Taxation without Contestation: How the Creation of New Tax System in the Post-Socialist Poland Was Depoliticized

Marcin Serafin, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences/Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies

It seems that there are few issues that are as easy to politicize as the introduction of a new tax. The introduction of any tax is likely to be met with opposition as it inevitably creates social groups, which can then be easily mobilized against each other or against those in power. How is it then possible that after 1989 Poland witnessed the introduction of a whole new personal income tax system (PIT) without much debate or contestation? I show how - compared to other reforms that were happening at that time, such as the introduction of a new abortion law or the creation of a new electoral law - there was little resistance to the introduction of PIT in Poland. Drawing on archival work and interviews with various state officials and members of the media, I argue that policymakers from the first post-socialist governments focused on other reforms and left the construction of the new tax system to career civil servants. These civil servants, who had made their careers in the ministry of finance in the last decade of the socialist regime, had been working on introducing a personal income tax already in the late 1980s. With some advice from international organizations, they constructed a tax system that was meant to reform the socialist economy without being particularly noticeable. These civil servants saw the creation of the new tax system as a technocratic problem and made efforts not to turn it into a political issue. Before it was passed, the planned reform was largely ignored by journalists, who had little professional or personal experience with taxation. The new tax system ended up not being contested by any political actor. I thus show how fundamental political reforms can, under the right conditions, escape public awareness and avoid contestation.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 197. Movements and Conflicts in World-Historical Perspectives