Guest Post

“If I don’t have children, I might just be able to make it without poverty”

“There was a headline the other day about a survey of millennials by Deloitte. It is my age group. It said that millennials don’t want to buy houses anymore because our values have shifted. Ironically, this headline was sandwiched between two other headlines about the housing market. One said that prices are about to double in the next couple of years, and the other one was about house prices’ gains in the last couple of years – they have tripled and quadrupled in certain segments, typically the ones I should buy into if I was planning a family.

And I’m sure they didn’t put those articles next to the millennial survey on purpose. Such headlines appear every day.”

Guest post. 

Meanwhile, the government is posing as the savior of Hungarian families, offering a big sum if you sign a contract that you will deliver three new taxpayers within the next ten years, from the same spouse, without divorce or moving house.

The announcement was made last year, but details about the exact bureaucratic details are still just trickling in. The gist of the procedure seems to be that hardly anyone can get those loans, especially not the ones who really need it, those who couldn’t start a family of any size without state subsidies. Like myself.

After the foreign-driven house price boom in Budapest in recent years, Orbán tried to pretend that 1) he had nothing to do with it, and 2) that he is the providing father, who will breed us all, don’t worry. Neither of those things is true.

Firstly, he had invited hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the country, offering EU-citizenship (ironic how that is his most valuable asset to offer). Those people quickly invested their money in the property market, to protect it from their own autocratic political leaders. I don’t blame them, I would do the same, I just don’t have the money to save or invest. Because in the meantime Hungarian salaries only grew on paper, and even there, they didn’t grow much. 10% of 500 euros is still just 550 euros. And someone who takes home 900 euros considers himself very well paid, while he competes on the property market against another guy, who makes 1500 euros as a janitor in Germany.

Capital may be able to cross borders, but if wages won’t, people will leave places like this until someone builds a wall on the Austrian border and confiscates Hungarians’ passports to keep them inside. We had that wall until 1989, and for the same reason.

Secondly, Orbán has not really helped any Hungarian family. Let’s put aside the stomach-turning political interventionism into our private lives. Let’s not think about our friends who are in the wrong relationship in the first place and who are now signing marriage and loan contracts, promising that not only do they stick together in their misery, they will bring three new people into it, whether they change their minds later or not. If they change their minds, as normal people have to do sometimes, they will have to suffer the financial penalty of repaying the state loans (with penalty), as well as the financial penalty of divorce. And they will have to finance the inevitable surplus children, the ones, who wouldn’t have been born if it weren’t for a desperate effort of their parents to stay afloat financially.

Paradox, if you ask me, having more children you cannot afford to bring up just to avoid repaying a loan you can’t afford to repay. But here is the thing about Hungary: people keep an eye on the state always, to see what it wants them to do, and they assume it couldn’t go wrong because the state wants them to do it.

Those, who are more responsible and only bear the children they can bring up are penalized. They pay more taxes, they don’t get a hand to buy a place, the rental market is a joke and extremely hostile with people with small children, and healthcare and childcare are completely neglected on the policy-level. Have you been to a hospital lately? It is downright scary and the people who work there look like overworked and underpaid zombies. Healthcare doesn’t get any money, stadiums do. Same with childcare. The government keeps promising nursery schools to coax babies out of women, but they just never appear. Can women be tricked that easily? Is there never a consequence for lying if you’re a politician? Not if your victims are burdened by small children, no. They may be let down by you, but can’t afford to fight you because they need subsides more than ever.

Of course, the government does renovations on existing nurseries and hospitals, but only because some crony’s company wanted the tenders, and they can pain walls and put brick next to brick, but they don’t know how to furnish those buildings. They really don’t care about healthcare or childcare. Maybe we should send our children into stadiums, those are being built like there is no tomorrow and they only run at 5% of capacity, probably even less because 5% includes the schoolchildren being bussed there and the free tickets practically forced upon you just to please go there at least once. And they lose every match! All of them!

At the same time, children got monstrously expensive little overlords. Not just here, but in the world. Grownups and politicians gleefully punch parents back into line with the holy justification of their children’s interest. But politics is the real story here. Parents can be kicked, they can be screwed by politics, they won’t rock the boat, they won’t jump. And parents also claw each others’ eyes out over nothing, just because they are stressed out and generally hate their lives. With these parameters, there is nothing to enjoy about parenthood – not that anyone cares.

