Washington View: Election is about government control

By Don Brunell, Columbian business commentator


photoDon Brunell recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business.

When you peel off the layers and get beyond the rhetoric, this year's presidential election is about government control. President Barack Obama wants government to have a greater say in our daily lives, while former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney advocates for greater personal responsibility and private-sector solutions.

The path our nation — and to a lesser extent our state — takes on Nov. 6 will have repercussions far beyond this one election.

Before we opt for more government control, we should look at what happened to Poland, a country of 38.5 million people, nearly twice the size of Washington.

While Poland's roots as a nation date back to 966 A.D., its people spent most of the last hundred years caught in a vice between Russia's Communists to the east and Germany's Nazis to the west. It wasn't until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 that the Polish people got their first taste of freedom.

The majority of the Polish people know that government control of the economy was a disaster. Black markets were rampant, and grocery store shelves were empty. The Communist government controlled everything from what crops were planted to how many apartments were built. That iron-fisted domination resulted in shortages, hardship and civil unrest. It was a miserable failure.

In 1980, everything started changing.

A worker revolt at the Gdansk shipyard led by Lech Walesa spawned the Solidarity Movement, which eventually forced Poland's leaders to embrace democratic elections, free speech and free enterprise.

In fact, one of the student leaders involved in Walesa's movement, Pawe Adamowicz, became the mayor of Gdansk. Adamowicz, who has served as the city's mayor since 1998, is one of Poland's leading promoters of free enterprise.

Today, Adamowicz is using capitalism to breathe new life into the old Gdansk shipyard. More than 75 companies now operate on the site, and its ship repair and restoration services are making a comeback.

Adamowicz recently led a Polish trade delegation to Washington. The delegation included 15 young, high-tech entrepreneurs who presented their ideas and new products. Their imagination, innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit put Poland on a path to prosperity. Today, the Polish people have a bright future because its government leaders reversed course 20 years ago.

As European Union leaders desperately scramble to save the Eurozone and cobble together policies to restore growth, Poland is solidifying its position as the union's fastest-growing economy. Poland now has strong domestic market, low private debt, flexible currency and exports.

In its latest forecast last July, the European Commission predicted Poland would grow by 2.7 percent this year, the fastest in the EU.

Poland's economy grew 15.8 percent from 2008 to 2011, while the EU saw its GDP shrink by 0.5 percent.

Poland is now the most resilient of the ex-communist states that joined the EU between 2004 and 2007.

The Polish people are proud of their new economy and make no apologies for it.

Ironically, as Poles have embraced free enterprise and the private sector as its job-creating engine, Americans seem to be headed in the opposite direction toward more government planning and control.

It didn't work in Poland, and it won't work here. Americans will put that vision to the test on Nov. 6. That is what the 2012 election is all about.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce.