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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 23, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

LOST OPPORTUNITY: Why Economic Reforms in Russia Have Not Worked by Marshall I. Goldman (W. W. Norton: $22.50; 290 pp.). If there's one major conclusion to be drawn from Marshall Goldman's fifth book on the Soviet Union, "Lost Opportunity," it's the near-impossibility of introducing economic and political reforms at the same time. Think about it: once you've opened up the democratic floodgates with political glasnost, how are you going to impose the crucial economic perestroika? Goldman, associate director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard, doesn't frame his argument in such rudimentary terms, but makes clear that Mikhail Gorbachev's failure to reform the U.S.S.R. successfully stemmed in large part from his inability to settle on a single, steady economic strategy: in 1990 alone he considered and abandoned eight economic plans, his flightiness no doubt influenced by the din arising from the long-stilled, often divisively nationalistic voices his political reforms had unleashed. Gorbachev comes in for hard but sympathetic criticism in this book, as does his successor Boris Yeltsin, though the latter receives points for maintaining, most of the time, a relatively steady hand on the fiscal tiller. Yeltsin, unlike Gorbachev, was quick to put his communist past behind him and accept the "shock therapy" proposed by young economist Yegor Gaidor (later to become Russia's acting prime minister), though the reform, as it turned out, proved too little, too late. Such basic change might have worked years earlier, but Goldman explains in detail why it probably would have failed even then, mainly due to the Soviet Union's inbred resistance to Western economic structures.

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