A Polish publisher pins blame on central planning
Washington — The ''Solidarity'' logo is a band of raffish red letters that looks like a disorganized parade. Displayed on Miroslaw Chojecki's lapel, it brings a whiff of upheaval to the prosperous order of a K Street office. ''I want a pin like that,'' whispers an administrative assistant.
It takes stunning events to break Washington's concentration on itself; but suddenly Richard Allen is old news, and the talk is of Poland, and what might happen, and how things got this far.
Many Western experts trace Poland's problems to its shattered economy, burdened by bad investments and huge debts. Ironically, a renewed emphasis on economic forces was one of Karl Marx's contributions to the discipline of history.
It seems that a major reason the workers have revolted is their inability to buy what they want. The marketplace - that delicate instrument that distributes goods, whose vitality people take for granted in the United States - has been ripped apart in Poland by the classic problem of too much money chasing too few products. The government can't seem to fix it, so the pressures grow for a new government.
''People do not believe in the system,'' says Miroslaw Chojecki, a Polish publisher with close ties to Solidarity.
Mr. Chojecki, arrested 47 times, the veteran of a 30-day hunger strike, and bestowed with a suspended prison sentence in 1980, is ''one of the genuine heroes'' of the Polish labor movement, according to an informed government source. Now he is traveling in North America in search of paper and printing equipment for the union.
''In the short run, the problem of food is a matter of life and death,'' he says, speaking through an interpreter. ''Without food, the present acute shortages will during the winter turn into hunger, and the hunger will trigger off uncontrolled explosions.''
Western experts claim the food situation, while serious, isn't one of impending mass starvation. The main problem, they say, is that it's no longer possible for food to be evenly distributed.
''There is enough food,'' says Richard Davies, former US ambassador to Poland. ''The problem is there's no market, no reserves. Those who can afford it have stored it all away.''
The Polish government, says Mr. Davies, granted wage increases in the summer of 1980 with full knowledge there was nothing for the increased amount of money to buy. All of a sudden, a lot more cash was out chasing the same number of goods. But, since prices for basic foodstuffs are fixed, there was little inflation of the type Western consumers are used to. The economic damage took a different form: People took their increased pay to the meat stores, for instance , and meat simply disappeared.
''People are running around with deteriorating money,'' says Dr. Jan Vanous Sr., an economist at Wharton Econometric Forecasting. ''Everybody tries to spend it as soon as they get it.''
Meat and other foods became harder and harder to find. In Poland, inflation doesn't mean increased prices, but an increased amount of time and effort spent obtaining the necessities of life.
''People are enraged because their perception is, the government is cheating them, printing money but not ensuring adequate food,'' claims Davies.
Chojecki goes even further: ''There is a general perception in Poland that the economic situation does not really justify the kind or extent of shortages of food,'' he says. ''The people are very suspicious.''
For the Polish government, the danger lies in this suspicion. As historian Crane Brinton points out in his classic ''The Anatomy of Revolution,'' it isn't so much real poverty that causes revolt as ''a feeling on the part of some . . . groups that their opportunities for getting on in this world are unduly limited by political arrangements.''
The Polish government has also been pilloried for its stiff, centralized approach to managing the economy. But, besides evoking images of a bureaucratic horde, what exactly does this mean? What does Solidarity think should be done?
''Production should be linked more directly with the market,'' says Chojecki. ''The factory should be in contact not only with the market but also with the enterprises which provide the raw material.''
The fact that all economic communications must go through the central government leads to some bizarre situations, he says.
''Take a small farmer who wants to have fertilizers. He cannot go to the market and buy them. He has to apply for fertilizer to the bureaucracy, which will probably (dispense it) when the harvest is over,'' Chojecki says.
The capitalist free market is a sensitive tool that reacts quickly to changes in consumer demand or availability of materials. The Polish model of an economy, however, is much more clumsy.
Suppose there is a leather shortage. Since performance is measured by production, not profit, shoemakers have in the past elected to produce only materials-scrimping small sizes.
To solve this sort of problem the Poles should ''take away the authority of central planners to set production targets and allocate resources for almost all goods in the economy,'' says Dr. Vanous.