There are those who remember when phone calls cost a dime, but Morris Mendelson remembers when dinner for five with champagne was ten dollars -- three weeks ago. Finance professor Mendelson returned this month after co-coordinating a two-month educational experiment in the Soviet Union -- teaching Russians and Lithuanians the basics of a free market economy. Despite the media's attention on recent economic summits, Economics Professor Herbert Levine said that for a successful transition to a market economy, efforts must center on educating the common businessman. "90% of the media attention is at the top," Levine said. "But, the marketization is bubbling up from the bottom." Recently a group of 40 Wharton M.B.A.'s and their spouses taught "the bottom" from the bottom -- simple accounting and basic economics. The students in the classes "were eager to absorb anything they could apply," said participant Suzanne Waltman, a graduate of the Lauder M.B.A. program. Waltman added that the Soviet students grasped tangible examples of capitalism rather than theory. She added that some of her American counterparts were surprised that the Soviets were unaware the mechanics of capitalism. Vladimir Zhirov, a professor at the Soviet based Herzen Pedagogical Institute founded a private business school in Leningrad. Zhirov told Levine in January that the Herzen Business School wanted to try a pilot program this summer which quickly developed into the M.B.A. educational venture. "[Other] business schools are springing up all over, most of them are not good," Levine said. After an advertisement in a Wharton newsletter was placed, over 60 responses piled in for the initial ten M.B.A. positions. Guest Lecturer Junius Peake, another coordinator of the trip, stressed that the Wharton students were initially uneasy with tentative nature of the trip's agenda. The M.B.A.'s, in the first part of Peake's trip, worked with students in a classroom while in the latter portion, they worked entirely with a corporation. Throughout the two months of the trip, the lessons primarily followed the Soviet train of inquiries. Although the American M.B.A.'s and professors used at best sketchy syllabi, the feedback from the participants was positive. Peake added that if future ventures were formalized they "might lose a little of their pioneering spirit, but maybe make it a more meaningful experience." The Lithuanian sessions were conducted by the Center for International Management Education -- a non-profit American firm which provides educational training in the Baltic and Ukrainian regions. The success of these sessions was demonstrated by the high attendence, coordinators said. The first session had 70 paying attendees and the second had 144. Richard Shriver, founder of the Center, said that "Wharton is a pioneer" and that other universities were jumping to follow the University's example. The present situation in the Soviet Union and Baltic republics consists of a proliferation of new laws facilitating the start-up of small corporations, coordinators said. "The time is ripe for this type of peace corps activity," Levine said.Comments powered by Disqus
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