Russia needs its own Progressive Era. Let us be honest: many of the current problems of the Russian state and Russian governance were present in the United States prior to its “age of reforms,” circa 1890-1930. Political machines distributing jobs, public services contracts, and other government favors operated in many American cities over a century ago just like they do in Russian cities today. Moscow’s elaborate system of kickbacks for street cleaning can be compared directly to practices common in nineteenth-century American towns and cities. Vast overpayments in road construction in Russia and billions of rubles lost in energy pipelines and other infrastructural projects hearken back to the construction of antebellum U.S. canals. Cash-filled envelopes (or suitcases!) floating in the halls of today’s State Duma were also a common occurrence in the 19th century U.S. Senate.
The Progressive Era was the United States’ “big bang” in fighting corruption. A Russian “big bang” is arguably the only reasonable strategy for dealing with the current range of problems that are commonly considered under the umbrella of corruption.American success in eradicating the widespread governance problems of the 19th century is both a cause for optimism and a call for action. […]