After thievish, corporate and spiritistic comes the capitalism… of beggars.

The spectre of collection hat, i.e. the paupers' capitalism, is hovering over us. If you can't steal your first million, beg for it.

They say it's a real trick to make your first million. Some claim that they got such money from their parents for their eighteenth birthday or first communion, thanks to which they could make a good investment and become billionaires at a very young age. However, not everyone had wealthy parents, so they had to earn money by stealing their first million or - alas! – often working hard for it.

In the colloquial sense, the new beginning of contemporary capitalism in the Third Polish Republic is linked with many terms, associated pejoratively by numerous people. The only thing is, what some consider false, others recognise to be true. Such concepts include, for example, "thievish privatisation", the most advanced and sickening form of the so-called "hostile takeover". The difference in the assessment of such procedure is simple: some believe that there are lucky people who can afford to get something at a rock-bottom price; others have "unnecessary dilemmas" related to this business, sometimes contemptuously called by the former as "social sensitivity" or much stronger - "cheap populism".

Crafty, money-laundry business

In the social consciousness, "thievish privatisation" is associated with nomenclature capitalism, i.e. capitalism, which - at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s - was created by taking control over some elements of the assets called 'national wealth'. It was almost everything, because all was state-owned. Then again, there was the so-called enfranchisement of these goods. Most of the time, those in charge of this wealth became enfranchised. Of course, it was simple to take over something, at least for certain people in those days, but managing the acquired capital was much more difficult. For this purpose, appropriate "know-how" was needed. But if one knew when to set up a currency exchange office on the state border (previously illegal) or when and how to bring alcohol to Poland, one might also assume that such business could only pay off and work out better than expected. You couldn't lose; on the contrary - you could become one of the wealthiest people in the country.

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On the other hand, a whole group of business people was located in the so-called "thievish capitalism" mainstream, which is rather a big simplification. This group was very diversified. In the social view of that time, it was depicted by a man in a suit, white socks and loafers with tassels. He was always holding an analogue cell phone close to his ear, in size and weight compared to a cast-iron radiator. Usually, he had a lot of gold around his hands and neck. Visually - a Polish compact version of the "new Russky". There is some truth in it. As a reporter, I attended various events in different parts of Poland and remember these local business stars very well.

It was a set of different characters. Some gave the impression that they came out straight from the books of Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz. Others had false identities, and many succeeded just by showing a picture of themselves with some famous persona – like Lech Wałęsa, for example. In fact, the accidental photograph could open doors for this person in varied offices and other business people environments. Everyone presumed that the owner of the photo must have had incredible influence. Let's take for instance one entrepreneur - at his conferences in a fashionable hotel - he claimed that in the underground area of his city, he owned a secret manufacture working for NASA, and the press described that without any critical thinking.

  Of course, the 'thievish assets' concept also included the mafia capital, which somehow had to legalise its profits. The term "money laundry" became popular, and "laundry" usually referred to a company dealing with washing the "dirty money", although ordinary Dry Cleaners were in crisis at the time. Al Capone took over the betting operators in Chicago and soon realised that in the same places, people were betting and eating as well. So, he also took over the services for those places, such as laundry and delivery of various products. And this eventually led him to take over the milk supplies for the residents of multi-million Chicago. Then, he experienced a shock. It turned out that the milk supply was more profitable than gambling.

Maybe we did not have such spectacular takeovers or breakthroughs, but similar efforts were also made because - there was, and still is - something to fight for. Once, I was told of a renowned town where the local "business club" organised a gala for regional entrepreneurs. The invitations were not cheap, but people could kill to get them. During that event, an auction of paintings by amateur artists was organised. To put it mildly, their work could be classified as a very Naive Art genre. And there, a real miracle happened. It turned out that people reacted most vividly to Art when given the right impulse and strong encouragement. After emotional auctions, the paintings reached prices that even widely recognised artists would envy.

Work doesn't pay off

Once I met a colleague from one of many schools I attended. We went for a pint of beer, and during the conversation, it turned out that he worked with another schoolmate of ours whose career was high-profile but not necessarily legal. Let's call him Mr X. He said, «Look, Mr X was sitting here where you are sitting now, and then he was crying to me». «Look…» - here he pointed out to a huge development investment being built right in front of our eyes - «…these are true mafias…». So, my school friend turned out to be Kassandra, predicting the coming of the VAT mafias.

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The lack of rules in the first decade of the Third Polish Republic meant that those who cheated employees also fell into the basket of the thievish business - they simply did not pay salaries. This could be understood; after all, at that time, workers were taught a certain level of subordination to business people, who sacrificed themselves so much and gave jobs to the lowly ones. Ultimately, work was a privilege, not an obligation, as there was no compulsion. And since it was a privilege, someone had to pay.

Subjugation to employers was later perpetuated by corporate capitalism. In large corporations, the rule has been adopted that no one counts working hours. Therefore, after a business breakfast and a coffee break, the senior management went to a business lunch, which was often prolonged. After those activities, they appeared in offices right at the time when all employees should have been getting ready for home. Then, the directors demanded immediate reports from their workers, pointed out at new tasks and wanted everything for yesterday. Fortunately, the management's business dinner was still ahead. Occasionally, bosses pat the Polish labourers on their back, saying: "You work so hard in Poland…, trade unions wouldn't allow this in our country."

It is worth remembering - as a form of explanation to our native capitalists - that for many of them, enrichment was also associated with a huge culture shock. A quarter of a century ago, a man who designed and furnished homes for "The New Rich" told me that most of them had nothing valuable in their houses, often no family heirlooms at all. And he had to help them build their new identity. Many of those people did not use anyone's help. Hence the famous villas called "Gargamels". That was some strange combination of Disneyland Castles with the Carrington Palace, only in the Lego version. I have a friend who in successive houses recreates such a peculiar, as for Polish conditions, combinations of a foyer with a living room and a mezzanine with stairs - just like in the Cartwright house from the "Bonanza" Western TV series

Business on the resurrected spirit

The Mass Privatization Program turned out to be a total flop and a humbug. Thanks to it, nobody felt like a capitalist, although some people in the queues for share certificates were reminded of the worst period of market shortages. Perhaps it was all about these queues at PPP (PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP platform). If so, that was a brilliant operation.
Stamp confirming participation in the Mass Privatization Program, inserted into the ID card. Entry: "The holder of this document exercised the right to receive a general share certificate - 1996-02-21". Photo. Olgierd - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia
Since there was privatisation and there was no re-privatization, the program of the latter was created spontaneously, not to say it was a bottom-up initiative. However, probably that would be an exaggeration because it was generated by people with legal education. The marvel of this phenomenon was based on the unparalleled revival of people who vanished, who were missing, and sometimes even involved the resurrection of the dead ones. For our purposes, let's call it spiritist capitalism.

Already during World War II and immediately after, attempts were made in various ways to take over attractive properties. One of the PRL (Polish People's Republic) crime stories describes such a mechanism. There was a watchman in the Land Registry who after work gave the Deed Books and mortgage records to a confidant woman. In the evening, forgers made specific and beneficial entries in the documentation, not even being bothered about diligence. Before the court began to operate in the morning, the books were returned to the files. What can I say… It was the most primitive, even vulgar solution.

In the spiritist capitalism, people who would have turned 100 and over were 'brought back to life'. Nobody claimed them to be declared dead, so they could be considered alive - regardless of their age - or even living in neglect and solitude. Obviously, in such a situation, you needed to extend a helping hand and take care of their possessions. Maybe thanks to us, they could spend their last days or just hours… in the sense of dignity provided by the sensitive property recovering curator. This helping hand could not be rejected by The Courts, which also wanted to demonstrate their far-reaching social issues sensitivity. Kudos to the curators for having the courage to take care of the stray property. How beautiful and noble!

One journalist I knew called such a probation officer and asked about a 117-year-old man.
"He is feeling great," replied the caretaker.
"Can I talk to him?"
"No, because he's in a nursing home."

It is a pity that medicine did not succumb to the charm of spiritualist capitalism or check the factors that influenced such longevity. After all, some of those people should have experienced a real nightmare in the past. For example, Soviet science had great achievements in this field; the oldest people in the world were still being discovered in the USSR. Kumiss certainly supported many individuals, but I don't remember anyone who was helped by a strict low-protein diet, intense physical work and the frosty climate of the far north.

It's easier to get a fundraiser than a loan

Today, the paupers' capitalism has become fashionable, and I foretell a great future for it. The popularity of this formula is due to a simple rule: Why steal or borrow when you can ask and get it? Wow! Such a brilliant trick!

After all, if you asked friends, neighbours or colleagues for money to implement an idea, most would definitely refuse the assistance, and a few would probably impose some idiotic conditions. It could be a standard loan, where you had to consider some bizarre writing, promises to share profits, control over expenses, shares in a company, and God knows what else. You can't trust friends in such situations.
One adult activist announces a fundraiser because, as she claims, she works and has no time to earn her living. Photo. Mahbub Hasan from Pixabay
Nor can you trust normal financial institutions, which realised a long time ago that in the modern world, it is impossible to rob people from distant countries and continents, so now they rob their customers by offering them investments of a certain risk.

Once, a guy from some bank called me to offer such an investment.
"I have no money," - I replied honestly and truthfully.
"We can lend it to you."
"And you can invest the money I would borrow?"
"Yes, indeed".
"So I have a better idea. You lend me the money, I will make an investment, and we'll share the profits after deducting the cost of the loan."
"I am sorry, but we don't invest that way."

Sometimes, it's good not to have money. But those who have it, want to have it or can have it, prefer to reach for real estate, often paying tribute to banks anyway in the form of loans.

But let's get back to the method of raising money. Well, if you can't rely on your friends, you must turn to strangers. Of course, no one would give us a penny if we sat in a suit in front of a shopping mall, on a deckchair, with a drink in our hands and carefully written text displayed on the piggy bank saying: "I need money for new investments. I also accept credit cards, BLIK payments and bank transfers.

One particular individual, an adult activist of this and that - who by no means lives alone - announces a fundraiser because, as she claims, she is a crusader and has no time to earn her living. She can't rely on her old folks because they are not serious at all… If anybody turned directly to another person with such a request, they would have to face a confrontation, neither easy nor beneficial for the one concerned. In many whip-rounds I see references to the loved ones, unpleasant for them, so I have the impression that sometimes it can be less of a hat-collection matter but more of a family conflict. Although this cannot be generalised in any way.

Undoubtedly, the institutional nature helps the collectors a lot. But the most important thing here is a certain level of satisfaction experienced by poor people who are the donors. "Look, they're doing this business because of me". "This movie was made with my money". "They needed fifteen hundred to close the collection, so I gave it. If I were younger, I would do something like that myself."

Therefore, the paupers' capitalism has a great future ahead. Even a small donation gives a sense of satisfaction that you participate in some enterprise while maintaining the comfort of not spending too much. There are no hardships in managing the business and arguing with associates. Somehow, none of my friends felt like a capitalist when they were self-employed (as a company) or even on a junk contract, although the newspapers wrote that "they had it their way" or even became entrepreneurs.

– Grzegorz Sieczkowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: The paupers' capitalism is fashionable. The popularity of this formula is due to a simple rule: Why steal or borrow when you can ask and get it? Photo. Pixabay
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