Faced with consumer demand for cars, carpets, imported furniture, and jewelry that far outstrips supply, the Soviet Union today imposed hefty price increases on these "luxury" items and for good measure, raised the cost of a dinner out.
It was the second major consumer price hike in 16 months, and comes at a time when Soviet propagandists are telling the people here that life in the West is unbearable because of endless price rises.
Rumors of increases brought waves of shoppers to Moscow stores yesterday, with families stocking up on all kinds of goods. The Soviet price chief, Niolai Glushkov, firmly asserted today that other retail prices will not rise.
Under the new increases, gold and silver jewelry, carpets, natural furs and fur articles for adults now cost 50 percent more than they did yesterday. Precious jewelry was doubled in price last year.
The prices of passenger cars were raised today and average of 18 percent, sending the cost for a basic model Zhiguli four-door sedan, with radio and heater, to $9,700 after a waiting period that could last five years.
Imported furniture, treasured by the well-connected as a symbol of their status, goes up 30 percent. Soviet-made furniture is 10 percent higher, today, due to a new wider assortment, Glushkov said, "and a considerable increase" in longing costs.
Beer sold at bars and restaurants rose 45 percent, and dinners in cafeterias and restaurants will now cost between 25 and 45 percent more. This would place the cost of a dinner for two in a top-quality Moscow restaurant -- if you can get in -- around $10 apiece, excluding drinks.
While gold jewelry prices increased, the state also increased the wedding ring compensation for newlyweds to $105 as incentive to marriage, and, hopefully, children.
In March 1978, the state raised gasoline prices by 100 percent and imposed sharp increases on coffee and cocoa. Glushkov declared the new price increases where called for because "the demand for some goods surpasses possiblities for their production. This is precisely why it has been decided as a forced but necessary measure, to use the price . . . mechanism to adjust trade."
As he did last year, he emphasized that these spot increases came against a continuing stability in such basics as rent, utilities, and food.
"Their state retail prices have remained unchanged for many years," Glushkov said. He added that catering places have been "instructed" to improve their work and "raise the standard of servicing visitors."
The average Soviet wage is about $255 a month, which puts the price of many luxury goods beyond the reach of millions except after years of scrimping and saving.
However, economists describe the Soviet consumer ecomony as suffering from "repressed inflation," in which people save enormous amounts of money, ready to splurge at any moment for scarce items if they suddenly appear in the stores.Such a phenomonen occurred after last year's price increases when the state, having doubled the price of gold jewelry, suddenly made some available to take advantage of the new prices.
Soviets lined up by the thousands to take advantage of the rare opportunity.