Friday, 3 December 2010

Annoyance at Polish English

I saw a reference in Polish Market to an article entitled Regional disparities and growth poles in Poland . This sounded interesting.

For some background, I worked on regional policy in Poland with Piotr Żuber (Peter Bison or Peter Buffalo), architect of Polish regional policy. (Picture from Śląski University website.)

Sadly, since he is a professional civil servant and not a politician, his name is unlikely to mean anything to you. He is currently Director responsible for Co-ordination of Structural Policy in the Ministry of Regional Development and has roughly had this role from the time when EU structural policy first became a practical issue.

So, the article sounded great, but the way it is written has made it too difficult for me to read. The English itself isn't great, but I could probably cope with that. It is purely the layout, with a huge amount of text that quickly becomes impenetrable.

I would normally first skim through the text to get a quick idea of what it's about. The English style of creating paragraphs dealing with different themes is ideally suited for this. A few keywords from each paragraph tells me roughly what everything is about in a few seconds. I cannot do that here.

Breaking the text down into succinct paragraphs also assists me when I break away from the text to think about it. I know when I can take a pause from reading and I can return to where I have finished quite easily. Writing in this style, I am also forced to consider the coherence of the text, dramatically increasing my focus on the points I want to make.

I have rewritten the first eight lines of the second paragraph in my own style to show what 'paragraph thinking' does, particularly through the need to ask "what point am I trying to make here?".

The choice between national competitiveness and territorial cohesion is the main dilemma of regional policy. Measures aiming at equalising levels of development across the country often have an anti-growth character at national level. Quite simply, resources are directed away from primary growth centres to those with lesser potential. However, persistence of large regional disparities is one of the reasons why constraints on rapid growth, such as increasing costs of labour and real estate, are difficult to overcome. These ultimately slow the development of growth centres themselves. Most of the best developed and richest economies of Europe like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and Italy have moderate regional disparities. Regional policies should therefore target improving conditions for development in poorer regions, such as improvement of infrastructure, education and mechanisms for transferring knowledge out from the growth centres. These will make the spread of growth easier.

Comparing this with the original, I am forced to rethink the free flow of ideas and to establish a coherent point, radically reordering the sentence to do this.

Elżbieta Wojnicka's message is now much clearer to me. It reminds me of a discussion we had with Piotr contemplating the idea of focusing EU money on areas with the greatest growth potential. The idea was purely academic - Polish political sentiment and the EU Commission would not have permitted it, but we all thought this would maximise national growth in Poland. Indeed, reinforcement of 'growth poles' would by itself increase development potential of other areas most effectively, both through inevitable leakage effects and, contrary to Dr Wojnicka's assertion, increased attractiveness over time in terms of resource costs (wages, land, etc). Spreading EU money thinly across the whole country made little sense. Instead, development money should be redirected over time to reinforce these market affects. From a purely national perspective, EU funding is heavily social rather than economic policy. There is nothing wrong with that, but it should be recognised.

Ultimately, however, I have to question my personal capabilities. Would a Polish person have little difficulty in understanding something I find completely impenetrable? It wouldn't surprise me. Indeed, close to the end - easy to jump to, Dr Wojnicka writes:

The conclusion is that the growth of regional differences in GDP level is interconnected with quick economic growth on the domestic level but after catching up in terms of income countries should aim at moderate regional divergence which is the characteristic of most of the best developed countries.

I'm not going to try and found out how she gets to that conclusion, though.


Paddy Ney said...

Interesting article Steve.

Anonymous said...

You did not understand the paragraph correctly. The meaning was that growth poles become more and more costly and loose competitiveness and if the perhipery is underdeveloped in terms of infrastructure, human capital then it would be difficult to lower the costs in growth poles by moving firms to peripheries, and hence the overall growth would be restricted (try to write something in Polish)

Pan Steeva said...


You are completely right in saying "try to write something in Polish". I regularly applaud people's capability, no matter how many errors there may be. I was speculating here on the failure of British reading capabilities, so didn't feel any need to do so this time.

The issue I think you're addressing is my questioning her claim that "Persistence of large regional disparities is also one of the reasons why the costs of quick growth like increased cost of labor force or real estate are difficult to overcome and make the development in the poles of growth weaker". Whilst this is true in the longer term, back in 1999, her general assertion that "regional policies should take care of sustaining or creation of good conditions for development in poorer regions like infrastructure, education and channels of transfer of knowledge from poles of growth to the poorer territories" was of extremely questionable validity if one is looking to maximise overall growth. I doubt whether it is universally valid in Poland to this day, but I could be completely wrong. It is all a question of timing and targeting. "It is important to have strong growth poles in each province on the NUTS 3 level which would prevent regional divergence from increasing" seems a very reasonable objective, but when is the best time to invest in this, rather than targeting most probable success areas? Relying on examples of rich economies seems to omit the dynamics of the development process.

Incidentally, if you wondered why I used 'growth centres' rather than 'growth poles', its because I don't like the latter's ambiguity, especially when reading "These poles would be real growth poles if...".