Kazimierz Poznanski-recommends therapy without shock

Autor: Eva Orlowska


Kazimierz Wielkanoc Baszta by K. Poznanski

Leading scholar on Eastern Europe, poet, painter and an art collector, Prof. Kazimierz Poznanski searches to balance laissez-faire economics with moral sensibility in his work and in real life.

Kazimierz Poznanski, Professor of Economics at the University of Washington since 1987, received his doctorate in Economics from the University of Warsaw and made the analysis of post-communist transition to capitalism in Eastern Europe with a particular emphasis on Poland his life’s work.  Trained in economic liberalism that advocates private property rights and laissez-faire economics with minimal interference of government, he relies on the works of the so-called evolutionary school of Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter to bring moral consideration to economic questions.

Former consultant to the World Bank, US Congress and the United Nations, and an official advisor to the Polish government (1994-96), Prof. Poznanski’s work has been published extensively, including by the leading academic presses: Cambridge University Press and University of California-Berkeley. In 2001 he engaged Poland in a heated national debate with his bestsellers: “The Grand Scheme: Failure of Polish Reforms” and “Insanity of Reforms: The Sale Out of Poland”.

He argued in his books that big-bang “Shock Therapy” of the 1990s that focused on quick privatization of state companies resulted in the transfer of Polish wealth to Western banks and foreign investors at a fraction of the world’s market value. Inexperience or overzealousness to integrate with Western Europe was identified as main reasons for this historically unprecedented type of sell-out.  An unusual model of capitalism called by Prof. Poznanski “imported or incomplete capitalism” has emerged with both high unemployment and poor wages.

In his view, a more gradual approach with strong safeguards against foreign ownership allowing the formation of domestic capitalist class would serve Poland better than the “Shock Therapy”. He suggests that the model that China adopted-building capitalism after socialism with postponed privatization and partial foreign ownership-has proven more successful. While Poland landed in a post-1989 recession, China has produced a steady growth properly called the greatest economic miracle, overshadowing Japan’s post WWII miracle.

Unlike the neoclassical liberal followers of Adam Smith or more contemporary Milton Friedman, who expect an “invisible hand” to eventually balance the inequalities of competitive markets, Prof. Poznanski believes in a strong role of states in assisting economy as well as ensuring morally-acceptable distribution of income. He points to Austria and Denmark, among the most successful of Western European economies, as examples of such approach. “Incidentally,” he says “both countries were almost unaffected by the recent world downturn”.

Billionaire speculator George Soros who had made a fortune in the financial markets during the transition of Eastern Europe now also agrees that moderate reforms are more effective: ” I now fear that the untrammeled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society…Too much competition and too little cooperation can cause intolerable inequities and instability.” (Soros 1997) 1

Prof. Poznanski’s writing communicates a deep concern for Poland. He says that it is his duty to speak the truth, as he sees it. With keen awareness, he points to the missed opportunities and hopes to bring out a deeper sense of understanding. To complete the transformation to capitalism, he insists, Poland needs to develop a well-functioning capital market internally and a strong domestic capitalist class. Whether one agrees with his analysis or not, “his books should be a required reading for the political elite in Poland,” says Jan Olszewski, former Prime Minister of Poland (1991-92).

In retrospect, a decade after the publication of the “Grand Scheme” and “Insanity of Reforms,” Poland has performed better than anyone expected. While the recent global recession slowed down the Western economies nearly to a halt, the Polish economy grew at the highest rates in Europe.  Poland’s newly emerged small and medium enterprise proved the economic engine of the region. This, however, still did not lower Poland’s high unemployment rate or reduce poverty in many parts of the country.

Either in spite or because of the hardships of the 1980s and 1990s, Poles have shown tremendous resilience, pragmatism and business acumen. After 1989, there was a dramatic increase in the demand for post-graduate business education. Student enrollment in business and management curricula increased over the last decade more than seven times and in executive part-time business and management programs, 17.5 times. In a very short time, Poles re-oriented themselves and their economy to Western business and managerial practices. 2

While lecturing in Poland, Prof. Poznanski likes to visit Kazimierz Dolny, one of the most beautiful small towns on the banks of Vistula River. Once a thriving Jewish enclave, today only a stark ghetto memorial reminds of the past. It is this town that gives Prof. Poznanski an inspiration for his “Almost Beautiful” poetry and paintings. The pieces titled: Kazimierz, Easter, exhume powerful vibrant colors springing life back to a town recovered from a shocking history. Color and words, he believes, are a gentle therapy that connects with nature and the human spirit.

Prof. Poznanski is an avid modernist painter and an art collector of Polish and Chinese paintings. A student of Teng Hiok Chiu, a Chinese avant-garde, post-Impressionist painter schooled in London in the 1920’s, he paints colorful abstract landscapes and natural subjects blending Western and Chinese styles in a harmonious Taoist tradition.  Whether reminiscent of Cezanne, Matisse, Montparnasse cubism or classic modernism of the Pacific Northwest, his paintings leave the viewer with profound tranquility and joy of life.  He has exhibited in Seattle and in Toronto and received glowing reviews on both coasts.

Purple Slopes by K. Poznanski

Prof. Poznanski’s quotes:

On Leadership: “Influence is granted by trust not force. Britain and the United States gained dominance by providing successful institutions and models for life.”

On what Poles need to be happy: “Poles need great leaders like John Paul II or Leszek Kołakowski, who exemplified deep intellect, moral convictions and sensitivity to human suffering.”

On Polish-American Chamber of Commerce in the Pacific Northwest:  “Sign me up wherever I can add value.”

To learn more about Prof. Kazimierz Poznanski, please visit the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce website: http://paccpnw.org/kazimierz-poznanski

1, 2 Poland’s Transformation: A Work in Progress, M.J. Chodakiewicz, J.Radzilowski, D.Tolczyk (2003)