Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Four years of living in Nowa Iwiczna

It was an extremely hot (36 degrees) Friday, 29th July 2005, when we moved in here. Humid and close day plus sun beating down relentlessly made the weather rather unfavourable for moving, but somehow it went without major problems and unnecessary chaos.

Every anniversary is conducive to some summaries, this time I’ll refrain from them and confine only to a few conclusions.

Within the last two decades NI turned into a typical dormitory town of Warsaw. New housing estates were mushrooming in the years of construction boom, the biggest put up then number more than one hundred terraced houses, lots of them are fenced off, some guarded. Currently I can see new detached houses built by individual investors, but the crisis clamped down on the development of the huge estates.

The new direction of development sets out patterns of lifestyle. In this respect NI is anything but a village. Its residents know almost as little about one another as the dwellers of Warsaw’s fenced off exclusive enclaves. On many estates inhabitants open and close the gates with their remote controls, pull into the garages and from there move to their houses or flats. The neighbours? They say one another ‘good morning’, know one another mostly by sight. There’s usually nobody to turn to in case of emergency, no helping hand around. Settled residents are not the total contradiction of the new ones, there’s one reason why there’s no conflict between those two worlds – the settled sold their land for the plots on which the new houses have been built – there are plenty of former farmers who just cut off coupons from their banks deposits, laze away and make living by the interests of the money they had made on land sale transactions.

According to the official data the number of residents has quadrupled since 2004. Many of the locals are still registered in Warsaw where the previously lived, unfortunately they also pay taxes there, what translated for instance into the condition of local infrastructure – typically Polish – I live in the suburbs, pay taxes in the Warsaw’s borough but demand that the local administration provides a decent road… The time spent on commuting hasn’t changed a lot, I think it even might have shortened a bit, the worst days were during the rebuilding of Puławska street on its two kilometre long section just beyond the border of Warsaw. Now what gets my goat, no matter if drive a car or ride a bus are countless traffic lights, on average they can stop you once in seven hundred metres. That’s not how the road out of capital should look, but almost every road from Warsaw looks like this – on Raszyn towards Katowice and Kraków it looks similarly, Radzymińska towards Białystok it’s even worse, though the newly opened dual carriageway which ends behind Wyszków makes up for the inconveniences (the road is indeed exemplary!). What Puławska street could do with are the service roads (funnily enough there’s no equivalent of this term in Polish, I’ve never seen it translated!), maybe that would unclog it in rush hours…

And what hurts me the most – this village, dormitory town or whatever NI is, lacks SPIRIT, I can’t see anything that could make the place magical, exceptional, there’s nothing in the neighbourhood that would keep a man here, notwithstanding in the late spring evenings when I stroll around the houses I feel I couldn’t move out. And then I get back into the house, go upstairs, want to take a shower, few drops drip and water doesn’t flow. That’s the biggest drawback of my semi-civilised village – water treatment station and underground water resources didn’t manage to catch up with the pace of development, so the ones at the end of the water pipe have to suffer when the ones who live closer unroll their hoses and spill litres of water into their gardens or turn their sprinklers on… This summer is rather wet so since weeks I haven’t experienced the problems with water supply…

For a comparison – two photos of the back of my garden. The first taken on Sunday, 31 July 2005, two days after moving in, the second taken today, showing the same place. Great changeover which took place without any help of professionals’ hands!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

After the (aborted) holiday break…

Alright, over a week ago I gave my word to put here a photo coverage of my stay in Suwalszczyzna and some pictures of Polish bizarre countryside… I didn’t make it, I break the promise… Things have tangled up a bit and I had to pack my suitcases and return to Warsaw immediately on Tuesday (family reasons, situation has straighten up since then, Thank God)… However, I’m a step closer to unravelling the secret of the squalor of Polish rural areas – it’s the mentality (is it a key to the door?). Some argue there’s a common stance of “I don’t care” (PL: nie obchodzi mnie), I’d incline to add also “I don’t mind” (PL: nie przeszkadza mi). It might the major cause of the horrific shape of things in Polish society – peasants don’t mind their roads are in fact dirt tracks, their pavements are crooked or pot-holed, it doesn’t impress them that their yards become quagmires after every single rainfall. They’re used to such squalor because they grew up in it. It only confirms my thesis that what is instilled at home in childhood and partly in adolescence remains with a man for the rest of his life, it applies both to good and bad traits, habits, patterns of behaviour, etc.

The mentality thirty five kilometres behind Suwałki is different than in Warsaw, however I still lean towards claiming that the ones who migrated from there to Warsaw or other fast-developing Polish cities deep down have their another culture, they don’t nurture it, rather try to suppress it and do not let it come to the light…
I still wonder how people can live in such places… Warsaw is said to be a running water – people run rather then walk, elbow their ways, push through, are in the endless haste. Away from the city (which unlike in the advertisement of Citi sometimes sleeps) there’s a land where water is almost still. House are inhabited, but the only symptom which gives away that fact is the smoke coming out of the chimney. Not a man on the street, if you see someone, he’s at least inebriated…

