The call for the poster session is now open for submissions.
The call for papers issued for the workshop can be found here.
Participants of the (Ce)2 Workshop are also encouraged to take part in the XVII Warsaw International Economic Meeting (WIEM) on 28-30 June 2022, as presenters or audience members. The Hurwicz keynote lectures, held on the afternoon of June 28, will also serve as the opening event for WIEM.
The 2022 (Ce)² Workshop is organised as an initiative of the FREE Network and is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
This brief presents preliminary findings from a cross-country survey on perceptions and prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence conducted in September 2021 in eight countries: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. We discuss the design and content of the study and present initial information on selected topics that were covered in the survey. The collected data has been used in three studies presented at the FROGEE Conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” and offers a unique resource to study gender-based violence in the region.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the academic and policy interest in the causes and consequences of domestic violence, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has tragically reminded us about the gender dimension of war. There is no doubt that a gender lens is a necessary perspective to understand and appreciate the full consequences of these two ongoing crises.
The tragic reason behind the increased attention given to domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdowns is the substantial evidence that gender-based violence has intensified to such an extent that the United Nations raised the alarm about a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls (UN Women on-line link). Already before the pandemic, one in three women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence, usually at the hands of an intimate partner, and this number has only been increasing. The tragic reports from the military invasion of Ukraine concerning violence against women and children, as well as information on the heightened risks faced by war refugees from Ukraine, most of whom are women, should only intensify our efforts to better understand the background behind these processes and study the potential policy solutions to limit them to a minimum in the current and future crises.
The most direct consequences of gender-based and domestic violence – to the physical and mental health of the victims – are clearly of the highest concern and are the leading arguments in favour of interventions aimed at limiting the scale of violence. One should remember though, that the consequences and the related social costs of gender-based and domestic violence are far broader, and need not be caused by direct acts of physical violence. Gender-based and domestic violence can take the form of psychological pressure, limits on individual freedoms, or access to financial resources within households. As research in recent decades demonstrates, such forms of abuse also have significant consequences for the psychological well-being, social status, and professional development of its victims. All these outcomes are associated with not only high individual costs, but also with substantial social and economic costs to our societies.
This policy brief presents an outline of a survey conducted in eight countries aimed at better understanding the socio-economic context of gender-based violence. The survey, developed by the FREE Network of independent research institutes, has a regional focus on Central and Eastern Europe, with Sweden being an interesting benchmark country. The data was collected in September 2021 in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The socio-economic situation of all these countries irrevocably changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the ongoing war, and its dramatic consequences. The world’s attention focused on the unspeakable violence committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine, the persecution in Belarus and Russia of their own citizens who were protesting against the invasion, and the challenges other neighbouring countries have faced as a result of an unprecedented wave of Ukrainian refugees. This change, on the one hand, calls for a certain distance with which we should judge the survey data and the derived results. On the other hand, the data may serve as a unique resource to support the analysis of the pre-war conditions in these countries with the aim to understand the background driving forces behind this dramatic crisis. In as much as the gender lens is necessary to comprehend the full scale of the consequences of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it will be equally indispensable in the process of post-war development and reconciliation once peace is again restored.
Survey Design, Countries, and Samples
The survey was conducted in eight countries in September 2021 through as a telephone (CATI) survey using the list assisted random digit dialling (LA-RDD) method covering both cell phones and land-lines, and the sampling was carried out in such a way as to make the final sample representative of the respective populations by gender and three age group (18-39; 40-54; 55+). The collected samples varied from 925 to 1000 individuals. The same questionnaire initially prepared as a generic English version was fielded in all eight countries (in the respective national languages). The only deviations from the generic version were related to the education categories and to a set of final questions implemented in Latvia, Russia and Ukraine with a focus on the evaluation of national IPV legislation.
Table 1 presents some basic sample statistics, while Figure 1 shows the unweighted age and gender compositions in each country. The proportion of women in the sample varies between 49.4% in Sweden and 55.0% in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The average sample age is between 43 (Armenia) and 51 (Sweden), while the proportion of individuals with higher education is between 29.3% in Belarus and 55.4% in Georgia. The highest proportion of respondents living in rural areas could be found in Armenia at 62.9%, while the lowest was in Georgia at 24.1%. Figure 1 illustrates good coverage across age groups for both men and women.
Table 1. FROGEE Survey: samples and basic demographics
Figure 1. FROGEE Survey: gender and age distributions
Socio-economic Conditions and Other Background Characteristics
To be able to examine the relationship between different aspects of domestic and gender-based violence to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, an extensive set of questions concerning the demographic composition of their household and their material conditions were asked at the beginning of the interview. These questions included information about partnership history and family structure, the size of the household and living conditions, education and labour market status (of the respondent and his/her partner) and general questions concerning material wellbeing. In Figure 2 we show a summary of two of the latter set of questions – the proportion of men and women who find it difficult or very difficult to make ends meet (Figure 2A) and the proportion who declared that the financial situation of their household deteriorated in the last two years, i.e. since September 2019, which can be used as an indicator of the material consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can see that the difficulties in making ends meet are by far lowest in Sweden, and slightly lower in the other EU countries (Latvia and Poland). The differences are less pronounced with regard to the implication of the pandemic, but also in this case respondents in Sweden seem to have been least affected.
