Living in Moscow Teaching

Where Russian poetry meets Japanese literature: Excursion to Moscow’s library of foreign literature

Within 20 minutes walking distance from HSE main campus Russian poetry meets Japanese literature – as well as German, French and Spanish literary works. We are entering Moscow’s library for foreign literature (LIBFL). The excursion was part of the research seminar for public administration undergraduates at the Higher School of Economics that Valeriya Utkina teaches together with me.

It is no secret that Moscow is a global knowledge hub, providing residents and foreign scholar with dozens of well-staffed major libraries, and even hundreds smaller public libraries across the city’s boroughs. In what way the library of foreign literature distinguishes itself from, say, the Turgenev library, Central Lenin library, or HSE’s own library? What is special about LIBFL?

To some it might be the story of a young female Russian librarian who started from a collection of some 100 French, German and English books in 1922. In the challenging years after Bolshevik revolution she managed to nurture and extent this collection that would later become the library’s stock. By the way, the library will celebrate his 100th anniversary soon.

Others may like the open-space concept of the library. The library welcomes its visitors into a green yard with outdoor seats leading to the main entrance and the reception. This contrasts most public buildings in Russia that start with a massive door followed by turnstiles and security guards.

The library itself separates into multiple reading halls and accompanying institutes for the different language. There is not a single huge reading hall. There is a center for French literature with French books, a Dutch section that also informs about career opportunities; there is Japanese center with Japanese publications, and so on. Each center differs in its interior decoration, cultural atmosphere, and air condition. Most centers offer language classes as well, English, Japanese, German, you name it. Pearson, an educational publishing house has an English learning center within the library; the German Goethe institute is present as well.

The Japanese sense of beauty

Another interesting feature is the library’s collection of rare books. A rare book is a publication that was either printed in small numbers (less than 1,000 times), before 1831, or that contains a valuable bookplate (ex libris or super ex libris) that indicates the former owner of a book.

Rare books in a regular trolley

Today we saw for ourselves that LIBFL is an open minded and very active educational powerhouse today that is open to scientists and the general public as well.


Definition and Scale of the Public Sector

In a recent lecture I told my students that ‚the public sector‘ encompasses anything that fits into Norman Flynn’s definition as  „those parts of the economy that are in state ownership, or under contract to the state, plus those parts that are regulated and/or subsidized in the public interest.“ (Norman Flynn, 2007. Public Sector Management. London: SAGE, p. 2). 

And this is quite a lot in most countries.

General government expenditures accounted for some 45 per cent of GDP on OECD-31-average in 2011 (still impacted from economy-boosting measures after the crisis), up from 42  per cent in 2001, according to the latest data in the 2013 OECD Government at a glance volume. Denmark and Sweden are and have always been a big spenders (57.6 and 51.2 per cent, respectively). The UK are slightly above OECD-31 average, but remember this is 2011 data, for the moment local governments in England are facing sever budget cuts, in particular. In Russia general government expenditures as a percentage of GDP are at some 38 per cent, down from 42.3 % in 2001. The scale of the public sector in China grew from roughly 18 % of GDP  in 2001 up to roughly 24 % of GDP in 2011.

For me public sector research further includes all the managerial and political processes that keep this machine running. It is important to include issues of public management and public administration (this is the administrative and organizational science perspective), the politics of decision making (the political science perspective, ‚Will the Tory City Mayor eventually provide us with a new kindergarten within walking distance‘), and decision making theories in general, so that behavioral economics, psychology and sociology come into play (Why do decision makers take the actions they take?). Institutional and public economics have been major contributions to our understanding of ‚the public sector‘ as well.

That is also quite a lot stuff.

The main functions of government can be seen from the COFOG-classification of the OECD (OECD (2013), “Classification of the Functions of Government (COFOG)”, in Government at a Glance 2013, OECD Publishing.http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/gov_glance-2013-58-en). There a 10 1st level main functions:

General public services
Public order and safety (see below)
Economic affairs
Environment protection
Recreation, culture and religion
Social protection (see below)

and additional 2nd level sub-items; 81 functions in total.

030 Public order and safety
0301 Police service
0302 Fire protection services
0303 Law courts
0304 Prisons
0305 RandD Public Order
0306 Public Order n.e.c

Table: 2nd level Cofog classification Public order & safety

100 Social Security
1001 Sickness and disability
1002 Old age
1003 Survivors
1004 Family and Children
1005 Unemployment
1006 Housing
1007 Social exclusion
1008 RandD Social protection
1009 Social protection n.e.c

Table: 2nd level Cofog classification social security


To further structure this, it is helpful to have a look at who provides what, i.e. which level of government accounts for what kind and chunk of public spending. I am especially interested in the relevance of local authorities for public service delivery. For instance central government accounted for 99.8 per cent of total government defense expenditures in 2011. (no surprise). For housing the central:local ratio was 73.0 :  27.0 in 2011. (There are no states as in Germany, so data are absent „-„)

Function/Sector       Central  |  State   | Local | Social security
General services       86.5 — 13.5 —
Defence                      99.8 — 0.2 —
Public order              57.5 — 42.5 —
Economic affairs      69.5 — 30.5 —
Environment            42.7 — 23.3 —
Housing                     73.0 — 27.0
Health                        100.0 — 0.0 —
Recreation, culture  55.4 — 44.6 —
Education                  55.6 — 44.4 —
Social protection      79.7 — 20.3 —

United Kingdom: Expenditures by function (COFOG) and level of government/sector, as a percentage of total government expenditure, figures for 2011; Data Source: OECD 2013.


References and further readings:

OECD (2013), “Classification of the Functions of Government (COFOG)”, in Government at a Glance 2013, OECD Publishing.http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/gov_glance-2013-58-en

Flynn, N. (2007). Public Sector Management. London: SAGE.