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Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom by Brian Porter-Sz̋cs

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5

HYPERINFLATION AND DEPRESSION: THE INTERWAR PERIOD

Interwar Poland was a poor country, and for the majority of its population life was hard. Of course there were places in Europe (not to mention the rest of the world) where levels of impoverishment were higher, but that does not diminish the suffering in Poland. Taking a bird’s-eye view by measuring per capita GDP in 1928 (the Second Republic’s best year), we see that Poland looks poor when compared to the United States or the United Kingdom, but fortunate when compared to most of the non-European world. In this regard Poland in the 1920s was a typical country of the eastern and southern parts of Europe, a bit richer than Romania or Bulgaria and a bit poorer than Italy or Spain (see Figure 5.1 for some comparisons).

But GDP only provides an abstract and overgeneralized picture of a country’s economy. This metric can’t give us much sense of what it was like to live there, nor can it measure internal variations (which were vast in Poland’s case). One way of bringing things down to the human scale is to consider a typical household budget. A working-class family in Warsaw in 1927 spent almost two thirds of their income on food (see Figure 5.2). This rose to three quarters among the unemployed. To put this into perspective, white collar workers and professionals in Warsaw at the same time spent less than one third of their budget on food, and most readers of this book in North America and Europe today probably spend less than 15 ...

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