Has Hungary launched the greatest pro-natalist experiment in modern world history?

The current issue of the National Review, an American conservative biweekly magazine, carries an essay by Samuel Hammond entitled “Born in Hungary–What Budapest’s pro-natalist politics can teach social conservatives” (August 27, 2018, pgs. 18-22). Mr. Hammond is a policy analyst at a libertarian think tank in Washington, DC called the Niskanen Center and his work focuses specifically on issues of poverty and welfare. (As a Canadian publication, we should also note that he studied at Carleton University, in Ottawa.) In his piece on Hungary, Mr. Hammond writes: “Behind the vitriol that defines Viktor Orbán in the Western press is a government embarked on what may end up being the biggest natalist policy experiment in modern history–an experiment that is redefining the possibilities for modern social conservatism. Can government policies coax people to have more babies?”

Samuel Hammond

Mr. Hammond notes that Hungary’s population has declined by one million over the last three decades, bringing it down to 9.8 million. He also references emigration to wealthier member states of the European Union. Quoting the Hungarian action plan, he tells his readers that the goal is to increase the birth rate in Hungary from 1.5 children per woman to 2.1 by 2030. Mr. Hammond suggests that Hungary has adopted a multifaceted approach: a maternity leave program that allows for up to three years of leave, of which the first six months is paid, a housing assistance program called CSOK, which gives families that have three kids or more 10 million forints towards buying a new home, child tax allowances and cash stipends. Hungary now spends 5% of its GDP on these types of benefits. Mr. Hammond writes that it is too early to tell whether Hungary’s pro-natalist policies will work, but notes that between 2010 and 2016 marriage rates increased by 46% and that abortions are down by around 25%. And as a ‘fringe benefit’ of the housing subsidy program, real estate is booming–with rates up by 20%.

Back in January, the now defunct Magyar Nemzet daily published an article entitled: “The desire to get married is as high as after the World War.” The last time Hungary saw such an increase was between 1945 and 1950, and the rise was especially pronounced among those with lower levels of formal education and Hungarians with children. Mr. Hammond’s article, however, missed some of the nuance that appeared in the Magyar Nemzet piece: in 2016, there were 10,000 fewer marriages than the number that ended due to divorce or death, though admittedly this “deficit” is much smaller than the 30,000 or so that was typical in previous years. Yet whether the trend will continue remains an open question: statistics from 2017 show that the number of marriages decreased in 2017 compared to the previous year, by 2.4%.

In his essay, Mr. Hammond places Hungary within an international context, noting both countries that have failed and those that have succeeded in pro-natalist policies. For instance, Singapore paid $10,000 cash bonuses to families that had at least three children, yet the birth rate has dropped to just 1.16–far lower than the normal replacement rate. Japan has also failed in its pro-natalist efforts. “The decision to have a child turns out to be an incredibly complex one, mediated by labor markets, friends and family, and the broader cultural zeitgeist. It’s not obviously responsive to carrots or sticks, at least not on their own,” writes Mr. Hammond.

But there is one country where these policies have worked and it would appear as though Hungary carefully studied this specific nation’s model. We are talking about Russia. Following a policy change in 2007, the Russian birth rate has increased from 1.3 to 1.75 in just ten years. Russia now has the highest birth rate in all of Eastern Europe. At the centre of the Russian policy is something strikingly similar to Hungary’s CSOK program. Russian offers parents $7,200 as a one-time payment for a second or third child, which may be used to help cover housing expenses or education costs. More recently, plans were announced to offer parents mortgage subsidies and a $180/month child allowance for the initial 18 months.

Housing support, in Mr. Hammond’s estimation, is a critical element to a successful natalist policy. He suggests that American conservatives find free market ways to offer such assistance as well, such as by increasing the supply of homes in the U.S. through the easing of land use regulations.

But housing is not the only element that ties Hungary and Russia together, in terms of its pro-natalist programs. Both offer not just money, but a mission to parents. “Having children is explicitly construed as a noble pursuit in and of itself, with an intrinsic benefit that compensates for the non-market value that families–and mothers in particular–help to create,” writes Mr. Hammond. In both Russia and Hungary, childbirth is presented in one of two ways: a patriotic pursuit or a Christian duty.

Mr. Hammond adds:

“George Orwell was perhaps on to something when he posited a family resemblance between Catholic nationalism and Soviet ideology. Both rejected the commodification of core human relationships such as caring for a child. And both grasped the metaphysical importance of telos, whether the arc of history or the role of the so-called natural family. Of course, the danger in teleological thinking, now as then, is in its potential to justify subordinating the individual in the name of an elusive end state that never comes.”

