Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Progress is Regress

It turns out we’re all going to die in poverty, regardless. The problem is too many nasty old people hogging the social welfare budget and too few young ones contributing to it. In Friday’s Gazeta Wyborcza three young Polish economists make their contribution to the debate. Billed as an “appeal” and complete with exclamation marks (read me!), it is in fact a carelessly disguised piece of anti-welfare state propaganda (they call for partial payment for medical treatment). Too timid to call for the outright dismantling of taxpayer funded public health care, they instead join others in a softening-up process: when referring to free health care they put the word free in inverted commas. I presume that when writing about the patent-protected “free” market they also use scare quotes.

Newcomers to the current scare story about how we’re all getting too old will at once be struck by an apparent inconsistency: Poland has high unemployment and yet the problem is a shortage of workers to support all those non-workers (or “parasites,” as the economists would dearly love to be able to call them). So desperately short of hands are we that the authors propose forcing everyone to give up two years of their leisure time.

I could go on, but I will limit myself to one important observation: not once in the full-page article do the three economists refer to Poland’s steadily (if slowly) rising Gross Domestic Product (or “wealth”). For instance, they say that in the 1960s for every pensioner or invalid there were 12 tax paying workers. Now there are ony two and a half. Is it possible that the three young lions who wrote the article do not know how inefficient communist Polish industry was in the 1960s? Have they never heard of disguised unemployment? Not being an economist with access to all the necessary statistics and projections*, I do not know if the growth in GDP is enough to offset the decline in the ratio of workers to non-workers. But I do know, since it is common sense, that to discuss the question without taking into account the rising productivity and overall wealth of the nation is meaningless.

The authors cannot even get their lazy stereotypes right. In discussing the average Pole, they call him “Jan Kowalski.” The average Irishman is “John Smith.”

* According to the United Nations Development Programme, Poland’s GDP grew on average 4.2% per year from 1990 to 2003, which means Poland in 2003 had 71% more wealth to distribute than in 1990 if this compound interest calculator can be trusted.

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