Figure 2. Making ends meet and the consequences of COVID-19
a. Difficulties in making ends meet
b. Material conditions deteriorated since 2019
Perceptions and Incidence of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and Abuse
Frequency of differential treatment and abuse
The set of questions concerning domestic and gender-based violence started with an initial module related to the different treatment of men and women, with respondents asked to identify how often they witnessed certain behaviours aimed toward women. The questions covered aspects such as women being treated “with less courtesy than men”, being “called names or insulted for being a woman” and women being “the target of jokes of sexual nature” or receiving “unwanted sexual advances from a man she doesn’t know”, and the respondents were to evaluate if in the last year they have witnessed such behaviours on a scale from never, through rarely, sometimes, often, to very often. We present the proportion of respondents answering “often” or “very often” to two of these questions in Figure 3A (“People have acted as if they think women are not smart”) and 3B (“A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature”). We find significant variation across these two dimensions of differential treatment, and we generally find that women are more sensitive to perceiving such treatment. It is interesting to note that the proportion of women who declared witnessing differential treatment in Sweden is very high in comparison to for example Latvia or Belarus, which, as we shall see below, does not correspond to the proportion of women (and men) witnessing more violent types of behaviour against women.
Figure 3. Frequency of differential treatment (often or very often)
a. People have acted as if they think women are not smart
b. A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature
Questions on the frequency of witnessing physical abuse were also asked in relation to the scale of witnessed behaviour. Here respondents were once again asked to say how often “in their day-to-day life” they have witnessed specific behaviours. These included such types of abuse as: a woman being “threatened by a man”, “slapped, hit or punched by a man”, or “sexually abused or assaulted by a man”. The proportion of respondents who say that they have witnessed such behaviour with respect to two of the questions from this section are presented in Figure 4. In Figure 4A we show the proportion of men and women who have witnessed a woman being “slapped, hit or punched” (sometimes, often or very often), while in Figure 4B being “touched inappropriately without her consent”. Relative to the perceptions of differential treatment the incidence of a woman being hit or punched (4A) declared by the respondents seems more intuitive when considered against the overall international statistics of gender equality. The proportions are lowest in Sweden and Poland, and highest in Armenia and Ukraine. However, the perception of inappropriate touching by men with respect to women (Figure 4B) shows a similar extent of such actions across all analysed countries.
Figure 4. Frequency of abuse (sometimes, often or very often)
a. A woman has been slapped, hit or punched by a man
b. A woman has been touched inappropriately, without her consent, by a man
Perceptions of abuse
The questions concerning the scale of witnessed behaviours were complemented by a module related to the evaluation of certain behaviours from the perspective of their classification as abuse and the degree to which certain types of gender-specific behaviours are acceptable. Thus, for example respondents were asked if they consider “beating (one’s partner) causing severe physical harm” to be an example of abuse within a couple (Figure 5A) or if “prohibition to dress as one likes” represents abuse (Figure 5B). This module included an extensive list of behaviours, such as “forced abortion”, “constant humiliation, criticism”, “restriction of access to financial resources”, etc. As we can see in Figure 6, with respect to the clearest types of abuse – such as physical violence – respondents in all countries were pretty much unanimous in declaring such behaviour to represent abuse. With respect to other behaviours the variation in their evaluation across countries is much greater – for example, while nearly all men and women in Sweden consider prohibiting a partner to dress as he/she likes to be abusive (Figure 5B), only about 57% of women and 36% of men in Armenia share this view.
The questionnaire also included questions specifically focused on the perception of intimate partner violence. These asked respondents if they knew about women who in the last three months were “beaten, slapped or threatened physically by their intimate partner”, and the evaluation of how often intimate partners act physically violent towards their wives.
Figure 5. Perceptions of abuse: are these examples of abuse within a couple?
a. Beating causing severe physical harm
b. Prohibition to dress as one likes
A further evaluation of attitudes towards violent behaviour was done with respect to the relationship between a husband and wife and his right to hit or beat the wife in reaction to certain behaviours. In Figure 6 we show the distribution of responses regarding the justification for beating one’s wife in reaction to her neglect of the children (6A) or burning food (6B). The questions also covered such behaviour as arguing with her husband, going out without telling him, or refusing to have sex. As we can see in Figure 6, once again we find substantial country variation in the proportion of the samples – both men and women – who justify such violent behaviour within couples. This was particularly the case when respondents were asked about justification of violent behaviour in the case of a woman neglecting the children. In Armenia as many as 30% of men and 22% of women agree that physical beating is justified in those cases. These proportions are manyfold greater than what can be observed in countries such as Latvia, where 3% of men and women agreed that abuse was justifiable under these circumstances, or Sweden, where only 1% of men and women agreed.
