More and more people complain about the media's acceptance of Viktor Orbán's calling his yearly speeches that he has given twelve times between 1999 and 2010 "évértékelő beszédek." The term is a recent coinage. One might translate "évértékelő" as "assessment of the year," but Orbán's speeches are not assessments but political orations in front of an adoring audience. This year being an election year, it was a simple campaign speech. According to Orbán's media critics, it was wrong even to accept the term. However, it entered not only the vocabulary but also Hungarian politics, from where I don't think it can be expelled.
Thus, even Lajos Bokros, MDF's candidate to be prime minister of Hungary, resorted to giving a speech that would "assess" the past. Bokros is an ambitious fellow. If Orbán assesses only one year he will talk about the last ten. But that is not the only difference between the two speeches. Orbán said absolutely nothing about the last year while Bokros put together a very coherent assessment of what went wrong with the Hungarian economy in the last ten years. I highly recommend listening to the speech.
Bokros began by promising his audience that his speech would not only point out the mistakes of the past decade but would also offer "solutions." He has been calling the last ten years "the lost years." In 2001 and 2002 Hungary turned away from the road of economic growth. Today Hungary's economic situation is exactly the same as it was ten years ago. During the first two or three years there was modest growth but soon enough the Hungarian economy stagnated and later, as a result of the world economic crisis, shrank by 7.5%. This all happened because there were people who underestimated the power of basic economic principles and talked about them as "text-book knowledge." This is of course a reference to Viktor Orbán and his economic guru, György Matolcsy, who began this whole downward spiral by emphasizing internal consumption that they kept artificially high. According to Bokros there are people who refuse to recognize that the Hungarian economy is a small, export driven, transitional market. It's worth comparing this description of Hungary to Orbán's. Orbán accuses the socialists and liberals of defeatism when they say that Hungary is a small country and therefore it has certain limitations. No, says Orbán, Hungary is a middle-sized country within the European Union. Well, it is one thing to talk about geographical area and population and another to talk about the size and strength of a country's economy.
In the last ten years the Hungarian economy fell victim to vicious circles that deepened the crisis. Very few people pay very high taxes, and there is a tendency to avoid the tax man altogether. By now, Hungarians aren't even ashamed of the fact that they cheat when it comes to paying taxes. MDF put together a very simple economic primer that the party will give to those who endorse the party's candidates. In it one can read all about the avoidance of taxes and its consequences. Another vicious circle that exists in Hungary is the ever decreasing quality of government services. Better off people visit private doctors because they can afford it. But even people of modest means would rather visit a private dentist because the dentistry provided by the state is horrendous. People are ready to pay for better services and therefore there is less and less inclination to pay for publicly funded healthcare. The third problem is the size and ferocious appetite of the government. The government "gobbles up" half of Hungary's GDP and when that is not enough it has to borrow money. That money is taken away from Hungarian businesses. The cost of money goes up, and thus interest rates are high. The last vicious circle is the Hungarian entitlement system. Everybody is entitled to most social services and, because money is not abundant, everybody gets a little, taking vital assistance away from those who really need the help.
At this point Bokros held up MDF's program and said that the answer can be found in it: more people will have to pay taxes but each taxpayer will thus pay less. The quality of government services must be improved. The government must be trimmed and should refrain from overspending. If this happens, private investment would increase and interest rates would decrease. Again, he made a veiled criticism of Orbán and his voodoo economics when he said that there are some people who think that interest rates can be drastically changed at will. Bokros didn't footnote Orbán here, who a few months ago when the interest rate was about 12% came up with the brilliant idea that the interest rate should immediately be lowered to six percent! Bokros sarcastically asked: why not 3%? Because, as Bokros explained, the exchange rate between the forint and the euro would 350 as opposed to the present 270. What would happen to those who are indebted in foreign curriences? One must have some idea about what is possible and what is not. This is the art of governing. And what he didn't add, Orbán is therefore unfit.
Bokros went on to criticize, again without mentioning names, the notion of "the strong state." One doesn't need a strong state, one needs a clever one. There is the need for a vigorous society, a healthy economy, businesses with strong foundations, and a vibrant democracy. The state should be small but effective. Bokros then gave another economic lesson to Orbán who claimed that the economic crisis was due to simple human greed. Human greed of course exists but the problem was that the American government fell asleep at the switch. He also blamed the Federal Reserve for keeping interest rates artificially too low. The Federal Reserve or the central bank should be the counterweight to bad governance. That is another jab at Orbán who pretty well indicated that the government will "reorganize" the central bank. As Bokros said: "the state is not always right."
Bokros also had a few harsh words about those "eastern winds." Those winds are often cold and mean dictatorship. Surely, he was talking about China that nowadays Orbán deems a model to be copied. He warned Orbán, again without mentioning his name, against "creating 1 million jobs." The government cannot create jobs. If public works jobs are created, they are only a drain on the country's resources.
Surely, Bokros could have talked for at least another hour, but he had to respect the time limit. I for one could have listened to him for another hour. He is an experienced speaker who is capable of explaining complex economic ideas to those with no background in economics. It's too bad that Bokros will have no chance to help reshape Hungary's economy. If he had a free hand, I have no doubt that within a few years Hungary would again be on the road to economic growth.