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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Market Logic? Luzhkov Makes Odd Sales Pitch

Luzhkov the Pragmatist has done it again. In the last week, under two orders by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, the city appears to be pursuing policies for street trade that so conflict that anyone but a politician would see them as contradictory. The first order would severely limit street trading and sales from kiosks, while the second would greatly expand hand-to-hand selling for residents of the Moscow region. Luzhkov signed the first last week and is presently considering the second. For Luzhkov, the two strange orders make perfect sense. Luzhkov is passionately opposed to the chaos and disorder surrounding street trade and kiosks. Earlier, he visited Kievsky Station and ranted that "in your square there are smells worse than a vegetable warehouse back in the worst times." Luzhkov also sees such trade as not befitting the capital city of a great nation like Russia. And as a politician he is not deaf to the cries of Muscovites about the grime and crime gripping their city, much of it blamed on illegal trade. On the other hand, the city is addicted to this chaos. For all Luzhkov's decrees to store managers about how to run a store properly, he has failed to accomplish what the market has done naturally: bring a wide variety of goods to the buyer. In this respect, the prosperity of kiosks mocks the failure of Luzhkov's command-style approach to running Moscow. Furthermore, old people receiving inadequate pensions from the city now rely on the markets as a source of income. What is a mayor to do? How can he cure the chaos without infuriating Muscovites who depend on the markets? The two recent orders are nothing less than Luzhkov's way out of this trap. Under the first, the number of kiosks would be reduced and those that remain will be forbidden from selling clothes and electronics, among other goods. Street traders would be herded into nine city markets where order can be better maintained. Izvestia on Wednesday called it "the return to bureaucratism," and pronounced the decree the death of the street market -- "the first standing symbol of the new order and the new times." The second decree would give Moscow residents the right to sell in the city if they are licensed already to sell in the countryside. This, Luzhkov hopes, will lower food prices overall for city residents. It also solves the embarrassing problem of the city's inability to pay the billions of rubles it owes to the regional farms. With these two decrees, Luzhkov is cutting a narrow path across the divisive issue of street trade on an apolitical route worthy of one of Russia's most successful centrist politicians