Vital Signs

Food, Felons, and Foreign Aid

America's attempts to help the former Soviet Union have proven exceptionally frustrating. Nearly all government officials. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, realize that something ought to be done. The possibility that continued economic crises will mean a return to a belligerent totalitarian state is both reasonable and justifiably dreaded. Even the most coldhearted lifelong anticommunist cannot enjoy seeing mobs of angry Russians protesting in the streets.

Unfortunately, we are stupefied about what is to be done. Clearly, save a sudden catastrophe, a traditional Marshall Plan-type foreign aid package is unacceptable. Rebuilding the old Soviet system would require trillions in government aid at a time when demands for domestic investment cannot be ignored. Even a worldwide effort involving Japan and Germany would be insufficient and risky for the respective governments. Private sector help ultimately may be the solution, but presently this is a drop in the proverbial bucket. In short, the current situation resembles a picture of horrified bystanders helplessly watching a sinking ship loaded with toxic chemicals.

The situation is not, however, as hopeless as it may initially appear. The problem is that we have conceptualized the U.S.-former Soviet Union relationship in terms of either outright gifts or trade involving tangible commodities. Past experience leads us to think instinctively of handouts...

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