Every Time They Cut Bureaucracy, It Grows Even Bigger

There is nothing governments like to declare more than cutting back on red tape and downsizing bureaucracy. The problem is, it tends to grow with every cutting effort. 

Approximately one in four workers in Hungary earn taxpayer money and the number of public sector workers keeps growing every year.

Fidesz made a spectacular (fake) effort in 2010, when they came back into power. It went as usual:

  1. Make a spectacular gesture that looks good in the headlines, preferably also in the international media. They rarely go any deeper than one headline on such an obscure little country, and never revisit the news item later.
  2. Fudge the execution, but make sure that explaining the how it was sabotaged takes too long and critics give up. It makes your critics look stupid.

In 2010, Fidesz announced that in their quest for better-than-yours government, they reduce the number of ministries from 12 to 8. Great headlines ensued. That was step number one.

Then they proceeded to hire dozens and dozens and dozens of new state secretaries, deputies and commissioners. All with cars, secretaries, software licences, and heated offices. By 2014, there were 102 deputy state secretaries (up from 54 in 2010) and government commissioners. There were some really juicy positions, clearly invented for someone in particular. Take, for instance, government commissioner #65. He is called  RBHADLMSEVVHVJTJÖTEVHSFHPMLELEBÖFKF for short, and his task is to look after the Hungarian segment of the frontier of the Roman Empire (limes). Commissioner #66 is tasked with making people cycle and use narrow-gauge railways. You get the idea.

growth number hungarian bureaucrats 2008 2017

The number (BLUE LINE – thousand) and cost (GREEN LINE – bn HUF) of employees of institutions belonging to the central budget. Source:

The number of state secretaries went even further, to 150, by 2016. Spending on ministry workers went from 7 to 12% of the central budget between 2010 and 2017. The reduction backfired spectacularly, which is really not a surprise if you’ve read your Max Weber. Which these bureaucrats certainly did since they are all highly educated.

In 2013 the government tried again and announced a reduction of the number of “background institutions of ministries” with the same goal: to reduce the horrendous, top-heavy bureaucracy. By 2017, they ended up with 7000 more people working for them than before the cuts.

After the new parliamentary supermajority was secured in April 2018, the government announced yet another cut in the number of public servants. Numbers like 10-20% cut are flying around and anxiety is at all time high.

This time, however, the specter of communist central planning is also sweeping the streets of the government district: In their endless wisdom, Fidesz comrades came up with a wonderful idea on what to do with the surplus paper-pushers: reeducate them into healthcare jobs! That easy!

To make things really paradoxical, the aforementioned bureaucrats claim to have a shortage of administrators, despite all the growth in their numbers. Which might actually be correct. Setting aside the ever-present suspicion that some of the tasks they perform shouldn’t be performed in the first place, it is still quite possible that the cancerous overgrowth of recruitment happened on the higher, executive levels, where work is thin and remuneration thick. And as Max Weber had warned, every cut will hit the actual workers, not the political darlings.

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