The percentage of Hungarians who “couldn’t afford a large financial expense” went from over 50% in 2016 (worst in EU) to under 32% (below EU average) in 2017. That’s 2 million people who suddenly came out of poverty.
But was it Orbán’s potent touch? Did he finally lay his all-knowing eye on the poor who live hand to mouth? Did he finally do the one, weird central planning trick that eliminated poverty?
The Vakmajom blog spotted the miraculous statistical development on Eurostat and went after it. Sure enough, there wasn’t any fundamental change in Hungarians’ living standards. They still have trouble making ends meet, poverty is still raging, and what statisticians call the “middle class” still can’t afford to eat meat every week. And of course, they still dread unexpected expenses. So what changed?
Turns out, only the question did. Instead of asking respondents whether they could afford an “unexpected financial expense”, the Hungarian statistical office asked whether they could afford 74 thousand forints – that’s approx. 200 euros. And the number declined by over 15%, from the worst performers in the EU to below the EU average.
And Eurostat ate it up.
Now, 200 euros is peanuts, even here. Please don’t buy into the old cliche that somehow, miraculously, everything is dirt cheap in Eastern Europe. The reality is, things cost pretty much the same – only salaries don’t converge with Europe. Living costs don’t only grow faster than average wages, they are already higher.
I cannot not remember the week when the government menacingly hissed at the Office of National Statistics that “those income statistics look too low” and the statisticians immediately found a 6-10% increase and announced that there is more to come (just please, please, don’t punish us).
Or the incident when civil society spotted that the proportion of Hungarians living below the poverty line reached 40% and made a fuss about it – and the heroic statisticians immediately lowered the poverty line. And when even that wasn’t enough, they stopped publishing the data altogether.
They just did their job – only their job wasn’t what you think it was.
Featured image: Bárdos Tamás -kontraszt