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.

POLITICS

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.

ECONOMY

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.

SOCIETY

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...

4 comments:

Michael Dembinski said...

The number one thing that needs fixing is the workings of the Polish state. It consistently fails to provide its citizens with a decent service. It does not know how to communicate with its citizens (compare Polish kodeks drogowy with UK - even better Irish - highway codes). It costs the Polish tax authorities 3.2 grosze to collect one zloty of tax. It costs the Irish tax authorities 0.9 of a eurocent to collect one euro of tax - in other words, its three and half time less efficient.

There's too many urzędasy doing too little work, or else entrapping kiosk ladies for 5 gr in unpaid VAT while leaving the mafie paliwowe untouched.

Rebuilding social trust is key, after 45 years in which it was reduced to rubble by communism, which sought to replace all social networks with the monopoly of the party.

This must start with the state. The state must start to trust the citizen. Not treating the citizen as a would-be tax swindler, but as honest. And the citizen-tax payer will respond in kind.

If Poland can fix its state and rebuild social trust, we'll be 99% of the way there.

Bartek Usniacki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Dembinski said...

Bartek -

UK Highway Code:
http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/index.htm

Irish Rules of the Road: (even better than UK's)
http://www.rulesoftheroad.ie/rules-for-driving/index.html

AND - they're available in Polish too!
http://www.rulesoftheroad.ie/polish/index.html

JUST LOOK AT THIS SECTION! This is how it should be done in Poland too...

http://www.rulesoftheroad.ie/pdf-downloads/polish/section9.pdf

Note the use of the word musisz in red and powinieneś in blue... Read it and weep. Polish urzędasy - get your faces stuck into this manual and LEARN HOW A PROPER STATE SHOULD FUNCTION!

Bartek Usniacki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.