Thursday, 5 November 2015

Judging Civic Platform's eight years from the outside

After eight years in power, the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska - PO) coalition government stands down to make way for a democratically elected government formed by Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - PiS), a party that's socially conservative and economically socialist.

Campaigning on a redistributionist ticket, PiS pronounced that Poland is 'in ruins', and as premier-designate Beata Szydło put it, "you cannot feed your family on statistics".

She would say that wouldn't she. But what about those voices that have no skin in the game, no axes to grind, no party political point to make - those global institutions putting together international rankings which serve to put the world's sovereign nations into context?

These rankings are made up of many countries, judged by impartial analysts, using the same methodology. Questionable rankings are immediately noticeable. "How can Serbia/Albania/Romania be more [insert subject of ranking here] than Denmark/Ireland/Spain?" Online forums become ablaze with comments; these indexes have to hold water if they are to be globally respected, and need a long track record to become established and followed by policy-makers.

How had Poland fared over the past eight years, on PO's watch, in the context of other countries in Europe and around the world?

Let's look at the main ones, the ones that determine investment decisions. The World Bank's Doing Business. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report. The United Nation's Human Development Reports. Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, and OECD's PISA index of school education.

In EACH ONE we have seen Poland improve over the past eight years - and in some cases improve markedly.

Let's start with Doing Business. In the latest survey, Poland is ranked 25th in the world in terms of how easy it is to set up a company, pay taxes, get planning permission, enforce contracts etc. In 2007, when PO took office, it was 75th. In other words, Poland has overtaken 50 countries along the way in its drive to create a better environment for business. If you really want to drill down into the details, check here:

Next up - WEF's Global Competitiveness Report. In the latest report, for 2015, Poland comes 41st in the world. Twelve factors are considered, such as infrastructure, institutions, market size and labour force. (Incidentally, Poland scores best for primary education and worst for innovation.) The report for 2007 put Poland in 51st position globally, so a mere 10 countries overtaken. A better measure for large international investors than Doing Business, which is small-firm focused.

While business creates strong economies, it's not everything. Quality of life must be judged too. Health, poverty, inequality, security, mobility. The United Nations has been looking at all of its members since 1980, measuring their progress against one another. In the latest (2014) ranking, Poland came 35th in the world, with a score of 0.834 (where 1.0 is 'perfect'). In 2007-08, Poland came 37th in the world, with a score of 0.817. Slower progress, but progress nevertheless that cannot be denied.

Poland's rise up Transparency International's global Corruption Perception Index I've blogged about in the past. Although in recent years the improvements have been slower, they are consistent and noticeable. In last year's Index, Poland was ranked the 35th-least corrupt country on earth, up from 61st-least corrupt in 2007. And Poland's progress in this respect has been faster than any other post-communist country except Estonia.

Let's look at education. Every three years, the OECD conducts a survey - PISA - of the world's richer nations middle schools (in Poland the gimnazja) to look at the educational attainments of 14-15 year-olds from the point of view of mathematics, science and reading. Again Poland has done well, rising up the league table of 65 developed countries:

2012: Maths 13th;  Science 9th;  Reading 10th
2009: Maths 25th; Science 19th; Reading 15th

Worth noting that in all three areas, Poland has outperformed both the UK and US. Why is this? Strong focus on learning by rote, rather than namby-pambyism (creative drama classes and Venn diagrams). Less-able children need to be given the basic building-blocks of the 3Rs and memory-boosting repetition. Clearly, this approach works - it's how Polish schools function.

EF's English Proficiency Index, looking at how well English has been mastered by non-native speaking nations around the world, has only been going since 2011, but Poland has done impressively well over the five editions of this ranking. From 'moderate proficiency' to 'very high proficiency' in just five years is a very impressive result.

Where could Poland do better? Tax collection for one. Poland is third from last of 55 countries considered by the OECD for efficiency of their tax systems. Universities - tertiary education in Poland is not one of the country's strong points, with just three of its higher learning institutions making it into the global Top 500. Weak universities mean weak R&D, poor innovation (as the WEF points out).

Poland's new government needs to focus on turning the economy from an operational one (serving bigger economies around the world with outsourced manufacturing and services) to becoming a strategic one (devising and commercialising new technologies). In areas such as IT, life sciences, renewable energy, advanced materials and aerospace, Poland needs to stop following and start leading. This is the challenge that faces the new government.

This time last year:
Cloudless, 18C - the beauty of Polish autumn

This time two years ago:
Call 19115: Warsaw Fix-my-Street

This time four years ago:
Vapour trails at sunset

This time five years ago:
Autumnal blues

1 comment:

student SGH said...

How long before it transpires it was all humbug?