The title certainly captures one's attention. The authors, one a well-regarded economist at the London School of Economics, the other an experienced correspondent for the Economist, begin by asking whether Russia is in a historical and cultural world of its own that prejudices its chances of establishing democracy and a modern market economy. They emphatically say no, and then turn to 11 other questions, such as, why did communism fail? Can Russia beat the mafia? Will Russia break up? The answers come in clear, economical form, but on the broadest questions simplicity becomes superficiality. Why, given all their contemporary misery, have the Russian people not revolted? Because most have dachas to divert them in the summer and the cold to deter them in the winter.
When they turn to economic matters, however, the authors are more incisive. Because Layard participated in the reform, it comes as no surprise that they believe Gaidar's program was basically correct. Mistakes were made, but not those usually claimed, and some of the blame belongs to the West, particularly the United States for not having done enough early on. Still, Russia starts with enormous advantages -- a highly educated population, vast natural wealth, and a potentially rich agriculture -- that are about to kick in. The case at this point is rather an act of faith, but, as these authors show, scarcely so reckless as some might think.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue