The property reforms initiated in Poland to build the foundations for a
sound market economy are daring. No country has ever attempted a
complete transition from an economy whose property structure is dominated by state ownership to an economy based on pluralistic structure of
property with predominance of private ownership. Both the scale of the
endeavor and the pace of needed reforms make previous experiences of
property reforms of limited relevance. Conceptual and implementation
problems are paramount.
It took much time, effort, and debate to determine the main directions
of the reforms, work out their elementary tenets, and pass basic laws. The
blueprint stage for property reforms is not over, however. The policy of
property reforms may change under the influence of future events.
Some results of the property reforms that have been implemented are
encouraging. Other results highlight problems to overcome and possible
modifications. The significance of many threats is still unknown.
For instance, the general public has never learned who took the decision
to construct the gigantic steelworks Katowice, for which the economic rationale
is very doubtful and the environmental consequences are disastrous.
This endeavor was particularly evident during the Stalinist period ( 1948- 1954). Later, the ambitions of communist authorities to impose a totalitarian
dictatorship gradually dwindled. In the last period of communist rule, there were
not even attempts to provide any ideological justification.
Poland was often accused by Soviet ideologues of lagging behind other
socialist countries because of the prevailing strong private sector in agriculture.
The consequences of various property arrangements are studied by property rights theory. According to this theory, non-private property rights are
non-exclusive and non-transferable. These attributes result in difficulties of
internalizing external effects, which in turn undermine and distort incentives of
economic actors. A recent exposition of the property rights theory can be found
in Barzel ( 1990).
The distinction between the high-powered incentives of the market and
low-powered incentives of hierarchies has been made by Oliver Williamson
( Williamson 1985: Chap. 6), who has discussed the economic logic on which
these two kinds of incentives are based. According to Williamson, different
kinds of incentives fit into different economic situations. High-powered incentives are not a workable arrangement in hierarchical organizations.
The idea of workers' management gained some popularity after political
changes in 1956, which marked the end of the Stalinist era, but was quickly