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Soviets Plan More and Better Consumer Goods

October 10, 1985|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The Kremlin disclosed plans Wednesday for a major increase in the quantity and quality of consumer goods and services in the next 15 years.

In order to eliminate shortages and satisfy a widespread yearning for better quality, the Kremlin promised more and better products ranging from men's socks to video cassette recorders.

The first three pages of Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, were devoted to an outline of the program, which clearly bears the imprint of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

It called for an increase of 6% a year in the volume of consumer goods produced in the 1986-90 period and nearly that much throughout the following decade, but it provides little information about how this is to be achieved.

There was no mention of increased investment in the industries that supply consumer goods. Rather, the article said, the government expects existing facilities to be used more efficiently.

Worker Skeptical

A quick sampling of reaction to the announcement reflected traditional Soviet skepticism about government promises of higher living standards. "It sounds like a buildup to the party congress to me," an office worker said.

This was a reference to the Soviet Communist Party meeting scheduled in February that is to approve a new five-year plan and adopt economic guidelines for the rest of the 20th Century.

Most of the additional consumer goods, the Pravda article said, will be made by factories whose primary responsibility is to manufacture other products. For example, a steel factory might also make furniture.

There was no indication that there will be any move toward greater reliance on market forces. Rather, the article pointed toward even greater centralized decision-making in the production of consumer goods.

Soviet shoppers have long complained about shortages of such everyday items as children's clothing, shoes, dry cell batteries--even tea.

A thriving black market provides spare auto parts, and meat, fruit and vegetables raised on private plots bring premium prices at the few markets not run by the state.

Production Increases

The new program calls for a 30% increase in manufactured goods during the next five years and an increase of 80% to 90% by the year 2000. Similarly, service industries ranging from restaurants to auto repair shops are being ordered to increase their volume by 30%.

No figures were given for new car production under the new program, and personal computers were not mentioned at all.

However, production of video cassette recorders is projected at 60,000 a year by 1990 and double that by 2000. VCRs, which the Soviets have just started making, are in great demand. Imported models are sold illegally for thousands of rubles (one ruble is worth about $1.20).

Since Gorbachev moved into the top leadership position seven months ago, he has given high priority to raising Soviet living standards.

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