Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Polish government will fail in its fight to clean up public life...

...because it will fail to reduce the influence and size of the state.

In a perceptive article in Reason magazine - Is Liberalism Dead in Central Europe? - Marian Tupy reminds us, as this blog has done many times, that when the Western press labels members of the Polish government ‘right wing’, or even ‘far-right’, they are missing an important point:

‘Of the Central European countries—Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic—all but the Czech Republic are seeing the rise of politicians who combine “right-wing” attitudes toward public and private morality with “left-wing” ideas about economics. Demands for tax hikes, price controls, tighter labor regulations, and renationalization of privatized property mix freely with calls for a return to faith, traditional family values, and restrictions on sexual autonomy.

Polish PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski is not a central European version of Margaret Thatcher. If they met he would call her an economic ‘liberalizer’ (a dirty word in Polish government circles) while she would give him a sharp whack over the head with her handbag and accuse him of being a bit of a [whisper it] ‘socialist’.

And it’s the attachment that all the elements of the current governing coalition – PiS, LPR, Samoobrona – have to maintaining the state as central to their redistributive, protectionist economic agenda that will limit any success in the Kaczynski’s central platform: to rid Poland of the corruption that has taken hold since the fall of communism.

It’s telling that there hasn’t been a big backlash against liberal reformers in Estonia, the country that has gone furthest in the transition from communism to free markets. In their Baltic outpost miles to the east of Central Europe, the Estonians have greatly reduced the size and scope of government and, as a result, limited corruption as well.

From Tupy’s perspective any battle against corruption and sleaze is doomed if they do not reduce the size and role of the state.

I would also add that to seriously put a dent in Polish corruption the government must also seriously tackle the connection between the political class and the public sector.

But since taking power PiS has passed laws that actually make it easier to get rid of top civil and public servants, only to be replaced, of course, with functionaries more amenable to their political outlook and project.

Old boys’ networks are replaced by New Boys’ networks, and the opportunity for corruption and nepotism is obvious, tempting, irresistible.


michael farris said...

"to rid Poland of the corruption that has taken hold since the fall of communism"


I'd say "since long before" instead....

beatroot said...

Yeah, of course you are right. But what we have now - according to PiS - is something that has developed under new circumstances. Tge 'uklad' is a post-communist thing. It's a New Old Boys network...

..that's what I meant...and it's only my haste and careless phrasing that to blame.

Martin said...


The combination of leftist big state spending and what are perceived to be rightist attitudes on social affairs is not just a Polish problem - it looks like a pretty fair description of the Republican Party's recent behaviour in Congress.

Their failure to show any restraint on the pork projects was probably one of the reasons they got whupped at the midterms.

Anonymous said...

Firstly I fully agree they will fail in their fight to clean up public life, it requires economic reform. Back on the farm if you want the pigs to stop gorging, move the trough out of reach.

Most rational people in Polish society understand the problem, but what’s the solution?

And by most rational people I mean economic liberals, those who understand that a modern economy needs a certain framework to flourish and without it growth eventually runs out of steam.

Poland hasn’t suffered from too much reform as the populists would suggest but rather too little, half an effort usually gets sub-standard results.

So back to the solution, what political force in Poland is capable of getting a mandate to move forward on such reforms?


“President Lech Kaczynski (PiS) appeared on television on the eve of New Year's to sum up 2006 and wish Poles a good 2007”

Praising the fall in unemployment as one the economic success stories which was comical as he should of said Thank You to Tony Blair for creating more jobs for Poles than anyone else has managed to do.

Martin said...

'...he should of said Thank You to Tony Blair for creating more jobs for Poles than anyone else has managed to do.'


Don't think so...

Anonymous said...

Tupy gives his agenda away when he writes: "the Estonians have greatly reduced the size and scope of government and, as a result, limited corruption as well."

"As a result"? Does he give any proof of a causal link between corruption and the welfare state (because that is what Thatcherites mean when they talk about "big government")?

Anonymous said...

Martin said: “Hmmm”

What was the actual number of jobs created by the Polish economy during the last year? They (GUS), the statistics office won’t say. The current unemployment statistics are 14.8%, which is 2.5% less than a year ago. This means that approximately 500,000 people left the ranks of the unemployed. But what does it mean? How many left to work in other countries and how many crossed over to the legal economy thus what remains are the actual new jobs created by the economy. The government knows exactly how many new jobs are created in the economy, so why are they afraid to publish the figure? Notwithstanding it’s good to see more people working.

Bialosc said. “Does he give any proof of a causal link between corruption and the welfare state?”

Fully agree with you, no reason to link corruption and the welfare state? The corruption problem rests with the relationship the private and public sectors have with one another. Poland has the most regulated economy of all the former communist states now in the EU. It’s this over regulation that presents the opportunity for corruption, walls need to be erected between public and private. PiS can organize all the anti-corruption agencies it wants but it will never be as effective as removing the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Talk about an over-regulated state! I'm just six further visits to different offices away from finishing the process of registering myself as self-employed. So far I have been to six different offices in three different buildings. Today I paid a tenth of the average monthly wage for the privilage of being allowed to pay VAT!

