This weekend’s Rzeczpospolita carries an interview with Leszek Balcerowicz, the man who administered economic “shock therapy” to Poland, freeing the market almost overnight in 1990. To some he is a bete noire; for others an economic genius. The interrogation was carried out by Slawomir Popowski and Dariusz Rosiak.
Balcerowicz invited the reader to look at developed countries with particularly high structural unemployment, a problem which mainly concerns, he says, three countries: Italy, France and Germany. Social interventionism by the state is the cause of the great social problem there that is unemployment. Quick as a flash Popowski gave the counter example of Sweden, while Rosiak pointed out that Germany absorbed communist East Germany and that unemployment is still concentrated in post-communist Germany (as it is in post-communist Poland).
Balcerowicz also blamed high unemployment in Poland on (among other things) failure to liberalise employment law. Once again Popowski supplied a counter example: Ireland, where workers’ rights are far better protected than in Poland and unemployment far lower. Displaying the mastery of detail and ability to marshal the relevant facts that places him in the forefront of Polish journalism, he pointed out that a Polish labour inspector has the power to fine a company found exploiting workers only about 250 euros. In Latvia a rank and file inspector can levy a fine of up to 1,500 euros and his superior can hit the employer for 7,500. “Surely, Professor Balcerowicz,” he asked, “in such conditions there is really no need to make labour law any more ‘liberal’. Why demand any more ‘flexibility’ from workers when they can clearly be fired virtually without sanction?”
Actually, not all of the above is true. The interruptions by the intrepid journalists I made up. In fact Balcerowicz was permitted to trot out the usual banalities about the free market and liberalisation with no hindrance. This kind of reporting does no favours to anyone. Balcerowicz has a head on his shoulders and it’s more than likely he could dispose of the objections I made above (that stuff about the labour inspectors is just something I picked up in the latest number of Polityka) but he comes out of the interview (chat?) looking like just another platitude-mouthing time-server.