Lajos Bokros: Is he a liberal-conservative?

Since there seems to be total confusion over Lajos Bokros’s political and economic philosophy, I thought it might be useful to go back to an article he published on January 2, 2014 in Élet és Irodalom. On the one hand, it is a critique of the “lost decade” and, on the other, it is a program. What should a new government do to move Hungary forward in both political and economic terms? All this is enumerated in 140 points. Although Bokros keeps describing himself as a conservative or a liberal-conservative, a careful reading of this article reveals that his ideas are anything but conservative in the ordinary sense of the word. I will not try to cubbyhole him. Instead, I will summarize his ideas, which ought to spark some discussion among us.

Bokros spends 40 points on the “lost decade,” which for him means the period between 2001 and 2010. His critique of the Hungarian economy during this period is practically identical to what other “orthodox” economists say about the economic sins of the successive Hungarian governments. His critique of the second Orbán government is in no way different from what we call a “liberal” interpretation of the Orbán-Matolcsy duo’s economic and financial policies. There is nothing inherently conservative in these first 40 points.

After this section, he explains his ideas about the future. “What kind of Hungary would we like?” Here I will translate certain key passages. “We would like a Hungary where the constitution, inspired by European values, will defend the freedom of individuals, families, small communities, enterprises, churches, cultures, peoples and nations even against the state.  We want a state that guarantees the totality of rights of people and citizens.”

The modernization that began after the regime change, he argues, came to a halt in 2001. For a new government that modernization process must be restored.

What does Bokros understand by “modernization”?  After explaining that modernization is a concept that appeared during the transition period between feudalism and capitalism, he turns to the “societal foundation” of modernization which, in his opinion, is “the market economy’s independence. Its ideological base is the renaissance, the reformation and, above all, the enlightenment…. [From that time on] the economy, the law, culture and science were no longer subordinated to religion or some kind of ideology but followed their own inner logic and lived according to their own laws. In a wider sense modernization means the separateness of society’s activities from the state and becoming self-contained (although not independent).”

liberal conservative

“In a modern society the independent, free, and responsible person can blossom. Individualism is a modern phenomenon…. Individuals build and create society from the bottom up, not the state from the top down. If the key actor of a society is the respected and responsible individual, then these strong, self-respecting individuals are capable of creating a society that is separate from the state. A modern state is increasingly democratic…. A modern democracy is always free-thinking, meaning it is a liberal democracy. Illiberal democracy, meaning a democracy that limits the rights of the individual and minorities is no more than the unlimited rule of the majority, which cannot be the lasting foundation of a modern society.”

Finally, Bokros talks about another important ingredient of a modern society: the market economy. For him the market means freedom of choice. Without the existence of a market economy there can be no democracy or rule of law. Quoting Friedrich Hayek, he warns that the lack of a market leads to servitude. “In a modern economy and society the state is not the opposite of the market but rather is its framework. The state is clever and small, limited and supervised, and not stupid and weak.”

The rest of his treatise deals with some of the tasks a new government should immediately tackle as well as certain long overdue economic reforms that should be introduced. Liberals would agree with most of these recommendations, but there are a few that most likely would be controversial, which should not surprise anyone. Several of the recommendations would hurt certain interest groups, but if Bokros is right without these reforms the Hungarian economy will not be able to crawl out of the hole it found itself in over the last few years.

In any case, Bokros at the moment is running for mayor of Budapest, not to become the next prime minister of Hungary. As mayor he would presumably have to worry more about potholes than political and economic philosophy. Therefore his lengthy list of recommendations is not a campaign platform. I just chose the passages that explain what Bokros means by “modern Hungary” and by “liberal-conservative” so that we can better understand who he is.


  1. Wow!

    To me Bokros sounds really like a liberal – with some libertarian tendencies maybe?

    His programme reminds me of the old German Liberal party – the FDP: Sadly, these people have lost most of their liberalism and became just a representative of the large companies, so they practically/almost disappeared from German politics …

  2. Interesting read – though alas, given the current context, it sounds a lot like science fiction. The full text contains some very harsh – though in my view clear-headed – remarks on the current drift to backwardness.

    Wolfi under the previous blog post asked why the Left was in such a sorry state. I wonder why the liberal Right is almost non-existent. Was it already the case during the interwar period?

  3. Very hard to classify his views.To me it sounds as a modern defense of conservatism, as a text from Thomas Sowell.
    At any rate, that’s not what Orban has in mind.

