Ferenc Gyurcsány: “Disintegration or something else?”

As always, Hungarian Spectrum welcomes democratic voices from and about Hungary. Today Ferenc Gyurcsány, prime minister of Hungary between 2004 and 2009, offers his solutions to the ills of western democracies. Mr. Gyurcsány is currently the chairman of Demokratikus Koalíció, which he established in 2011.

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gyurcsany10

Something has gone wrong. Quietly, but ever more noticeably, more and more people in more and more places are in revolt. In the American presidential primaries the anti-establishment Trump and Sanders have attracted millions of voters. The British are holding a referendum on leaving the European Union. In Germany, support for the centrist Christian Democrats and Social Democrats combined barely reaches 50%. In the first round of the Austrian presidential elections a radical right-wing candidate received the largest share of the votes. On Europe’s southern periphery, from Greece to Spain, new political parties and movements critical of the status quo are rising and, in some cases, achieving significant success.

In Central Europe the situation is even more adversarial. From Poland to Slovakia to Hungary, the political parties enjoying the highest support are those that have turned against the values of a common Europe, the achievements of the post-Communist years, and the vision of an open and free society.

The Western democracies are facing previously unknown challenges. The political order that worked well for decades in America and Europe is in trouble. We do not yet know whether this is just a temporary crisis or a total implosion or whether it is just the first signs of a chaotic transition to a totally new order.

Although the problems are obviously complex, certain root causes are very much evident. The first is the reversing trend in social democratization over the past 20 years. Numerous studies have shown that wealth and income disparities in the Western world are increasing at an ever faster pace. Current generations are faced with the fact that it is increasingly difficult to find decent, well-paying jobs and to support a standard of living similar to that of their parents and grandparents. Meanwhile, the wealth and income of a very few are growing substantially. Thomas Piketty writes in his bestselling work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, that in the countries of Western Europe the top 1% controls 25% of the total wealth, while the bottom half of society controls merely 5%. This represents an average difference of 750-fold! And now those at the bottom and even those in the middle whose status is under threat are starting to revolt.

However, the protesters also come from another segment of society. Highly educated young people who are not protesting because of economic insecurity, but because they feel that certain values are missing. They are the people rallying to Sanders in the U.S., to Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and to other strongly leftist political movements elsewhere.

Another reason for the dissatisfaction is the hollowing out of democracy itself. More and more people believe that “one man, one vote” has been replaced by a system of “one dollar, one vote.” Is there truth to this? There certainly is to the extent that money, corporations and lobbyists have a greater influence on democratic decisions than the will of the nameless millions of voters.

There are also two additional, interlinked phenomena. Traditional class-based societies began to disintegrate about 30 years ago. They were replaced by fractured societies comprised of citizens with multiple identities and beliefs whom traditional ideology-based parties are having difficulty organizing into uniform political communities. Furthermore, the social media revolution of the last decade has resulted in a change from hierarchical, closed political parties into open, network-based, virtual social communities.

In our region this is exacerbated by the belief of many that the change in regime did not bring a better, but rather a more uncertain life. The belief that Brussels forced us to open our markets to Western companies which brought vulnerability, subservience and eventually increased poverty.

So here are the disappointed millions who, as their opportunities continue to shrink, are slowly turning against the decades-old order of Western democracies. They have started to revolt and are becoming more and more effective at organizing themselves over the Internet. They are currently still in the denial phase and are willing to support almost anything that stands in contrast to the established economic and political order.

The proposed solutions by leaders of these movements are murky. Bernie Sanders wants socialism in America. Donald Trump does not want to allow any more Muslim immigrants to enter the United States. London’s former mayor, Boris Johnson, is campaigning for Great Britain to leave the European Union. Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński are replacing the rule of law with a Putin-inspired “directed democracy.” These responses are confusing even after taking into consideration that the political actors mentioned do not in any way comprise a uniform group.

The debate can no longer be about whether Western democracy is in trouble, but rather about the potential solutions. Trump and Orbán favor isolation and the protection of the elites as solutions, arguing that this will restore order. In the words of Polonius: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” However, we want peace and security for entire societies, not just for the privileged few.

By the end of the 1980s I slowly started to understand that nothing can override the order created by freedom. As such, I became and have remained an enthusiastic supporter of the change in regime in Central Europe. However, the freedom unleashed by the change in regime cannot mean that the strong can get away with anything while the weak must put up with it. If freedom does not bring hope and opportunity to the masses then it creates a worse, not a better life for them. Such one-sided freedom results in the masses turning against freedom itself. People disappointed by freedom and seeking new paths are ready to back almost anyone who stands against the democratic order of recent decades. This is fertile ground for populists, nationalists and anyone who promises to break with the past and usher in a different future.

In this way, the freedom of the few against the interests of the many brings upheaval, not stability and order. However, it is evident that this cannot be in the interests of the privileged few either because sooner or later the fear brought on by the anger of the masses will result in them locking themselves in private prisons, surrounded by bodyguards behind the fences of their luxury villas. It is time to change. Otherwise, a catastrophe is inevitable for both the rich and the poor. Everything that is beautiful and uplifting in our Western world will be lost. Or the West will simply become the East. The Wild East…

The only solution is to democratize democracy. If the people believe that democracy is not democratic enough, then the solution is not to take away what little remains of democracy but instead to infuse it with new life. We have to understand that if the current disparities in wealth and income persist then the resulting discontent will sooner or later destroy our world. We cannot continue on a path which provides little or nothing to the working millions, despite economic growth and stable corporate profits. It is not enough to democratize rights and freedoms. Hope, opportunity and upward mobility must be democratized also. It is not right to make people work for a few hundred euros a month. The legal minimum wage should not be below the poverty line. We need a decent European social charter which recognizes the right of workers to stable real wages and their right to a reasonable share of corporate profits. In the age of self-employment and micro & small enterprises, collective contracts no longer have the effectiveness that they did in the era of large corporations. Start-ups which power technological and business innovation are spreading like wild mushrooms, in many cases only to implode in short order. In a world such as this we cannot talk about traditional protections. A new type of income and social safety net is needed. We need to design version 2.0 of the welfare state. The political security and economic European Union must be complemented by the Europe of social security. Corporations, be they small or large, cannot be stronger than the interests of their workers. This must be institutionalized and guaranteed.

