HARSANYI: Tucker Carlson is wrong about Moscow

Photo of David Harsanyi via Jenny Bosak

At the World Government Summit, Tucker Carlson told a gathering of world leaders that Moscow was “so much nicer than any city” in the United States. “It’s radicalizing for an American to go to Moscow,” Carlson went on. “I didn’t know that. I’ve learned it this week, to Singapore, to Tokyo, to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, because these cities, no matter how we’re told they’re run and on what principles they’re run, are wonderful places to live that don’t have rampant inflation.” 

If you’re wealthy, I imagine, Moscow is pretty great. This is true of most European cities. When you’re an American tourist, you tend to stay in clean and beautiful city centers, eat at the best spots and wander around the most attractive areas of town. In Europe, you get to see onion domes that were built by serfs dotting the skyline. I’m sure it’s neat. 

It is also true that if you’re an average person, Moscow is awful. The average Muscovite is most likely to live in some grim outlying apartment complex, many of which were built during the Soviet era. That’s if they’re lucky. Many Russians live in Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk and Ufa. Russia’s per capita yearly GDP is around $13,000. In the United States, it is around $83,000. It’s around $46,000 in Mississippi, our poorest state. Most Russians are living in what most Americans would consider poverty. 

There probably isn’t a single quantifiable economic measure in which Russia bests the United States. None of this is even to mention that Russia is an extraordinarily corrupt place, the price of which is embedded into virtually every business transaction. I’m not sure Americans appreciate how little graft they deal with in their everyday lives. Then again, Russia ranks in the vicinity of Uganda and Togo on the corruption indexes. 

The only thing more pervasive than bribery is alcoholism and suicide. Russians have far worse medical care than we do. Far smaller homes. Fewer things to buy. Fewer places to see. Less mobility. Less innovation. Less meritocracy. 

Not everything is about money, of course. Religious commitment? Around 50% to 65% of Americans claimed religion was important to them, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll. In Russia, it’s at 16% to 34%. The Russian divorce rate is at 74%, the highest in the world. And even though we’re headed in the wrong direction, we still have more children. But sure, crime has fallen over the years — though it is still higher in the Russian capital than most American cities. 

I’m a big fan of Russian culture — Dostoevsky, Shostakovich, Tarkovsky and so on. But that doesn’t change the fact that 20% of Russian households don’t have indoor plumbing. Or that a third of Russian hospitals don’t have running water. If you think infrastructure is bad here, I have news. Russia ranks 52nd on the Human Development Index. It’s basically a third-world country with nukes and an enormous reserve of oil and natural gas but little else. 

Carlson often talks about the attacks on free speech and free inquiry. Well, neither exists for the people in Moscow in any real way. Russia is an authoritarian state. Simply because Democrats have turned on Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t make him any less terrible. 

The decades-long effort of the American Left to portray the U.S. as a backward hellhole is finally paying off. One hopes the Right will not follow suit — though some populists are already starting to sound indistinguishable from the average progressive leftist. A new Pew poll, for example, finds that half of Democrats under age 30 believe other countries “are better” than the U.S., as do 40% of Democrats between 30 and 49. A quarter of Democrats over 50 agree. Among Republicans, 28% of adults under 30 say other countries are superior to the U.S., compared with 12% of those 50 and older. 

First, I’d love to know what “better” means. Wealthier for the average citizen? More moral? Less racist? More diverse? Freer? More innovative? More beautiful? There is no such place. Not for the average person. Not on this scale. 

Second, I’d love to know what “other countries” they’re talking about. When most Americans think “better,” they’re gazing toward some mythical utopia in Western Europe, not Gabon or East Asia or the Middle East — or Russia. 

By the way, I don’t believe in American exceptionalism because I’m from here. I believe it because it’s an incontrovertible fact. People chafe at saying America is better, either because it strikes them as gratuitous flag-waving or they’re so angry and politically invested in complaining they can’t concede the point. Even with inequities and the turmoil and the clowns who run the place, fact is, we still suck the least. 

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Harsanyi is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of five books — the mo st recent, “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.”