Governments spend taxpayer money at a level and rate that can seem incomprehensible without an ongoing reminder. That’s why Atlas Network partners in Poland and Croatia have tried to keep taxpayers informed and government officials accountable through outdoor displays that keep a running tally of public debt. September marked the fifth anniversary of the debt clock launched by Polish Atlas Network partner Civil Development Forum (FOR), and last month also saw the unveiling of a new public debt counter, displayed in five public locations and available online, sponsored by Croatian Atlas Network partner Linden – Taxpayers’ Association.
“The public debt clock is located in one of the busiest places of the Polish capital,” explained economist Marek Tatała, who serves as an executive board member for FOR. “It is important tool to build awareness about fiscal policy, public expenditures and taxation. For many years politicians were spending more than they were collecting in taxes which led to excessive public deficits. European Commission estimates that in 2015 the structural deficit in Poland (i.e. deficit adjusted to cyclical factors) will be the 6th highest in the European Union.”
The FOR debt clock in Warsaw received Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award in 2011, in the “Special Achievement by a Young Institute” category. Its clock was updated in 2013 to include implicit public debt, including such government liabilities as loans, bonds, and obligations for future expenditures like pensions and health insurance. FOR reports that a press conference with the organization’s founder Leszek Balcerowicz and economist Aleksander Laszek attracted many journalists, as well as pedestrians who had been walking in the neighborhood of the clock.
The new Linden – Taxpayers’ Association debt counter in Croatia was conceived, planned and implemented by members of the association, in collaboration with affiliated economic experts and analysts, to bring to attention the public debt in the crucial pre-election period. Croatian public debt stands at almost 90 percent of the country’s GDP, having doubled since the onset of the financial and economic crisis in 2008, and is becoming a major macroeconomic concern.
Unveiled on Sept. 23, both the public debt counter displays and their online equivalent have brought Linden – Taxpayers’ Association a great deal of publicity. With more than 200,000 people passing them daily, these locations show their messages more than 1,500 times per day. The unveiling was followed by a panel discussion, with economists Vuk Vuković and Velimir Šonje, as well as Davor Huić, the executive director of Linden – Taxpayers’ Association. More than 90 news stories covered the debt counters in national print, radio, newspapers, and television stations.
*the article was originally published in www.atlasnetwork.org