That last line is especially salient, given the broader framework of an authoritarian, communal, anti-free market regime in Hungary and the encroaching power of the party state in all areas of life. As a libertarian policy analyst in Washington, Mr. Hammond should find Hungary’s System of National Cooperation most troubling.

 

17 Comments

  1. Am not sure if you mentioned above that the CSOK ‘subsidies’ are positioned in such a way that only the middle class or above are able to be eligible for the goodies, thereby articficially selecting the outcome of the process…

  2. Imagine if they did this in the USA ???!!!
    Ughhhh – imagine….

  3. It is all a game of playing football with statistics. But why the government, any government as matter of fact want to get involved in the most private life of its citizens ? And why only dictatorships has always done so ? The answer to that is clear in the records of history. Hitler’s Germany was the first that started with all kinds of incentives to have more babies. Any one might remember the “Leibens born”? The very goal was to have more soldiers, more blood-letting possible. As the saying back than was ‘ the silver marks were rolling to have more and more babies.’

    No government could possibly have any unselfish motivation for that. But why the need for more people ? While there is less and less of everything by the minute to support an ever increasing human population. Yes, even less oxygen molecules and everything else, accept humans.

    When I was a young fellow, the world human population was at the brink of 2 billion (milliard). Today that is seven and a half billion (7.5 milliard). It will double in the next 40 years, to 15 billion. But the ‘experts’ telling us that it’s 10 billion that the Earth is capable to support. We will reach that number in the next 16-18 years. So just shall we do than ?

    As far as Hungary is concerned, the country at its present rate is not able to provide a desired living standard for it present population. And who on this world going to pay all that incentives the government plans to pay to have more ‘babies’ ? That planned cost alone will further reduce the living standards of the population.

    Less population, less problems, less costs, better and a richer life for every one. Less people, more of everything for every one. Not even mentioning the cost on nature, environment, resources, and quality of life for all. Such ideas has ALWAYS been fueled by selfish evil motivations. Can not see anything else in it today !

  4. Edward wrote;
    “Imagine if they did this in the USA???!!!”

    But what do you imagine Edward, just what the heck is the $ trillion dollar welfare program ? The US is the one and only true socialist country. As matter of the fact socialism is by the Constitution. Article !, Section 8. That states;
    “The Congress Shall have the Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises,to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general WELFARE of the United States;..” Now what other country on this Earth has a Constitutional obligation for the welfare of its citizens ?

  5. Only the Third World is overpopulated, with Africa for example having a staggeringly explosive growth rate. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging native European cultures to procreate. In fact Europe as a whole needs to go much further and slash aid to the albatross which is the Third World and direct aid to meaningful population stimulus for its own cultures. This was the original intent of the European project- not to be the prop for failed cultures at its own expense. Compared to Africa, European cultures are a model for ecological sustainability. Your alarm at runaway world population growth is disingenuous at best; at worst you’re an advocate for planetary ruin caused by Third World barbarity. Shame on you.

  6. The definition of a well adapted culture is one which is able to identify problems and is not hindered by prevailing dogma from addressing the problems. If one believes that European birth rates are a problem, then at the moment Hungary is the only country actually doing something to try to respond to the challenge. Of course, if one thinks that ethno cultural replacement of the native cultures of the continent is the desired solution, then there is indeed not a problem, and Orban is once again up to his “autocratic” schemes.

    • Many would consider your opinion racist and yet nobody censored you.

      Native cultures? So which of the three original European tribes do you think should be reestablished in Europe? And we’ll need to get rid of the all the Hungarians since they didn’t show up until about 1000 years ago, wereas the other cultures were there 7 to 45 times earlier than the Magyars.

      Your thinking is muddled.

      https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29213892

      • My thinking is muddled? Apply the same test to any continent and then no one is native anymore. But try to do that to the native Americans left on our continent here and then you are the “racist”. And yet nobody censored you!

      • You should also try to brush up on your history. Magyars came from another part of Europe, close to the urals. Serbs, Croats arrived in a wave just a few centuries before the Magyar tribes. The Romanians claim that they have been on their sacred land since the time of the dinosaur (slight exaggeration), but reality is that there are no archaeological signs or written evidence of it pretty much till the same period when the Magyar tribes arrived in the region. My view is that the arrival of the Slavic tribes in the Balkans pushed them North of the Danube. Yet these are all distinct cultures, self-aware of their heritage, culture, distinct identity, centuries of ancestral connection to the land. Denying this about the people of Europe, in order to advocate for their ethno-cultural genocide through mass-colonization with a foreign population is pure hate and bigotry on your part and anyone else who advocates for this. And yet no one is censoring you!

