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Archive for the ‘Communism’ Category

Yesterday, most of us celebrated Christmas.

Today, all of us should celebrate the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which officially happened on this date in 1991 (aided and abetted by a Texas grocery store).

A 2016 FEE column by Richard Ebeling documents the relentless evil of Soviet communism.

…the curtain was lowered on the 75-year experiment in “building socialism” in the country where it all began following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, led by Vladimir Lenin in November 1917. Some historians have estimated that as many as 200 million people worldwide may have died as part of the 20th century dream of creating a collectivist “paradise on earth.” The attempt to establish a comprehensive socialist system in many parts of the world over the last 100 years has been one of the cruelest and most brutal episodes in human history. …as many as 68 million innocent, unarmed men, women, and children may have been killed in Soviet Russia alone over those nearly 75 years of communist rule in the Soviet Union. …This murderous madness never ended. In the 1930s, during the time of the Great Purges instituted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to wipe out all “enemies of the revolution” through mass executions, millions were sent to the Gulag prisons that stretched across all of the Soviet Union to be worked to death as slave labor to “build socialism.” …Soviet central planning even had quotas for the number of such enemies of the people to be killed in each region of the Soviet Union, as well as the required numbers to be rounded up to be sent to work in the labor camps in the frigid wastelands of the Siberia and the Arctic Circle… The nightmare of the socialist experiment, however, did not end with Stalin’s death in 1953. Its form merely changed in later decades. As head of the KGB in the 1970s, Yuri Andropov (who later was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982), accepted a new theory in Soviet psychiatry which said opposition to the socialist regime was a sign of mental illness.

Based on the sheer number of victims, Stalin understandably has the worst reputation of all Soviet dictators.

But let’s not forget that Lenin was a horrible human being as well.

Lenin’s streak of cruelty began long before he came to power. By his early 20s, his zealous dedication to Marxism led him to believe that anything justified revolution. When a famine broke out in the Volga region in 1891—one that would kill 400,000 people—Lenin welcomed the event, hoping that it would topple the Czarist regime. …Later, in 1905, when Czarist forces killed hundreds of striking workers and 86 children in Moscow, Lenin refused to mourn for the dead and, instead, hoped the event would further enflame class antagonisms. In his eyes, human lives were expendable… While in exile, Lenin railed against the imperial government for its oppressive ways—for instance, its censorship of the opposition and dismissal of parliament. Of course, once in power, Lenin repeated these policies and usually exceeded their cruelty, imprisoning and confiscating the property of his opponents. …Lenin appointed the homicidal Felix Dzerzhinsky to head up the Cheka (the secret police)… In less than a year, hundreds, if not thousands, were executed… He marked wealthy peasants, or kulaks, as enemies of the revolution and encouraged violence against them. He imposed fixed grain prices at low rates, straining peasants who already were living on the margins, seized their grain, and left them to starve. When the peasants began resisting, Lenin ordered government officials to torture them or apply poison gas.

By the way, it’s not directly relevant to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but I can’t resist sharing this story from the BBC.

Karl Marx’s Grade I-listed memorial in Highgate Cemetery has been “mindlessly vandalised”. The marble plaque on the imposing sculpture’s base has been attacked, seemingly with a hammer. A cemetery spokesman said they did not know when it had happened, but believed it was within the last couple of days. No witnesses have come forward. …Ian Dungavell, chief executive of Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said: “This is mindless vandalism, not political commentary. …This is not the first time the monument has been damaged. In 1970 a pipe bomb blew up part of the face, swastikas have been painted on it and emulsion paint has been thrown at it.

My only comment it that the memorial wasn’t “mindlessly vandalised.” There were 100 million reasons why it was defaced.

Now let’s look at the economic performance of the Soviet Union.

I’ll start with the simple and near-tautological observation that there’s no longer a Soviet Union in large part because its economy became so anemic.

Yet some people believed that the Soviet Union’s version of socialism could be economically successful. I wrote about their naivete as part of my collection of essays on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

I suppose we can partially forgive them because much of the economic misery in the Soviet Union was hidden from outsiders.

What’s less forgivable is that some people still make absurd claims about the Soviet economy. Consider this screenshot of the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on the economy of the Soviet Union. I’ve highlighted in red the parts that are laughable.

Though, to be fair, there wasn’t a problem with unemployment and job security in the Soviet Union. Just like slaves in Alabama in 1830, Soviet workers were victims of state coercion. They were forced to show up at the collective farms and state-run industries.

And state coercion was the basis of a failed system. Contrary to whoever authored that Wikipedia entry, the Soviet Union did not enjoy high growth rates.

A 1994 World Bank study by William Easterly and Stanley Fischer exposed the Soviet Union’s very poor track record.