New rules are needed to ensure the transparency of political decisions, to control the power of the business lobby and to involve the electorate in decisions to a greater extent. We must expand the use of direct referendums, allow more decisions to be made at the local level, and regain the trust that has been lost in the political system. This is true even in our disintegrating world in which many people want to leave decision-making to a small group of elites, believing that the issues are too complex and that the general electorate does not have the knowledge to deal with them wisely. We must create wide-ranging forums for institutionalized social dialogue. There should be legally-guaranteed forums in schools for students, teachers and parents, in hospitals for patients and doctors, within social welfare institutions and between government and the representatives of the professions. Dialogue-based democracy can make millions a part of the decision-making process, turning common decision making into common practice. We should strive to make as many elements as possible of argument-based and consensus-based decision making–“deliberative democracy”– a part of our political discourse.

As a final thought, if we accept the fact that political parties with roots in the 19th century are increasingly less capable of organizing effective political communities, we must reflect on this as well. Without parties there can be no parliamentary democracy, while without social communities there is no effective discourse and without Internet communities there is no free and wide-ranging airing of opinions. Instead of simply conflicts between political parties, we must organize competitive social networks in which parties, advocacy groups and virtual communities work together based on their own beliefs and their own solutions. Put more simply, a political system based on rivalry between parties should be replaced by a system based on both co-operation and rivalry between social networks.

Everything I have discussed can only be partly realized within national boundaries. Since if, for example, we Hungarians provide increased protections to workers then we run the risk that investors and corporations will seek opportunities elsewhere. A socially democratic world can only be created together at the European level. If the business world organizes itself globally, then we must at least think in terms of Europe.

There are those who would curtail our freedoms because they believe this is the way to create a more orderly and perhaps better world. I recommend the opposite. To protect freedom, we need more freedom. But instead of selfishness, we need social responsibility and the freedom and opportunity for all to participate. Freedom and opportunity. We must not allow the order of freedom to be disrupted by the absence of freedom for all. Otherwise, there is nothing except maybe revolution, which in the end would destroy everything we have lived for and believed in and what we call Europe.

June 22, 2016
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Guest

Wow!
Gyurcsany tells it as it is – more democracy is needed and more international cooperation and:
However, we want peace and security for entire societies, not just for the privileged few.

Thanks a lot for this!

We just had a similar discussion in the family – my brother in law and I agreed but of course being pensioners (on good pensions in Germany …) we don’t feel the stress that young people do have!

Roderick Beck
Guest

No, Europe needs economic reforms and even academic reforms. Germany, for example has zero globally ranked universities. More democracy sounds like more populism which is the exact opposite of the right approach.

Guest

Are you sure? “zero globally ranked universities”
I just read in a report that all our Schwab universities are among the best 100 …

webber
Guest

Wolfi, that had me scratching my head too. Four German universities are in the top 100 according to the Shanghai ranking, and according to QS ranking.
Times Higher Education Ranking has nine German universities in the top 100.
http://www.shanghairanking.com/World-University-Rankings-2015/Germany.html
http://www.topuniversities.com/where-to-study/europe/germany/top-universities-germany-201516
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2016/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/country/60/sort_by/rank_label/sort_order/asc/cols/rank_only

webber
Guest

And British universities are always in the top ten. So, is Europe doing so badly? I don’t think so.

Guest

Thanks, webber, for including the links that I forgot! 😉

Of course state financed German universities cannot compete on material grounds with the privately financed US (Yale etc) and GB (Oxbridge …) but talking to my friend yesterday evening (retired zoology prof) he acknowledged that we Germans are still quite good.

Roderick Beck
Guest

I see only one in the top 50. France has only 1 as well. Compare to the US. We are way ahead. Your European systems have become second rate.

webber
Guest

British Universities are world champions. Look harder at those numbers.

Roderick Beck
Guest

1 in the top 50. Extremely poor compared to the US and China.

pappp
Guest

Germany is an exemplary democracy and an economic powerhouse. What does that mean in this context that there are no globally ranked universities in Germany? Maybe the metrics are useless. It doesn’t seem to me that it could get much better for average Germans. Would it change much for Germany if some unis were ranked better? Germany’s system works. The universities are public and produce very respectable results, taxpayer money well spent. I’m sure if some German universities would have endowments Princeton or Harvard have they would be equally good. Democracy depends also on the behavior of the politicians, in Germany (at least as long as the economy is doing well) the mainstream is very reserved and gentlemanly. Its rare to see that elsewhere these days.

Roderick Beck
Guest

Even Germany is weak to the US. Per capita real GDP is 20% higher in the US. Relative to France the gap is even higher. The truth is that EU is averaging 10% unemployment rate versus less than 5% for the US. And US real GDP is 15% higher than the pre Great Recession peak and Europe has not returned to its previous peak.

And we haven’t even discussed Europe’s continuing dependence on the US military to defend it nor that Europe’s population is declining in 60% of local administrative units.

The US looks like a super model compared to Plain Girl Europe.

webber
Guest

Many EU states look like super models compared with the US. Look at GDP per capita of the richer EU states, and then look at poverty levels in those states compared to the US.

Luxembourg is the super model.

Power? That is something else. Power is passé in Europe.

If you want to talk about power, then you are right. No state in Europe can compare to the US.

Member
I hope it turns out to be true that the likes of Bernie Sanders as well as Ferenc Gyurcsány — rather than just the rabble-rousing demagogues — will be able to inspire the support of the discontented. And yes, it is the glaring inequalities and iniquities as well as the grotesque power and influence of the corporations and the wealthy that are the root cause of the problem. (But it’s perhaps more complicated too, because the power behind the US gun lobby is not just corporate and wealthy: there is something sinister in the mentality of — some? many? — of the discontented too, its other form of expression being bigotry and xenophobia. The populists have an advantage in that these are the ugly impulses they are perfectly happy to foment and mobilize as support.) My diagnosis? Perhaps it’s the soft underbelly of democracy, that it can be commandeered by cynical populism as well as delusional fanaticism. But there’s a third possibility: That the world was far too hasty in declaring the socialist hypothesis to have been falsified by events (Thatcherism, Reaganomics and the like). We are in fact still just seeing the unravelling of those events now; indeed this… Read more »
Roderick Beck
Guest

What are these terrible inequities? Hungary redistributes income on a huge scale. As Hungarian doctor who lived in America noted the other day, the tax rate is 60: 25% employer social contribution, 20% employee social contribution, and 16% flat tax. And social contributions never end. In the US they peter out after a certain point. And I will take the British and American standard of living over Hungary and myriad social benefits any day.

webber
Guest

Roderick Beck – You are partially right. Hungary redistributes income on a huge scale, but not to the poor, not even to the working poor. Those on minimal wages are living below the official poverty level.
Look next into social welfare payments, unemployment benefits and the rest in Hungary. They are miniscule. Look into pensions. I recently met a homeless man who told me he had worked all his life, as a simple laborer, and was now getting 45,000 forints per month in pension. He paid into the pension system (everyone does, like it or not), and that is his pension.
Where does all the tax money go? – you might ask. Good question. All Hungarians should ask that.

Roderick Beck
Guest

The bulk of tax payments go into social spending and your inane Hungarian bureaucracy. The reason taxes are sky high here, yet social benefits low, is because the percentage of people working is near the bottom of Europe. Let me stress the tax burden: highest VAT tax in the world, 27%. Highest total burden on ordinary income: 16% flat income tax, 25% employer social taxes, and 20% employee social tax.

It is a dead end system.

Observer
Guest

On inequalities try – Tomas Pickety Capital …. The figures are staggering, coming close to the record ones of the second half 19th century.

And
we have the first generations since WWII who surely don’t live better then their parents,
next to high unemployment
two incomes still don’t mean good life,
the polarization of labor income is going on,
etc, etc.

See @webber 12.49

And as Stevan H points out, we are seeing stabs at “the soft underbelly of democracy”, hence my point on forceful, inspiring leadership in assertive democracy – in other words: keep the essentials, but leave the “land rights for gay whales” kind of issues for now and focus on the hard ones facing us.

Member

Two points about Observer’s observations, with which, as always, I mostly agree.

(1) Do you not notice a family resemblance between deprecating what matters to others and racial discrimination?

(2) I support gay marriage and oppose whale slaughter, but not for one microsecond do I lose sight of the distinction between a trivial human social convention and needless, heartless blood-letting. I support justice in Hungary but not on a par with opposing genocide — or the horrors we inflict on species other than our own.

webber
Guest

I agree with you Stevan on gay marriage and whale slaughter, but think Observer’s distinction between central and more peripheral is correct. Until we have resolved the central, the peripheral is a luxury of sorts (a “luxury” we can afford, I admit: gay marriage costs nothing).
So, for example, the issues of people starving, or freezing to death (in their homes – every winter in Hu.), or that of people lacking decent health care, are more central for two reasons.
1st, “People” includes everyone – straight, gay, brown, white, short, tall. Parties which make gay marriage (or what have you) central to their programmes to the detriment of poverty are rightly despised.
2nd. People who are starving or freezing to death might want to eat those whales. They certainly will not care a lot about a certain endangered mole rat living on the Serbian border.

Member

I think you missed my point. Other than maybe in Nunavik, whales are not being slaughtered to feed otherwise starving people. Just as Orban is not pillaging Hungarians’ resources to feed starving people.

webber
Guest

You missed my point, as well, which is that until the masses are adequately fed and housed you cannot expect or even hope for them to care about whales. And why is that vital? Because we live in, or would like to live in a democracy where the votes of the masses determine results.

pappp
Guest

This is an extremely simplistic view of things. You would take the British and American standard of living over Hungary if you were a middle-class American/British not especially worried about the future (unlike the Trump voters). If you were one of almost 50 % of Americans who don’t even have 500 USD savings you might want to be a modest middle class person in Spain or Italy let alone in the Northern countries. The European welfare state systems often provide a better safety net, especially if you are sick for example, than the American one. Redistribution is also a question of absolute values. There is only so much money to be redistributed. With the given amount of GDP you can’t have high-end hospitals, lavish pensions and the like (which doesn’t mean that the Hungarian state budget could not be improved radically). The GDP/capita is a quarter/third in Hungary compared to the US or Western Europe, it’s impossible to maintain the same level of services from such amounts. The solution would be the catching up to the West but that so far has proven to be very elusive.

Sinn Fein
Guest

It has proven elusive because the model adopted was either state sponsored redistribution (currently) or unfettered liberalism (previously). However, a cohesive society can produce a middle way as in Japan. Key is having a cohesive society and trust. The problems arise when, after creating a cohesive society, the people in charge are tempted to steal for themselves.

And to the person quoting Pinketty… do you really believe that the average standard of living in Europe today is the same as at the end of the 19th century? Because if you do, then either the planet you live on is not the same as the rest of us or you’re nuts. Which do you think it is?

Guest

Troll!

Observer
Guest

Read again dear, the figures on inequality, not on real income.
And read more: cohesive society, whatever u mean by that, has nothing to do with development, eg Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland, developed and trived.
There has never been “unfettered liberalism” in Europe at least and
Redistribution is always “state sponsored”.

