Economists are looked upon in Hungary as a fiercely independent group within the intellectual elite whose only guideline is strict professionalism. They are respected scholars, and whatever they say is the "truth." Apparently, according to Zsófia Mihancsik (in the last issue of Mozgó Világ, a monthly), this high esteem of economists goes back to the Kádár regime when at one point it seemed that the ills of the regime were not so much political as economic in nature. Even practicing journalists, admittedly without any economic background, look upon economists' words as holy writ. I had an interesting experience with one of these journalists. Some time ago in Napkelte (Sunrise), the early morning political show on the Hungarian equivalent of public television, the journalist confidently explained to an MSZP politician that the American experience proves that lower taxes translate into higher economic growth. This was the situation under President Reagan, he added. Well, my curiosity was aroused and I decided to inquire from him where he learned that. Answer: From So and So. I asked him: Don't you realize that there is this kind of economist and that kind of economist? Or, as the standard joke goes about the dismal science, on the one hand, on the other hand, and on the third hand. It seems that this never occurred to him. If an economist says something it must be true.
Anyone who has followed recent Hungarian developments must be struck by the sudden activity of economists. Suddenly they are full of excellent ideas. Not a day passes that one of these gurus doesn't come up with some plan that will save, if not the world, at least Hungary. And their recipes are fullproof. Not long ago I talked about the four young economists of Oriens who promised an economic paradise in two years if their plan is accepted. Luckily it wasn't. There are two or three all-knowing economists who can be heard practically daily. One of them is László Csaba about whom I will say nothing because he is considered to be Fidesz's "court economist." However, I would like to say a few words about László Békesi and Lajos Bokros, both former ministers of finance under Gyula Horn, and both of whom, by the way, were eventually fired by the socialist prime minister.
Békesi always looks as if the end of the world were at hand. He had the same demeanor during his tenure as minister of finance. Mind you, then the situation was really critical. But since then Békesi has not become a more cheerful soul. And now that Fidesz has managed to whip up a "crisis situation" Békesi is an obvious media guest. It is not necessary to go into the details of what Békesi says because he is completely in sync with the other suddenly active economists. What they all have in common is a firm grasp of textbook economic theory and a total disregard of the existing political situation.
Listening to Békesi, as I indicated above, is not fun, but I must say that I had to laugh the last time I heard him. He was being interviewed after the deal with Daimler-Benz became public. He was asked how it was possible that such a prestigious, world-renowned auto manufacturer decided to establish a large plant in Hungary if the Hungarian economic situation is as bad as he and his economist friends claim. Békesi was at a loss. The decision, he kept repeating, was totally unexpected. Something must be not quite right. We will perhaps one day find out what kind of illegal, sinister force is behind it. He didn't elaborate, but I had the feeling that what he had in mind was something like this: Perhaps pressure was put on Daimler-Benz from above (the German government, European Union?) to choose Hungary and thus bolster Ferenc Gyurcsány's government. One possibility he didn't contemplate: he is exaggerating the problems of Hungary, and the situation doesn't look so bad from abroad as the Hungarian economists would like us to believe.
And now let's talk about Lajos Bokros. I used to respect the man, but lately I have very serious reservations about him. Not as an economist because he admittedly did a very good and brave thing in the spring of 1995 that helped to save Hungary from economic and financial ruin. But where was he with all his reform ideas when the government announced its reform plans two years ago? Did he help? Did he tell Hungarian society that these measures were necessary? Did he tell the Hungarian people that Fidesz's attacks on the government's reform plans were misplaced? That Fidesz and Orbán were outright wrong? No, he didn't. He said nothing. Now that Fidesz has managed to put an end to many of the reforms, Lajos Bokros surfaces and attacks Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government for not having the guts to continue the reforms that were killed by Fidesz. This is not decent behavior. Not in my eyes.
And by the way, for those of you who understand Hungarian I highly recommend Sándor Friderikusz's final program tomorrow night on ATV. Inspired by Zsófia Mihancsik's penetrating article about Lajos Bokros in Mozgó Világ, Friderikusz has organized a get-together between Ferenc Gyurcsány and three economists. It should be a real treat. As for Mihancsik's article I will summarize it next time.