  4. Bokros sounds like a GOP candidate, but this is considered extreme left-wing by the Fidesz-blown Zeitgeist.


    District 5 of Budapest has sold an apartment to its fidesznik deputy mayor Szentgyörgyvölgyi.
    at VERY, VERY advantageous terms.

    Mr Sz. is Fidesz’s candidate for mayor on October 12.

    1. The apartment, along with the entire house was renovated at taxpayers’ expense.
    2. It was evaluated at 747 euros / square meter [or 82,000 euros for 110 m^2 in downtown Budapest]
    (that is about 1/3 of the real market price in my opinion)
    3. Mr Szentgyörgyvölgyi’s price was only 75% of the above sum
    4. He did not have to give a down payment.
    5. He does not have to pay any interest on the outstanding balance for 25 years.(wow!)
    6. Therefore his monthly installment amounts to a fixed 63,570 forints a month for 25 years.
    (this is now 205 euros, it can be much less if the forint loses value).

    If someone would like to rent an apartment of this size in the neighborhood, s/he would pay three times as much now in my estimate and thirty times as much in twenty years.

  5. I just checked the conditions at OTP bank for a 25-year mortgage with FIXED interest rate.
    The interest rate is 9.45%.

    38.35% (no interest/market interest) * 0.75% (special discount) * 0.33% (underestimated value) = 9.49%

    So Mr Sz, compared with an ordinary citizen, will have paid about 1/10 of the money for the apartment by the end of the 25-year period.

  6. Typo corrected:
    38.35% (no interest/market interest) * 75% (special discount) * 33% (underestimated value) = 9.49%.

  7. Of course investigating Bokros and his politics is very interesting. But as Peter Peto the famous leftist journalist said: Bokros has 0 percent chance of winning. The contest is already over and by a large margin.

    Ferenc Falus was a disaster that destroyed any chance of the opposition in Budapest. For half the voters he will be still the candidate (because avarege working class people not immersed in politics in every day will never hear that Bokros is the candidate). And the old MSZP voters will desperately search for the name MSZP on the ballot. It will not appear.

    Bokros is finished the only question is can he get over 30% a surpass the results of Csaba Horvath from 2010?

  8. Will you bloggers get one thing through your mind: ELECTIONS DON’T MATTER.
    Fideszniks count the votes and they put out the number they want. Get used to it.

  9. Petofi – thank you for your clarity.

    The Hungarian Spectrum is following all kind of unimportant questions.

    It is not seeing the woods from the trees.

    The same mistake was made by nice Hungarians under Horthy and Kadar.

    Akos Kertesz is our prophet, the rest is just a “gittegylet”. Not biting.

  10. Carrot,

    “The contest is already over and by a large margin”

    Get it right, there was never and there never will be any more “contest “while Orban remains in charge.

    This is an illegitimate election run by an illegitimate government and there will be only winner permitted by the Fidesz thugs and bully boys.

  11. Just a reminder: no Orban or Navracsics can ever be caught by any hearings whether in the EU or in Hungary. They are well prepared pros. Navracsics will be loved by his EU colleagues, he is a liberal charmer, the perfect person for his position. People will expect the worse, and instead he is so likable and such a gentlemen, sweet even. What’s that bullshit about Hungary being ruled by thugs?

  12. By accident I stumbled on this:

    “The basis of the newly organised Hungarian state is a work-based society that is not liberal in nature. This was the topic of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő (Baile Tusnad)”

    PS and totally OT:

    In case anyone’s wondering why I’m online so often: We got a young tomcat (child of the two cats we adopted last year – alas, they’re both dead) and this little wild thing and our old dog need help in getting along – the little cat doesn’t understand that the dog doesn’t want to play with it, so I sit here regularly on my lounge chair with the cat and the notebook on my lap …

  13. MSZP leadership highly praised Navracsics’s performance at the hearings. MSZP praising Navracsics, a top Fidesz official can only be preparation for something else.

    They are possibly preparing the public for the fact that MSZP will vote for Navracsics. MSZP only has 2 MEP so they have to follow the “party line” in the eurosocialist bloc. If they vote for Navracsics so must they. This have to be explained to their supporters at home.

    444 an ultraliberal portal also gave high marks to Navracsics.

  14. carrot, as “ultraliberal” — you’re out of your mind.

