I assume you all remember that about two weeks before the new constitution was voted on 8 million questionnaires were sent out to every adult over the age of eighteen asking them twelve meaningless questions. Apparently 900,000 people returned the questionnaires, the rest didn't bother. The answers ostensibly supported the government's notions about the constitution, but some people doubt that anyone even bothered to take a look at them. Since the body that was responsible for sorting the material was not independent, the government could say anything it wanted about the results. Anti-government forces found this newest method of "governing" primitive and unethical. But it seems that the government must think that pretending that its decisions are based on the public will is a useful political tool because it is back in the "questionnaire business." This time people will be asked ten questions about social issues.
The format is the same as that of the first questionnaire, where the questions began: "There are some who think that…. Others say that … What do you think." The only major structural difference between the two questionnaires is the size of the audience. It seems to me that the government has already decided to lower the voting age to sixteen because in order to be eligible to answer these questions one must be sixteen or older. A move that might help Fidesz at the next elections. Or Jobbik?
The government's aim is to cut back on social services or, as it is often described, "revamp the system of social transfers." It is fairly difficult to pose questions that would prompt people to heartily agree, for example, to cut unemployment benefits. But this is exactly what the government wants to achieve with this latest questionnaire.
The first question concerns something called "protected age regime," which means that a worker older than 55 can be dismissed only as a result of disciplinary action. The question asks whether Hungary should introduce legislation concerning this issue. The problem is that the protected age regime already exists in the current labor code.
The second question asks whether the state should limit the utility companies' private interests and prohibit them from collecting extra profit and thus making utility bills impossibly high. Or perhaps the state should constrain utility charges only for small consumers and the needy. Or, the state shouldn't intervene in the utility companies' pricing. What do you think the answer will be?
The third question is really a doozy. Should the country help the unemployed by providing work instead of paying them an unemployment benefit, or is the unemployment benefit the solution to the joblessness problem? Tell me who on earth will answer that the unemployment benefit is the solution to joblessness.
The fourth question returns to this government's favorite theme: children. The question is whether people with children should receive higher pensions than the childless. The second possibility would be that only those who also have logged the appropriate number of work years as an entitlement to pensions should receive higher pensions for raising children. Third, raising children shouldn't be recognized in the amount of the pension. My comment here is that Hungarians will be happy if the state will be able to pay adequate pensions as it is. Most experts claim that in the not too distant future there might be a collapse of the current system unless it is reformed.
The fifth question concerns social assistance. Should it be given only in kind, mostly foodstuffs, or should part of the assistance be given in money and part in basic goods. The third possibility is that assistance will be given only in money, which is the current situation. That is a hot question in Hungary because many people are convinced that those living on assistance spend the money on cigarettes and liquor and therefore the assistance should be only in kind. Liberals in Hungary are dead against this because they consider it discriminatory.
Questions six and seven are concerned with loans in foreign currencies. The first question is whether the state should provide help to anyone who cannot pay his debts. The second question inquires whether foreign-currency loans, which at the moment are forbidden, should again be made available since lately everybody has become aware of the risks. However, the vetting should be much stricter than earlier. The other choice is: foreign currency lending should remain banned. I might add here that the government already announced that it wants to permit mortgage lending in euros again, partially lifting the ban on all forex lending imposed last year.
Question eight is also interesting. It goes like this: "Drug company lobbies 'must be broken'–they shouldn't be allowed to force higher-priced drugs on patients for the purpose of generating extra profits." Or if one doesn't like this answer one can choose this one: "There is no need for the state to step up action against the drug companies to protect patients' interests." What do you think the answer will be? One thing is sure: Hungarian doctors are exceedingly reluctant to prescribe generic drugs.
Question nine is so complicated that I don't think too many people will be able to answer it. (1) The number of years spent working should serve as the primary basis for the calculation of old-age pensions. (2) Old-age pensions should be defined in proportion to the future pensioner's income. (3) The number of years spent working and the size of a person's income should be taken into account equally when setting the size of the pension.
Question ten involves the financing of education. (1) The state should use public funds to support primarily that kind of education which leads to landing a job. (2) The education system doesn't need to be adjusted to economic realities. This is a tricky question. Most likely the preferred answer is (1), but this may mean that students who choose "useless" majors like art, literature, history, or philosophy will have to pay a hefty tuition whereas students who want to become engineers or lawyers will get a free education. I find this an extraordinary proposition and highly discriminatory.
Yesterday I was listening to four political commentators talking about this new questionnaire and they all agreed that it would be wise for the Orbán government to put an end to these endless, phony "consultations." More and more people are also complaining about the expense involved. Each such "consultation" costs 800 million forints–this while the government is begging for contributions from citizens to help pay down the national debt.