I can’t get over the fact that children are born out of contractual obligation – rather than a desire for them. And that shows. When I grew up, the socialist party state also ran a loan-for-children program. Third children in the village were famously neglected and hated, and their parents called them “szocpol” children, referring to the money they got from the state to deliver them. And those children knew that about themselves. They probably can’t afford a therapist though, not even today. Most of them were in the remedial class in school for some reason.

Children’s education (and mine) went from being a true investment into one’s future to a prerequisite to any kind of work that pays bills. In the meantime, it became overwhelmingly expensive, the single biggest cost of a lifetime. That’s not right, no matter how you slice it. It must either stop being a precondition to work – or it must get a more reasonable financing scheme. I would say stop demanding degrees and certifications from everyone doing any job. That would be more fair.

The other thing that makes me want to vomit is hearing how I am regarded by my country. As a millennial, they just see me as a biomass-producing machine, women are just bioincubators, men are sperm-dispensers and labor market mules. It has always been the case, of course, but it always hurts when they say it out loud. And now they do. Last week, Kövér (a top Fidesz luminary – ed.) said that speaking the language doesn’t make you a good Hungarian, only having three or four new Hungarian children and 9-16 grandchildren does.

And not just your government, but your own family seemed to have lost their minds. When your parents disregard your concerns regarding the cost of bringing up children, and keep demanding a grandchild – right after they have asked for money – what are you supposed to say? When they have slowly turned into supporting whatever Orbán does – not because they like him, but because they don’t dare to disagree with him, not even in their own heads, not even in what they say to their only son. What are we to each other now?

And there are the rising inflation in living costs, and the ridiculous wages that are routinely faked by the propaganda machine. But 10% rise on the 500 euro salary for teachers is still just 550 euros. And the price of rent and potatoes have tripled in the same time.

I work with numbers. I can line up the cost of my everyday purchases in 2015 vs today and see what happened. I can write down exactly how much diapers and school fees cost and multiply them by number of children planned, and see that it is seven times the money I can ever expect to earn. And then comes the mortgage. Since 2015 I have been asked to leave my rental flat twice because the landlord wanted a better paying tenant. Now I commute for hours, and I am still wary to take out a mortgage to put an end to the rental price hell. Everyone who would afford to take out a Swiss franc mortgage before 2008 were burnt by it, and they will never be able to pay them back. They still owe more than what they took out, even more than what their houses are worth, 10 years after the crash. How stupid you must be to trust this system to stay the same for 25-30 more years? And mortgages for singles or unmarried couples are also hard to find since the government is pushing the babymaking loans instead. The whole thing is mental. And then Deloitte says that my values are shifting and frivolous somehow for not buying one? Why are they just repeating the same received wisdom, they know the numbers, they should know better.

I thought of starting my own business, but I was lucky and stopped while I still could. I realized that there are plenty of bribes to be paid if I want to keep my doors open. A friend who opened a restaurant on a loan he took out on his parents’ house had to shut down because the local authority just happened to open a portable public toilet next to his terrace – the only public toilet in the entire town. WTF? And I heard many more stories like his. And not just on the low levels.

My business idea was also naive, it was based on a calculation of doing things better than the existing companies in my town. But I realized that doing things better is not how you win business. You win tenders by being the one they want to give the public contract to, and then you overcharge to pay the kickback. That’s why they want to give the tenders to you in the first place. There was no place in that scheme for someone like me, they don’t want to share – not that I want to be a leech like that. So I decided to stick with employment. But maybe I should learn a language and move to another country, and work as a janitor or something. Maybe I could even afford to start a family that way.

Until then, not having children is the obvious thing to save money on. Without children, this salary stretches to cover my costs, I may even be able to afford to travel, but only because capitalism made travel so damn cheap. That’s what the Deloitte people measured, they just don’t know what that means. My so-called values have not shifted, I would like to have a family, but I wouldn’t want to have a family and keep them in poverty, being responsible for them not being able to buy a pair of shoes when the children grow, or – god forbid – braces if someone needs them. I would have needed them when I was growing up, but no one could dream of such a luxury. I don’t want that life to my children, I am not evil.

If I don’t have any children, I might just be able to get through it without sinking into poverty. That’s what makes me a millennial, not my so-called changed values.

This was a guest post / interview. Transcript and summary of a conversation, translated by the editor. Send your thoughts to meanwhileinbudapest (at) mail.com 

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