    Btw yesterday you were fervently defending Fodor’s party, now it seems you want to denounce as “ultraliberal”, something no liberal would do. Not just because is not ultraliberal in any sense, but the term is a widely-used curse on the right-wing (and which is the reason why no liberal would ever use the term).

    Now that you revealed yourself to be a smart (not so smart after all) Orban apologist know we for certain that it is Fidesz and its cronies who are behind Fodor. Thanks for the info.

    As your bosses would say, however: Iso raz.

    Use another pseudonym and start your project to influence this discussion again. After all what else could you do from our tax money?

  15. Tribeka by your idiotic trolling you “revealed yourself” to be an idiotic troll. Ultraliberal simply means very liberal. And it is only a curseword in possibly your sick mind. Are you a kurucinfo type that you consider liberal in any form a curse?

    It is very surprisin that 444 praises Navracsics. This is something that they would not do unless it makes sense for them somehow. Like they have insider info that he will pass anyway and it is no use attacking him.

    “fervently defending Fodor’s party” When you stand up against libel (accusation without evidence) you call that “fervent defending? I call it honesty and decency. Present your evidence if you don’t want to get called a barbarian.

    In civilised society there is no such thing as “guilty until proven innocent”. You have to prove your charges be it the Liberal Party or any other.

  16. carrot, listen, I know this is a job, someone’s gotta do it. I know. No problem with that.

    “Like they have insider info that he will pass anyway and it is no use attacking him.”

    Let’s make something clear. does not operate like Magyar Nemzet does. Since you know how Magyar Nemzet, Heti Válasz, Hír Tv and the rest of the Fidesz media empire works (with strategic planning, coordinated operation involving party politicians, deliberate planting of stories, kompromats, disinformation, often lies just to elicit response from a targeted audience, jolly good connections to various state services) you’re automatically assuming that this is how small, independent outlets like do. But you’re wrong.

    This assumption of yours is the same as when CÖF and other Fidesz politicians write open letters (note: never without coordination with experts on foreign relations) starting from the assumption that Washington Post or New York Times are managed and edited like MN is. Like POTUS calls the editors who immediately run to plant a story and suchlike. I know these publications cozy up to power much more than they used to (compared to the heyday of print media in the 1970’s) but the world works differently from your conspiracija theories. But I can well imagine this is what you learned in school and saw in action, so you think this is reality. But this is a mistake you and your colleagues are making.

  17. You must be a very interesting type of retard. First you build several conspiracy theories :

    According to you, Zoltan Bodnar is betraying the opposition, Fodor is betraying the opposition (it was Gyurcsany who got Fodor into parliament I only wait for you to blurt out that he too is a betrayer), they have too much money (even though they took out a loan in a public and transparent way and skipped the EU campaign). Long before the campaign Fodor was very open about negotiations and tried to approach the other parties Szigetvari and the closed minded rest refused to even talk to or his party.

    Then they nominated Ferenc Falus and then withdrew him at the last minute. Now tell me with a straight face that nominating Zoltan Bodnar from the start wouldn’t have been a hundred times better idea. Oh wait you can’t.

    And after you build all your little conspiracy theories, like a good retard you write “the world works differently from your conspiracija theories.”

    Let me quote that again “the world works differently from your conspiracija theories”. You wrote it but you didn’t understand it.

  18. Re Navracsics concerning his recall to testify further. I did not see the whole thing but from what what I saw I thought that he did remarkably well. He handled the questions very artfully by trying to disassociate himself from the government he was a member of. Well, it looks as if he were not so convincing after all.

  19. Gabor Torok, political scientist about Lajos Bokros candidacy for Budapest mayor:

    “..there is complete consensus in that Bokros has no chance to win this election. He gets two weeks of fame, nothing more.”

    “abban teljes elemzői konszenzus van, hogy nincs esélye megnyerni ezt a választást. Az ő politikai pályáján ez csak epizód lesz. Két hét hírnév jut Bokros Lajosnak, semmi több.”

    the 444 website is not liberal they are more leftist if anything. One of the writers has a picture of Che Guevara as his avatar. They were founded by a Wallis leader,(Wallis was Bajnai’s old firm) but during the past few months they received millions of dollars from Soros so they are flush with cash and can hire and hire when other media must tighten the belt, reduce salaries and benefits and fire journalists.

