Polish Economists Debate Economic Transformation
In this second installment of commentary summarizing my recent European trip, I recap key takeaways from a conference held by the Polish Economics Association. The daylong symposium was heavy on demystifying criticisms of the country’s economic transformation spanning the past quarter-century. Hard as it is to believe, despite the well-deserved reputation of Poland being blessed with prudent policymaking, large swathes of the population keep complaining. Critics often blame “capitalism” for wealth gaps between cities and rural areas or relatively high unemployment.
Several presenters took to the data to tell how it is. For example, Poland’s GDP reached almost 70% of the EU average in 2015 compared with 33% in 1989, the air is cleaner, the country has built thousands of kilometers of new roads and railways, and home and car ownership rates went up substantially. One scholar stated plainly that capitalism remains the most effective economic system that is disliked by the elites. Another pointed out the ease with which putative ideological precepts get the better of scientific inquiry.
Perhaps the most cogent idea presented came from a senior former government official and central banker. He pointed out the strength of corporatist pressure groups, which are well-organized, and the relative weakness of the majority of beneficiaries of open markets and capitalism, who are all dispersed and not organized. The latter must find ways to get on the offensive and create channels through which to counter the “collectivist” ideas. Ultimately, public perception is as important as scientific investigation and facts when it comes to policy formulation and political power.