Paradoxes are inherently fascinating, though it is hard not to agree with Bertrand Russell, who once grumbled that he had difficulty distinguishing those paradoxes that conceal a "profound truth" from those that are "simply nonsense."
That is precisely the dilemma that confronts anyone attempting to tease the significant from the merely mystifying in the Soviet Union's latest lurch toward some version of a market economy.
When Mikhail S. Gorbachev began his courageous campaign of reform, he said it rested on two inseparable pillars: glasnost (openness) or democratization, and perestroika (reconstruction) or economic change. One, he argued, was impossible to achieve without the other. Last week, however, the frustrated president bludgeoned a paralyzed Supreme Soviet into granting him the power to single-handedly make all laws touching on markets, prices and other economic questions and public order.
What Gorbachev actually intends to do with this recentralized authority--and whether authority still can be exercised from the Soviet center--remains unclear. Boris Yeltsin and the other elected leaders of the Russian Federation already have announced plans to proceed with their own rapid transition to a market economy. Gorbachev, having sacrificed one principle of his reform effort under the pressure of necessity, now seems uncertain as to how the other may yet be achieved. He has ordered the authors of two competing economic plans--the radical economist Stanislav S. Shatalin and the cautious Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov--to go away and reconcile their incompatible approaches to economic reform by Oct 15.