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Online DPP Research Seminar: Lajos Bokros: The Tragedy of Transition: Development, Deterioration, Decay. The Case of Hungary 1990 - 2020

Lajos Bokros
Wednesday, November 24, 2021, 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm

The essay is about the economic and political development of Hungary in the last 30 years. It can be neatly divided into three periods which coincide with the calendar decades almost perfectly. After the collapse of the communist system, the first period constituted a glorious decade in development: the first two governments implemented almost all indispensable structural reforms required for a successful transition. After the financial stabilization in 1995, a consistent macroeconomic policy was applied, leading to export and investment-driven, hence sustainable economic growth. The next decade brought deterioration: reforms were stalled, and a sharp turn to consumption-led and debt-fuelled growth resulted in twin deficits which, by the time of the Great Recession, almost triggered a sovereign debt default. After a short period of successful financial stabilization, a populist-nationalist government came to power in 2010. A decade of decay set in: reversal of structural reforms, nationalization, monopolization, protectionism, market-distorting taxation and subsidization, state capture by a corrupt oligarchy, together with inconsistent macroeconomic policy. In addition, the self-styled „illiberal regime” of Viktor Orbán demolished the rule of law and all institutions representing checks and balances in a democracy. Corruption was elevated to the level of official government policy. With the help of the huge amount of subsidies coming from the EU, the regime maintained financial equilibrium and achieved significant growth during the time of global boom between 2014-2019. However, given the fact that private investments and productivity stay rather low in the non-tradable sector of the domestic economy, real convergence to Western efficiency and living standards remain elusive. Today Hungary constitutes a primary example of an economy pushed into a typical middle-income trap by its oligarchic and authoritarian regime. It also proves that transition reforms are all reversible; institutions are fragile. Restoration of the rule of law and democracy seems to be an indispensable prerequisite for convergence and development.