Soviet growth from 1960 to 1989 was the worst in the world after we control for investment and human capital; the relative performance worsens over time. …The declining Soviet growth rate from 1950 to 1987 can be accounted for by a declining marginal product of capital with a constant rate of growth of total factor productivity. The Soviet reliance on extensive growth (rising capital-to-out-put ratios) was no greater than that of market economies, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, but a low elasticity of substitution between capital and labor implied especially acute diminishing returns to capital compared with the case in market economies.

“Worst in the world” is quite an achievement.

Not that any sentient being should be surprised. Politicians are bureaucrats don’t do a good job of allocating labor and capital.

If you want prosperity, it’s not a good idea to have central planning and other features of socialism.

Here’s a fascinating look at the world’s largest economies (by overall size, not on a per-capita basis) from 1961-1989.

Here’s a chart based on the Maddison database, so we can make comparisons based on per-capita economic output.

As you can see, even though convergence theory says poor countries should grow faster than rich countries, the gap between the United States and the Soviet Union grew ever larger.

Last but not least, here’s a chart that compares the Soviet Union’s claims about growth (blue) with both CIA estimates (red) and later revisions from a Russian economist (green).

There are two lessons to be learned.

That latter point may be relevant for people who think China is an economic powerhouse.

P.S. The Soviet Union is gone, but most of the countries that emerged from the wreckage are still struggling with a legacy of statism and intervention.

P.P.S. In addition to celebrating today, we also should celebrate November 9.

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Let’s add to our collection of communism humor.

Yes, I realize that we probably shouldn’t laugh about a horrific ideology that has killed 100 million people.

Especially since it’s still producing hardship, brutality, and suffering in places such as North Korea and Cuba.

Nonetheless, I think mockery of this evil ideology serves a purpose.

Today, we’ll start with a modified version of the it’s-a-party motto that some communists use. In this version, however, there’s some truth in advertising.

Speaking of food, here’s the communist version of Five Guys.

Though it’s slightly inaccurate because not everyone dies. There’s always a fat-and-happy ruling elite. It’s the ordinary people who suffer.

In the past, I’ve mocked leftists for trying to explain away real-world failures with the excuse that “real communism hasn’t been tried.”

Well, in the interest of fairness, I finally received an example of communism working.

Though maybe I’m being too kind. After all, we haven’t actually seen the bottle get opened.

This image could just be another example of leftists having good intentions, but then being unable to deliver good results.

The bottom line is that we should mock communism, but let’s never forget that it is a miserable failure, just like socialism (its usually-less-totalitarian cousin).

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Back in 2011, I shared eight short videos that captured the greatness of Ronald Reagan.

One of the videos was this excerpt of his famous tear-down-this-wall speech at Brandenburg Gate.

In a column for the Washington Examiner, Quin Hillyer explains why this was a momentous event.

The greatest climactic event of the 20th century occurred 30 years ago Saturday, as thousands of Germans pushed through, climbed over, and began tearing down the Berlin Wall. Human freedom overcame human evil. Human potential was unleashed. Exuberantly but peaceably, the good guys won. The story needs to be told again and again, because those too young to have lived through the Cold War have trouble feeling viscerally the stakes, the danger, and the drama. …the late William F. Buckley said in his last-ever public speech that The Lives of Others, about life in East Germany under communist domination, should be required viewing in every American high school. The film reminds us that not just in gulags where perceived “troublemakers” were sent but in everyday life: The repression was severe; the fear was palpable; the attempted destruction of the human psyche was pervasive. And there stood the Berlin Wall. Both the real presence of brutality and the era’s most chilling symbol of mass enslavement, the wall was the physical, concrete portion of the figurative Iron Curtain. Also featuring extended barriers of metal-mesh fences, trenches, and 259 vicious-dog runs, and guarded by 186 observation towers manned by machine-gun-toting soldiers, the wall was a monstrosity. The joy that greeted the wall’s fall, not just on-site but around the world, remains almost indescribable.

By the way, I echo Quin’s endorsement of The Lives of Others. It really does capture the day-to-day horror of statism, and has a really nice twist at the end.

Returning to the issue of the Wall and communism, Reagan deserves considerable credit for this victory over evil.

Part of Reagan’s genius is that he attacked the moral foundations of communism. Or the lack of any moral foundation, to be more precise.

Here are some observations about his speech at Moscow State University in 1988.

Ronald Reagan, in the last year of his presidency, delivered one of his most magnificent speeches. …It was the last day of his fourth and final summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. …Reagan never regarded his meetings with Mr. Gorbachev as pertaining solely to arms control. Arms control was merely the pretext for a more fundamental challenge. …If the theme is diplomacy, the underlying purpose is liberty. …He did…understand that victory would belong in the end not to one nation over another, but to one political-moral idea over another. Freedom must triumph over totalitarianism. Reagan had always abominated communism. …Reagan’s ultimate aim was to plant the seed of freedom in the newly receptive furrows of a cracking totalitarianism. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he cried at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987. “Isn’t it strange,” he mused to reporters, “that there’s only one part of the world and one philosophy where they have to build walls to keep their people in.” …Reagan delivered his Moscow speech standing before a gigantic scowling bust of Lenin and a mural of the Russian Revolution. He incorporated them as props in his address. “Standing here before a mural of your revolution,” he said, “I want to talk about a very different revolution,”… “The key,” Reagan said, “is freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of communication.”