People move by cars, hardly ever brand new ones, usually used and imported from Germany (at first I thought they had a bit of a problem, but later on it occurred to me they never buy newer than nine years), prevailing makes are Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes. Bangers, beaten after accidents, with odometers rolled back, are a benchmark of a social status in the community. The landlords of the agrotourism lodgings where I stayed bought this year two Mercedes cars – A-Klasse from 2001 and C-Klasse from 2002. They had paid for the first thirty six thousand zlotys as they declared – much too much a for a badly-maintained car with dirty interior and scratched body – sum is mind-boggling – that’s one hundred and fifty per cent of our car’s value, but ours is two years newer, much better maintained, hadn’t had an accident, but it’s only Renault, driving Renault is not a benchmark of prestige, driving Mercedes is a totally different issue. C-Klasse cost over forty thousand – thus the hosts invested (actually consumed) in themselves instead of their farm. Guest will surely repay them generously – the lodgings is in decline…

Their approach to motoring is and probably will be beyond my comprehension. Idiotic attachment to German makes of second-hand jalopies is one aspect. Another is moving everywhere by car. Some city dwellers suffer from the same affliction – they drive four hundred metres to the nearest shop. If I had to bring thirty kilograms of cement I’d surely drive too, but to buy a loaf of bread, few rolls, milk and yoghurt? Such distances are covered by foot – I have my own definition of such distance, which is one mile (like stone’s throw), sometimes I use Polish yardstick and stretch it up to two kilometres. According to one of the British researches carried out in 2000 I’ve read a few years ago about one fourth of car journeys is shorter than a mile – giving the up would contribute to the reduction of road congestion!

That’s a big pity that cycling paths are still underdeveloped in Poland, currently I rather cycle by pavements rather than by roads, although my favourite place is still the roadside. I came to conclusion there was no point in hampering the life Polish complacent drivers… Coming back to motoring patterns – the motive behind is probably to show off…

Visit to the local shop is also a stressful experience. What outwardly seems to be hilarious in infuriating – locals stripped of any kind of entertainment (leaving out three channel of television) can spend hours on daily shopping. They look around, can’t make any decision. My dear lady, could you show me this and that, and maybe also that, no, sorry, I’m short of money, I’ll buy it on account… And a tourist from the remote capital gets hot under the collar… In Warsaw as we run off our feet we get onto the shop, before we enter we already know what we want to buy, we ask for it, pay and get out, but we have our time as “scarce commodity”, they’re trying to pass the time…

Some of us divide Poland into Polska A and Polska B. Some, like my neighbour who’s right now singing karaoke behind the wall earn in Poland A to spend in Poland B and pride themselves in being provincial. Wiżajny where I spent those few days is even Polska C in many terms, but in the high season all the shops raise prices and adjust them to Warsaw standards, the village makes living of the tourist and the local have no other choice but to earn in Poland B (or C) and spend in the temporary enclave of Poland A.

The next semi-spiritual post coming soon…

Friday, 17 July 2009

Picking up the pieces...

It’s not a breakthrough, nothing uncommon or extraordinary is going on, so why I do feel cut up? Maybe indeed when one stage ends it’s time for an overhaul, but what about being cut up? How to explain the mysterious dreams of death (five of mine this year and series of other visions haunting me since the beginning of July)? A call form above? A reason to be conscience-stricken?

Crisis – that’s not the explanation of course, but it brings me on analysing outlandish social phenomena around me. Many of my schoolmates, including me feel insecure. Some even in spring decided to laze away this summer, some, like me, reckoned that crisis wouldn’t affect us. We were a bit wrong, I don’t know if it’s the cause why some of us feel somewhat of fear of adulthood, a few thought seriously about gap year between BA and MA studies just to put off adulthood and prolong the partly carefree student’s life. In contrary I’ve always been determined to graduate as soon as possible, now I’m not so sure if this is the right idea. And what’s going to happen in 2011? We do everything not to end up in the low-paid position, we’re striving and aim higher, but if the crisis drags on, we’ll have to revise some of our plans created before its outbreak, when we began our studies. We’ll never come back to the times of extortionate salaries, in the worst-case scenario after greeting me Szanowny Panie Magistrze you’ll just add poproszę frytki – popularising showing respect to McDonald’s staff deserves my highest commendation. Warsaw School of Economics won’t probably turn into Redundant School of Economics (Szkoła Główna Bezrobotna). At least for me, by the way – today I took the competence test at one of the banks where I applied for a post of translator and… I realised I had forgotten my native language. I got used to doing what I shouldn’t do – translating into foreign language and when I tackled the documents in English to be translated into Polish I turned out that despite I understood them in one hundred per cent it was hard for me to find appropriate words in Polish. English is marked by simplicity, what can be described in English with two or three words hardly ever can be expressed in as many words in Polish. To all the foreigners who learn Polish – my congrats on taking up such challenge!

Hard to untangle – one bank where I worked last year had to suspend (unofficially) its internship programme, another bank looks for students to trim costs and gets rounds or bends its internal regulations to take them on and farm out task which should be executed by someone else – everything in the name of savings.

But tomorrow I’m heading for Suwalszczyzna, to Poland’s cold pole. I’ll get away from the whole mess, fish, swim, drink home-distilled moonshine and have a whale of time. And I can’t forget to contemplate the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of Polish countryside… That will also a week of computer dry-out, after which I’ll swamp with a photo coverage of the foray…

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Bachelor of Economics

I can’t say I feel any wiser or more reputable with holding my first academic degree. However, there’s a feeling of properly fulfilled duty, I somehow believe I have just completed one of the phases in my life, so maybe it’s time to turn over a new leaf… But that’s just a symbolic moment, nothing has really changed.

