Introduction to Janusz Gedymin Zieliński 1931-1979. Portrait of an economist by Małgorzata Korczyk
This book, devoted to the achievements of Janusz Gedymin Zieliński, is important not only because of the value of the memory of a prominent Polish economist, but also because of the topicality of some of the issues which the author raises. The fact that J.G. Zieliński co-founded the only school of economics in the Polish economic thought – the Wakar school – makes him particularly important in the context of the contribution of the Warsaw School of Economics (formerly SGPiS) to the development of economic theory.
It may seem that the work of a Polish economist working on the socialist economy is devoid of universal character. It turns out, however, that it is not the case, as J.G. Zieliński referred in his deliberations to the dispute between Ludwig von Mises and Oskar Lange, which concerned the possibility of a rational economic calculation in socialism. Zieliński’s approach to the issue of information asymmetry may arouse some interest of the modern reader. This book also presents his views on the risks of monopolising the capitalist economy, which are also part of the perception of capitalism of, for example, J.K. Galbraith. A concern for the place of an individual in the economy dominated by large organisations is common to both authors and this issue is not out of date.
J.G. Zieliński’s research interests mainly concerned the specificity of the economy of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) and this part of his achievements relates only to the past. However, it deserves attention as it provides an explanation of the sources of inefficiency of the centrally planned economy.
The use by Aleksy Wakar and Janusz Zieliński of the tools of neoclassical economics to demonstrate the inability to allocate resources efficiently within the direct calculation in the centrally planned economy was an original approach to the study of the economic system of the time. The arguments raised by the Wakar school members are also relevant today because the discussion about the pros and cons of central planning did not end with the collapse of socialism in Eastern European countries. In particular, economists of the younger generation should understand the specificity of the centrally planned economy so that there would be no attempts to restore it. Thus, the work of the Wakar school scholars, including J.G. Zieliński, is an indispensable source of knowledge. They studied the socialist economy as it really was, not the way the political leaders of the time wanted to see it. For his approach J.G. Zieliński paid a high price in the form of exclusion from the scientific community of SGPiS and a brutal expulsion from Poland with a ban on return.
J.G. Zieliński’s objective attitude towards the phenomena he observes in both the socialist and capitalist economies does not make his worksone-sided, as it indicates the need for seeking the “golden means” in the theory-based economic policy. Analysing the flaws of central planning, J.G. Zieliński did not idealise capitalism as an economic model. He also drew attention to the social aspect of adoption of the economic policy. The capitalist economy is more effective than the socialist economy, and private companies waste less resources than the state companies.This issue is almost indisputable. However, there is no perfect system, as J.G. Zieliński pointed out. This awareness should force economists to improve the existing systems, taking into account the current circumstances.
J.G. Zieliński’s works contain valuable ideas which, due to their inclusion in publications on the socialist economy, could be forgotten. His critical view of the problems of both socialism and capitalism deserves to be presented to a wide audience; in particular, because there are vivid memories of socialism in Eastern European countries – both positive and negative. Societies in this part of Europe are vulnerable to manipulations related to the assessment of the economic transformation of the 1990s. Politicians take advantage of the fact that not all social groups benefited from the transition from socialism to capitalism, pointing out to the culprits of this situation, namely large corporations, which, thanks to the resources of capital, gained a strong position in the new markets. J.G. Zieliński’s objective view of the role of large companies in the economy is an important contribution to the discussion about market failures, but also about the weaknesses of management conducted by politically nominated corporate officials.
J.G. Zieliński is an inspiring figure not only as an economist but also as a man who, despite adversities and personal tragedies, devoted his life to the search for the scientific truth.
“The spirit of the time” and the situation of J.G. Zieliński are reflected by the words of Edward Lipiński, who is favourably disposed towards him: “To be thrown out, rejected, prosecuted, hated, surrounded by the aversion of environment – means the death of personality. Man cannot live in isolation from others. (…) That is why total systems are so dangerous to cultural development, treating the one who thinks differently as a mortal enemy to be thrown out of the community, condemned to civilian death, and deprived of the right to associate with others in order to manifest their way of thinking and acting. Totalism, which gives an individual an absolute right to indisputably decide about the forms of life and directions of development of culture and politics, supported by the servile bureaucracy, makes the community impoverished and destroys the resources of potential development opportunities. Those who are driven by others are passive. Freedom of decision makes people active. The autonomy of an individual, group, association, nation – is the prerequisite for all creative, dynamic development. Slogans: religious enemy, racial enemy, political enemy – these are attitudes contrary to the principle of development understood as improvement, creation of new qualifications, new qualities, with the principle of multilateralism, complementarity, confrontation, dialogue and relativism. The absolutisation of faith, views and attitudes contains elements of social paralysis, disease, and death” (Lipinski, 1981).
J.G. Zieliński lived and worked in difficult conditions, when the state authorities tried to determine the direction of the development of science and all intellectual activity. They antagonised each social group, which facilitated the elimination of the scientific community of the people who skeptically approached the existing political and economic system. They did not refer to arguments posed by scientists but formulated accusations against them corresponding to the xenophobic public sentiment. J.G. Zieliński became one of the victims of the anti-Semitic purge of 1968, in which he was accused of collaboration with Zionist communities. The actions conducted by the authorities made Poland lose an enormous scientific potential represented, for instance, by J.G. Zieliński. This issue is addressed in the first chapter, which is a reprint of a biographical sketch by professor Urszula Grzelońska from the selected works of J.G. Zieliński entitled Rachunek ekonomiczny i zarządzanie w gospodarce socjalistycznej. Wybór prac (Economic calculation and management in the socialist economy. Selection of works)(1989).
The present book is primarily intended to protect J.G. Zieliński’s thoughts from oblivion. Therefore, in addition to the analysis of selected passages of J.G. Zieliński’s accomplishments and his place in the Wakar school of economics (Chapter 2), some original texts, written by this prominent economist considered interesting from the perspective of current theoretical problems, are included in Chapter 5.These texts present considerations on welfare economics issues as well as market failure.
An important part of this work is devoted to the reminiscences of outstanding Polish economists inspired by the achievements of J.G. Zieliński, such as Prof. Paul H. Dembiński and his collaborators, or Prof. Andrzej K. Koźmiński and Prof. Urszula Grzelońska, who were together with him students of Aleksy Wakar, and they created the only Polish school of economics.Prof. Adam Lipowski and Waldemar Kuczyński worked with J.G. Zieliński on an objective textbook on the economics of socialism,but controversial from the point of view of the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL). The failed co-authors were described by the Security Service as presenting an “anti-socialist” attitude. The texts are presented in alphabetical order (Chapter 3).
The complexity of J.G. Zieliński’s life situation is described by his wife, Marta Zielińska, who revealed the dilemmas faced by her husband, who decided to choose his scientific career in PRL.The economist’s letter to the Ambassador of the Polish People’s Republic to the United Kingdom, in which J.G. Zieliński described how he was expelled from Poland shows the consequence of seeking the truth about the system existing only due to the distortion of reality.