The Preservation of Economic and Political Elites in Times of Transition: Evidence from Russia

Koen Schoors (UGent)
Tom Eeckhout (UGent)

Abstract: In this paper we pose the question to what extent economic and political elites persisted after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the literature arguments have been made both in favour of continuity of elites and in favour of their replacement. The argument for continuity has been based on the importance of old “nomenklatura” social capital for economic success during the early nineties, when the assets of Russia were privatised often to the benefit of the best connected economic agents and specific groups could get access to various types of special treatment by the government. But there have also been strong arguments in support of more than normal elite replacement, that would be driven by the massive socio-economic shock of transition and the ensuing "Putin shock", where many of the elites were again replaced after Putin's ascent to power in 2000. We study this question using very large datasets covering tens of millions of individuals. Using surname analysis methods inspired by Gregory Clark’s work and employing innovative measures of eliteness, we find that the Soviet elites of 40-ies strongly persisted until the late eighties and that both of these cohorts of elites survived relatively well not only the shock of transition, but also the Putin shock. The old Soviet elites, that is, have managed to reproduce themselves surprisingly well throughout transition.