Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

How Capitalist is Poland?

“Ulotki i reklamy prosz? wrzuca? do skrzynki” say the signs outside the doors of the flats on the leafy X. estate in Gda?sk. This means “please place advertisements and flyers in the box” but the receptacle into which the obliging postmen have placed the advertisements and flyers looks an awful lot like a wastepaper basket.

Some elements of capitalism are still foreign to the Poles. I’m not sure you coud get away with the above in the west — or at least not without years of patient manoeuvring and exploiting data protection laws. Postmen would probably be sacked for “cheating” one of the post office’s biggest customers: junk mailers.

You see it much less nowadays but ten, fifteen years ago it was common to see in shops blocks of butter cut in half for the benefit of customers who could not afford or did not want a whole pound of the stuff in one go. The half block of butter always cost half as much as the full block. The same was true of loaves of bread. Poles had evidently missed the crucial lesson of capitalism: the poor must always pay more than the rich. “Bulk purchase discount” I believe it is called in more polite circles, or “economies of scale.” “Free to those that can afford it. Very expensive to those that can’t” as Withnail put it.

Some capitalist lessons have been learnt poorly or perhaps over-eagerly. For example, today I saw loyalty cards advertised in the supermarket. Price five zloties. Who would pay for someone to spy on them? Poles, obviously. After all, their banks frequently charge them money to lodge cash into their own accounts. But the true capitalist does not disdain any sum of money, however small. Until recently many banks here would not let you save money with them (read: lend them money for a neglible interest rate) unless your income exceeded a certain threshold. Banks still make ridiculous demands on their customers that stem either from ignorance or arrogance. It’s as if they don’t want your custom and if you can’t trust the banks to be capitalist, who can you?

Comments are closed.