Sinn Fein
Guest

if absolute income is up, then why do you care about inequality? Jealous much? Lazy much? Both?

Wolfi – either you’re expressing your views or having a sidebar with your mother – make up your mind. Spend more time here – your troll mama can wait.

Roderick Beck
Guest

I think Europe has become a laggard. The overall economic performance of the Continent was not impressive before the Great Recession and it is worse now. Your academic research has been overshadowed by China and US. Your demographics stink because you are too selfish to have children despite having such easy lives to us Americans.

Guest

Roderick, what are you trying to prove with your “selected statistics”?
I could as well give you numbers on how many people are murdered in the USA or die because of lack of medical service – here the USA is similr to Hungary:
If you have nothing, then you are nothing!

Btw, do you think that Trump “will make America great again”?

Roderick Beck
Guest

Baloney. We Americans have far more opportunity than Europeans to move up the economic ladder. My grandfather was a construction worker and my grandmother raised 9 children on a farm in Michigan during the Great Depression and WWII. My father fought in the Korean War, got a Ph.D in English literature, and my mother became a social worker. And I also experienced upward mobility. Traditional social democracy is not going to solve Hungary’s problems. It needs a strong of economic liberalism as well as immigrant ambition. Like my German ancestors.

webber
Guest

Economic liberalism for Hungary- I fully agree.

Guest
London Calling! This is an analysis of the Global predicament – not an analysis of Hungary. I’m not sure it posits any solutions for Hungary. In addition the EU is in a mighty mess. Whatever happens with Brexit tomorrow it’ll still need fixing. One of the problems is Hungary. Gy doesn’t seem to understand that Global politics is cyclical – with different countries in a different phase of their cycle. Rich and poor imbalance is just a fact of life with its ups and downs – look at the fluctuating fortunes of Russia? Look how Slovakia’s cycle has improved alongside Hungary’s? In very similar circumstances. Look how China’s cycle is causing them problems in their semi-capitalistic phase? England is in a very good place – but its cycle is about to experience a downturn of uncertainty – as reflected in the downturn of the £ and equities. There is no one diagnosis that fits all. What Gy is doing is looking over the top of his glasses – and missing close to home. It was an old trick of the last Labour government to keep blaming Global events for domestic problems – and they continued to do it for the… Read more »
Observer
Guest
Great piece! I love the guy for his intellect, honesty and good intentions, no contest currently in Hungary. Nevertheless I find the “more democracy” part a bit simplistic, or naive. GyF himself notes that some people would rather let others lead, that populists are exploiting the discontent, the desire for solutions, new or more radical. No doubt we have a crisis brewing and historically this calls for reforms or suppression by the powers that be, i.e. for decisive action. “Deliberative democracy” is a dangerous game in crisis times, even the ancient Greeks and Romans new it. The disappointed masses are looking for a direction, a leader to follow towards new / working solutions of their problems. I don’t believe a Churchill’s kind of brutally honest pledge of “blood, sweat and tears” would pass nowadays, e g. the Hungarians voted enthusiastically “no, I don’t want to pay” healthcare visit fee. HUNGARY thought it had won or so it was told by the biggest liar of them all. Which leads me to another major point, GyF notes the difficulties of resolution in Europe, but in fact the situation in H is much worse – a brazen populist is establishing his dictatorship. In… Read more »
Roderick Beck
Guest

Intellect? Give me a break. He has no understanding of economics and he did nothing to make Hungary more competitive or reduce the cost of doing business during his PM tenure. I understand that Orbán is the Devil by which all alternatives are measured, but Gyurcsany tenure was pretty clear. There were no real economic reforms because as a Hungarian he thinks the Hungarian system is part of Nature. It’s natural. Since Hungary has always been a poor country relative to Western Europe and the US and since Hungary’s economy shrinks every time it runs out of EU development funds, may be it is time to scrap the Hungarian system and reject the mythology about a Golden Age of Hungarian civilization under the Empire.

webber
Guest

Maybe it is also time to look at formerly impoverish countries which achieved double-digit growth, and emulate their economic policies: not their political systems, just the economic policies. There are several such countries.

Corruption, also, has to be cut back radically, or Hungary will be doomed to poverty forever.

Guest
Re: “Deliberative democracy” is a dangerous game in crisis times, even the ancient Greeks and Romans new it. The disappointed masses are looking for a direction, a leader to follow towards new / working solutions of their problems’ But it should be noted the Greeks and Romans knew being ‘free’ in their understanding of the word required deliberative as well as participatory democracy. Not only from the top down but from the bottom up. They had the setup of a two-way political street to air out ideas important for the deme and polis. One thing indelibly learned from Greece and Rome is that you have to ‘work’ to control destiny. It is death to sit idly by and let the gods do what they want. And there’s a price to be paid to be ‘free’ from those who like to carry chains. With that, an electorate imbued with passivity is simply chum on the way to political slaughter. Democracy indeed may have flaws but yet as a political system it arguably helped to destroy inimical powers to human civilization convincingly in the previous century. With the move now to illiberalism, democracies are feeling the pinch. To do ‘less’ under the… Read more »
webber
Guest

I would not praise Roman democracy so highly. It was elitist in the truest sense, and fell because of that.

Guest

Re: ‘Roman democracy’

Yes I’d go with you on rule gravitating to elitism of a few. On the other hand I’d suggest we can see Rome’s contribution to the generation of law which points to the creation of the foundation of our legal systems. With Rome began the fact of seeking redress to the arbitrariness of rule by rulers within the bureaucracy of the Empire.

webber
Guest

Roman law – yes, a nice heritage. A heritage sickeningly violated by Orbán and co. – specifically, Nullum crimen sine lege, or There is no crime without a (pre-existing) law, grotesquely violated by Fidesz’s retro-active legislation. I cannot for the life of me understand why these laws aren’t in toto challenged by the opposition in a European court for violating this basic principle.

