I see in the papers that Mark Palmer,the U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 1986 to 1990, has passed away. I never met Palmer but I dealt with the U.S. embassy staff in Budapest several times when I was visiting there in 1986 and 1987. Those folks drove me nuts: they seemed willfully oblivious to the sham of the Hungarian economic “miracle.” Here’s my riff on them from the “East Bloc Escapades” chapter in Public Policy Hooligan:
Seeking official nuggets of wisdom on the Hungarian situation, I stopped by the U.S. embassy, a fortress-like building on a downtown square dominated by a monument to the Soviet Army. The embassy did not have an economist on staff but I was permitted to talk to their “expert” on such issues. This spindly young Milquetoast was a charter member of the 45-pound bench press club. His training in economics consisted solely of reading the business section of the Washington Post. He raved about the latest economic reforms as if he had never seen a real market in his life.
Milquetoast was a fount of wisdom compared to the “Counselor for Public Affairs” -the embassy’s number three guy – who acted as haughtily as if he received a “von” from an Austro-Hungarian Emperor. This mouthpiece whooped up the Hungarian government as if it was God’s gift to the Hungarian people. He got prissy when I mentioned that the Hungarian economy was disintegrating. The folks I interviewed at the British Embassy were far better informed. Unlike the American embassy staff, they translated and studied articles from the Hungarian media.
I had gotten hold of a large batch of CIA-translated articles from Hungarian newspapers and magazines before going behind the Iron Curtain. But the U.S. embassy folks simply lacked any curiosity on the true facts of the Hungarian dissolution.
Here’s a link to a piece I did on “The Hungarian Illusion“ for The Freeman in 1987. Brian Summers was the editor back then, and he was excellent to deal with.