To my astonishment, the call went through. I reached Douglass North, and gave him a rundown on what I was witnessing in Russia. Then I asked him how long it would take before Russia might become a normal, free and, democratic society — in which both the utilities and the political institutions really worked. I was hoping against hope for an answer with a time horizon within the decade or so.
North replied: “Oh, about 50 years.”
He went on to explain that when a society has been through something as monumentally destructive as decades of Soviet rule, it can take generations to turn around the implicit rules, and create truly functional democratic institutions. I asked if there were any chance it might go faster. He said that even with luck and wisdom, it would take at least another generation coming of age.
Here we are, a generation later. The trajectory does not look good. How rough it might yet become is a big and terrible question, and the folly of expecting any simple “reset” in Russian state policy — whether foreign or domestic — should be brutally clear. But something other than Putinism is simmering in Russia. If, in this long and turbulent story, it comes to something good, that awakening began with the end of the USSR. For that, among so many other reasons, we can honor this day.