Guest

Perhaps Mr. Gyurcsany ( or any others) may have some reasons which could provide insight. It would appear that the opposition’s efforts consistently have been biting on rock. Dentist visits really are taking away from the mandate of what they should be doing. And that should be initiating alternative dialogue that should not be ignored.

petofi
Guest

Tsk, tsk, webber.
The usual Hungarico trick: complain about the existing
rules of the game as it is being played…but the Magyars out of power want to run the game themselves with the existing rules.

Norms and values. There are none. Thus everything that sprouts in Hungarian soil is wretched and deformed, and will continue to be that way.

john
Guest

The man is a terrible example of Hungarian politics at its worst. He is a self acknowledged liar, not particularly bright, self seeking and serving individual. The problem with Hungary is that the left are as bent as the right

Observer
Guest

Yes, Orban is the embodiment of the worst in the Hungarian ppublic life: a brazen liar, cheat and robberer, immune to culture and progress, petty, maliscious and totally corrupt, and the list goes on..

petofi
Guest

“Orban is the embodiment…”

The epitome for all Hungarians, I dare say…

Roderick Beck
Guest

As usual Gyurcsany gets it wrong. The real issue is the lack of economic growth, which is the status quo after a severe balance sheet recession. More income distribution will not reignite GDP growth or bring down Europe’s 10% unemployment. While Gyurcsany is definitely better than Orbán, he doesn’t have any new ideas and he has never shown the slightest interest in reforming Hungary’s anti-business culture and regulatory system. He should know that Hungary is a hell hole even for the successful businessmen like myself and his side did nothing to address Hungary’s absurd bureaucracy when they were power. After all, he is Hungarian. He has no first hand experience living in America or any liberal society. He probably thinks it is normal that only a lawyer can create a company (not in the US), that companies must meet capital requirements (not in the US except for banks), face audits as soon they are created, etc. If Hungarian politicians took a hard look at Denmark, Singapore, US, and other countries noted for business friendly environment, they might finally determine what needs to be done.

Observer
Guest
@Roderick B I’m afraid you are getting it wrong. The stark reality is that GyF seems the best we have. He and G. Bajnai are the only politicians that had real business experience, i.e. without relying on government contracts. Where were you in 2004-2008, because Gyurcsany’s tenure was anything, but “pretty clear”, it was quite a battle with the great financial crisis added for good measure. Re what he thinks about the Hungarian system, actually he was accused of throwing too many new ideas onto the table. Try his 2006 Öszöd speech re new directions. Remember the epic battle around the very comprehensive healthcare reform? Anybody tried anything like that ? GyF had more than interest, he acted to reform the corrupt symbiotic system of business and politics, but the latter happened to be stronger (and triumphed culminating in the orban mafia state). GyF government did make changes in business regulations, e.g. new rules re outstanding invoices, simplified company formation, etc. It’s not enough to know the Meiji era or Singapore and Li Kwan Yu, turning a culture around is a Herculean task. BTW Globally, perhaps “The real issue is the lack of economic growth”, which can be partially resolved… Read more »
Roderick Beck
Guest

I confess I wasn’t here at that point but I am aware of the attempts to add user fees to the health care system. My concern is twofold. Gyurcsany did not seem to understand that Hungary’s greatest potential is in transportation – a logistics and transportation hub. Instead he was interested in spas and gambling centers. Secondly, the Hungarian bureaucracy was not reformed. This is a crappy system and the more pragmatic social democracies like Denmark make it easy to do business, not hard. And yes, the real issue is economic growth. Hungarian standard of living has stagnated due to dismal productivity growth.

Observer
Guest

@ Roderick B

FYI
Transportation: it is in the 2006 Öszöd speech re new directions.
GyF government built the logistics park in Zahony (Ukrainian border) to transfer cargo from the Russian wider gauge rail.
(Fidesz clamored high treason for this)

Too many spas – correct, There were many Fidesz local councils in that wave.

The large gambling cum entertainment center at Sukoro was not realized, unfortunately, I say.

webber
Guest

Fortunately, I say. Andy Vajna would have ended up owning it.
Gambling adds exactly nothing to Hungary’s GDP. Most of the punters are Hungarians.

Roderick Beck
Guest

Gyurcsany’s belief in a social democratic pact is Old Thinking. Hungary’s population is shrinking and rapidly aging. It’s ethnic nationalism makes large scale immigration out of the question. Its stodgy education system discourages fresh thinking. Taxes already consume over 50% of GDP. We should thinking about dismantling this system, not reinvigorating it. The only actor that will be willing to make the hard choices is the IMF and I have no doubt they will return some day to set things right. They will cut social taxes and benefits and force the Hungarian to give this silly habit of stamping everything.

webber
Guest

I doubt the IMF would cut social benefits. Taxes, yes. Payments to the rich, yes (child support in Hungary goes to the rich as well – believe it or not),Benefits to the poor? I doubt it. The IMF has changed a lot over the past decade.

Whatever else one says about Gyurcsány’s article, it has clearly upset you. I wonder why? It doesn’t seem to be that radical to me. There are plenty of other articles out there advocating this sort of thing.

That said, I agree – he had his time in office, and did not implement the policies he is now advocating.

Hindsight is 20/20.

Roderick Beck
Guest

The IMF believes social benefit reform is essential for Hungary. That is not a matter of dispute. Benefits have to drop. The Hungarian public pension runs a deficit every year.

webber
Guest

That is why I specified payments to the rich. That the wealthy in Hungary also get child support is more than ridiculous. There can be cuts to this sort of waste immediately.

petofi
Guest

Before I can take Gyurcsany at his lily-white, face value…he’ll have to explain to me why he undercut Bajnai in the last electiion, rather than be full bore in support.

1956
Guest

Petofi, why are most people so blind?

Lack of analytical imagination?

Lack of vision?

You are a genius. What is needed to end this anarchy?

Most of humanity is either oppressed, or criminal bullies.