The very exam is indeed a pure formality which crowns student’s academic career. Mine took even less than ten minutes – I just answered the examiners’ questions, then they conferred and decided to award me the highest grade – excellent (PL: celujący). Quite nice, now I can only wish I had applied myself more during the studies – if my average of grade from the entire course of studies had been a bit higher, I could have got the diploma with distinction. According to my school’s formula my average was 0,14 too low to get it, but it doesn’t really matter now. It’s the brains not the papers that make a man successful.

In October I’m going to start my Master’s studies, I hope in less than two years (around March 2011) there will be a post titled “Master of Economics” on this blog. Before it happens, there’s a lot ahead of me to be done, within that “new leaf”. Maybe as my supervisor said, we should strive for publishing some excerpts of my thesis. When writing it, long ago, in February I thought I wanted to produce something more than a thoughtless compilation of sentences rewritten from academic books – I described the phenomenon which undergoes constant evolution and is not comprehensively described in any of the academic books or papers I managed to reach, and my thesis had in my opinion more to do with practice than with dry theory (I wrote about security in electronic banking) and could be seen as a contribution into the description of those issues.

Friday, 10 July 2009

New satellite photos of the neighbourhood

Several weeks ago I grumbled about outdated maps of my locality which are displayed in Google, contrasting them with rather new ones provided by Polish Internet Locator –
Yesterday while looking for a florist’s to order the bouquets for my bachelor’s exam I stumbled upon new satellite pictures of the surrounding area. According to some premises, the new ones were taken in May 2009 (deduced by shadows of the buildings), on Saturday or Sunday (few cars on the streets, vehicles usually parked in front of houses and shops, not next to offices) around eleven a.m.
New snaps are much sharper than the previous, the colours are more natural and saturated. When it comes to up-to-date aspect, they outrun Google maps by light years. The biggest services still contains the maps of Warsaw from 2005 and its suburbs from 2002. That’s a shame…

My house can be easily recognised by a distinguishing detail – unlike the houses of my neighbours there’s no car parked in front of it. It must have either sit in a garage or was away at the time. We’re the only household in our czworak (Polish scornful term for the row of four terraced houses) which has only one car, our vehicle is also the oldest (bought brand new in July 2003) among the ones used by the czworak’s dwellers. One can clearly see both cars of my neighbour from behind the fence (Ford Mondeo, neighbour’s company car, bought brand new in 2007 and Suzuki Vitara from 2006, bought last year after his wife gave birth to their son – she never drives and says it’s just too big for her, so my moron-neighbour uses one car on weekdays and another during weekends), further neighbour’s Opel Corsa from 2004, bought last year (they also have VW Passat, 2005, bought in 2007) and the Ford Focus C-Max (bought brand new in 2008) of the neighbour from the other end of the row (they also have Mitsubishi Coupe, also bought last year, but produced in 2006). Maybe it shouldn’t meet my astonishment that my father feels like changing a car (even though it’s still in excellent technical condition!) if everybody around did it within last two year and everybody has newer cars. I still remain totally insensitive to it, like to all crazes, fads, whimsies, gadgets, etc. Somebody once told me one day I’d give in under the group pressure (colleagues from work buying still new cars, mobiles, etc.), but before I graduate I surmise it’s unlikely to happen. Every time I see a young businesswoman trying to park her SUV into a small parking space that sight makes me laugh. Why didn’t she buy a small, stylish car which would fit into the gaps of Warsaw cramped car parks easily?

Today my father called on his insurance agent (the motor insurance is due to renewal in two weeks’ time) to calculate the premium and found out… That according to statistics, drivers of Renault Megane cause accidents 3 per cent more often than an average driver so the insurance premiums (both third party liability and car insurance) for the owner of Renault Megane will be 3 per cent higher!!! And doesn’t even matter that my father hasn’t had any accident since December 1981 (dubious date, just a few days before martial law was declared), he’s in a group of increased risk. If anybody sees any link, any explanation to it, please let me know…

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The animal spirit of the market

There are some articles an educated man cannot just miss out on, like the one which I found in yesterday’s “Highbrow’s guide” (Niezbędnik inteligenta) insert to Polish weekly “Polityka”. On the first few pages of the insert Jacek Żakowski (incidentally probably the only journalist in Polityka’s makeup who has an excellent command of English – I infer it as he’s the only person who carries out interviews with native English speakers) conducts an interview with Robert Shiller – American psycho-economist. The whole article can be found here (in Polish) – recommendable for everyone who knows Polish.
This time I think there’s no point in summarising the whole content, instead of this, I’ll translate some of the most crucial parts of professor Shiller’s theses. Just after reading it, today in the morning, I e-mailed the weekly’s editors, asking them to provide me with the original version of the interview. My request has met the response of Jacek Żakowski in the flesh, who wrote back he had taken it down it Polish right away. That’s a pity, you’ll have to fall back on the product of my translations skills ;)

I know I have some problems with translating complex sentences, mostly with the word order, hope you’ll forgive me…

