Social Responsibility Journal
Volume 3 Number 4 2007
Transition in Poland: Economic Success and Social Failure?
Purpose – The paper seeks to focus on the results of Poland’s transition from central planning to market economy and
from communist regime to democracy. It attempts to answer the question of fulﬁlling the transition’s aims and expectations,
identifying main successes and failures observed in Poland today.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on the literature review of the socialistic state’s and transition
process’s main characteristics and a set of data and research provided by institutions and centres illustrating the current
stage of economic and social development in Poland. The analysis uses statistical data comparing the pre-transition
period with the economic and social indices for 2006.
Findings – The evidence collected during 18 years of transition process and data on the current situation provide a
unique opportunity to test whether the formulated goals were achieved. The analysis reveals substantial improvement in
all economic indicators referring to macroeconomic stability, inﬂation and growth rates and private sector activity, while
the social conditions related to unemployment and recent emigration to Western Europe, income distribution, homelessness
and poverty ratios remain disappointing.
Research limitations/implications – The paper presents the current stage of Polish society and economy, not discussing
the problems of other CEEC countries that underwent a transition process in 1989 (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary).
Moreover, the economic and social development remains highly dynamic, particularly due to substantial EU funds
currently invested in Poland. Since the analysis is based on data 1989-2006 one may expect changes in Poland’s society
and economy in the very near future.
Practical implications – The paper points up the difﬁculty of formulating the agenda of the transition process which would
assure balancing of the economic as well as social goals. Moreover, it suggests that institutions and systems building
seems to be easier, while transition sets signiﬁcant challenges for society and its ability to adjust to new conditions.
Originality/value – The analysis sheds light on the discussion of the state’s orientation towards social responsibility on
a macro scale, since the impact and strategies of state formulate patterns and a regulatory framework for the corporate
legal environment (e.g. working conditions), rules of behaviour and business practice.
Keywords Poland, Economics, Social policy, Economic development
Paper type Viewpoint
The transition process observed in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) illustrates unprecedented change towards
democratization and market economy covering reforms implemented literally in all systems. The transition agenda
usually included changes in political sphere aimed at elimination of the mono-party system and replacing it with
democratic state institutions, while reforms in economic system focused on departing from central planning towards
truly market economy with strong regulatory framework for private sector activity. Different starting points, transition
scenarios and reform methodology provide an unique opportunity for both academics and economic experts to test the
efﬁciency of various solutions and approaches to the change across CEE. Such analysis also provides data on the
dominant state orientation towards social responsibility, citizenship society and strategies for solving environment and
social problems. It is important to notice that societies in developed economies managed to build organized structures
for executing their rights and expectations (e.g. working conditions, environmental protection, accountability of
companies, consumer rights) while transition countries are characterized with weak societies and weak states (Stark and
Bruszt, 2001) that have neither organized movements nor skills or awareness for social responsibility of business and
protection of rights. Additionally, striving desperately for higher incomes and catching up with developed economies
transition countries are likely to sacriﬁce the rights of employees or environmental protection to attract foreign investors.
Therefore the development of transition countries may – at least during ﬁrst period of fast growth – be realized at the
cost of social sphere.
This paper focuses on the Polish case and attempts to address the question of the efﬁciency of implemented
reforms from two angles: economic and social. The main aim of the paper is to answer the question of fulﬁlling transition
aims and expectation, identifying main successes and main failures observed in Poland today. The analysis focuses on
the relative change of economic indicators referring to macroeconomic stability, inﬂation and growth rates and private
sector activity as well as it takes into account social conditions related to unemployment and employee rights, emigration,
income distribution, homelessness and poverty ratios of today Poland.
The paper is organized as follows. The ﬁrst section presents the characteristics of socialist state emphasizing the
features of political and social systems as well as the structure of centrally planned economy. Reforms implemented in
Poland after 1989 referring to political and economic systems are outlined in the second sections. The third section
focuses on the evaluation of the reforms from economic and social perspective addressing the issue of fulﬁlling the
transition goals. It attempts to answer the question of successes and failures of Polish transition. The last section concludes