Friday, March 30, 2012

Highways in hell

Expats in Poland agree on one thing usually: Polish roads are hellish and Polish drivers are insane. Most prefer rail, which seems safe though isn't always. A few opt for air, which is cheaper and cheaper. But almost no one drives unless they have to.

I am the exception. When I first came to Poland in the mid-1990s, Polish roads were indeed scary but they were also extremely exciting. It was like driving in the early video game Outrun (pictured).

Coming from Western Canada, where falling asleep at the wheel is a big danger, I could appreciate the fact I was never sleepy driving in Poland. On the contrary, I was riddled with adrenalin.

I thus learned to drive like a true Pole: fast, hard, aggressive. You are not driving if you aren't internally timing yourself.

Over the years, I've been party to many a fight on whether driving was so dangerous in Poland because of the roads or drivers. I have usually said the roads: the poor quality of them forces one to take risks in order to salvage a half-decent time.

Most say the drivers: you have to adjust driving to the roads. I usually view the latter like I view rational economic theory -- fine in practice but woefully inadequate when confronted by the messy irrational actors we all are.

I have also believed things aren't that dangerous. New data suggests I'm wrong.

Poland had the most deadly roads in the EU in 2011. A full 109 people died in road accidents for every 1mn people, according to just released European Commission data. The EU average was 61. Greece was second with 97. The UK was the safest at just 32.

Methinks the roads and drivers need to improve massively, though not of course, ahem, me, who naturally is the perfect driver….

A modest proposal

Frenzy grips Poland as the senior ruling Civic Platform wants to hike the retirement age to 67 and everyone and their dog (except mine) is in mad-dog mode crying foul. As I write, the Solidarity trade union is burning things in front of the Polish parliament, where a debate on the issue is being held.

How dare they take away our right to go on a really crappy retirement pension at 60 (women) or 65 (men)? How dare they take away the golden years of our lives when we will sit around and watch You Can Dance 2035? How dare they take away our right to enjoy oatmeal and enemas?

Well, I have a modest proposal. Being a child of 1973, I put forward a reduction of the retirement age to 39. Yes, 39. Imagine. No longer are you old and grey with one foot in a pine-box when you retire. Rather, you are young (ish) and free and ready to parrrrrtay After all, aren't the late 30s the new late 20s?

In economic terms, just think of the massive increase in positive consumer sentiment when the retirement age is lowered. If everyone gets really upset when it is increased to 67, the opposite can only mean a surge of optimism. Everyone will go out and spend to the tee, buying holidays and six packs, and tennis rackets and ice boxes, and party hats and cigar holders….

…what's that? How are we going to pay for this? Ummm, exactly.