Earlier this year, I visited Russia. The New Statesman were vaguely interested in a piece on Moscow for their Travels section, so I wrote one then it never quite made it in. Anyway, I thought I might as well stick it up here [doc]. I guess it's an attempt at embedded economic sociology with a dash of Simmel:
Money seems to fuel Moscow’s terrifying nihilism, unleashing and satisfying primitive desires wherever one looks – desire for luxury, desire for sex, desire for more money. With violent rave music emanating from every single retail outlet and mall, shopping acquires a brutal quality, not so much retail therapy as electric shock therapy. But it is also money which just about prevents the society from shattering altogether. It is the mediator of last resort, the moral safety net that allows strangers to interact when all other sources of trust are gone.