The Russian-Harvard Privatization Back Story
Through the late summer and fall of 1991, as the Soviet state fell apart, Harvard Professor Jeffrey Sachs and other Western economists participated in meetings at a dacha outside Moscow where young, pro-Yeltsin reformers planned Russia’s economic and political future. Sachs teamed up with Yegor Gaidar, Yeltsin’s first architect of economic reform, to promote a plan of “shock therapy” to swiftly eliminate most of the price controls and subsidies that had underpinned life for Soviet citizens for decades. Shock therapy produced more shock–not least, hyperinflation that hit 2,500 percent–than therapy. One result was the evaporation of much potential investment capital: the substantial savings of Russians. By November 1992, Gaidar was under attack for his failed policies and was soon pushed aside. When Gaidar came under seige, Sachs wrote a memo to one of Gaidar’s principal opponents, Ruslan Khasbulatov, Speaker of the Supreme Soviet, then the Russian parliament, offering advice and to help arrange Western aid and contacts in the U.S. Congress.
Enter Anatoly Chubais, a smooth, 42-year-old English-speaking would-be capitalist who became Yeltsin’s economic czar. Chubais, committed to “radical reform,” vowed to construct a market economy and sweep away the vestiges of Communism. The U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.), without experience in the former Soviet Union, was readily persuaded to hand over the responsibility for reshaping the Russian economy to H.I.I.D., which was founded in 1974 to assist countries with social and economic reform.
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