“Institutional Systems and Quality of Life”: Prof. Leszek Balcerowicz’s Anniversary Conference

February 10, 2017

caseNews Source:  CASE – Center for Social and Economic Research, Poland

On the January 26th, the conference “Institutional Systems and Quality of Life” was organised to celebrate the 70th birthday of professor Leszek Balcerowicz, a member of the CASE Supervisory Council and founder of FOR – Forum Obywatelskiego Rozwoju. The conference, co-organized by Forum Obywatelskiego Rozwoju, the Association of Polish Economists, CASE – Center for Social and Economic Research, and the Warsaw School of Economics, was structured around the themes of Pofessor Balcerowicz’s research interests, including institutional systems, economic growth and quality of life, the rule of law, liberal rights and transition economies.

After a brief introduction by dr. Andrzej Rzońca (president of the Association of Polish Economists) and prof. Marek Rocki from the Warsaw School of Economics, the guest of honor gave an opening speech on the topic theme. Panel discussions followed, including a panel on institutions and growth, where George Selgin, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives and Stanisław Gomułka, chief economist of the Business Centre Club, discussed the relationship between institutions and systematic economic growth. Another panel, featuring Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, former prime minister of Poland, and Jerzy Stępień, former president of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, was devoted to the significance of the rule of law for economic freedom.

Dr. Christopher A. Hartwell, President of CASE, participated in the third panel “Good and Bad Transitions,” together with Dalibor Rohac from the American Enterprise Institute and Zoltán Kész, a member of the Hungarian Parliament. Dr. Hartwell discussed the Polish and Ukrainian transformations and economic divergence between the two countries. He argued that institutional development in Poland and Ukraine, going back hundreds of years, determined to a large extent the path of transition over the past 25 years. According to dr. Hartwell, institutions are the key for understanding the divergence between Poland and Ukraine as they lie at the heart of “good” and “bad” transitions. Since the 12th century, Poland has largely embraced free trade, competition and openness, while Ukraine has been historically handicapped by lack of free trade institutions and competition. Post-communist Poland became the freest country in the world in regards to trade thanks to the Balcerowicz Plan for a short time, but the country has retained a fairly open approach to trade until the present days. On the other hand, Ukraine’s historical heritage continues to weight down on its present, as trade is tightly controlled and property rights are endangered. In conclusions, dr. Hartwell noted that while Ukraine is trying to catch-up with liberalization, the rest of the world is erecting barriers.

On this same panel, Zoltán Kész talked about disturbing developments in Hungary threatening trade openness, civil rights and liberal democracy. Hungary is an example of an initially very successful transition that took a sudden illiberal turn. Finally, Dr. Dalibor Rohac discussed the European Union’s role in supporting and maintaining free trade and economic openness. According to dr. Rohac, even though the EU has many flaws it remains the best guardian of trade openness in Europe today.

The conference concluded with a session devoted to Professor Balcerowicz’s students talking about their research and experiences, a fitting end to a celebration of a learned professor and teacher.

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