Poland's Rise and the "Catholic Work Ethic"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/13/2014 07:22:00 PM
Makeup your mind on the reasons for Poland's export success.
Given the woes of Ukraine, many folks there are wondering, "Why are we not like Poland?" And for good reason: Poland's economic resurgence is remarkable set against the backdrop of a stagnant EU. Already, it is aiming to translate its economic clout into political clout. The contrast between Ukraine and Poland cannot be starker. What did the latter do to set the stage for today's success?
There are various reasons Poland, a country of 38.5 million with more than 200 years of tragic history, suddenly finds itself in a position of envy. It has a large internal economy, a business-friendly political class, and the hypercharged potential of a developing country catching up with its western peers. It is playing an increasingly influential role in EU negotiations, often providing a voice of restraint during discussions on how to rebalance an off-kilter euro zone...

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Poland has refashioned itself as a model of free-market economics. From 1989 to 2007 its economy grew 177 percent, outpacing its Central and Eastern European neighbors as it nearly tripled in size—the result of a series of aggressive measures taken by the government after the collapse of communism. Price controls were lifted, government wages were capped, trade was liberalized, and the Polish currency, the zloty, was made convertible. The policies left millions out of work but freed Poland to begin to recover from decades of mismanagement. The economy got a further boost with the country’s entry into the EU in 2004.
This, of course, is in stark contrast to Ukraine's staunch anti-reformist post-Soviet history. Now, one of the largest export phenomena to emerge out of Poland is Inglot Cosmetics (male readers should ask the ladies about this brand). In contrast to most male bloggers who consider the subject matter "girly" and avoid them altogether, I keep close tabs on fashion and luxury industries since they are often at the forefront of globalization in terms of leading-edge marketing and distribution. Having to appeal to the most cosmopolitan of consumers means riding trends as soon as they emerge anywhere in the world, and those who claim to write about globalization without covering these industries are quite risible.

Inglot has caught the eye of no less than the Financial Times for its astute business practices. As Inglot branches multiply across the globe, it eventually reached Manila. Coming from the Philippines, I have always been fascinated with hardworking Poles who are now leading the way in the EU. Similar to the Philippines, Poland remains devoutly Catholic. Yet, like Poland, the Philippines is progressing relatively quickly nowadays and is among those leading Asia in growth.

It's quite a turnaround, and this phenomenon has led me to carefully read a wonderful journal article by Martyna Sliwa on how a "Catholic Work Ethic" has emerged to counter the established notion of a "Protestant Work Ethic" whose main idea is that Protestants are less fatalistic than Catholics and thus work harder since their fates are not predetermined:
This article engages the question of whether contemporary Poland is a country in which Catholic Work Values prevail. First, it discusses the meaning of work in Catholic Social Teachings. Then, it provides an overview of the historical experience of Poland and the Polish nation's trajectory of forming its relationship with the Catholic Church. Furthermore, based on a number of empirical studies, it explores the current role of the Catholic religion in the lives of the Poles, with an emphasis on the principles and virtues related to work. It argues that as a consequence of a long period under the occupation of foreign powers between 1795 and 1918, of involvement in the two world wars, and of the post-WWII era of the Communist regime from 1945 to 1989, the model of Catholicism which has developed in Poland is characterised by a strong identification of a large proportion of the society with the Church, but, at the same time, by signs of selectivity towards religion, which transpire also in the way in which the Poles feel about and approach work-related matters.
Critics will of course complain that Italy, Portugal and Spain are prime examples of Catholic failures in Europe, but consider that they are increasingly becoming like the French who are only nominally Catholic as out-of-wedlock births rise and church attendance falls in those countries. The Sliwa article points out that the path taken by Poland in relation to religion and its current rise is idiosyncratic. However, there are certainly points of reference to draw upon for other predominantly Catholic countries. Indeed, if Weber were still around today, he may have to reconceptualize his ideas given the geographically dispersed emergence of fast-growing Catholic economies including Poland (Eastern Europe), the Philippines (Southeast Asia) and Mexico (North America). At the very least, Catholicism may no longer be a brake on growth but even a modest accelerant when combined with certain pro-growth policies.

From marketing their own software to their own makeup, the Poles simply "get" the global marketplace in a way others really haven't by building their own export brands--go ask the Chinese, for instance. Let the "Catholic Work Ethic" show us the way.