The government wonder why so many people simply do not bother to do anything officially and instead operate only in cash but just compare the Polish system to the British one. In the UK you download a single form from HM Customs&Excise (or phone them and they will post it to you), send it to them and you are done. Just remember to pay the tax and NI when it's due. Here four seperate offices (tax, ZUS, VAT and GUS) must first give you permission, you must set up a dedicated bank account, find an accountant and have a stamp made. Then and only can you have the honour of giving the state thousands of zloty a month in tax. Until the low level corruption, which almost everybody commits simply because it is too bloody difficult to be legal, has been removed will the high level corruption be removed. The general public won't get pissed off at politicians cheating the state when the people do exactly the same thing themselves.

Oops. I think I may have explained why the state is not getting smaller....

beatroot said...

I think you illustrate Harry the point in the post well.

I was not talking about the size of welfare state and payments etc (which is actually pitiful in Poland) I was talking about the size and influence of the state in people’s everyday lives – both as a worker and as a consumer of services - the amount of red tape, relationship between individuals, companies and the state, relationship between the government and public services… etc).

It’s in those contacts and those relations with and within the state that corruption happens.

So the nature and size of the state is important. And it doesn’t look like that will fundamentally change under the present government – which sees the state playing a similar role in people’s lives to what we have had before..

Anonymous said...

Complete agreement on the size of the welfare state and payments made by it. I know far too many old people who have worked hard and paid taxes all their lives but now live in poverty because the money the state gives was supposed to provide for all their needs but doesn't even come close.

The problem is that the priorities of the people at the top at so screwed-up. Which shall we have: a health-care system which pays nurses more than starvation wages or blow $4.7 billion on 48 planes of a model which first flew during the Vietnam war?" "Is that a trick question? We need the planes!"
"Do we spend a million dollars a week making sure that old people don't freeze to death in their homes during winter or shall spunk that cash on keeping soldiers in Iraq?" "Iraq of course!"
"When did you stop having hookers sent to your rooms in the parliament hotel?" "Never! And I pay for them with your money too!"

Althought with that said 99.99% of people everywhere who want to enter politics are automatically unsuited to the job.

Anonymous said...

OK, so you merge the tax, ZUS, VAT and GUS apparatuses and put the forms online.

What happens to all the workers who were employed in those offices?

beatroot said...

...well, if it is made easier to start a business then there will be more business, more demand, more...jobs...(instead of paying people to replicate tasks already done by someone else...)

michael farris said...

All uncorrupt countries are alike; every corrupt country is corrupt in its own way.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for lessening the level of corruption in a given society because the causes and kinds of corruption are different.

Polish corruption has the following sources (among others):

Strong rule-orientation: In Poland, most people think there need to be many rules but don't much care if they don't make any sense or are unworkable, they also think _other people_ should follow rules and feel free to disregard any inconvenient rules themselves. This is endemic in Poland at virtually every level of society and the hardest thing for English speakers to adjust to in cultural terms.

Indifference to government: Your average Pole makes your average western big L libertarian look like a statist momma's boy.

No public moral high ground: The moral high ground in Poland is respectability. Unfortunately, public institutions have no respectability (this goes back way before the communists even) and so people feel free to behave in unrespectable ways toward them. The only respectable institution in Poland is the church and it's losing its respectability amid charges of priests working for the communist secret service. The horrible irony is of course that the church is losing so much public face as a direct result of the actions of the Kaczysnkis and revenge-minded priests.

Cult of personality: As mentioned before, in Poland rules don't have to make sense or be humane, that's the prerogative of individuals. That's why acting 'po ludzku' (roughly 'humanely') by public officials usually means bending the rules and why No doesn't mean No, it means 'convince me' (in and of itself not necessarily an inducement for bribes at all). Personality, direct personal contact and the power of persuasion count for a lot here, the more anonymous the government the more people feel free to cheat it.

Have you no shame? Poland is not a guilt culture, it's a shame culture. Misbehaving doesn't disturb most people's sturdy consciences, the fear of being discovered (and subsequent loss of respectability) does.

Less bureaucracy would be nice of course, but won't change things fundamentally by itself.

Mike Ballard said...

Poland has the best government money can buy. In that way, it has succeeded in modelling itself on the U.S. version of bourgeois democracy.

Anonymous said...

geez said...
OK, so you merge the tax, ZUS, VAT and GUS apparatuses and put the forms online.

What happens to all the workers who were employed in those offices?

In the short term they could join the 500,000 Poles working in the UK. In the long term they could have jobs in companies which do more business because doing business is easier and it takes less effort to make a profit.

The Polish state now is bigger than it ever was under communism. In 1991 there were 140,000 civil sevants. In 2005 there were 370,000.