Figure 6. Perceptions of abuse: is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife
a. If she neglects the children
b. If she burns the food
Seeking help and the legal framework
The final part of the questionnaire focused on the evaluation of different reactions to incidents of domestic and gender-based violence. Respondents were first asked if a woman should seek help from various people and institutions if she is beaten by her partner – respondents were asked if she should seek help from the police, relatives or friends, a psychologist, a legal service or if, in such situations, she does not need help. In Figure 7 we show the proportion of people who agreed with the last statement, i.e. claimed that it is only the couple’s business. The proportions of respondents who declare such an attitude is higher among men than women within each country, and is highest among men in Armenia (48%) and Georgia (25%). Again, these proportions are in stark contrast to men in Sweden, or even Poland, where only 4% and 8% of men agreed, respectively. Nevertheless, looking at the total survey sample, a vast majority believe that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence should seek help outside of her home, indicating that at least some forms of institutionalised support for women are popular measures with most people.
Figure 7. Proportions agreeing that domestic violence is only the couple’s business
The interview also included questions on the need for specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence and on the existence of such legislation in the respondents’ countries. The latter questions were extended in three countries – Latvia, Russia and Ukraine – to evaluate the specific sets of regulations implemented recently in these countries and to facilitate an analysis of the role IPV legislation can play in reducing violence within households. Legislation on domestic violence is relatively recent. During the last four decades, though, changes accelerated in this respect around the world. Legislative measures have been introduced in many countries, covering different aspects of preventing, protecting against and prosecuting various forms of violence and abuse that might happen within the marriage or the family. Research strives to offer evaluations on what legal provisions are most effective, in a setting in which statistics and information are still far from perfect, and as a consequence of the dearth of strong evidence the public debate on the matter is often lively. For legislation to have an effect on behaviour through shaping the cost of committing a crime, on the one hand, and the benefit of reporting it or seeking help, on the other, or more indirectly through changing norms in society, information and awareness are key. For how can deterrence be achieved if people do not know what the sanctions are? And how can reporting be encouraged if victims do not know their rights? The evidence on legislation awareness is unfortunately quite scarce. A survey of the criminology field (Nagin, 2013) concludes that this is a major knowledge gap.
Figure 8 shows the proportions of answers to questions concerning the need for and existence of legislation specifically targeted towards intimate partner violence. We can see that while support for such legislation is quite high (Figure 8A), it is generally lower among men (in particular in Armenia, Russia and Belarus). Awareness of existence of such laws, on the other hand, is much lower, and it is particularly low among women. It should be pointed out that all countries have in fact implemented provisions against domestic violence in their criminal code, but only around half of the population, sometimes much fewer, are aware of that.
Figure 8. Need for and awareness of IPV legislation
a. State should have specific legislation aimed at punishing IPV
b. Country has specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence
Recent reforms of DV legislation that were implemented in Russia in 2017, in Ukraine in 2019 and in Latvia just a few months ago (at the time of the survey, the changes were at the stage of a proposal) were the subject of the final survey questions in these countries. We find that awareness of these recent reforms is very low in all three countries, and knowledge about the reform content (gauged with the help of a multiple-choice question with three alternative statements) is even lower. Our analysis suggests that gender and family situation are the two factors that most robustly predict support for legislation, while education and age are associated with awareness and knowledge of the reforms. Minority Russian speakers are less aware of the reforms in both Ukraine and Latvia, in Ukraine are also less likely to answer correctly about the content of the reform, and in Latvia are less supportive of DV legislation in general.
Analyses of this type are useful for policy design, to better understand which groups lack relevant knowledge and should be targeted by, for example, information campaigns to combat DV, such as those many governments around the world implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.
Future Work Based on the Survey
The above is just a small sample of the rich source of information that has resulted from conducting the survey. Already from this simple overview we can see some interesting results. There are, for example, clear differences between men and women in perceptions of how common certain types of abusive behaviour are. However, for many questions differences between countries are larger than those between men and women within a country. Interestingly such differences are also different depending on the severity of the abuse or violence. In Sweden the perception of women being victims of less violent abuse is higher than in some other countries where instead some more violent types of abuse are reported as being more common. This could, of course, be due to actual differences in actual events but it is also possible that there are differences in what types of behaviour are considered to represent harassment and abuse in different societies. More careful data work is needed to try to answer questions like this and many others. Currently there are a number of ongoing research projects based on the survey results, three of which will be presented at the FREE-network conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” in Stockholm on May 11, 2022. Our hope is that this work will help in taking actions to prevent gender-based abuse and domestic violence based on a better understanding of underlying cross-country differences in social norms and attitudes and their relation to socio-economic factors.
About FROGEE Policy Briefs
FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.
The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.