The global financial crisis of 2007/08 led to a social crisis that can be felt in the quality of life even in the richer countries. Hungary is no exception, despite this government without serious political opponents trying hard to give another impression.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán likes to emphasise that Hungary took the crisis as a challenge and found new solutions that several other countries would now like to copy. However, the success of a politician is not the same as the happiness in private life of the citizens.
The most recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report, titled “Society at a glance 2014”, shows that the disposable income of Hungarian households declined by several per cent in the first three years after the outbreak of the crisis. Regarding purchasing parity, the Hungarian average is around USD 9,300, less than half of the average of all countries measured by the OECD. Orbán just advertised the “cheap Hungarian labour” in Saudi Arabia; so the labour is admittedly “cheap” in this country.
The reforms that the government introduced in the labour market and health and educational institutions are also presented as positive. Greater efficiency is always mentioned – the OECD graph of social spending shows how well the reforms really worked out: while practically all other countries were trying to compensate the effect of the crisis by increasing social welfare spending, Hungary cut it by two digits, thus twice as intensively as a shrinking gross domestic product result would have justified. Only Greece applied an even more intensive cost-cutting, because they were impacted by an actual national bankruptcy.
The graph also shows the cumulated development of economic growth after the crisis. In recent weeks Minister of National Economics Mihály Varga did not miss any chance to emphasise that Hungary is back in the top line of Europe since the fourth quarter of 2013. Well then, as the OECD presents us the bigger picture, the domestic economic performance fell back similarly to Spain, Ireland and Iceland. Among the Visegrád Four states the Czech Republic is stagnant at the moment, Slovakia is at the bottom line with 6-7% real growth within five years and Poland with 15% is among the real winners of the crisis.
Further facts from the OECD: almost every third Hungarian cannot afford the cost of basic nutritional sustenance any more. Every tenth is dissatisfied with the circumstances in healthcare. Hungarians are the unhappiest people according to their own claim – besides South Africans.
These statistics are from the report of 2012 but still show the negative trend after the crisis at the half-way mark of the second Orbán government. In contrast, Swiss, Austrians and Germans feel better and better – no wonder that the immigration wave to these countries is strikingly high. The life expectancy in Hungary grew six years in the last four decades; babies born today may expect to live 75 years on average. This is still a statistic that sees Hungary lagging among the worst in Europe.
Both Orbán supporters and left liberals are discussing on the internet how far these poor statistics can be blamed on the governing prime minister. The result of the discussion is always the same: everyone insists that their own opinion is right.
Let’s just mention one thought that shows clearly the difference between fact and fiction. In September 2011 Orbán announced: “We decreased the state debt to 73% and in 2012 the economy is going to grow another 2%. This is of course still not enough. This is why my right hand former minister of national economics György Matolcsy is responsible to further accelerate the growth.”
In the following year Hungary was in recession again.