The illusion of money
J.Z.: The mortgage bubble which brought about the current crisis has not have as spectacular legend [as the collapse and insolvency of Mexican economy in the early 80’s]. No oil deposits have been discovered, no cartel has caught the mortgage market in its clutches.
R.S.: On the contrary, the pattern was very similar. The mirage of invariably low interest rates, built by FED, governed by Alan Greenspan, thanks to which even the poor families were able to serve huge debts, was the equivalent of giant deposits’ mirage. (…) The crisis which broke out in 2000 posed a threat to the swelling illusion that everyone could get richer by investing on the stock exchange. When the stock exchange failed to turn the quick profits, social hopes were pined on real estate market.
The very legend of mortgage boom consisted, roughly speaking, in the assumption that the house prices would always rise, what was a palpable absurdity. (…) As the bubble was swelling, many economists warned that neither can the prices rise forever, nor the interest rates will be kept down forever. Nobody heard those warnings. After crisis of 2000 all the reflexes of “animal spirit” of America centred on the housing market. The legend of cheap house for everyone fitted the social needs too well too be undermined by any rational argument. No one even bated an eyelid, when in 2008 the Association of Real Estate Owners, intending to fuel the bubble, placed an ad in the media, the ad stated that the real estates are the best long-term investments, cause their value doubles each ten years. People believed it. There was no way of persuading them that there was no profit in it, that it was just another example of “animal spirit”, which is “the illusion of money”.
J.Z.: That is…?
R.S.: That is the perception of prices, costs and investment which omits changing wages and inflation. Everybody remembers they bought the house for let’s say one hundred thousand dollars and is happy cause today its value rose to two hundred thousand, so they took the profit of one hundred per cent. But no one paid attention to the fact the wages also rose by one hundred per cent. (…)
The phenomenon of “the illusion of money” was very well visible during the deflation which accompanied the great depression in the United States. The American economy would have endured it much better if the employees had freed themselves from that illusion in the deflation phase. When the prices were dropping, wages remained nominally unchanged, consequently they rose substantially, what drive many companies to the wall. (…) As far as I know, none of the employers made any attempt to explain it to the trade unions that as the wages are increased along with the inflation, they should be cut along with the deflation. (…)

The herd instinct drives us to work within a group, but our mistrust makes us join it gradually, with reserve. That’s the reason why many bubbles fade. But when the legend is credible enough to reach an enormous size, the acceleration mechanism switches on.
J.Z.: Is this a symptom of the “animal spirit”?
R.S.: Huge (…) As long as an ordinary man finds out speculators from the Wall Street made millions on the speculations on houses, he looks at it with envy or with condemnation, however he does not join it. But when it transpires that his neighbours, colleagues, even brother-in-law made money on house price surge, it gets on the nerves of even those people with the most conservative approach to money. One day, during the supper spouse starts a conversation: Honey, our neighbours moved to a better borough, my workmate bought a new yacht, the property of my brother has tripled. Why don’t you take this opportunity? Why shouldn’t we transfer more of our savings into the stock exchange, why shouldn’t we buy a house to sell it at much higher price in a few years?
Thus the bubble is blown up by new people joining with new money. One day virtually everyone is engaged in it – that is the moment it bursts.
J.Z.: So financial conservatism does not pay off, the later someone joins, the less they can win, the more they can lose.
R.S.: For sure it does not pay off to be an inconsistent conservative. The more because the later someone joins the bull run, the more probable it is they would fall victim to the deception, for a few reasons. Firstly, the longer and the more sustainable the bubble is, the more excessive is its credibility. Secondly, the bigger the bubble is and the higher profits it turns, the stronger is the temptation to raise them even more. Thirdly, the profits cannot rise endlessly only faster. (…) An excellent example was the bubble – then the well-educated and intelligent experts devised a theory of a new economy based on the assumption of ceaseless growth in share prices, totally separated from work efficiency and profits of enterprises. People believed it, cause they had wanted to believe it. What can be more pleasant than the perception that if you buy some stocks you can sit on your hands and get richer thanks to the spurts on the stock exchange.

J.Z.: Is there any fix for it [helplessness of market participants against growing unmanageable risk]?
R.S.: Primarily the economic awareness should be disseminated just as it was in case of health awareness. (…) Today an ordinary man, who cannot afford to pay for the services of expensive advisory offices, takes the advice of advisors who are paid by banks, mutual funds or insurance companies. Those advisors mostly mind the business of the ones who pay them. Consequently millions of customers and small investors follow the advice of advisors, who are in fact salespeople and take irrational decisions – take out loans they will not afford to pay off, buy houses the cannot afford or invest all their savings in securities which soon will be worth as much as the paper they’re printed on. There are two sources of crises that can be distinguished – firstly people lack competencies which are essential to perform in a market economy, secondly the ones who cannot afford to make mistakes cannot also afford to pay for advice provided by impartial and competent advisors.
J.Z.: What should those impartial advisors tell them?
R.S.: Most of all they should inhibit the behaviours which arise from their animal spirits, that could be done only through giving them objective knowledge. They also ought to offer investments in special products, overseen by the government, destined for the people who cannot take the risk. The poorer people are, the more they pay for the mistakes made when they were driven by irrational reasoning.

The commendation of non-conformism
R.S.: I have a wife. She’s a psychologist. That’s why I found it harder to believe people take rational decisions. And I have never yielded to the quite common belief that complex processes which take place in the markets can be described with simple equations. (…) Even the teacher who expelled me from Sunday school accused me of my propensity for challenging everything my friends had taken for granted, stating my behaviour had been unacceptable. Roughly the same I have heard from Tim Geithner, who as a governor of FED ousted me from the board of advisors. All they wanted a simple, mathematical answer to the question of the sources of rising mortgage bubble and I have been returning to the unpredictable animal spirit of the market. There is always a group of people who do not put stock in the commonly recognised truth, instead of this they start wondering where is the catch…

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Breaking the silence...

