Economist Yevgeny Yasin died in Moscow at the age of 89. A liberal politician and professor of economics, one of the founders of the Higher School of Economics, a teacher and mentor to many people at the head of Russian economic power, Yasin has always been and remained somewhat larger than everything that he created.
Any person who has lived here for a long time can realize this: no matter what you do, what you did will lose significance even with you, during your life. Everyone who lives their whole life slowly, imperceptibly rises a little higher, into a space from which your previous achievements are compared with what is happening around you - and in this ever-new context, they are sadly more compact, although they acquire greater density.
You see, Evgeniy Grigorievich Yasin said at one of the last big meetings, my main problem has always been that I always turned out to be too old.
For example, in 1989 I was terribly uncomfortable - after all, the time had just come to do what I had known in general terms for almost my entire life: what needed to be done, what needed to be changed, what needed to be built. But then, I was no longer young. And so, you know, always, all my life.
And indeed. Yasin, who was impossible not to know in Moscow, became a Doctor of Economics in 1976. By this point, he was history for his colleagues and employees: he came to the Research Institute of the Central Statistical Office in 1964 to study macroeconomic statistics - these were the results of the second higher education Yasin received, the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University, on top of his existing engineering diploma. The country was then eating up both the positive and negative results of the “sovnarkhoz” reform of Nikita Khrushchev, then the general secretary, and no one had yet heard of the “Kosygin reforms” - neither about the first, also controversial, nor about the second, little-known and unsuccessful. Since 1973, Yasin headed a laboratory at CEMI, an essentially dissident economic institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences, in which, under the banner of the “system of optimal functioning of the socialist economy,” shortened to the abbreviation SOFE, Soviet economists tried to master what only decades later became Russian economic science in in the sense in which economics is a science throughout the world. Yevgeny Yasin came to the State Commission for Economic Reform under the USSR Council of Ministers in 1989, when it was absolutely clear that no economic reform of the USSR could help, just as the same SOFE, CEMI, and balance sheets on powerful computers would not have helped him. But life will certainly go on, and there is still quite a lot that can be done.
This conversation took place in the fall of 2011, in Yasin’s office at the Higher School of Economics on Myasnitskaya.
Yasin was the first scientific director of HSE, which he invented together with the current scientific director, Yaroslav Kuzminov, in 1990.
In 2011, one could be forgiven for not remembering that from the beginning of 1992, Yasin was a representative of the government of Yegor Gaidar in the Supreme Council of the RSFSR, which had not yet been dispersed, and created a council for entrepreneurship under this government, since before that he was actively creating the apparatus of the RSPP. Also, few remember that from 1994 to 1998, in the next government, Yassin was the nominal and actual minister of economy. This time we talked with him about public politics - when the conversation ended, I walked along Myasnitskaya to the Chistye Prudy metro station, where the then little-known Alexei Navalny spoke at the “dirty boots rally.” This was a very long time ago, and the very idea that a very significant part of the government, which was attacked at the rally, was located half a kilometer from the scene of events, the participants would have rejected then with horror and indignation.
This was generally typical of Yasin - being the first person, to look somewhat sideways. Perhaps the most important thing that he understood for himself, apparently back in the 1970s, is that an economist is a consultant-researcher, and this profession, even in purely economic-centric decades, should not be characterized by academic activism.
An economist changes the world by telling others about what he sees, but not by orders or instructions. And this coexisted extremely well in Yassin with his crystalline, textbook liberal political beliefs.
He created power by carefully avoiding being power itself—a high destiny that few will endure. Since Yasin’s students are to this day the intellectual core of Russian economic power, Professor Yasin had the right to consider all the strong and monstrous sides of Russian power to be largely the product of his own beliefs.
Of the professional achievements of Yasin, who in our historical times considered himself first of all a university teacher and only then everything else, of course, was a university. HSE has been and remains a pillar of Russian government and Russian society, a much more important element of the structure, the meaning of which is usually underestimated in Russia, and its prospects are cowardly downplayed even taking into account today's circumstances. But, rising a little higher, towards death - and we are forced to rise higher - and this turned out to be not the most important, not ideally successful, not the most durable and unchangeable. Yasin’s greatest achievement in the end was, surprisingly, himself - Evgeniy Grigorievich, a human figure, his own flag, emblem and symbol.
This too will pass, and Yasin was given the opportunity to see and understand what is written on Solomon’s ring in the clearest form that does not allow for cunning interpretations. He was one of the few people of such magnitude that makes it possible to accept this truth calmly and with dignity. What has been done cannot be undone, and thank God that this is so. And old age will also pass.