Acton Institute Powerblog

Who really benefits from Poland’s Sunday shopping ban?

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Poland may soon ban shopping on Sundays. On Friday, November 24, the lower house of the Polish legislature (the Sejm) approved a Sunday shopping ban, 254-156. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party has presented this as a way to uphold the nation’s Catholic character, but some on the ground warn there is more to the commerce ban than meets the eye.

It’s true that Poland’s Catholic Bishops Conference lobbied hard for the measure, which would gradually phase out Sunday shopping by 2020. “Let’s not disregard God in public life,” the bishops said in a statement, “and let’s not assume we have the right to organise national life as if God didn’t exist.”

But the law’s carve-outs allow commerce to continue apace on the day of rest; they merely channel it to politically favored merchants, warns Mikołaj Pisarski, the former president of Poland’s free market KoLiber Association.

“In its current iteration, the bill allows more than 30 exceptions, mostly discriminating against large shopping centers,” writes Pisarski in a new essay for Acton’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website.

In his new article, he explains how the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party has used the bill to advance a populist narrative pitting foreign-owned business chains against small Polish firms – and to favor labor union’s interests.

Public opinion runs against the ban, nearly two-to-one (59 percent to 35 percent) – including among the workers the law is said to be intended to benefit. Pisarski describes the economic impact the ban will have on workers and consumers alike.

“The religious motivation was at best tertiary. But the cost, as usual, will be paid by consumers,” he writes. “The motivation behind the ruling party’s decision to limit trade was purely political.”

A similar, less overtly religious campaign has been launched to close stores in the UK on Boxing Day (December 26). I offered thoughts about the shortcomings of that proposal here.

Meanwhile in Poland, the owners of stores not included in the commerce ban are gearing up to reap windfall profits. “While no longer possible in large stores, Sunday shopping will thrive – this time inside gas stations which are exempted from the bill and which are, right now, planning to expand their product line,” writes Pisarski.

Should a good government restrain evil, or should it actively force its citizens to become moral? If the latter, who is to guarantee it will share our definition of virtue? And is coerced virtue truly virtuous at all?

Read his whole essay here.

(Photo credit: Ken Hawkins. CC BY 2.0.)


Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.


  • Steve Vinzinski

    Does not make sense.Even Christ said you should tend and rescue your animals on Sunday,Gas stations can stay open,today most gas stations sell everything.When I say that look at WAWA on the East coast. Anything from Gas of course and products that go with gas hand in hand.All types of prepared food and non prepared.In Poland one can expand on that to literally have a Mall.Once you loose an customer it is difficult to recover that patron.

  • David Stephenson

    Good attempt to twist the argument!
    So, why not attack the other countries that have similar systems, eh? Go on … Austria and Germany for starters! Business interests were successful in attacking the Polish govt’s attempt to replicate in detail the French tax on hypermarkets (famous tax avoiders in Poland) – but it was struck down at EU level … which in a mealy mouthed ruling said that the French system was OK for France but not for Poland, because it was unpopular among Big Business in Poland. No, seriously – they said that!! You honestly couldn’t make it up.
    Merry Lobbying in Brussels! And Many Happy Tax Returns!

  • “Should a good government restrain evil, or should it actively force its citizens to become moral?”
    There does not seem to be a difference. By restraining evil, it actively forces citizens to avoid evil which is part of becoming moral. Restraining the evil of impiety does not seem to be essentially different from restraining fraud. One encourages religion or justice toward God and the other honesty or justice in speech.
    “If the latter, who is to guarantee it will share our definition of virtue?”
    The State always and everywhere establishes some set of goods and behaviors as restricted or empowered. That this can no more be guarenteed than men acting rightly, but that some restrictions and empowerments be established cannot be avoided.

    “And is coerced virtue truly virtuous at all?”
    Virtue requires a particular orientation of the will. The state however can only concern itself with external acts. Moreover, it’s end is to produce those conditions that reinforce the common good and allow men to be good and be united to one another.