THE leading proponent of radical reform of the Soviet economy has put out an appeal for Western help. But the kind of help Stanislav Shatalin is looking for cannot be quantified in dollars or rubles. His is a plea for knowledge.
Mr. Shatalin, chief architect of the 500-day plan for Soviet economic reform, has spent the week in Washington talking with political and economic leaders about organizing exchanges of undergraduate and graduate students, businessmen, and bankers.
``I must say quite frankly that the level of economic knowledge in our country is very low, and many people have no idea of what a market economy means,'' Shatalin told a group of American businessmen here Wednesday. ``So I think we will not be able to carry out this reform if we do not increase the professional level of our economists.''
Among the people Shatalin has met with are Michael Boskin, chairman of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Sen. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey, and Federal Reserve officials.
As for the kind of Western help that does have dollar signs in front of it, Shatalin warned, ``that would just protract the agony of our old system.''
``I can tell you frankly that I wouldn't put a cent of my own money into our economy,'' he said. But he also sought to encourage Western businessmen about improved prospects for setting up joint ventures in the Soviet Union, citing less bureaucracy and procrastination. He predicted that by the end of this year, the Soviet parliament would pass a law allowing completely foreign-owned firms in the USSR.
Shatalin also sought to allay any misperceptions that the plan that bears his name - and which was adopted almost unanimously last month by the Russian Republic's parliament - promises to produce a free-market system in just 500 days.
``This is not a program to create a market economy. It's a program to prepare for and ensure a transition to a market economy. ... There are times when you have to put your back against the wall to do things right,'' he said.
The plan would grant the 15 Soviet republics wide powers to run their own economies, expand the rights of private ownership, abolish most state controls over prices, shut down most ministries that regulate industries, and set up a banking system and stock market. Much of the nation's farmland, housing, and businesses would be privatized.