Where are the free and thinking people?

petofi
Guest

“Where are the free and thinking people?”

At home reading Shakespeare and listening to Getz/Gilberto…

I don’t know. Mediocrity and mental incapacity has run amok.

You know, I keep seeing those pictures of Mars–desolate and dusty–and think: what if this was just like Earth before its own
global heating blew away its atmosphere? Are we heading there faster than we expect? The temps in some places in southern US have gotten up to 120. Is global warming irrevocable.

In the background to these speculations is the undeniable fact that global over-population is the greatest cause of environmental problems. Now, the Islamists are full bore
in breeding the bejesus out of Christianity and turning the democratic ideal against itself.

Whey aren’t global problems dealt with on global terms?
Why aren’t there rules for no immigration from countries where the birth rate outstrips the country’s resources? Why are countries that allowed unrestricted birth allowed to export their problems through immigration?

Now, that’s not racism–just pondering the ironies of the human
condition on earth.

Perhaps, some years in the future, we’ll find out what wiped out the advanced civilizations of Mars…

1956
Guest

Briefly, Hungary ha been completely oppressed sometimes, and other times, our rulers became absolute bullies.

Free and decent Hungarians are needed to build a Switzerland on the banks of the Danube and Tisza.

Istvan
Guest
The United States is not a democracy, but rather a Republic. Ferenc Gyurcsány seems not to grasp that in his essay. The Constitution of the US has created a framework for a limited democracy rather than a popular democracy. The Atlantic magazine has an interesting article by Jonathan Rauch that discusses in a popular way how our designed limited democracy expanded and opened the door for both Trump and Sanders, it can be read at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/how-american-politics-went-insane/485570/ I am fairly confident that Senator Clinton even though she is a liberal is in our current election the candidate of order and structure, hence she has my vote even though I am a life long Republican. The problem for the future of the United States is one Gyurcsány is familiar with from his time as a reader of Karl Marx, it’s surplus population that technology is putting out of work and marginalizing massively. Adam Smith also recognized this phenomenon in his writings. The US has since Roosevelt’s New Deal had a two pronged approach to this volatile population, social welfare and repression when necessary. Prior to Roosevelt generally the under and unemployed were repressed when necessary with social elites using police and military… Read more »
webber
Guest

Istvan – I would argue that some states within the United States – those with referenda – are democracies. Most Western states, where it is relatively easy to referenda on the ballot, are democracies in the true sense I would say.
Witness the legalization of marijuana in some states via referendum. A great surprise, and something Washington would never have done, yet clearly something the majority of people in those states feel is right.

Roderick Beck
Guest

You have a real weird notion of democracy.

webber
Guest

Since when are referenda a “weird notion of democracy?”
I’m from a Western state with referenda every election. I’d say that is more democratic.
And no, it is not mob rule (visit these states, and see for yourself – they work very well). Sometimes silly things get through on referenda, but nothing worse than what state legislatures sometimes do. The idea that the elected elite are somehow better at making decisions than the mass is a ridiculous myth.

Just look at referenda results, and look at some of the sillier state laws, and see for yourself.

webber
Guest

P.S. Checks and balances are absolutely vital – on this I agree with you. Referenda are a check on legislatures. The constitutions of various states and of the United States are checks on referenda, expressed through state constitutional courts and the Supreme Court. Even by referenda, one cannot bring laws that violate those constitutions.

petofi
Guest

“The United States is not a democracy but rather a Republic.”

Apples and Oranges, my dear Istvan.
That sentence won’t carry any water.
And you must’ve suspected as much having capitalized ‘Republic’but not democracy…

Istvan
Guest
The distinction between democracy and a Republic was a huge concern for the drafters of Constitution of the United States of America. In general they referred back to Plato and the Classical Greek philosophy. I believe from postings that Petofi may be a dual national Canadian and the evolution of that government is radically different than that of the USA, in fact the bulk of what are now Canadians opposed our revolution. There are numerous scholarly works on this issue, a simple explanation can be found in Federalist Paper # 49 written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in 1788. (http://www.conservativetruth.org/library/fed49.html ) The distinction is so significant that upon my commission to the United States Army I pledged allegiance not to democracy in the abstract but to the Republican structure established by our Constitution. The oath I and all US Army officers swear to is as follows: “I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and… Read more »
webber
Guest

Interesting. I recall a bit of the Constitution that insisted that the military would not and could not be used against citizens of the republic. It is very clear, as I recall – with no exceptions allowed.

Did you (plural) forget that, or don’t you think that part of the Constitution covers you?

Istvan
Guest

The provision limits the use of the Army Webber and does not exclude it. The primary current document on this for US Army officers is http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/atp3_39x33.pdf

There are actually four defined legal exemptions to he use of military force against our own citizens.

webber
Guest

Thanks for that (truly). An eye opener.

Istvan
Guest
Here is another aspect of how important most commissioned Army officers view the oath Webber. Last month an active duty officer sued President Obama over the legality of the war against the Islamic State, setting up a test of Mr. Obama’s disputed claim that he needs no new legal authority from Congress to order the military to wage that deepening mission. Capt. Nathan Michael Smith, an intelligence officer stationed in Kuwait in relation to the law suit stated: “To honor my oath, I am asking the court to tell the president that he must get proper authority from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution, to wage the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.” The Captain is no coward and supports direct war on ISIS, as do I and many others, but both he and I apparently believe such a war needs to be authorized by Congress and publicly debated. It is an honor to have such an officer in the US Army. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/05/us/islamic-state-war-powers-lawsuit-obama.html?_r=0 This case set off numerous debates on private blogs used by retired and active officers. Virtually all of the debaters agreed Capt. Smith had the right to litigate even though an active officer. There was… Read more »
webber
Guest

Excellent.
Capt. Smith is a hero in my eyes, because my guess is that he has put his career on the line for this principle. Some senior officers (not least the President’s men) can be vindictive.
That puts the oath in yet another light.

petofi
Guest

Oh please, Istvan. Not only do you carry on endlessly but your loopy logic pulls me up often before I can complete
your burnt offering: to whit, “…Canadians opposed our revolution..” Shucks, pardner, you make it sound as if the good canucks were philosphically opposed. Rubbish. Lest you forget, they were still British citizens, loyal to king and crown.

