OPINION – Hungary: Europe’s Pro-Family Leader

By Sven R. Larson, in europeanconservative.com

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2020, the fertility rate in Hungary was 1.52. This is the average number of children a woman is expected to have over her lifetime. 

This rate is too low to avoid a reduction in the Hungarian population over time, but it is nevertheless an impressive number. In 2010, women in Hungary were only expected to have 1.26 children.

As of 2020, not a single country in Europe had a fertility rate above 2.1, the generally accepted statistical threshold for population replacement. However, some countries show a promising trend: of all the 52 countries tracked by the OECD, Hungary had the second-highest increase in fertility from 2010 to 2020. Its 21% improvement was beaten only by Latvia (28%), but ahead of Russia (17%), Czechia (14%), and Lithuania (13%). 

Most countries in eastern Europe have rising fertility rates. In addition to Latvia, Hungary, Czechia, and Lithuania, we find Romania, Slovenia, and Bulgaria on the list. Only two non-eastern countries have a rising rate: Germany and Malta. Every other European nation experienced a drop in fertility from 2010 to 2020, with the sharpest declines happening in Finland (-27%), Ireland (-22%), and Sweden (-16%).

The east-west split is a curious statistical pattern, one that raises pertinent questions about the role of family-friendly culture and policy in shaping the optimism of a nation’s population. That sentiment, in turn, determines its willingness to perpetuate its own existence. 

It is hard to find any other government in Europe—even the world—that has done more to encourage population growth than Hungary. However, before we look at what they have done to improve the outlook on their country’s future, a bigger question begs our attention:

Why does it matter if a nation’s population reproduces? 

This is a sensitive question, one that few dare touch in the context of family-friendly policies in Europe. However, there is a connection, one that we simply cannot ignore. It is centered around the doctrine of overpopulation.

This doctrine is not new. The idea that there are too many people on Earth has roots that reach back in time at least half a century. It swept through global politics of the 1970s and early 1980s, with rather serious consequences. Overpopulation doctrinaires had not yet linked the number of people on Earth to environmental concerns. The problem was instead one of nutrition: the prevailing wisdom of the day was that we could not possibly expect to feed a four-billion large global population. More people, the logic went, would only lead to mass starvation. 

China and India took these warnings to the authoritarian extreme. They imposed fertility-restricting policies, with the Chinese government infamously banning families from having more than one child, and the Indian government subjecting 6 million of its citizens to forced sterilizations.

Today, with twice as many people on Earth as back then, we know that population growth did not cause mass starvation. On the contrary: the human race can feed, clothe, house, cure, and educate more of its own kind than ever in history. The overpopulation alarms of the 1970s were unmerited. 

It would have been fair to expect that the overpopulation argument would have died out by now. It hasn’t: its propagators have just shifted to another tune, this time in harmony with the environmentalist movement. The current story, as exemplified by the so-called ‘Overpopulation Project,’ is that we cannot “share the Earth fairly” with other species if our population continues to grow. 

If there are more of us, we destroy the environment. 

This ‘solidarity of species’ doctrine is nothing short of an anti-humanist agenda, based on unscientific nonsense. The best way to demonstrate this is to put it next to the theory of evolution. If overpopulation pundits believe in evolution, they also believe in Darwin’s principle of ‘survival of the fittest.’ 

Given the success of our species, we humans have proven ourselves to be the most fit to populate the planet. Therefore, we have a moral obligation to populate the Earth; the Darwinian theory says nothing about living in ‘solidarity’ with other species.

This is admittedly a provocative point. It is not meant to argue for a reckless expansion of human society. It is only meant to illustrate the lack of logic in the very overpopulation argument itself: nature, as explained by Darwinians, does not shed tears over inferior species.

But why is all this relevant when we talk about population policy in Europe? 

Here is why. Its lack of logic notwithstanding, the overpopulation argument is sometimes used to motivate why Europeans should have fewer kids. At times, it drapes itself in ugly garments: as British newspaper The Guardian suggested back in 2017, every aspect of life in the Western world contributes to destroying the planet. The inevitable conclusion, of course, is that the West must stop reproducing itself.

The problem that even the overpopulationists realize is that someone needs to be the doctor who cares for them when they get old. Someone has to be the police officer who keeps their neighborhood safe, and someone has to produce and deliver the food they still need to eat. To solve this problem, the overpopulation movement has recently aligned itself with unabashed anti-white racism, according to which it is ‘white supremacy’ if the native peoples of Europe have children. The remedy, according to the overpopulation argument, is instead to support mass immigration.

A sound moral reaction would be to leave this pile of poisonous rhetorical debris alone and let it fade into obscurity. However, given that it serves as the ultimate ‘intellectual’ foundation for attacks on family-friendly policies in countries like Hungary, a brief comment is merited. 

The very idea behind the broadsided ‘white supremacy’ agenda is to group-think masses of people into group-guilting some suitably identifiable crop of fellow humans. History is unfortunately full of examples of how it has been practiced, two of which are the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and the Maoists in China in the 1950s. 