        • Who is advocating for “ethno-cultural genocide”? I simply have confidence in the resiliance of European culture and I am not paranoid about the recent wave of immigration. Hungary for instance experienced multiple occupations and yet it still endured. In addition, I do not have a cartoon view of culture. Cultures never have and never will be static. Are you aslo concerned about keeping hip-hop, rock music, blues and jazz out of Europe? Falafel stands got you down? Middle Eastern music, art, and poetry are beautiful. Some interesting cultural fusions should come out of this latest wave of immigrants to Europe. By the third generation immigrants communities are completely integrated. I’m not afraid.

          • “Who is advocating for “ethno-cultural genocide”?” Well, you among others!

            Here is the population projection for Africa to 2100:

            https://qz.com/africa/1099546/population-growth-africans-will-be-a-third-of-all-people-on-earth-by-2100/

            Then there is the ME, which will most likely surpass 1 billion by 2100 as well, so at least 5-6 billion in a region which does not seem capable to provide for basic well-being even for the current population of less than 2 billion.

            This population is likely to overflow mostly into Europe and more specifically the EU, which is home to 450 million native Europeans and about 50 million non-Europeans currently. The 450 million native Europeans have a negative population growth rate at the moment. By looks of it, they may see a decline to as few as 300 million, unless natalist policies deemed (fascist, authoritarian and so on) would be introduced to stimulate specifically the birth rates of the natives. Now, Africa-ME can certainly “donate” 500 million colonists or so, and still not feel their absence by 2100. In other words, in the absence of measures taken to stem migration, and boost native population, members belonging to distinct European ethnic groups will find themselves living as a minority within a mostly ME-African colonist population, and of course the trend will most likely continue beyond 2100. Can you please bless this conversation with an example of a historical precedent where the incumbent local population benefited from such a demographic shift in favor of an incoming colonist population?

            Now, you seem to think of this as positive “cultural evolution”, leading to some Utopian multikulti koombaya. In my view, if certain native ethnic groups such as Swedes, Germans want to embrace this “cultural evolution”, by all means let them have it. But there are plenty of distinct native cultures around the world who reject such “cultural evolution”. I am thinking, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Tibetans and so on. Can we at least agree that in the event that distinct local cultures do not see it as such a good idea, their decision to reject such a path should be respected? And that of course should be the case for Hungarians as well, don’t you think? Or do you think that your utopian multikulti future should be imposed on unwilling native cultures?

      • ‘Censored’ because you don’t don’t agree with his opinion? Reality Check, you would have made a wonderful Party member enforcing the official line. Or do you have practical experience perhaps? Thankfully Marxist thought control has been relegated to the trash heap of history in most of the world.

  7. Mr.Hammond is too young to be able to make any statement on the issue by his personal remembrance. He follow what he was tought from text books. Between 1946 and 50 had a rise in birth rates specially among those he mentioned, simply because Rakosi and the Central Committee gave direct orders to party members (MKP) to absolutely have all the children they possible can have. That was for a specific political purpose. Just as was at Hitlers time in Germany. Is it the same again ?

  8. Right Rafael, only humanitarian aid to the “third world”. Africa, South America and Asia, but mainly contraceptives !

  9. Those are rather soft, social-darwnistic/eugenic policies that prefer the wealthier ( and in consequence, largely those who are considered racially pure enough by the Hungarian – far – right… ) minority of society, while extreme poverty continues to be rampant ( including child-malnourishment, and social, health conditions reminiscent of those in third world countries ), and about two-third of society struggles economically in one way or an other ( low wages, expensive housing, declining health-care system, unaffordable quality-education, low social mobility etc. ). The above described policies aren’t designed to benefit these majority, which is left behind to consume the ultrareactionary, racist, thinly veiled Anti-Semitic, Goebbels-like brain-washing and incitement of the ruling maffia-regime…

  10. How astonishing is this so much f*cking, racist, bigot shit among the comments ( and not just under this article )…

  11. It turns out, that only reactionary views are permitted by Mr. Adam.
    I can just hate that reactionary shit hole with both its ” liberal” and far-right wing.

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