Thursday, 30 October 2008

Isten, áldd meg a magyart / God bless the Hungarians

Hungarian bail-out has potential effects for us all

On Sunday the International Monetry Fund announced that it would have to step in to save the Hungarian economy from collapse (Sutton, 2008). On Tuesday it became clear what this immediate remedial measure would involve. The IMF would contribute US$16 bn, with the World Bank and the European Union chipping in to make this up to US$25 bn in all, dwarfing the mere US$2.1 that it took to ‘save’ Iceland.


Meaningless mega-figures that quite eclipse the old expression ‘Monopoly money’.

(See ‘Arithmetical problem’ in the Footnotes at the end of this article for one way of making the enormity of the Hungarian crisis seem a little more real.)

No free lunch…

This money is intended to 'bolster the Hungarian economy's near-term stability and improve its long-term growth potential. The authorities' program will ensure fiscal sustainability and strengthen the financial sector.’ So says the IMF (Wroughton, 2008) but what will this mean for ordinary Hungarians?

For most Hungarians this will mean hard times all round for some time to come. Hungarians are no strangers to hard times – listen to the heart-breaking strain of their national anthem (also in the Footnotes) . Historically they have adopted some well-tested ways of responding:

knuckling down, getting on with things, waiting for better days and often achieving some amazing small victories along the way (it was in the latter years of just such a long period, in the late nineteen-eighties) that the world first 'discovered' Conductive Education);

rioting in the streets.

turning to extreme political parties, on the left and on the right;

going abroad to find work;

emigrating altogether.

And for the rest of us?

Who knows, but economic punditry seems a growth industry these days so here’s my own fourpenceworth on possible effects for Conductive Education around the world.

All public services in Hungary, including education and social welfare may have to be cut back, perhaps severely. How will this impact upon the future supply of conductors?

Greater numbers of conductors living in Hungary may be forced to seek work abroad, whether they want to or not, just to feed, clothe and house their families.

At the same time, however, there is likely to be less money available worldwide to set up and maintain conductive services/programs, be this through public bodies, charities, fundraisers or families’ domestic budgets. In other words, there may be fewer jobs available for a perhaps greater number of available conductors.

This could mean more the just disappointment and frustration, for would-be employees and would-be employers alike. It betokens a perhaps fundamental change in the balance of supply and demand in the international conductor labour market.

Possibly resulting from this: a fall in the ‘price’ of conductors' labour (in other words, a general lowering of conductors' salaries). There could of course be exceptions to this, such as in the Conductive Education schools in the oil-rich Gulf that one assumes would be immune from the general effect, but in most places the tendency towards lower wages would apply.

If it does, the effect might be upon more than simply salaries. Economic need might force individuals to seek work in places and situations that they would not have previously regarded as ‘suitable’ for Conductive Education, and to do so at lower salaries than they might once have considered acceptable.

In turn this could lead to some dilution and/or distortion of conductive practice.

Equally, it could stimulate some remarkable creativity and innovation.

Whatever happens, Conductive Education has been long overdue for radical change. Right or wrong, ready or not, the economic crunch now looks to be hastening the day, with poor little Hungary making a disproportionate contribution to the process.


Sutton, A. (2008) Hungarian economy: IMF steps in to avoid collapse, Conductive World, 27 October

Wroughton, L. (2008) IMF, EU agree to $25.1 billion rescue for Hungary, Reuters, 28 October


A Magyar Hymnusz: the Hungarian National Anthem

Dignified, haunting, beautiful, but so terribly, terribly sad, especially when you think of some of the circumstances in which it has been sung over so many years

But the words! A nine-verse plea to the Almighty to let up, the Hungarians have surely by now suffered enough and the good times must again be deserved. The first verse summaises the whole sorry business, thenm two verses recount long-past peace and glories, following which the woe begins: plundering Mongols, Turks' slave yoke, corpses of our defeated army, fugitive, sadness and despair, sea of blood, ocean of flame, heap of stones, groans of death, weeping, blood of the dead, torturous slavery, burning eyes of the orphans, sea of misery, ill fate.

As the poem from which this was taken was written back in the nineteenth century, the if anything worse horrors of the twentieth century do not even come into it.

Hungarians are very conscious of their history and present events may well be perceived by them in this light in a way that a Brit or an American, say, cannot fully appreciate.

An arithemetical problem

The world is putting up US$25bn to shore up the Hungarian economy. What on Earth does this mean in comprehensible, human terms? For example, back in Hungary, what is this in per capita terms?

Assuming that the word ‘billion’ here is being used in its new, American sense (rather than what it used to mean here in Britain), then the total bail-out can be written as:

US$ 25,000,000,000

To simplify the calculation, consider the population of Hungary to be around ten million souls, that is 10,000,000.

Trying not to get lost in all those noughts, calculate how many US dollars this bail-out means for every single man, woman and child in Hungary.

Ordinary Hungarians, of course, will not be seeing this money, no way, it’s for ‘the economy’.

What I don’t understand, though, is where did it all go?

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