Sunday, 12 January 2014

When can you say you are young?

A man is as young as he feels, not as he is… Age is much better determined by one’s behaviour than by date of birth. Context also matters. 30-year-old man who still studies is an old student, but his peer becoming a prime minister would be considered extremely young.

The question on perception of youth has been prompted by the article published in“Polityka” several weeks ago, dwelling on political careers of four well-recognised politicians, all in their 30s, deemed, not only in that instance, “young”.

The ‘young’ tag was quite reassuring for me – if they are 7.5 to 13 years older than me, long before my youth goes by.

The oldest of all those guys is Sławomir Nowak, born in 1974. He first became a deputy in 2004 (after elections to the Euro parliament). In 2010 he was responsible for running presidential campaign of current president Bronisław Komorowski, then for a year and a half he was in charge of president’s office. In November 2011 subsequently he was appointed minister of transport and infrastructure, shortly before Euro 2012 opening. Many considered this nomination a nail to his coffin, as the area of his ministry’s responsibility was a huge mess. Delays in road contracts completion, bankruptcies of contractors and subcontractors of road-building projects have not dragged him down, but he fell into a trap of the fondness for expensive watches he would exchange with his friends. Mr Nowak was charged with concealing in his financial disclosure statement a watch worth 17,000 PLN and submitted resignation. The watch worth more than yearly after-tax minimum pay had to bring about indignation in Poland. Most Poles held it against him he had flaunted stuff an average Pole cannot afford to buy, but in fact this is just a tip of the iceberg and something not really meaningful. What should have really called into question his political career were tie-ups with businessmen (Cam-media, etc.) and mismanagement…

Tomasz Kaczmarek, born in 1976, became famous in 2007, when as an anti-corruption agency officer he seduced and then (within the letter of law) bribed a Civic Platform deputy. His mission and its aftermath was exposed to the public five days before parliamentary elections. The move, astonishingly, tipped the scales in favour of Civic Platform. In 2010, aged 34, he retired. As a 35-year-old (!!! here the term “young” is so apposite !!!) pensioner was elected a deputy from Law and Justice list. In November 2013, while driving his girlfriend’s Porsche Cayenne he was so preoccupied with pondering upon the situation of Poland that he rear-ended another car. In December 2013 recordings of Mr Kaczmarek threatening his partner’s ex-husband in foul language leaked to the media. Recently he was ousted from the grouping nurturing law and justice. Mr Błaszczak told today the party could not put up with his misconduct. They began to see the light, belatedly…

Przemysław Wipler, born in 1978, Polish conservative politician, formerly a member of Law and Justice. He left Kaczyński’s party of account of its inadequate economic liberalism and sometime ago joined Jarosław Gowin’s fledging grouping. In late October 2013 the exemplary husband and father to five children (including the one unborn, counted in, in accordance with Catholic doctrine) picked up a fight with policemen outside a posh club (as befits a conservative politician) on ul. Sienkiewicza in Warsaw. Then, during public appearances he tried to make himself a martyr. To no avail… He was really young when he took charge of one departments in the ministry of economy. He was only 27 then… Did he have, three years of university graduation, pertinent experience to be in charge of a unit in a ministry or did he owe the appointment his political tie-ups?

Adam Hofman, born in 1980 is the youngest and the most remarkable politician out of the four described by “Polityka”. His political career picked up speed when, aged 25, he was elected to the parliament in September 2005. He emerged as Law and Justice’s rising star by virtue of being the brains of the party’s electoral campaigns and PR. Brash and bold, insolent and over-confident, there is no barefaced lie, accusation, nor absurdity that would not flow out of his mouth without a moment of hesitation. The guy is not likeable, even ardent believers of PiS, on Toyah’s blog have not embrace his doings in politics. In 2013 he became infamous for boasting about the size of his penis during party’s off-site and then, for concealing in his financial disclosure statement a 100,000 PLN loan (a move quite common among money launderers). As the charges against have lapsed, the investigation has been discontinued and he was reinstated as the party’s spokesman. I foresee one day JarKacz will regret allowing him to play second fiddle in the party.

When speaking about “youngsters” in politics it is hard to fail to mention the new finance minister. This “very young” man is 38 and has 16 years’ experience in banking, including serving as chief economist for several years. Since taking the office, the new minister made very few public appearances. Judging by the sparse evidence of them, it has to be noted he is nowhere as good as his predecessor in terms of speaking in public and coming under fire from detractors. Mr Rostowski could not be denied outstanding composure. When attacked, he would always stay even-tempered, calmly and clearly made his point and, if necessary, retorted his opponents incisively. The new minister seems to have focused on turnaround of the tax system, convoluted and taxpayer-unfriendly. A stride should be made when comes to simplifying and ‘humanising’ the taxation system, but the recent proposal that tax returns will be filled by tax office clerks rather than taxpayers immediately triggers a question “who will pay for this?” – we are talking about millions of tax returns – it takes workforce that have to be paid from taxes paid by us… Well, my ideal finance minister would a down-to-earth, pragmatic practitioner, not a starry-eyed scholar. For Mr Szczurek the new position is a enormous challenge and will have to learn a lot.

The “juvenile” minister backs youngsters in his office – he hired a 21-year-old student with little experience and 23-year-old ruling party member. This gets more controversial – my perspective changes, as I am witness thriving careers of people younger than me. But try to imagine what an average reader of a Polish tabloid (much older than me, not well-educated and not well-off) thinks, when they read that a 21-year-old student will earn twice as much as them after twenty or thirty years of work, or a 23-year-old distinguished party member will earn 8,000 PLN a month before tax, salary out of reach for over 95% of Poles.

Also Mr Sienkiewicz, internal affairs minister also follows the practice of giving chances to youngsters. This is a great fodder for tabloids and their readership. The key questions is how those people were selected. If they are party henchmen or children of friends, then the practice is condemnable. If they were the most skilled and up-and-coming out of hundreds of applicants, chosen in a candidly carried out recruitment proceedings, why not. Salary of 4,000 PLN before taxes, some 10% above national average (but 100% above national median salary!) is (subjectively) not a reason for outrage. Many of my peers and I earned more when we were 23.

The post is aimed to raise a question, whether age should be a criterion when assessing someone’s competencies for a certain position. In some cultures, for example in Japan, seniority is an important determinant of one’s rank in a hierarchy, in other how quickly one can climb the ladder of career is a matter of their skills, hard work and other factors. Undeniably, the younger you are, the more likely you lack experience, because it simply takes time to gain it. But if out of two candidates with similar competencies for a specific position the older one is selected, because it seems more appropriate for a decision-maker, this looks like age discrimination.


Michael Dembinski said...

You know you are getting on in years when the world's leaders start getting younger than you... Obama and Cameron - the first US president and UK prime minister to be born after me. Tusk is six months my senior, Putin's half-a-decade older.

My serious point is - you are as old as you are in your dreams. In my dreams, I'm an eternal 28-35 years old; age never bothers me, it's just not an issue. Like hair loss, which is a recurrent dream theme.

student SGH said...

I'm looking forward to the moment when someone from my fellow SGH students becomes famous or at least commonly recognised among professionals in a specific industry. A decade has to go by before it happens.

The most curious thing about my dreams is that they play out in flat in Piaseczno in which I spent first 17 years of my life. My people told me their dreams are set in their childhood dwellings.