[REPORT] Poles’ main problems, or where the state is failing

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The world is consumed by ‘expertosis,’ or as Prof. William Easterly puts it in “The Tyranny of Experts.” Locked away in offices, they develop more plans to save the world, convinced they know the commoner’s problems. However, they often must be corrected, and methods must be devised to combat an imaginary enemy. In turn, people continue to suffer.

We don’t want to repeat that mistake.

At the Warsaw Enterprise Institute, we closely examine how our country functions in various interrelated areas – from the economy to demographics to the judiciary. Our overall diagnosis is simple: many of the defects of contemporary Poland, such as unjust courts, not working health care, and a bureaucratized economy, result from overconfidence in the power of the administration of the state apparatus and the people who govern it.

However, to avoid the ‘experts’ that have led many think tanks astray into sterile theorizing or dangerous social constructivism, we asked Poles which problems bother them most and which areas of functioning should be reformed first. We indicated a choice of nine such regions (health care, justice, economy, public finance, security, education, energy and climate, social policy, and demography), and a quantitative opinion poll on a group of 1,094 Poles was conducted on our behalf by Maison&Partners.

It turns out that Poles’ opinions largely coincide with WEI’s stance. Among the three areas needing immediate overhaul, they list health care, the justice system, and the economy. The latter two areas have been the subject of many years of in-depth research by our institute, and the economy is of particular concern to us. It is, therefore, pleasing that as many as 40 percent of those surveyed put the economy on the podium among the most critical issues.

A strong economy is, in the long term, like a thermometer indicating the overall health of the state and a condition for the proper functioning of its institutions. In a word, to have good police, courts, military, schools, and hospitals, you need money, and from empty things, when economic growth is weak, even Solomon will not pour. When asked about specific financial problems that affect them personally, the respondents primarily cite high prices (as much as 63 percent), wages that are too low (34 percent), and bureaucracy (28 percent), but also corruption (21 percent), or the lack of specialists in the labor market (14 percent). WEI addresses all these problems in its reports and analyses, pointing to specific solutions. As for overpricing, the remedy is, among other things, to increase competition for the consumer among economic players. We cover this in the report “Creative destruction versus an entrepreneurial state.” On the other hand, too low wages result from a flawed tax system, which we call for changes in alliance with the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers. We want to simplify the system and reduce the tax cost of labor so that workers’ net wages increase. Corruption and bureaucracy are interrelated phenomena and are the inherent result of an overextended state that wants to be present everywhere. This phenomenon is called statism, which we describe in the report “Statism. A blind alley.” In turn, the lack of a sufficient number of specialists in the Polish labor market is a phenomenon that is caused by an imperfect system of higher education and a flawed immigration policy that does not encourage highly qualified people from abroad to come to Poland.

The most bothersome problems identified by Poles in the context of other areas of state functioning also coincide with WEI’s observations. In the case of public finances, this includes the waste of public funds. The scale and absurdities of this are presented by WEI in its “Black Book” of public spending, first published in the fall of 2023. As for security, respondents soberly point to the lack of an adequate number of shelters for civilians, as well as too small an army and a lack of widespread familiarity with weapons handling – in the context of the war in Ukraine, it is encouraging that public awareness of such basics is growing. We hope that this is partly the result of WEI’s efforts to popularize the concept of universal defense. In education, respondents point to outdated teaching in elementary schools and their ideology. At WEI, we have developed a concept for school reform based on giving control to parents and local governments and an education voucher. This reform should strongly reduce the problems above.

In the case of energy and climate, it is striking that according to most respondents, high energy prices and polluted air are the most significant problems, and they point to increased CO2 emissions only after that. This coincides with our observations that the price of climate policies is too high for ordinary citizens. We write about this, for example, in the report “The poorest will pay.” In the case of social policy, respondents point to excessive social benefits as the most critical problem, which also coincides with our diagnosis. Only in the case of demographics do respondents point to a problem that we at WEI look at somewhat differently – namely, the high cost of having children and inadequate pensions. The narrative that having children is extremely expensive tends to go hand in hand with the view that it is also an affliction.

At WEI, we believe that the negative image of having children is the result of ideologized social discourse. As for low pensions, however, as long as they are paid out in the old Bismarckian system, they will only worsen. WEI proposes an essential citizens’ assistance paid out of taxes and more substantial individual saving and investment incentives.

We are particularly pleased to see that when it comes to the economy, respondents believe it should be reformed based on a belief in the individual initiative of citizens and companies rather than the competence of officials and top-down solutions. Our survey shows that Poles are generally a tad more libertarian than statist. Thirty-one percent of us recognize that “reforming the state should be based on belief in the self-reliance of citizens and the resourcefulness of entrepreneurs.” In comparison, 26 percent believe “in the competence of officials and strict state regulations.”

In simple terms, it can be said that one in three Poles adheres to a classical liberal worldview. This is excellent news and something politicians in the new government should consider when preparing their programs. We have decided to make their task easier here by publishing the “Reformer’s Guide,” a document containing the most relevant recommendations for public policies to be implemented immediately and proposals for significant systemic changes.

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