Commentary

Should We Just Start Paying Mothers?

The Hungarian government has decided to push demography. They want to create lots and lots of Hungarian babies – to avoid immigration at all cost.

Their battle cry: “The world belongs to those who birth it full.” (Their words, not mine.) 

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“Birth already!” A young design student captured the mood back in 2012 and nominated this billboard to a contest. The couple was game on the joke.

And of course, a few new policies have been announced that are aimed to promote the multiplying of the right kind. (In Hungary the “right kind” are non-gypsies, just so you know.) One of these measures is particularly ironic: letting women off the hook for their student loans if they birth at least three Hungarian taxpayers.

In other words, knock yourself out with the most expensive degree you can buy and never use it.

But you don’t have to worry about the loans. You can use your smart little head for better nursing and babysitting for ten years after graduation, while out of work.

But as we will see, according to pro-family groups, they shouldn’t work at all. Because (paid) female work is slavery.

But the efforts don’t end here. I wrote ten years, because three years of maternal leave is not just paid in Hungary (with a pittance) but also socially expected from a mother. (I dare you to hire a 30-something woman.) Also because there aren’t enough places in childcare, since relieving women from the burden of 24/7 child rearing is not a priority. Places in nurseries are so hard to find that a whole cottage industry of corruption has been born around waiting lists. And then on to kindergartens…

But social engineering doesn’t end here. Rather than leaving money where it is earned, a series of super-complex tax measures are in place to make sure that 1) poor people procreate at their own risk, and 2) that non-gypsies have no choice but to marry and birth. Just take all the extra taxes single people, childless, and cohabiting couples have to pay. Or the insane difficulty of registering a child if the parents are not married. Only to force people together. And to exclude gay couples.

And of course, once you have three kids you might as well use them to apply for a subsidized home loan. And the ten years of maternity leave will come handy to fill in all the forms and wait until the building industry catches up with the sudden demand and supplies the homes that will be much too expensive, exactly because the government decided to pour money on the market.

Social engineering of this kind is damaging and omnipresent. The rules are whimsical and ever-changing.

It is worth to look at the announcement and communication of the much-revered but hard-to-get CSOK, subsidized home loans for married people with three kids. Firstly, the announcement came out of the blue, in the middle of a growing backlash against the shameless misogyny of members of the government. One of them suddenly announced a big lump sum for those who produce kids. You would believe it was preceded by a policy preparation phase and feasibility calculations – but no. That they readily admitted. As the days passed, the rules kept changing, conditions were added – often as a reaction to a newspapers back-of-an-envelope calculation that proved that the ideas are outrageously out of whack. The day after such articles, the highlighted mistakes were corrected, new rules announced. They keep changing to this day, and an entire cottage industry of people who got burnt, started a construction or sank their savings based on these promises. The only thing that worked: house prices shot up the morning after the announcement – and stayed there. Regardless of the fact that no existing house seems to be eligible to buy under CSOK conditions and new home prices are out of reach for families, with or without CSOK.

There. Family policy for you.

Child benefit rules change constantly but a child is there to stay so couples who take any of these measures into account for the long run are in for a disappointment and a life-long lesson they will never stop paying for.

But instead of getting offended, citizens find justifications of how it is generous from the government to give back in exchange for more babies.

From. Our. Own. Money.

To put things into perspective, Hungarian couples are much more likely to have babies abroad than at home. The reason: stability, predictability, no one frantically changing the rules every week. According to the latest estimates, every sixth Hungarian baby is now born outside of Hungary – but those are just the ones who bothered to ask for a Hungarian birth certificate – and that puts their fertility rate way above that of couples who struggle at home.

So why don’t we stop trying and start paying mothers?

The amount of money we pay for a job bears no relation whatsoever with the usefulness of the job, or even the difficulty of it. Take the trash collector, the banker, or the mother. The latter doesn’t get paid at all, yet the significance and the difficulty of the job is beyond questioning. Not to mention the 168 hours worked a week and the radically reduced freedom and flexibility.

We might as well just start paying a salary to mothers – if governments are serious about their aim to breed more citizens.

  • And if we really respect motherhood so much.
  • And if we really, genuinely believe that it is of value to the country.
  • Especially since we are in the business of handing out other people’s money, anyway.

So why bother with all these efforts to promote the right kind to birth and penalize the wrong kind? Especially since it doesn’t appear to work. None of the last decades’ birth-stimulating government measures showed a single, identifiable uptick in birth – especially if we take into account the public money spent on them.

We have a nasty social engineering habit that is hard to kick. And the old men of parliament quite probably enjoy thinking legislating about people’s private lives, incentivize gullible people into bringing more children into life – whether it’s good for them or not – and then giving press conferences where they speak about this year’s crop of newborns as their own making.

Like tiny, old fertility gods.

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