  20. Navracsics did relatively well, distancing himself from Fidesz in a low profile manner. However the ALDE, Greens, GUE and even the EFDD (UKIP/Cinque Stelle) groups object to his confirmation. Consequently, it seems he’ll be included in the coming days second round of negotiations…

  21. Back to the topic Eva has raised in her essay on Bokros. There are many odd aspects to the Bokros 140 point essay. The first is how he situated Hungary within the context of the world. It’s largely situated politically as opposed to economically. The world market’s inner dynamics are only linked to Hungary through economic downturns, for example in points 14 and 40 of the essay. In point 21 he discusses the break of Fidesz with the EU, but the comment is profoundly superficial discussing only Western values ​​in general but not the economic dynamics of the Hungary/EU relationship. In point 23 he discusses Hungary’s economic decline relative to the other Central European states that have experienced transition, but there is no discussion at all the dynamic relationship of all of these states to Germany’s outsourcing process. It’s profoundly shallow.

    In point 32 he goes after the increased scope of the state under Fidesz rule writing: “However, being the owner is not the role of the state, the role is regulatory developing a playing field. Before our eyes towering Leviathan state openly distorts competition, pollution, creates private monopolies through the use legislative and regulatory activities. The state space Invades the business space at the expense of freedom competition. There are very few private entrepreneurs, who in this unpredictable economic environment, of political and economic constitutionalism wants to be able to plan and invest in the long term.”

    There is little question that this is true, but he never discusses what market private entrepreneurs are to thrive in, Hungary’s relatively tiny internal market, the EU market, or the wider world market? Where is the capital to come from for venture capitalism and how is it in the interest of foreign firms to develop this sector in Hungary which pose competition to their own market hegemony – these issues never seem to be contemplated at all.

    Reading the original Hungarian text revealed to me, as someone has already pointed out, vast similarities to the economic ideology of the Republican Party in my country, but totally without that party’s emphasis on global competition and the use of combined economic and strategic military power to give the U.S. the edge. I honestly can see why some of the more committed socialist left in the MSZP did not want to sign on to support Borkos.

  22. Breaking news: Ferenc Falus mistaken withdrawal. Ferenc Falus was much more popular than Bokros right before he was withdrawn from candidacy. According to real poll numbers he was more than 2.5 times more popular than Lajos Bokros.

    Falus was withdrawn by previous numbers of Nezopont institute which showed Bokros being more popular than Falus. As real results show the earlier numbers were likely forged. And because Falus was withdrawn based on bad numbers.

  23. What about this?

    Falus stepped down form the candidacy because one of Fidesz’s pollster (Nézőpont) showed him behind Bokros a few days ago.

    But today two independent polling companies (Ipsos, Median) came up with data showing that Falus had much more support than Bokros!

    So the joint candidate of the opposition withdrew because he believed in data that was (probably) planted by Fidesz!

  24. Come on, people!

    Everybody knows that neither Bokros nor Falus stand a chance against Fidesz – even if they had nominated an orange garbage can for mayor (to paraphrase an old German joke about the CSU in some parts of Bavaria …) so what …

    Getting a decent percentage that shows that not all Hungarians are uninformed/stupid/lazy/still living in the 19th Century/”insert here whatever you like” is all one can hope for right now.

    What I find really horrible in a way is the selfishness and egocentrism of so many politicians on the left – or are there other reasons for this “Kasperletheater” as we would call the whole show in German?

    Some commenters have made remarks leading in strange directions …

  25. tappanch, this is just horrible. According to this median poll Bokros only had 5% support last week. And yet Ferenc Falus the more popular candidate withdrew in favor of him. If this is not incompetence then it was deliberate hurting of the opposition. And I’m not talking about the poll but the people who convinced Falus. They are experts, they must have known about these new polls. Did they tell Falus? Did they do other internal or non-public polls?

    They must have known that Nezopont is not to be trusted. I never seen anyone who trusts Nezopont except in this single poll. This one was quoted over and over. These experts around Falus… it is very possible they wanted to hurt the opposition on purpose.

  26. Olga Kalman was completely humiliated and embarassed in Galamus. The main point of the article was that Olga is very stupid and can not understand science. And also that Paks is inevitable.

    Eva can you ask Galamus not to publish such garbage articles? It was written by some very rude person called Mihalyi Peter.

  27. This mess on the opposition’s side is astonishing. There are no words for it. So much stupidity day after day after day after day. A high-school campaign for a student council representative position in rural Mississippi is more professional that this. And let’s remember that Szigetvari was once considered a whiz-kid (at least by himself)…

  28. Once again the Fidesz barely have to lift a finger to win – the so called opposition gallantly beating themselves to trash, all by themselves, and in advance..!