Please be careful with that Hungarianeque, Orban-like
shimey, will ya?

Istvan
Guest

Petofi it appears then that you agree that the residents of what became Canada were largely opposed to the American revolution when it took place because they were loyalists? Canada’s governmental evolution is totally different than ours in the USA, hence the context of Republicanism is completely different in our historical traditions.

Possibly 50,000 Loyalists formerly resident in what became the USA migrated to British North America, now Canada, during and after the revolutionary war — boosting the population and heavily influencing the politics and culture of what would become Canada. You being a Canadian citizen, or legal resident, should be aware of that.

Roderick Beck
Guest

Istvan, my father served in the Korean war and he said that military intelligence is an oxymoron. You are living proof.

Roderick Beck
Guest

I don’t think you know much about political philosophy. The ancient Greeks had no consensus regarding the best form of government. Plato became a reactionary and advocated a totalitarian society ruled by a class of supermen bred like animals to lead society. Other philosophers were strong believes in Athenian democracy. Moreover, it is simply false for you to narrowly define democracy as direct democracy and exclude representative democracy.

webber
Guest

“it is simply false for you to narrowly define democracy as direct democracy and exclude representative democracy.”
If you mean Istvan, that’s his business. If you are referring to my comments, then you missed the point – I don’t exclude representative democracy. I am fine with it. I am strongly in favor of a mixture of direct and representative democracy, of the sort you find in many Western states. I find that much, much more democratic than representative democracy alone, which can tend toward a rule of the elite against (not for) the people.

webber
Guest

examples: taxes have been raised – property taxes in particular – in direct democracy, through referenda, in states such as Oregon (happens regularly, in school districts which need more funding). Taxes are also lowered, when the people feel they are too high, through referenda. If a community lowers taxes too much, it suffers the consequences in lowered services, and there is a chance to correct this in the upcoming election. In Western states, this system works, and works well.

Guest
“…………..Sanders supporters with degrees that have little value currently, in some meaningful way and redirect their energy into productive pursuits like national service be it civil or military. “ It really bothers me that some countries become ‘degree factories’ for their adolescents – completely disregarding the fact that in a capitalist society you still have to find a buyer for your labour. The law of supply and demand can have some ‘stimulus’ but at its root it’s democracy – red in tooth and claw, that ensures a fair society. That is why the parameters of a meritocracy have to be preserved. And corruption controlled. The US is very good at controlling corruption when you consider the scale of its population and opportunity. Yes progress has changed the nature of employment – but society does not owe graduates a living. Too many think that because they have graduated, then they must go into management at entry level. That’s certainly the unrealistic position some take here – when in fact in a labour buyer’s market the entry level is a hamburger flipper at MacDonalds. It’s a very good start as you learn how to trim your labour offering to the market. The… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Tnx for the Atlantic article.

BTW the population/technology/jobs predictions have been wrong since Maltus and Ned Ludd. Of course the growth can not be indefinite.

Roderick Beck
Guest

The growth can be indefinite and exponential. It is called technology.

Observer
Guest

There are such theories, which are plausible for the high tech sectors in money terms. These don’t address the “limited resources” factors for large population economies as whole units, think India, Bangladesh or even China or someUS regions. High tech economy also produces the highest polarization of labor income and inequalities.
Inequalities have been growing in the OECD world for some time already.

Roderick Beck
Guest

Istvan, stop the nonsense. The US is a democracy. And virtually all modern democracies are based on checks and balances. What you cal a popular democracy is reallymob rule. And you please get yourself a basic education. Technology is not driving up the unemployment rate. The Western world has enjoyed steady, productivity-improving productivity growth since the Renaissance and employment has grown exponentially.

Jean P.
Guest

Gyurcsany presents a “global” analysis without discussing the population pressures excerted by poor proliferating populations on the rich declinig (moribund) populations. Without that ingredient his analysis is deficient.

Guest

Completely O/T!

What’s happening? Is it the end of the world?

London’s been hit by enormous rain, thunder and lightning – and those who didn’t do ‘posted’ have to get out and vote! They’re the mainstay of ‘remain’!

And the referendum’s been deserted because England,Wales & Northern Island – not to overlook The Irish Republic – have all made the final 16.p in the Euros!

Surely one of those just knock Hungary out?

I don’t ‘do’ football – but I don’t want Hungary to go further – even if England crashes – I want Orban crushed.

Preferably buy a UK team or Ireland.

The referendum will be a ‘remain’ result – and by a bigger margin than I had previously anticipated.

At least a 10% majority for ‘remain’.

But this rain has got to stop!

Hugo Chavez blamed the US for giving him cancer! I accuse Putin for this rain!

Guest

Mis-words courtesy of Android’s useless predictive text – or it might be Putin again!

