From Solidarity to Sellout

[The Restoration of Capitalism in Poland]

By Tadeusz Kowalik.

I had always wanted to read a detailed account of what happened in Poland circa 1989 and this book certainly does that – right down to specific meetings and conversations had by participants. This was enlightening – and what transpires is that things were and are complex – there is no one party to blame wholly for the economic disaster that occurred in Poland after the fall of communism. Some individuals – such as the idealogogue Balcerowicz can take a large share of the blame as can the right wing hawks in the IMF, and perhaps also the naivety of the Solidarity leadership with governorship suddenly thrust upon them. In Kowalik’s opinion the following happened:

 

“Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki made a “Columbus mistake” when he wanted to go to Bonn for a model (looking for his Ludwig Erhard), but his confidants bought him a ticket to Washington (the Washington Consensus) and Chicago (headquarters of Milton Friedman’s school) instead.”

The quotes I highlighted in this book are numerous. But, here are a few which seem to sum things up – if they can be consolidated in such a way.

“The Polish middle class emerging from the first version of post-communist capitalism did not gain its positions through the market. For a great portion—or at any rate for those who acquired great fortunes—it was not the free market that turned out to be the most important, but pocket diaries. And so if this group is in fact defending anything, it is these pocket diaries—the connections, arrangements, quotas, government orders, limits, customs barriers, monopolies, thanks to which it gained its current position. This is the Polish drama.”

 

“It is remarkable that all indicators, without exception, both economic and social ones, have turned out to be more favorable for countries with a social market economy (cooperative) than for countries based more on a free market and open class conflict. Japan, for example, started an accelerated modernization march by radically reducing income (wages) and property disparities (zaibatsu expropriation, agricultural reform). Sweden by no means paid for its egalitarianism with lower efficiency, as it moved to the lead (next to two countries with a similar system—Denmark and Finland) among the knowledge-based economies in the world. “

 

“To recapitulate, Polish capitalism is characterized on the one side by massive unemployment, a large portion of people living in poverty, and high and constantly rising wage and income disparities. On the other side there is a diverse group of those who hold wealth and power, with strong clientelist or corruption links among its members. Both sides are the result of not so much uncontrolled market processes as deliberate activity (or inactivity, depending on the circumstances) of the state. All this convinces me even more that Poland has created one of the most unjust social and economic systems of the second half of the twentieth century, and with this system, it has entered the European Union.”

And finally:

“Advantage was simply taken of the immense trust that the people had in the first non-communist government.”

 

Post to Twitter