Imagine a confidential memo to Mikhail Gorbachev: We are flattered, Comrade General Secretary, that you have asked your economic advisory group for an explanation of the Soviet economy's performance during the first six months of 1987. As you know, our private estimates show a mixed set of opportunities and challenges.
We are, alas, where we expected on what the capitalists call GNP. The rate of growth is down to 2.4 percent from 4.2 in 1986. With 3 percent inflation taken for granted but not admitted publicly, this means a flat or negative growth rate this year.
Moreover, this suggests industrial production will decline for the next two to three years, as your program of buying quality control by paying productive workers and penalizing laggards takes hold. Our inspectors are actually rejecting shoddy goods and managers are cutting pay at inefficient factories as they go onto a nominal profit-loss basis.
The 4 percent increase in agriculture is encouraging (even if highly tentative, since major harvesting has not begun), while the 4 percent drop in export revenues is just as disappointing. We have had to cut back sharply on imports from the capitalists and the Third World, further slowing production.
Western pundits will doubtlessly stress the negative side of these statistics, which we have shared with a few European diplomats. These "analysts" will start predicting again that if you cannot show that your reforms are "succeeding" within two or three years, then Ligachev and the Old Liners will be able to play on public discontent and oust you.
Let the wishful ones think what they will. For in mistaking the scope of what you are trying to accomplish, they exaggerate the strength and force of the opposition you face. That makes it easier for you to ask for understanding and perhaps even concessions from the Americans and Europeans.
These wishful thinkers have not understood how your efforts to "democratize" the party also maximize your power, by legitimizing your putting your people in and sweeping the Old Liners out. That process, we estimate, will be irreversible within a year. You can afford these statistics.
But more fundamental is the failure by these wishful outsiders to see how truly Leninist your economic program is. They do not pay attention to your commitment to change only the way work is organized and rewarded, without sacrificing party control or state ownership.
Because you and Deng Xiaoping have frankly admitted that the Soviet and Chinese economic systems have seriously underperformed, the wishful thinkers believe that all communist countries are now turning to capitalist methods for economic salvation.
They say that capitalism is creeping into the strongest redoubts of communism, that Adam Smith's Invisible Hand is dangling a pinky over the Iron and Bamboo curtains, from Hungary to Hanoi. U.S. right-wing circles find this notion psychologically reassuring, and left-wingers say our adaptation shows that we really are like westerners after all and can be trusted.
Do they really think we would follow the path of that wild man Deng?
After all, the Chinese have made their goal the doubling of per capita income at the turn of the century. That stress on the individual is alarmingly antisocialist. Your goal of doubling national production by the year 2000 is the correct one. We change not to create rich people, but to boost GNP points each year, after this initial adjustment period.
Unlike the Chinese, we in your economic team are committed to never allowing a parallel system of work where one person can "hire" others and exploit them with "wages." And under Soviet law we cannot allow a single person to be unemployed, no matter how unprofitable the factory.
Our next major reform, the pricing of goods and services, is another example of the totally different way we operate than our ex-comrades in Beijing did. They muddled into wild inflationary swings, whereas we are determined to be systematic and maintain control of the changes. We will not start down a road that could lead to a mixed economy, as they did.
The pricing system must be changed, of course. This monstrosity drawn up in the 1920s now covers hundreds of thousands of items. But changing it is better said than done.
That is, while emphasizing to foreign businessmen, whose investment and technology we want, how adventurous we plan to be, we should actually move slowly and cautiously. For mismanaging pricing reform would be the best way to make all that wishful thinking about you running into trouble come true.