Ukraine needs to be more like Poland

There was a saying in the Soviet Union: "If you are not stealing from the government, you are stealing from your own family."  That was the problem with a lack of morality.  The government responded by having guards on everything.  Even relatively immovable objects such as bridges had guard posts on them.  The thieving and its countermeasures were a great drain on the economy.  The communist countries weren't taught the Eighth Commandment and the Golden Rule.  Then communism fell apart in 1990, and the former eastern bloc countries were left with shrunken economies and still no morality.

Some turned around faster than others.  Consider the data in the following chart of GDP per capita for Poland, Russia, and Ukraine since 1980 (data from USDA):

Both Russia and Ukraine took ten years to bottom out after the dissolution of 1990.  A lot of the apparent growth in Russian GDP per capita since 2000 is the rebound in oil production and the higher oil prices of the last decade.  Oil and gas constituted 68% of Russia's exports in 2013.  Take out the oil and gas production, and Russian GDP per capita would be $8,000 per annum, not $11,400.  But Ukraine is the basket case of Europe, a Euro version of Bolivia.  Ukraine is just about as poor as Bolivia and for the same reason: endemic corruption.

By comparison, Poland had one bad year after the fall of communism and then took off.  Polish GDP growth per capita has averaged 4.2 percent for the last 22 years.  At that rate, Poland will catch up with its Western neighbor Germany by 2043.  Poland doesn't have much in the way of resources, but that doesn't matter so much if you have a legal system that protects private property.  There don't seem to be that many Polish oligarchs who stole public property when communism fell.  On the other hand, the only thick, glossy magazines available at the heliport in Monaco are in Cyrillic script.  There are enough hyper-wealthy Russians residents in Monaco that their buying habits sustain several such magazines.

Russia is now gnawing away at Ukraine's eastern provinces.  Ukraine would be better able to defend itself, and give its people more to believe in, if it were less corrupt – if it were more like Poland.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare.

If you experience technical problems, please write to