Following the anecdote posted as a comment to my previous post about Polish mentality I think I can dissociate myself from the fellow blogger’s journey companions and put forward some solutions. Having read the story of discussion in the train I devised some concepts on what should be changed in Poland, slept on them, let them run through my head, now it’s time to tap them into my keyboard and later on spread into the outer world…

I classified my suggestions into three categories, according to the blog’s title. I doubt whether I did it correctly, but I hope it’s a minor glitch and the overall view is what matters here. It will be long, turns out to be the longest post ever, but I believe it’s worth spending half an hour reading it.


To start with, our perception of that realm critically needs to be modified. Today people come to politics driven by their lust for power, money, privileges, etc. and all of those factors which attract them to our sweet mire in fact corrupt them. The ideal model I would opt for is in a way close to the one which functions in the United States. The ones who decide to become politicians should be mature, experienced, reputable citizens, who had already achieved a lot in their lives but still strive for more. Position in politics should crown somebody’s career and should be therefore treated as distinction and public service to the compatriots. Money should not be a reason why people engage in political activity – politicians should be already well-off people who’d like to do something to the others and the financial aspect of their offices shouldn’t play a significant role.

I thought about some standards which could be set to be me met by politicians, for instance a precondition of graduation of university to be allowed to run for seat in parliament, to be a minister or president. The education should moreover be relevant to the post held by a certain official. At second thought I gave it up – firstly cause it’s in contradiction with the principles of democracy and equality of all citizens, secondly I took a quick at our two former and our current presidents. The first completed vocational school, the second lied about his full university education, the third is a professor and is he any wiser by that virtue?

Let’s touch upon a gist of democracy and misunderstanding it. Some of us, Poles, think it’s still not the best system, some discern its weaknesses but can’t find any alternative, some as allegedly the milieu of Gazeta Wyborcza sometimes give the skewed picture of democracy. In democracy everybody should have equal right to give voice to their opinions and nobody is entitled to claim that Kaczyński twins ought to be sent back to the moon. The beauty of democracy consists in the diversity of the political scene, big and wide enough to find room for moderate centre parties, left and right wing, populists and lunatic fringes. Everyone is granted a right to set up a party and register it, unless it refers to the ideas of communism or nazism. What I’m getting at is that nobody can say that “the Law and Justice party should disappear from our political arena”, no matter how many conceited journalists or pundits would utter such words, it mustn’t happen. Law and Justice will exist as long as there will be the political demand for them. Those are the citizens who decide about political future of politicians and it’s their role to deprive them of power, like they did with AWS in 2001 or Samoobrona and LPR in 2007. We have the power to send the ones who screwed it up to the political nonentity. And we can draw them out of there, dust them off, whenever it occurs to us our country is in need of them.

The next part is on the sidelines of politics – it connects law and bureaucracy. The first should be for sure devoid of loopholes, lame legislations but most of all clear. All the legal acts, deeds, decrees, bills should be rewritten into plain Polish (without bombastic, long, confound phrases), intelligible for an ordinary citizen. The formulation of many provisions leaves a lot to be desired – in a correct version legal regulations ought to be concise and meticulously stipulate everything, step by step, leaving no doubt what is required in a certain situation, how should the proceedings run, how is the particular case handled. And ubiquitous red tape which express lack of trust and need to control everything, keep an account, have stats about everything. Piles of papers, ladies with their omnipotent stamps behind the counters – that should be replaced with mechanism friendly for citizen but allowing the administrative system to function effectively. The approach of both state and people has to change here – state offices should provide the information for their applicants and the applicants should come to the offices fitted out in knowledge on what they want to handle – efficient mutual aid would make lives of both parties involved easier but the willingness is here essential.


The thing I’ve condemned most often on this blog is the current pension system in Poland, chiefly its second pillar, so called open pension funds. The biggest evil here is the compulsory participation combined with extortionate charges. My counter-proposal is that:
1) the participation in first pillar (ZUS) should be obligatory, it should guarantee every working citizen a diminutive pension benefit, sufficient enough to eke out a living – thus the premium would be quite low. Everybody should pay the same per cent of their salary, in my view less than five per cent, and everybody should be granted benefit in the same amount after pensioning off – that would be the element of social solidarity.
2) I don’t want the pension funds to be wound down – participation in that part of the system shouldn’t be, however obligatory. The newly employed ones shouldn’t be forced to choose a pension fund, the ones who already save there for their pension should be permitted to withdraw all their money amassed there, no matter how big fluctuations on financial markets it would cause. Government should clearly state it gives the citizens free rein and let them save for their pension on their own. If they wish, they can join OFE if they think their money would be managed properly there, if not, set it aside to a bank, buy pension insurance, invest in stocks, bonds or simply go on binge and throw it around within one night if it’s their wish. Scholar like professor Marek Góra have repeatedly asserted that people are too stupid to save for their retirement on their own. Maybe indeed they are, but humans are free and no one, virtually no one can make them pay private companies for managing their money, regardless of the investment results. If you wish, do whatever you want with your money, but don’t expect the state to help you if you spend your money foolishly. Maybe it’s inhuman, but that’s probably the only way we can take matters into our own hands. Besides, government should encourage people to save, through tax relieves and promotion drives, so give incentive not coerce! More about my views on pension system – click tag “OFE”.

