Economist claims Russia's a good example of the benefits of radical privatization

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In “Russia’s Capitalist Revolution” (Peterson Institute, $26.95), Anders Aslund, a Russia analyst (and a former colleague of Mr. Trenin’s), argues that zero credit should go to Russia’s most popular politician, Mr. Putin. On the contrary, Mr. Aslund, who is from Sweden and based in Washington, insists that Russia’s economic breakthrough should be credited to Anatoly B. Chubais, who oversaw the government’s privatization program in the 1990s, when the country lost about 40 percent of its gross domestic product.

It’s a bold thesis.

But Mr. Aslund’s beloved “young reformers” were in government only briefly — by the way, he worked as their consultant — and they seem to be all of three people, one of whom, Mr. Chubais, became an industrial oligarch.

Still, as in his earlier books on the same subject, whose idée fixe is the supposed superiority of hyperfast and hyperradical reform, whatever the circumstances, Mr. Aslund can claim two important achievements.

First, he again demonstrates that it was not the privatizations under Boris N. Yeltsin that set in motion Russia’s egregious insider enrichment. Instead, he shows, it was a process begun under the Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and subsequently continued, to grant lobbyists preferential access to commodity export licenses at a time when there was a gap between world prices and very low regulated domestic prices — allowing them to pocket a windfall.

This important corrective is then overshadowed by Mr. Aslund’s repeated assertions that even half-baked privatization is still wonderful and that Russia’s “was close to ideal.”

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