Guest

And he’s seeded the clouds with Polonium again…

PALIKA
Guest

No Charlie, the rain has stopped and may it not return until 10pm?
Hungary plays Belgium so the home teams will not be able, at this stage at any rate, to help your plot to unseat OV on the football field. Whilst Belgium is very strong the result is not a foregone conclusion.
You are better off watching football than reading Gyurcsany. Your football team is more likely to unseat OV than Gyurcsany ever could.

bimbi
Guest
This was a quiet, well-argued article and represents a “still, small voice of calm” in the midst of the antagonistic and confrontational voices of politics in Europe today (Britain’s EU referendum is a case in point). But where Mr. Gyurcsany writes “Europe”, in most cases one can slip in “Hungary” in its place for here, as we all know only too well, political discussion, genuine respect and give and take have been submerged by sorry, unreasoned and unreasonable propaganda in support of meanness, pettiness and dishonesty. Despite all the propaganda from Rogan’s department in favour of Illiberal ‘Democracy’, the population at large in Hungary, the poor under-belly, continue to suffer and be exploited at the hands of this authoritarian government. But let us be reasonable, the article was a collection of thoughts on a direction to travel and of the attitudes that a genuine government for-all-the-people (of Hungary) should adopt, not a finished and polished treatise. A little more generosity of spirit by readers (and even it seems of friends) of this blog would be both appreciated and would be necessary. Don’t forget that never under Mr. Gyurcsany’s premiership were people afraid of being fired without cause, never were pensions… Read more »
PALIKA
Guest

Yes Bimbi you are right. He wrote a pretty essay and deserves my thanks certainly for avoiding the inflammatory language so much in vogue these days when politicians open their mouths. Today has been a great day in the UK because the campaign on Brexit is suspended for the vote that is taking place. The whole episode from start to finish has been a disgrace. The length of the campaign far too long. One month would have been more than long enough.

So, back to Feri. I like him. I think he made many mistakes. Maybe if he replaced Fidesz he would make fewer or different ones. I do not doubt that he would be an improvement on Fidesz in many ways. Whilst one should accept that two weeks is a long time in politics (quoting Harold Wilson) I just do not think he has the ability to combine under his leadership the opposition forces. He has too much baggage. It is also rare for a defeated politician to rekindle his carreer. Most of them do no even try.

webber
Guest

Not that it matters, Palika, but I agree with every letter you wrote above.

PALIKA
Guest

Well, it does matter. I am glad at least you agree and are kind enough to say so

Guest

I think that if one takes a look at Magyar society today it is not beyond a reasonable doubt to see that morality, compassion and genorosity has been lacking in its political discourse. Mr. Gyurcsany looks as if he’s paid the price since all the ‘baggage’ he’s carrying certainly appears to be weighing him down with the electorate.

It appears he has had much aggression thrown at him within the type of democracy he lives with. His measured piece indicates that he has ideas that can be developed towards the good of the country. Good democratic government surely will always let a voice like his always get heard and thought about in the mix regardless if he carries suitcases. What politician doesn’t?

Observer
Guest

Orban was defeated in 2002 and 2006, in the latter by GyF. Orban also, lost miserably in 1994, remember?

Guest

Gy is the only politician who understands democracy; who is the only politician with the experience of democracy; who has made mistakes but knows how to put it right; who has shown a rare compassion for humanity and is an elder statesman with integrity in Hungary.

Unfortunately Hungarians have swallowed Orban’s propaganda and he cannot attract a critical mass of voters.

It will take years to unravel this and Gy does have a role.

He must use his expertise to develop and bring on younger politicians as the ‘Father of the House’ – he must show leadership; but take a back seat.

A long haul – and I would recommend the ‘umbrella party’ to unite the opposition – and then refuse to take their seats.

He must get his feet on the ground and be pragmatic. He must keep his eye on the ball!

Guest

Or to put it another way? Fine words butter no parsnips. Action.

And I voted for Gy.

Guest

You know it is plain as day that the kind of individuals you have in government determines the efficacy and results of that government.

And as Polonious spoke incisively,
representatives can ingest this as a call for character in endeavors….
‘Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears
Moist it again, and frame some feeling line
That may discover such integrity’
Shakes… The Great Bard….Two Gentlemen of Verona

As usual, Will goes
D
E
E
P
when it comes to narrative.

petofi
Guest

It won’t help a bit.
Gyurcsany’s idea promises blood, sweat and effort: Orban’s
‘way’offers success and monetary gain by slavish attendance
and sycophancy. Which do you think Hungarians are…better suited for? Or….prefer?

Sinn Fein
Guest
This is nonsense – the political value of Europe – the ones that worked for European nations for a thousand years are the values of Brexit and nation states. Most people in Europe and in the US do not believe that bananas must be no more than 23cm long nor do they believe that the death penalty is wrong. Same on other topics from various “gender” issues to immigration. They are the ones who represent the “values” of Europe not the idiots in Brussels. The elites knew this which is why no votes were ever had or there was always a revote (as in Ireland). They were hoping that – in small steps and over time – they would change the face of Europe. The aloof paternalistic condescension (or worse) for Europe’s common man as evidenced by the elites (often nonnative) or visitors to sites such as this is one that they do not bother to hide. The same is true in Britain, Hungary or Kansas (“What’s wrong with Kansas?” – what’s wrong with you?) This top down approach that dehumanizes the natives of Europe (and Americans – usually white) now has – a small – chance of being held… Read more »
Guest

Make America white again?

Idiotic troll!

Sinn Fein
Guest

You’re talking to your mom again boy?

Roderick Beck
Guest

So America towers over Europe and America is a unified Federal states. So the solution is pretty obvious. A Federal Europe. Thanks Sinn Fein!

Observer
Guest

Yes, this troll sounds pretty incoherent, needs some education too, or at least to learn the script.

Roderick Beck
Guest

How well did it work? A bunch of small sovereign states eclipsed by a larger, Federal state across the ocean.

webber
Guest

America was never “white” old boy. It was originally 100% brown, and these days it’s hard to tell who is of what ancestry.

Except for the KKK lunatics, we’re embracing what genetic testing is demonstrating.

I have blue eyes and light hair, but my mother is brownish, and I had uncles who were very, very brown indeed, and on both sides there are stories of Native American ancestors.

Look up percentage of African heritage among old White Southern families. You’re in for a surprise there.

Look up percentage of European heritage among old American Black families. Again,…

Look at pages of descendants of the Comanche chief, Quanah Parker, and of Thomas Jefferson. The Parker family has people who look like Last of the Mohicans people, and others who are lily white. The Jeffersons are white and black and everything between.

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