Almost everyone in this country grumbles about their tiredness after twenty five years of working, average age of retirement is the lowest in Europe – a shameful figure. Let’s do away with the pathology and put the system of undeserved privileges to an end – people in Poland pension off cause they’re too lazy, sick of their jobs, but nobody realises their pension benefits are financed from other taxpayers’ premiums and taxes (every years ZUS receives a subsidy from state budget), or maybe to be closer to the actual truth – they push it away from their minds. Changing the ratio of employed to unemployed would surely cure our public finance sector. Early retirement is considered a privilege, whereas I think it should signify someone’s weakness – if you’re unable to work you must be ailing, something wrong must be wrong with you if you don’t want to contribute to the creation of national income.
When we’re at social welfare field – it’s time to crack down on fictitious certificates of inability to work excessively made out by doctors. Guy comes to the doctor and asks: “Sir, I’m forty-five, I don’t feel like working any more, I want to get the benefit”. Who pays for such lies and laziness? We!

Claimant’s stance – it’s about time we realised that the state which collects taxes is not an institutions which rips us off. For the taxes we pay we get the infrastructure, schools, partly health service, officials working for us. Let’s switch into another stance – not what I deserve but what I can give. We don’t want to pay taxes but we want to get the benefits from state – for free?

In a few years time I’d propose reaching the balanced budget. Expenditure will not exceed revenue – simple, although never applied. Less money would be needed to finance the debt, investors will lose safe, risk-free securities, gilt-edged securities would not have to be obligatorily bought by pension funds. Markets would sooner or later cope with it somehow – the topic is elaborated on in one of the early posts.

Taxation – the everlasting dilemma of combining justice and effectiveness. Solution? – make it simple, as simple as possible. Reduce tax relieves to minimum, they give a lot of room for abuses, reducing them will also bring down the amount of paperwork to be done to serve it. My suggestion is a flat tax with annual deductions of around ten to fifteen thousand zlotys – the effective taxation rate will be progressive – thus the poorest would pay very little or no tax and as the income would grow, the effective rate of taxation would also rise, but not as drastically as it does now.

The labour relations are where the two conflicting interests coincide. The employers want to pay as little as possible and exploit the workforce as much as possible, the employees would like to work as little as possible and get as much as possible. In the face of this, employers represent the wild capitalism and trade unions represent “who cares” approach. The former don’t take into account some factors (they’re humans, not machines, they have to provide for their families) as they’re chasing profits, the latter selfishly require pay rises and prevent lay-offs no matter how bad the situation of the company is. The trade unions should intervene only when the employer treats his staff really unfairly, in other cases their strikes are to be regarded as disrupting enterprise’s functioning. The “give and take” deal would be helpful here – both parties should make concessions and act in unison bearing in mind the consequences for the another party.

Monetary policy – I can’t say I disapprove of the way it is led currently, nevertheless I would opt for a bit tighter one. Price stability is the overriding goal in my opinion, our country can’t pay the price of high inflation just to retain the high pace of economic growth. There’s also another dimension of keeping interest rates high – market participants are encouraged to save and dissuaded from taking out loans. The economy, to a large degree propelled by credit would be cooled down, but just look at the change of behavioural patterns – it appears to be beneficial. Fancy picking on it – go ahead!

Role of state in the economy – first not to harm. But bother to act, where it’s essential. State should counteract monopolies which are indispensable part of free market economy, it should take over some industries where natural monopolies exist – such as utilities. The state firm wouldn’t be geared at profits, instead they’d focus on providing services to people and expected only to break even. Government should be also accountable for maintenance of infrastructure, construction of new roads, etc. All the parts of infrastructure are public goods so I oppose against toll motorways. Of course state projects should be carried out by private companies but roads are to be owned by state and be free for everyone! Another state’s duty which I postulate that it must be fulfilled is the protection of the weakest. The weakest – you mean who? – You’d ask. The poorest? Not this time? According to the popular belief it’s workforce – poor people exploited by the capitalists. The ones who claim it to my eye depart from the truth. Workers might take industrial actions or resort to another way of blackmailing their company to attain what they hold out for. The weakest link in the economic chain are the customers. Their rights are violated the most often, it’s harder for them to gather together and protest, although there have been such actions like the one staged by irate mBank clients. The government should provide for the legal regulations aimed at consumer protection, protection from big chain stores, monopolist service providers, etc. Consumers are almost always doomed to lose a battle with the stronger company or have to wait for another company to bring back competition on the market and liberate them from clutches of colluded companies, like Play did on mobile telephony market, causing call charges to drop. The step in a good direction is the activity of UKE, with Anna Streżyńska in charge of the office.

Is anything more to be done? Certainly yes, state should actively participate and support all programmes of financial education. The society which understands the mechanisms of economy is less susceptible to yield to populists, can manage their finances better. Better education and raised awareness could also prevent such situations as run on investment funds at the peak of bull market in 2007. Well-educated citizens are then more likely to be treated as wise and responsible and assumed to be able to do without guides.


