More Pain Than Gain

As controls are lifted and prices skyrocket overnight, Russians get a rude lesson in free-market economics

At a Moscow supermarket across from the Kiev railroad station as the New Year opened, shoppers made their way past cheerless holiday decorations toward the display case in the processed-meat department. There they confronted a Muscovite consumer's dream: not sugarplum fairies but kolbasa sausages piled high on chipped metal trays. Yet there was no buying frenzy. The price per kilo was 43.75 rubles, compared with only 2.20 rubles less than a year ago. Grumbled a middle-aged woman overcome by price paralysis: "What a nightmare!"

All across Russia last week, long-suffering consumers came face to face with the free market, as the...