In the former case, the group-guilty were the Jews; in the latter case, anyone considered ‘privileged:’ entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, etc.

Any argument against raising the fertility rates in a country like Hungary ultimately breaks down into anti-humanism and anti-white racism. Therefore, there are no good arguments against the Hungarian government’s desire to reverse the decline in its country’s population. 

With that said, let us take a look at what family-friendly policies they have put in place. 

An essential component of the policies of Fidesz, the governing party of Prime Minister Orbán, has been to ideologically reconfigure welfare-state benefits for families. As Hungary Today reported back in 2018, a 2010 reform refocused family-oriented benefits:

Not only has the amount of funds allocated for family policy increased, but a serious effort has gone into giving the middle-class [sic] incentives to have children. While previous governments offered universal, basic family benefits favoring the poorer classes … the current government has tried to provide the middle and upper classes with more family support.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this kind of reform. When benefits are allocated based primarily on the recipient’s income, the purpose behind the benefit is to reduce economic differences between citizens. However, when benefits are paid out based on non-economic criteria, the purpose is to encourage the behavior that makes a person eligible for the benefits. 

In Hungary, this means encouraging the formation and growth of families.

In 2016, the Hungarian government created an innovative housing program for young families. Married couples can qualify for a low-interest loan (3% when the program was created) for up to 25 years. The eligibility criteria are conservative in nature:

[The] applicants must meet certain criteria regarding their status under the social security insurance system and have no criminal record, and, for the low-interest loan, must have a good credit rating. … Furthermore, the subsidy carries the requirement that the recipients refund the subsidies, if they fail to fulfill the commitment to have the number of children they committed to raise.

Once again, the focus is on the formation, sustainability, and growth of families—not on economic redistribution. This has led to an expansion of family-oriented spending and tax rebates; contrary to what some critics would like to assert, the Hungarian welfare state has remained large, even grown in some ways. 

Among those critics, we find welfare-state supporters on the Left. An interview from 2017 with 444.hu records a rather comical observation made by the sociologist Dorotty Szikra. In terms of the Hungarian solution,

Szikra does not know of any other country where there is no upper limit for the family tax allowance, i.e., families with the highest incomes can also claim back tax allowances at the same percentage as the less wealthy. 

She adds the flat income tax, which in a similar fashion treats all families alike, regardless of income. 

Then, stunned by what she sees, the esteemed sociologist notices:

Thanks to these measures, social policy and tax policy simply lose their function of being able to correct the market’s primary distribution conditions.

Exactly. That is the whole purpose of the conservative reconfiguration of the Hungarian welfare state: to let families mind their own economic affairs, and to reward everyone regardless of income for forming, sustaining, and growing families. 

It is really very simple. You get what you incentivize:

  • If you give proportionately the same child-related tax benefit to a family with high incomes as you give to a family with low incomes, you get more families with more children; 
  • If instead you do what the Left wants, namely subsidize poverty, then you get more poverty.

The 444.hu article also laments the fact that the pro-family housing loans tend to benefit families with better finances than the poorest in society. Apparently, neither the author of the article nor the interviewed sociologist appear to understand the financial basics involved. In order to motivate a bank to lend you money, you have to at least make credible that you can pay back the loan. That means three things: an income high enough to afford the loan; a credit score showing you are financially responsible; and some skin in the game, i.e., savings that you can put toward the house purchase. 

There are many more features to Hungary’s family-friendly welfare state, including paid leave for mothers of a total of 160 weeks. The social-security system replaces 100% of the mother’s income for the 24 weeks that count as maternity leave; no other European country with a 100% replacement rate offers the coverage for that many weeks. 

Families can also enjoy other tax breaks, as the European Center for Law and Justice reports:

[From] 2020, every mother, who raises at least 4 children or who has given birth for [sic] 4 or more children, does not have to pay personal income taxes. Besides, the government launched other various financial support for families, such as support for buying cars.

As Balázs Orbán explained recently, the tax exemption is now even more generous:

This means that a woman who has her first child before 25 would never in her life have to pay income taxes. It also means that Hungary is likely going to see a continued rise in its fertility rate, as well as a decline in the age of first-time mothers. Currently, according to OECD family statistics, the age group 30-34 has the highest fertility rate. As of 2020, the average age of women having their first child was 28.4, up from 27.7 in 2010.

In other words, Hungarian women are having more children, but a bit later than they used to. At the same time, the upward trend in birthing mothers’ age has flattened out recently. Given the commitment of the government in Budapest to continue to build the most family-friendly nation on Earth, we can expect tomorrow’s Hungarian mothers to have more children, and at a younger age. 

How can anyone object to that?

Sven R. Larson is a political economist and author. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from Roskilde University, Denmark. Originally from Sweden, he lives in America where for the past 16 years he has worked in politics and public policy. He has written several books, including Democracy or Socialism: The Fateful Question for America in 2024.

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