The phenomenon which looms as the most disturbing these days is imperviousness (PL: znieczulica), the disease, which afflicted our society. An old woman suddenly passes out in the street – what’s your reaction – it doesn’t concern you, it’s not your business, you’re in hurry. That the classic example – pedestrians pass by, cars drive by, fortunately there’s almost always somebody to stop, call help, bring round. Why are we so insensitive, has anybody wondered what how would the other people behave if it happened to us? Some time ago I started donating small sums of money to charity or making transfers into the accounts of my fellows in need. My contribution is always small – I’ve never given more than twenty zlotys to one person, however I deeply believe if many people give a few zlotys the sum required for treatment or for other purpose will be raised. It also involves trust, cause I have to believe I’m not endorsing someone who tries to cadge off money.

Mistrust – the next disease which slowly devours our society, undermining its foundations, loosening bonds between its members. It goes down from the highest strata of our society – from elites, bringing us down to uncivilised standards of behaviour. Former minister of justice recorded his talks cause he had been driven by mistrust. People lie to one another, cause they’re driven by mistrust, it’s way of playing safe. “If I tell the truth, I’ll be worse off” – that’s our philosophy. Every time someone wants to gives us a hand we’re scratching beneath the surface and try to discover real ignoble intentions. Let’s change it – let’s trust one another, world is full of bastards but good men still prevail, let’s believe in sincerity, compassion, don’t be driven by egoism, mind the others, their needs. The rule of synergy usually applies, so two plus two might give five, but two lies never give one truth. You may benefit from help you give to your fellows, maybe immediately, maybe in the future, maybe not materially but through spiritual satisfaction or through the priceless feeling of well-fulfilled duty.

Money. During the lecture in diplomatic protocol I found out the topic of money is not brought up between well-mannered people. Poland is a shameful example, we quite often boast about our money, that is a bit silly but not harmful, there’s a much worse trend. We simply detest when other people have more money than we, but the worst is that we suppose they come into that money in a criminal way. How does it work? Your neighbour buys a brand new cars. First impression – you’re green with envy, second thought – where did he take the money from? Everyone who owns a mansion, top-of-the-range car, still gets about, wears brand clothes must be a criminal, thief, must conduct a shady business. To big money one can come into by sheer hard work, often making huge sacrifices. My parents have been scrimping and saving for years to buy a terraced house, they have never earned very well but they lied to their family, friends about our financial situation. The same was done by our family and friends, everyone lies they have very little money and barely make ends meet, it’s a pathology, it’s cult of losers, disseminated also by Kaczyński twins – they’re proud they haven’t amassed any property, except for the house of their parents. In America, they’d be ridiculed for it! If you see your neighbour buys a new car, try to match up to him – pull up your socks, work harder, be high-flyer. In Poland it’s easier to bring somebody down than to pull yourself up. That’s why we’re not likely to be as rich as the other nations. The best illustration of our mentality is the scene from “Dzień Świra” – Pole’s prayer, approach entrenched in our mentality – gloomy picture…

Gdy wieczorne zgasną zorze,
zanim głowę do snu złożę,
modlitwę moją zanoszę,
Bogu Ojcu i Synowi.
Dopierdolcie sąsiadowi!
Dla siebie o nic nie wnoszę,
tylko mu dosrajcie, proszę!
Kto ja jestem?
Polak mały! Mały, zawistny i podły!
Jaki znak mój? Krwawe gały!
Oto wznoszę swoje modły do Boga, Maryi i Syna!
Zniszczcie tego skurwysyna!
Mojego rodaka, sąsiada, tego wroga, tego gada!
Żeby mu okradli garaż,
żeby go zdradzała stara,
żeby mu spalili sklep,
żeby dostał cegłą w łeb,
żeby mu się córka z czarnym
i w ogóle, żeby miał marnie!
Żeby miał AIDS-a i raka,
oto modlitwa Polaka!

Sorry for expletives, sorry for the blasphemy and sorry for the lack of translation.

Initially I planned to refrain from referring to Polish Catholicism. It might be offensive, it might be distressing, I’ll hold back and only share one observation – it’s unreflective. Poles go to church cause they were taught to do so, their faith isn’t really strong, doesn’t rest on foundations, Poles treat catholic teachings selectively, the best example is the attitude to pre-marital sex or contraception. What should the church be? Not the buildings, not the clergy but the community of believers – that’s in my, atheist’s opinion the definition of church. I deeply respect and admire true believers who follow Ten Commandments and mostly obey the ultimate Great Commandment, those who are always ready to lend a helping hand, show compassion, never hate, never condemn, are far cry from Polish Catholicism after Radio Maryja’s fashion. Ten Commandments contain some universal rules every decent and moral man should obey and faith in God or belonging to the church should not be a benchmark of being a good man. Church’s attempts to interfere into public life by opposing against in vitro fertilisation or abortion are groundless for me. The true Catholic would never have an abortion, so trying to make everybody comply with the ethics of Catholic church bears witness or church’s weakness. I know it’s a controversial topic, however, we deal here with the matters of human conscience.

It was meant to be shorter, I swear. It was meant to be a collection of my proposals, which put together would outline the shape of Poland I’d dream up. It turned out to be rather a downbeat diagnosis of our national bad traits, analysis of the stereotypes. If in spite of this you deem this post valuable, spread it, give links to, paste some excerpts, I sign away any rights to it. There are the moments when I believe that my country can be changed, there are also the moments when I doubt whether it will ever happen, but without concerted effort it's unattainable...

