Sunday, October 25, 2015

UN MEETUP | Aerospace Conversion, 1992

Conference on Conversion of the Aerospace Complex,
Moscow, November 1992.
I was employed by the City of New York as Chief Economist in the NY City Comptroller's Office.

However, I was permitted at the time of my hiring the month before - because it had been a prior arrangement - to attend a conference on Aerospace Complex Conversion in Moscow in November 1992.

We went on a tour of the ancient Russian
Orthodox capital of Zagorsk.
Having slogged through two years' worth of Russian-language courses at Harvard and about to settle down to focus on a single American city, it was important for me to take advantage of the opportunity to put my Russian to some use.

The theme of the conference was "Swords to Ploughshares".  I am posting these photos from the conference as memorabilia of a time when the "Peace Dividend" was on everyone's mind.

Some defense enterprises were opened
to westerners for the first time in 1990.
A quick summary of what happened to much of the aerospace research labs is that they ran out of money and they closed down. The plans for an orderly reuse of these facilities came to nothing. What was largely missing from the situation was the cadre of entrepreneurs who are called "developers" in New York City.

L to R: John Tepper Marlin, Mrs. Franklin and Lewis
R. Franklin of TRW Space & Defense.
The following year, I went to Kharkiv to offer advice under USIA auspices to officials there on what to do with their obsolete airfields and tank factories. I told them they were in a good position to turn their airfields and tank factories to peaceful use by becoming a distribution center for high-value goods like pharmaceuticals or books.

The local Chamber of Commerce - which met at the Army Club -  asked me what the next step was and I said: "Bring in a developer." The generals who were running the conversion effort in Kharkiv asked me: "Chto eto, devyeloper?" They just didn't have any idea what sort of person would do that kind of abstract work, thinking up uses of land without direction from a higher authority.

Jurgen Brauer.
I found out that Kharkiv did what I had suggested, and the publisher Bertelsmann made Kharkiv a center of its Eastern European distribution network. It was a success story.

The U.N. conference attempted to bring together people who might have ideas for using the space and military research centers with the officials in Moscow who were trying reuse them.

My Russian language skills were put to the test. That is me
on the Far Right.
What was already happening is that detailed plans for conversion - with orderly transfer of equipment and personnel - were being replaced with death by financial starvation. With no money coming in, payrolls were not met. The employees went home with equipment in lieu of payment. Eventually the research facilities were stripped of equipment and people. They started their own independent research centers and figured out who might buy from them.

The conversion happened as soon as the money stopped. Instead of a marching band proceeding in an orderly way to a new formation, a gun went off (no money) and everyone scrambled.
L to R: Academician V. Avduesky, Jurgen Brauer.

The difference between a marching band and the conversion that happened is that a marching band is told where to go next. In the case of the Russian defense workers, they had to figure out for themselves what to do next.

The U.N. conference was the last one of several that took place during the exciting years 1990-1992, when the Soviet Union imploded and the peace dividend seemed to promise a new era of prosperity for all except the military establishment. Some of the people at the U.N. conference had attended one sponsored by the Council on Economic Priorities two years earlier, in Moscow and Leningrad.
Greg Bischak, at the end of
conference, going home.

Russian Othodox guide tells us about Zagorsk.
Lew Franklin was one of the people who attended both events. Academician V. Avduesky was another; he was the chairman of the Soviet Conversion Committee and prepared a paper for the 1990 event.

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