The Baltic role model

Who would Andrus Ansip vote for, if he had a vote in the upcoming US presidential and congressional elections? It’s a trick question, which I do not expect readers to answer. Since Ansip is still an active politician, as Vice-President of the European Commission, which forms the executive branch of the 28-member European Union, it would be irresponsible for this column to speak for him. His party, the Estonian Reform Party, is usually described as “liberal”, but the term is used rather differently in Europe. “Liberal” parties, though absolutely concerned with civil liberties, usually take a free market line on economics, that would be normally described as “conservative” in the US. They might be thought of as “libertarians-lite”, perhaps like the “centrist libertarianism” advocated by Gary Johnson and William Weld. So, take your pick. It could be any of the candidates. My point is not to answer the question, but raise the fact that nobody seems to care about the answer.

Perhaps they should. Ansip has been a very successful politician. He is much the longest serving of the eight prime ministers that Estonia has had since it regained its independence from the Soviet Union. He held office from 2005 to 2014 and his party still holds power now that he has moved to Brussels.

That Estonia has had eight prime ministers during the office of just four American presidents and Russia has had just suggest instability. But that would be wrong. Estonia is a post-communist success story. During its first period of independence, from 1919 to 1940, its economy was on a par with neighboring Finland. But decades of Soviet, Nazi, and Soviet occupation crippled the country. By 1987 Finland was seven times wealthier than Estonia.

Under the second period of independence, Estonia has flowered once more. Its per capita GDP has risen from 35% of Western Europe’s to 65%. It is rapidly closing on Western laggards such as Portugal. It was one of the first countries to adopt a flat tax, pioneered universal internet access and digital cabinet meetings, and has been rated as having one of the freest economies in the world.

The opinions of leaders such as Ansip should be much more relevant to American political discussions than those of, say, Vladimir Putin, Estonia’s people are about 25% richer than Russia’s and the economy is growing, while Russia’s is shrinking. Russia’s wealth is also heavily dependent on volatile natural resource prices – especially oil and natural gas – which tend to push money into the hands of the government and its cronies the oligarchs.

Yet Donald Trump seems to love Vladimir Putin. He thinks he is a “strong leader” and someone to emulate. But an economy needs strong entrepreneurs, not strong politicians. Sources linked to Russia have already leaked hacked files from the Democratic National Committee, designed to embarrass Hillary Clinton. No-one knows if Russia also hacked the her private servers when she was Secretary of State. If the emails she thinks she deleted are leaked as an “October surprise” it will serve her right, but if it elects Donald Trump as president, it will serve America very badly. Putin may prefer to see Clinton elected then, if he has compromising emails, he can blackmail her. Either way, he does not have America’s interests at heart.

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Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School

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