Friday, 3 July 2009


Polish mentality is one of those things which quite frequently bewilder foreigner who come, settle down, or get settled here.
By and large, there are some national traits which differentiate us from other nations.

Griping – an average Pole has to gripe about everything – spanning politicians, work, neighbours, family, bureaucracy, etc. The older, the less educated, the less well-travelled, the poorer, the more they complain.

Criticism – but lack of constructive criticism, it’s easy to put somebody down, slate somebody’s ideas, tell something is ugly. Even it’s easy to say “I’d do it better”. Easier said than done, almost everybody is all mouth better, but hardly anyone can lay out alternative proposal or just pull up socks and buckle down to work…

Relativism – if another driver cuts in on me, he’s a “one on the beach”. If I violate the right of way it must be somehow justifiable. He’s not allowed, in my case there must be some reasons behind it. Some time ago I’ve read a study which gave an excellent explanation of the approach of the trade unionist picketing in front of prime minister’s office. The didn’t scream out “thieves” because they were outraged at policy of “stealing away” national property or at the high remuneration of factory’s director. They held it against them that someone else was given that golden opportunity. In their shoes they’d steal even more without restraint, but they wondered why it hadn’t fallen to them…

Definitely, relativism is our worst trait, I notice it every day and keep an eye on my behaviour not to succumb to the temptation of justifying my deeds in the “relativistic” way.

Written on the spur of the moment. Maybe it’s not fully true, maybe I hurt somebody, maybe it was necessary? Maybe something should be added to that list?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

How to ride out a heat wave...?

I swear, I didn’t grumble during the June inclement. Rainy, chilly, although sometimes humid days damned by everyone were like manna from heaven for me. Now, weather seems to be making up for the drizzly, cold weeks, this time going into another extreme.

On Monday I spent a few hours in air-conditioned shopping mall (Fashion Outlet Centre in Piaseczno), meandering between shops mostly to find out the great price reductions meant that totally unaffordable items became less unaffordable but still a bit pricey. You can cut the price by sixty per cent, from 299 down to 119 zlotys, but it’s still too much for the certain quality. I can pay for the quality but not for a brand tag. During the stroll I managed to find the real bargain at Franco Feruzzi’s – decent light blue, striped long-sleeve shirts for only 29,50 złoty per item, each reduced from 99 złoty – made of cotton (80 per cent) and polyester (20 per cent), rather thin and crease-resistant. And can be ironed without problems (not through wet handkerchief like the last bought on sale…). After two hours of shopping around I left the mall to feel the belch of hot, still air on my face. Over kilometre-long walk home was a real anguish, however sun, obscured by thin layer of clouds didn’t beat down so mercilessly…

If you don’t have to leave home when the temperature hits more than twenty five degrees you’re lucky. If you just have to go to town to do the shopping, etc. it’s not a tragedy. Today I decided to accustom myself to the unbearable heat and go for a walk in the full, burning sun at four p.m. I sauntered for about three quarters, totally calm and thus didn’t even get sweat. But do not consider it as a remarkable feat – I had only sandals, shorts and sleeveless T-shirt on. But if I put on a black suit, elegant shoes and did a tie, you’d be right to call me awesome imbecile…

At work it’s usually not a problem (I assume your company has a dress code which stipulates you need to wear a suit and doesn’t provide you with such useful facility as lockers). In the overwhelming majority of offices the air-conditioning system has been assembled and it’s always turned on (unless the employer is tight-fisted) whenever it’s boiling hot outside. The problems come up when you have to get to work somehow. Here there are a few steps where the troubles await. If you keep your car in the open air it might be already heated when you set off, even if it’s seven o’clock in the morning. To avoid that it’s advisable to keep your car in a garage. The worst may come if the park car where your car sits when you’re working is a sunny place. Leaving in the late afternoon you can turn up that your vehicle has just turned into an oven with the temperature reaching sixty degrees inside… If you don’t have air-con – just get in, open all windows and pull out, if you have the beneficial device, start the engine, switch the air-con on and wait for about five minutes. Then get in and enjoy your ride… If you have to fall back on public transport, you’re in a doghouse – you’ll pickle with tens of other sweat-trickling sinners waiting for your stop like a condemned spirit in a purgatory…

So maybe a puzzle:
How to feel a chilly breeze when the air is still, sultry and temperature exceeds thirty degrees?

- Get off the notorious Warsaw public transport bus (time bomb, make Solaris).
I’ve checked that method many times. No matter how hot it had been, I’ve always felt like a new man just after getting out of that hell on wheels.

It’s not a problem that I don’t like when it’s warm I really like... It’s a problem that warm for me means fifteen degrees. When other people have to wear jumpers, jackets, curl up and get goose pimples I feel comfortably having only a T-shirt on. However, temperatures like today’s mean an authentic anguish for me.

An ideal climate for me is the one from British Isles – mild winter, cool summer and lots of rainy days. People can’t stand it but it took my fancy, even though I’ve never been there. My face fell today after I read that the temperature in London hit thirty one degrees – as much as in Warsaw and that British weather authorities project that hot spells will haunt England more and more often and residents of Isles will have to prepare for it. Temperature in the UK may reach even up to forty degrees in the summers at the end of the current century.

My radio-clock started droning – it means the electrical storm is near (although still not in sight)