LMP's election program is very, very long: 228 pages all told. Considering that I downloaded it only a couple of hours ago I can't give a blow-by-blow analysis of the document. However, now that LMP has done quite well in gathering endorsements and can have a countrywide list, András Schiffer, the party's candidate for prime minister, is the man of the hour. I have at my disposal the texts of two interviews, both quite long and detailed. The first took place on March 25 on MTV with Antónia Mészáros and the second on March 26 on György Bolgár's popular program "Let's talk it over" on Klub Rádió. I might mention that all of Bolgár's interviews are transcribed and available on www.galamus.hu.
My overall impression is that in some respects LMP's program strongly resembles the proposals of Fidesz. That is, the little we know about Viktor Orbán's ideas. This is certainly true about the party's plans for Hungarian agriculture, pensions, and healthcare. Here and there I detect the influence of Péter Róna, formerly a New York banker, especially when it comes to the party's negative attitude toward multinational corporations and its views on agriculture as one of the cornerstones of the future Hungarian economy. Since I disagree with Róna's solutions it's no wonder that I don't sympathize with LMP's program either.
My suspicion is that the relative success of LMP lies in its name. "Politics could be different" sounds enticing to people who are fed up with the political wrangling between Fidesz and MSZP and who long for a party that promises an entirely different political culture. Yet Antónia Mészáros of MTV rightly pointed out that it is odd to see a civic organization that doesn't know the word compromise when it comes to environmental issues enter politics, which is the art of compromise. Or at least it should be. Although Schiffer refused to admit that LMP is a "protest party," he called politics in Hungary no more than "the privilege of financial groups and half-criminal elements." That's quite an opening salvo!
LMP has been fairly consistently anti-MDF; they were especially virulent in their attack on Lajos Bokros and MDF's negotiations with the remnants of SZDSZ. As Schiffer said, "We don't want bankrupt, used-up politicians to sail into parliament on a lifeboat." It's hard to tell which Schiffer hates more, the liberals or Ibolya Dávid's MDF. And what does Schiffer think of Bokros? "An economist with an expiration date."
So, what are some of their ideas? Mészáros started with the question of pensions and inquired whether the party would nationalize private pension funds. The answer was no, but they would install an effective supervisory body over them. However, when György Bolgár asked him about changes in the current pension policy, Schaffer admitted that they would like to see the introduction of the Swedish model with some modification. The modification they propose is in fact no modification whatsoever compared to the pension policy currently in effect in Sweden.
As far as healthcare is concerned, again LMP is very close to the little we know about Fidesz's plans. Healthcare will remain completely public. No private investments are acceptable. However, he admitted that the healthcare system at the moment is in ruins. The remedy? The same as what Imre Pesti, Fidesz's healthcare expert, outlined: more money. To be precise, an extra 250 billion forints yearly, as we found out from the Bolgár interview. When Bolgár pressed Schiffer where this money would come from, he couldn't give a straight answer. First he suggested that healthcare payments should be changed to tax-like fees (presumably progressive), but when Bolgár inquired whether that would mean higher medical insurance premiums for people with higher incomes Schiffer changed his tune. No, this is not what he said. He thinks that there would be enough money in the budget to be able to give an extra 250 billion forints to the medical sector.
In addition to the 250 billion for healthcare, LMP would like to reshuffle the current budgetary allotments to the tune of 1,000 billion (and yes, at least as we multiply numbers in this country, we're now talking about a trillion). They are thinking in terms of a "green tax reform." Certain taxes would be lowered while they would raise or even introduce new ones that would be beneficial to the environment. For example, there would be a new kind of tax called "the carbon dioxide tax." They would introduce higher excise taxes on gasoline or on truckers in order to divert traffic to the railroads. When the terrible situation at the MÁV came up in the conversation, Schiffer was very vague: all state-owned companies should be managed better. He mentioned that under ideal circumstances more people would use the railroad and therefore more people would buy tickets. Tickets?–asked Antónia Mészáros. But that's exactly the problem. Almost nobody buys tickets. Schiffer didn't take that bait. Why should his party stop all discounts currently in existence and the totally free rides for those over the age of 65? Because, according to him, "that is not the cause of MÁV's problems."
Bolgár was a bit more insistent when the question of the trillion forint reorganization came up. He wanted to know the details because his first impression was that "perhaps politics can be different, but one would need a lot more money than now." If this is just a question of a reorganization of the tax system, then this trillion must come from certain sectors that would be taxed at a higher rate. Schiffer first mentioned taxes on property, and therefore Bolgár thought of a real estate tax. But no, Schiffer offered some vague notion about "cataloguing valuable items." Bolgár at this point warned Schiffer that this is a very dangerous (and, I would add, utterly unworkable) proposition. Schiffer retreated to only cars and boats. However, we know the pitiful amounts of money that can come from the so-called luxury tax, and Bolgár pointed this out to him. Thus Schiffer retreated to the property tax in the normal sense of the word. Yes, it could be introduced later on. Would they extend this kind of tax to more people than in the last attempt rejected by the Constitutional Court? No, they wouldn't. But said Bolgár, this would never bring in a trillion forints. Perhaps not, but they would introduce higher taxes on the consumption of environmentally unfriendly products such as natural gas and gasoline. I think Bolgár was right when he remained unconvinced that a trillion forints could be squeezed out of these newly introduced green taxes.
LMP's attitude toward the multinationals is very negative even though Schiffer admits that their presence is necessary. But he blames them for Hungary's low level of employment. Again, Péter Róna is lurking in the background here; he tried to sell this preposterous idea to fellow economists in a round-table discussion about a week ago on ATV. He was trounced. According to Schiffer "the distorted accommodation to the demands of the multinationals in the long run is never a success story." Bolgár's Irish and Slovak examples didn't impress Schiffer. LMP, like MSZP and Fidesz, emphasizes the need for state support of middle-sized and small Hungarian companies who are not quite ready to be competitive in the world market while the Hungarian market is too small. LMP focuses on a "green turn." We're not talking here about high-tech solutions but about a return to agriculture. And here comes one of my standing objections to LMP's and Fidesz's solution to Hungary's employment problems.
The percentage of the actively employed between the ages of 16 and 60 is only 56%. Very low. The problem is especially acute among the undereducated and the unskilled. Somehow proponents of an economy based largely on agricultural production think that this would also solve the low employment rate. They think, wrongly in my opinion, that uneducated, unskilled people would be able to find work in agricultural activity that requires no expertise. It is true that some crops still have to be harvested by hand. But that's not exactly steady work. Most of agriculture is mechanized, vastly improving productivity and on balance increasing profits. So anybody who thinks that an emphasis on agriculture would go a long way toward solving the problem of about one million unemployed Hungarians knows nothing about the requirements of modern agriculture.
Moreover, I find the whole notion of going backwards to a more primitive economic organization outrageous, even if it were realistic. Every country is a de facto participant in the economic "race to the top," and no one will get to the top or even very far up the hill by looking backwards.