One particularly disturbing element of the Hungarian government’s loan-for-babies program (CSOK) is the so-called village CSOK, a policy tool whose explicit goal is to keep villages alive. That doesn’t make any sense.
In its effort to keep the number of settlements at its current level, the Hungarian government has conjured up a scheme to nudge people into villages. And not only them, but even their future (up to 3) children that are required to turn the loan into a non-refundable subsidy. That’s up to 5 people condemned to live in an area that is otherwise economically unviable.
To give some politician the mental satisfaction that some village is still there – even though he would never visit. What would he do that for?
In an effort to make sure that the efforts are aimed at the least viable villages of the country, the government released an actual list of 2486 villages with 5000 or less inhabitants, mostly in poor regions – and only those are eligible for village CSOK applications. In essence, the government is making incentives for people to move to economically unviable villages and raise three or more children there, with no regard to even said children’s wellbeing and future prospects.
Only to gain some poorly understood mental satisfaction out of the knowledge that those people are still there, stuck there, exist there. Who are they, who is anyone, to condemn people to an existence lived out in a place that doesn’t offer them a good live – by its very definition?
And who are they to do this on other taxpayers’ money?
Who benefits from this? Not the victims, not their children, not the other taxpayers- not even said central planning politicians. The entire benefit of “keeping villages alive” is imaginary.
Keeping a lifeless concept, such as a village, alive only makes sense from an unthinkingly collectivist perspective. And it is only a good thing for symbolic reasons. No actual, living individual can benefit from moving against economic rationality, away from opportunities, education, healthcare and services.
Yes, I do understand that birdsong is great. (Do village nostalgists understand that cow manure is not so great?) And every one must have the right to choose to live wherever they want. But they also have to accept the consequences of such a choice.
Living in a village is expensive. Logistics are expensive. Commute, supplies, getting service providers wherever you live is expensive. Mitigating those costs by legislation and redistributing taxpayer money to keep products and services almost as cheap as they are in cities (internet, utilities, schools, healthcare, etc.) is arbitrary force applied for a dubious goal no one ever thought through.
But of course, political goals are also in play (as they always are with a corrupt, kleptocratic autocrat). The published list of villages already shows elements of political bias. The micromanaging comrades up there must seriously think that the CSOK loans are a gift – so they only put loyal villages on the list. (As shown in the election results.) It may be money that cripples a family and ties them down for the most valuable part of their lives. It may do away with their choices forever. But it’s still money that a local loyalist can treat as a handout and buy vassals with.
The existence of such a detailed list is also a testament to the micromanaging nature of authoritarian central planning, no matter how “right wing” a government might be. The only problem these guys had with communism was that they weren’t it, that they weren’t the ones wielding the obnoxious amount of power of the state, that their inner demigod wasn’t allowed to play around with other people in vast moves of central planning. Sounds good on paper, feels good to be so powerful – what can be wrong with central planning?
The list had immediately redrawn the housing market upon it release, driving up asking prices wherever CSOK applied, while burying the rest of the villages (back where they have been anyway). The reality of village life these days is that every house is on sale, everyone would happily move away, some just don’t even bother to put out yet another “for sale” sign because there are so many already, and not so many people drive by anyway. Agglomeration is not a real village, folks. Dumb yuppies and hipsters moving down to a village near Budapest for birdsong (and getting shocked by cow manure and the complete absence of cultural opportunities) are not representatives of this cohort. The places on the government’s list are the most hopeless places in the country, living in the deepest poverty.
Luckily, interest in village CSOK proved to be relatively minor at its launch.
Naturally, such policy has the potential to curb social mobility. As the highly specific list of eligible villages for the countryside CSOK shows, a government’s priority to somehow keep a lifeless settlement alive even though its inhabitants will be cut off from economic circulation does not take into account the quality of life of its beneficiaries.
According to the anti-human conditions of CSOK, once signed up for the loan, one must not divorce for 20 years, and must not move for 10 years, not even for work. As if mobility within Hungary wasn’t too low already.
But if someone takes the extraordinary decision to move – they might as well leave the country.