Putin's Adviser Extols Ayn Rand

Moscow Times, April 26, 2000 By Catherine Belton © 2000, Staff Writer.

Newly appointed presidential economics adviser  Andrei Illarionov showed his economic colors Tuesday as he vociferously supported the ideas of one of the most influential shapers of Western thought on free markets - Ayn Rand.

"Every import tariff and every limit on foreign-exchange transactions is a blow to our consciousness. Every tax acts against our freedom," he said at a news conference Tuesday dedicated to the launch of Rand's work in the Russian language. Rand gained acclaim in the 1940s for her theory of "objectivism," which forwards laissez-faire capitalism as the only system to protect individual freedom.

Illarionov called for hauling back state interference in the economy and said it was a myth to claim that liberal reforms had taken place in Russia over the last eight years.  He added that for Russia to experience the "economic miracles" enjoyed by countries like Taiwan and Japan, state spending would have to be slashed.

"If we really want fast economic growth, than sooner or later we have to cut down state spending to no more than 20 percent of GDP and cut back the tax base to the same level," he said.

President-elect Vladimir Putin has called for Russia to escalate economic growth to 10 percent per year to catch up "fast" to the rest of the world. But Illarionov would not say Tuesday whether his views on chopping back the state to achieve that growth had found favor with his new boss.

"Mr. Putin listens attentively to all economic views and proposals and then makes his decision," was all that Illarionov would say.

However, Illarionov said he's hoping the rest of Russia will fall under Rand's spell. Dmitry Kostygin and Yaroslav Remenchuk, the publishers and translators of her works, said Tuesday they want to persuade the Education Ministry to make Rand compulsory reading in schools.

Putin meanwhile has a copy of "Atlas Shrugged" in his personal library, Illarionov said, though he did not say whether the book had been read or appreciated by the president-elect.

Illarionov cited opinion polls in the United States as placing "Atlas Shrugged" as the second most influential book after the Bible, and singled out Rand's influence on Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

"Greenspan's been acclaimed many times over as the genius behind America's 'New Economics' and the economic boom of the '90s. He was a personal friend of Rand," Illarionov said. "If people here are likewise influenced by her work, than I will be very glad."

But while saying state regulation was a blow to individual freedom, Illarionov cited Chile's economic plan under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet as an ideal example of good economic programming.

He also criticized Putin's economic think tank for planning to write a 300-page economic program.

"It's better for programs to be short. One of the best examples is the program produced by Chile. It was 15 pages long and simply laid out principles and the basis for the state's relationship with society," he said. "1975 to 1990 was the golden period of Chilean economic reform, during which time Chile overtook the rest of Latin America."

Illarionov compared the Central Bank issuing monetary emissions that are not backed up by reserves to a citizen printing fake money in his own backyard.

The end.