ECONOMICS CAN BIND US, USSR

What does the new generation of Soviets seem to want to do? Especially as Soviet society - in Moscow and out in the republics - sobers up? And how does all this relate to a summit meeting soon to be held between General Secretary Gorbachev and President Reagan?

Here goes:The Soviets want to come to terms with the United States - now, not tomorrow. They realize conservative, prestigious Ronald Reagan in his last two years in office can do more working with Mr. Gorbachev and his aides than any new Republican or Democratic president will for years to come to set the stage for global disengagement.

To this end, Mr. Gorbachev's nuclear test ban proposal is symbolic and important. (It's pragmatic, too, since the Russians completed a round of tests a while back and once the United States has recaptured lost ground it's senseless to go another inning in a ball game that has no winner.) On the heels of a test ban agreement can come other joint initiatives. This means the summit that's around the corner could be an Olympian one if it becomes the watershed for pulling back the winds of war from Nicaragua to Afghanistan.

A mutual anti-terrorist pronouncement also is possible. In the Soviet lexicon, terrorism is more narrowly defined than in the West. We deem much Marxist revolutionary activity to be terroristic, and it is by any civilized standard. Dyed-in-the-wool revolutionaries don't. But the time has come for a mutual understanding because the whole terrorist fad has gotten out of hand. American children are being blown out of commercial aircraft, Russians are getting mauled, innocent people from all corners of the world are being machine-gunned. The risk of nuclear power plant terrorism here or in the Soviet Union is growing, too. (Imagine the devasta tion that would be caused by a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant anywhere in the world.)

The upcoming summit, on the one hand, could provide an opportunity for a joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. definition of terrorism and announcement of a combined formula for winding it down. On the other hand, it could offer a program to eliminate terrorism's root causes, like resolving the joint requirements of Israeli security and a homeland for the Palestinians.

The Soviets know they must modernize their economy. They need help replacing the networking economy with a market-based distribution system. The Gorbachev government is eager to learn how to liquidate excess inventory and build incentives into the system to bolster creativity and efficiency. There may even be a way to mold a free-market capital allocation streak into the economic planner's paint brush. How? The Russians don't know. They require our ideas on this score. Reason: That's our turf.

Maybe the answers are as simple as ending guaranteed employment to sloughoffs or allowing Soviet cooperatives to "invest" in venture capital deals and reap rewards for their members - much as mutual funds do here. The Soviets want to learn more about venture capitalism. Research institutes in Moscow, Soviet Georgia (north of Armenia), and elsewhere are tackling that problem, which is a thorny one in a Marxist society. Venture capitalism only works where communication is open and ideas freely circulate, conflict with one another, and evolve. The Russians might call this a dialectic - but that's just jargon. The process is the same: two or more forces meet and merge.

The Reagan-Gorbachev summit can help here, too, by encouraging an increased exchange of economic, advertising, and distribution experts ("scientists"). The Russians are ready for the exchange. So let's offer them a dose of Data Resources economics and Madison Avenue advertising. It won't be a painful pill.

The net export position of the U.S.S.R. leaves a lot to be desired. So does ours, of course, but the world hungers for U.S. dollars to lubricate the wheels of industry by financing the global credit system. So for the time being we have been able to exchange bits of paper for other people's labor. Rubles, however, are not equally popular because they aren't freely convertible. There's no reason to expect near-term convertibility - which, were it to come, would have a dramatic impact on the Soviet Union.

But even so there is lots to be done on the trade front.

Russia and its republics are a cornucopia of resources. In addition, there are shelves in cities throughout the nation holding inventions never brought to market because the bureaucratic system doesn't encourage this. The Soviets want to dust their inventions off and get them built into new products by bypassing as many bureaucrats as they can.

To do this they seek joint ventures with U.S. companies. They are prepared to turn over their patents and probably their resources. They hope to share in the profits of these joint ventures.

What does that mean?

It means if the joint venture is in a third country, the repatriated retained earnings of the venture will go to improving Soviet capital flows and reducing the net export deficit.

It also means if the product is improved upon, they get to share in the improved technology. Defense specialists here surely will get their noses out of joint at the mere thought of that idea. But both sides have noses - and the Russians are willing to go first. If they can take the risk, why can't we? Especially if we want to cool off the hot blood in both countries. True, there are examples of Soviet theft of U.S. technology. But the Japanese, French, Germans, and Israelis have been no slouches either at building upon U.S. inventions. Nor have we hesitated to imitate them. And in some cases, like cutting and drilling machine-plating technology, we have learned from the Soviets. Ultimately technology knows no boundaries and honors no nationality.

This joint-venturing issue is important to the Soviets. It should be kept on the front burner at the summit.

"What does the Soviet Union have that the U.S. could possibly want?" I can't provide more than an introductory answer. But it includes curding technology; titanium-plating techniques; delicious but fragile Tbilisan wines that can be air expressed to Western markets; toys from little Sputniks to dolls and battle tanks; oblong cantaloupes that are as big as watermelons and watermelons that have the shape of cantaloupes (if the Japanese will spend $90 for a small, round U.S. cantaloupe, what would they spend for one from Uzbekistan that's oblong, sweeter, and many kilos heavier?); colorful, ethnic fabrics from the republics and much more. Here again the summit can help by encouraging more contact between U.S. businessmen and their Soviet counterparts.

The Soviet Union is a superpower. It is a non-consumer society with a government dominated by a single party and an alien ideology. But it is comprised of people. So is the United States. If we work together, we will seem less two-dimensional to them and they more three-dimensio nal to us.

There will be a future.

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