Pssst, Russian Oligarchy, How About A Little Polygamy?

When there's too much wealth inequality, there's no strong middle class to drive economic growth. Dividing inheritances among more people would help. And that's where harems come in.

Harems, anyone?
Harems, anyone?
Aleksander Zotin, Maksim Kvasha

MOSCOW — The older brother got the mill, the middle brother got the donkey and the youngest got nothing but a cat. That’s the beginning of the story Puss In Boots, and an informative read for future economic historians because this sort of right-of-inheritance is good for economic growth.

Monogamy was something that was already taken for granted in this 17th century European fairy tale because the Catholic Church imposed it on Europe by the 12th century. But the most famous piece of literature from the Arab world, One Thousand And One Nights, is also a useful read from an economic point of view.

In the Middle Ages, business in the Middle East was far more developed and sophisticated than in Europe, with trade routes spanning thousands of kilometers and bazaars filled with exotic goods. But modern economics was born in Europe. Why?

According to the American economist Timur Kuran, one of the most important reasons was polygamy and the inheritance system. Islamic merchants ran successful businesses, but any company they started would generally die with them, because it would be cut into so many pieces, divided among wives and children. The death of one partner in a caravan business usually meant company collapse, unless the remaining partner managed to make a deal with a whole crowd of heirs.

In Europe, monogamy dictated another route. European merchants had fewer children — at least legitimate ones. And so the concentration of capital didn't decrease over the generations because a single heir would get everything.

That system is less fair than in Islamic law, where all of the heirs are treated equally. But European monogamy and inheritance law created the conditions that allowed major corporations to grow and thrive. Capital could outlive the company owners.

Of course, the Church also has fought against what sociologists call serial monogamy. Though it was an argument based on moral and religious considerations, it was also selfish. Fewer heirs among the aristocracy meant more members of the elite bequeathing money to the Church.

But the most important consequence of monogamy and the concentration of capital that followed was the rise of an adventurous-innovative class — that is, the advent of the market economy.

Too much — and not enough

Not enough concentration of capital is bad, but so is too much. It breeds inequality, which in turn makes the entire economy less competitive. Oligarchs who have excessive political power force governments to make decisions with the interests of only the elite in mind. In the long term, it's bad for everyone, because property is inherited but business talent isn't.

According to American researchers Larry Kotlikoffa and Larry Sammersa, 81% of wealth comes from inheritance. According to Credit Suisse, 27% of American billionaires inherited their money. That number is much higher in Europe — 65% in Germany and 60% in France. In Russia, the number is close to zero.

That's because the process of bequething property is long, and most fortunes in Russia were made in the 1990s and 2000s. So it remains to be seen how inheritances will play out. Another problem in Russia is that there is inequality even among the rich, and an unusually high number of super rich. That means that wealth in Russia is much more heavily concentrated than in other countries.

It has led some to wonder whether polygamy could be an economic panacea in Russia. The founder of the first Saudi Arabian state, Muhammed ibn Saud, who died in 1765, has between 15,000 and 30,000 heirs eight generations later. And now Saudi Arabia has equality ratings comparable to European countries.

Harems anyone?

So if Russia follows the Saudi Arabian example and legalizes — even encourages — polygamy, perhaps the problem of inequality could be fixed in, say, 200 to 300 years.

“In history, it’s well known that oligarchs like to create harems, and that the number of descendants can be extremely large, in the several hundred range,” explains Russian writer Victor Pelevin. “The inheritance process leads to a dilution in wealth. If that happens over two or three generations, the country will have a middle class that is capable of becoming a stabilizing force in the society.”

Among the richest 25 people in Russia, the average number of children is two. So the current number of heirs is obviously not enough to solve the wealth concentration problem.

There have been calls from Russian political leaders — who are usually more concerned with Russia’s low birth rate — to legalize polygamy. And many politicians in Russian Muslim regions say it would be a welcome return to tradition and would more accurately reflect reality in those regions.

But it’s not surprising that the most recent survey on the topic found a majority of Russians not yet ready to accept polygamy. In 2006, 49% of men and 73% of women said they were against legalizing it. It’s not clear whether the female respondents understood that in an equal society, it would not be possible to legalize polygamy without also legalizing polyandry (multiple husbands).

It seems unlikely that Russians will turn their backs on monogamy, even if it resulted in an economic lift. The most well-off would be the clear winners, while the poor could suffer from too few women. In Arab countries, such a circumstance created revolutions, and in British colonies, it fostered homosexuality.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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