    Otherwise I still searching for an answer just why must we categorise someone, particularly in light of the political situation in Hungary, where is no political party or politician in existence today which/who exactly correspond to political and/or ideological definitions.

    In my opinion not even the classic “left” and “right” category has any relevance, not even a larger scale as a party, going to individual level the task seems quite hopeless.
    Not to mention, finally, just how the party/politician define themselves and how their political behaviour define them in reality – quite an experience here too.

    For a simple test just try and define the Fidesz as a party and Viktor Orbán as an individual politician, and see if you managed to figure out a single solution!

  29. Not completely OT:

    If I hadn’t known already that there will be elections soon I’d have realised it just now – trying to watch the news on M1 TV. North Korean State TV has switched into 100%-propaganda-mode …
    Of course they had to show Falusz’s (in)famous ice bucket challenge for the umpteenth time and then nothing but propaganda …

    We couldn’t finish watching the news – my wife switched channels.

    How can regular people stand this type of stupid relentless crappy programming – and how can the program makers, announcers etc stand it? Are the majority of Hungarians really sheep-like? All zombies like the CÖF crowd?


    Compare the happenings in Hungary to what’s going on in Hongkong right now …

  30. @Ron:

    Even when you don’t have to pay a tuition fee – life in Germany is still not cheap, a room, food etc will cost you at least 600€ a month. How is a Hungarian student to manage this when his parents can’t help her/him? They probably make less than that …

    I still remember my situation from 50 years ago – my parents had built a house and said they couldn’t afford financing my studies and the government said my father earned too much for me to get a stipend – so I had to work …

    And that is very difficult right now, studying is more time consuming that 50 years ago and jobs are rare!

  31. What Orbán is thinking about this discussion (from Pester Lloyd)

    If they have no bread then they should eat Kolbász (or Hurka …)!

  32. Minister Varga said today that the Hungarian state won the Sukoro court case against Lauder in Washington DC. This was refined later by journalists to be closer to a draw.

    I checked the ICSID website and I cannot see the case there among the 12 cases the search for Hungary yields. (But there is Sodexo, Chèque Déjeuner, Telenor)

    My question is : which court of arbitration ruled in the Hungary vs Lauder [or similar] case?

  33. Tappanch, it’s ICSID Case No. ARB/11/22 – you’ll find it if you search for the claimant “Vigotop” vs Hungary.

    PS and totally OT:

    Our new tomcat used its tappancs on me today and gave my a scratch while playing – hadn’t heard that word before …

  34. @Wolfi

    Thank you. The verdict (“award”) of October 1st is not yet posted.

    My nails are not as sharp as my namesake’s.

  35. Wolfi: I agree with you, but to pay EUR 1,000 per month (times 10 times 4 years) or EUR 40,000 is still cheaper than working 10 years for “minimum” wages.

  36. The local public television of district 5 gave lopsided pro-Fidesz candidate coverage.
    The opposition candidate provided some evidence to the Budapest Election Commission.
    The Commission rejected his claim, because the accused channel failed to turn in the video in time.

    So if an accused organization does not cooperate with an investigation, and it is run, de facto by Fidesz , then it is automatically not guilty.

    Shame on the fideszculated Hungarian legal system.

  37. This may only be a small excerpt of Bokros’ article, but I couldn’t get beyond the association of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment with ‘markets.’ He has got entirely the wrong end of the stick regarding Adam Smith et al, and cannot be regarded as intellectually serious.

  38. @whoever: I’m pretty confident this is debatable, as §49 is not about ‘markets’, but about the social foundations of a market economy. It’s a relatively classic view. Of course, one is free to consider that for instance Schumpeter wasn’t ‘intellectually serious’ …

    As for myself, I’m always amazed at how economy and politics interact; how they’re not contained into ‘separate spheres’ that would occasionally influence one another, but on the contrary constantly weave a social fabric. I read a great book this summer about the influence of inheritance claims on the birth of the idea of citizenship in 18th century France (relative to the King’s right to confiscate the inheritance of non-French subjects living in the kingdom).

    When we consider the current regime, I think we should be aware that what is at stake isn’t only a set of laws that could be replaced by other laws. The ‘polip’ economy is instrumental in creating a new social fabric, and the longer, deeper it goes, the harder it will be to unravel.

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