June 12, 2017 Print

Poland was home to prominent free-market economists who played a prominent role in the country’s public policy and economic development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the loss of millions of lives through war and political instability have left their contributions largely forgotten. A new documentary from the Freedom and Entrepreneurship Foundation (FEF), an Atlas Network partner based in Katowice, Poland, focuses on the lives and ideas of these groundbreaking Polish economists and gives them a deservedly prominent place in the country’s intellectual history.

“The Krakow School is today almost completely forgotten,” the foundation explains (translated from Polish). “Therefore, we want to remind you of those heroes who fought not with a rifle, but with their minds for a free and rich Poland. … They were killed by the Nazi regime and further persecuted in communist Poland, their works were banned in book catalogues, and they themselves disappeared in the depths of history. The remnants of their memory need to be rekindle so that their scientific achievements can be used again, and their involvement in public affairs might be an example for today’s Poles.”

Although Poland is vastly different than during the period between World Wars I and II, the Freedom and Entrepreneurship Foundation also sees some striking similarities, not in terms of any one political party, but in the way that Poles tend to think about the relationship between government and markets. The legacy of the Krakow School has plenty to teach modern Poland about the disastrous consequences of an oppressive regulatory regime.

The documentary, titled Forgotten: History of the Krakow School of Economics and partly funded by a grant from Atlas Network, delves into the ideas of Adam Krzyżanowski, who held several economic positions within the Polish government and held secret classes during the World War II occupation; Ferdynand Zweig, who had an illustrious academic career at multiple institutions; and Adam Zdzisław Heydel, who perhaps more than anyone exemplified the Krakow School and the importance of economic liberalization.

“The memory of people and ideas is a bridge between the past and the present, a bridge that is not only symbolic, but also with a practical dimension,” FEF explains. “The development of civilization consists in analyzing, selecting and developing the achievements of past generations. Without knowledge of the history of intellectual impoverishment, we risk committing the same mistakes as our ancestors. The complex and turbulent history of our country includes a severe loss of property and the tragic death of many millions of Poles — we all know that. We have lost much, but also something more elusive — a large part of scientific knowledge, which fell into the ‘memory gaps.’ Who today remembers the Krakow School of Economics?”