Yes, Reagan’s rejuvenation of the American economy helped lead to the collapse of communism (notwithstanding the fact that some western economists were dupes for Soviet central planning).

And, yes, Reagan’s military buildup helped weaken the Soviet Union’s resolve.

I’m convinced, though, that Reagan’s attack on the core evil of communism made a key difference. Aided and abetted by his relentless mockery of communism’s many failures.

Let’s not forget that history also is the result of random events.

David Frum last year wrote about a bureaucratic snafu that helped hasten the downfall of East Germany’s evil regime.

At an evening news conference on November 9, 1989, a spokesman for the East German Communist government made a history-altering mistake. The spokesman had been authorized to say that travel restrictions on East German citizens would be lifted the next day, November 10. Instead, he said that the restrictions were lifted effective immediately. Within minutes, hundreds of thousands of East Berliners rushed to the checkpoints of the Berlin Wall. Since the erection of the wall in 1961, border guards had killed more than 750 people seeking to escape East Germany. That night, the border guards had heard the same news as everyone else. Their license to kill had been withdrawn. They stood aside. The long-imprisoned citizens of East Berlin rushed out into West Berlin that night, in what became the greatest and best street party in the history of the world. Soon, Berliners east and west began to attack the hated wall, smash it, rip it apart.

Here’s a video that describes the same event.

By the way, we can’t write about the Berlin Wall without taking the opportunity to reflect on the failure of socialism.

Writing for the U.K.-based Spectator, Kristian Niemietz points out that big government failed in East Germany, just like it fails everywhere.

Thirty years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, socialism is back in fashion. The anniversary is a good occasion to reflect on some of the lessons that we have collectively un-learned, or perhaps never learned properly in the first place from the fall of Communism. The division of Germany into a broadly capitalist West, and a broadly socialist East, represented a natural experiment, and did so in two ways. It was, first of all, a gigantic economic experiment about the viability of socialism, and it produced conclusive results. Around the time of Reunification, West Germany’s GDP per capita was about three times that of East Germany’s. There was also around a three-year-gap in average life expectancy.

Amen.

I invite people to compare the numbers on East German vs. West German economic performance.

Last but not least, let’s close by adding an item to our collection of socialism/communism humor.

To be sure, this is dark humor. Hundreds of people were killed trying to escape into West Berlin. That may seem like an asterisk compared to communism’s horrendous death toll, but every needless death is a tragedy.

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John Papola has done it again. His video showing a Keynes v. Hayek rap contest was superb, and was followed by an equally enjoyable sequel featuring a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek.

Now he has a rap contest about capitalism and socialism featuring Ludwig von Mises and Karl Marx.

The video touches on three economic topics.

The obvious focus is the track record of capitalism vs. socialism. Given the wealth of evidence, that’s a slam-dunk victory for free markets.

But there are also two wonky issues referenced in the video.

  • The socialist calculation debate – As I’ve repeatedly noted, genuine socialism involves government ownershipcentral planning, and price controls. Economists from the Austrian school, such as Mises, were the ones who explained that governments were incapable of having either the information or knowledge to make such a system work.
  • The labor theory of value – Marxism is based on the strange notion that the value of a product is a function of the hours it took to produce. This overlooks the role of capital and entrepreneurship. Moreover, as explained in the video, value is subjective, determined by the preferences of consumers.

Let’s close with a nice compare-and-contrast image a reader sent to me.

P.S. John Papola also did a great satirical commercial for left-wing toys.

P.P.S. Even though it’s not the right time of year, here’s his satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols.

P.P.P.S. If you want to learn about the Austrian macroeconomics, click here and here.

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Today, October 1, is the 70th anniversary of communists seizing power in China.

Given the horrible consequences of Mao’s rule, including tens of millions of deaths from famine and tyranny, this tweet from President Trump seems rather inappropriate.

That being said, it’s also worth pointing that today’s China is far better than Mao’s China.

Simply stated, it’s no longer a communist nation, at least in the sense that there’s been a decent amount of economic liberalization (starting in a small village in 1979).

China is now ranked #113 by Economic Freedom of the World. That’s definitely not anything to cheer about, but its score of 6.42 is way higher than the 3.59 of 1980.

And, for what it’s worth, China is currently ranked higher than Kuwait (#114), Brazil (#120), Ukraine (#135), and Pakistan (#136). And none of those are considered communist nations.

This isn’t merely my opinion.

In an article for Project Syndicate, Zhang Jun explains that a shift toward capitalism – even if only partial – explains what China has enjoyed impressive growth.

The rise of China is widely attributed to its state capitalism, whereby the government, endowed with huge assets, can pursue a wide-ranging industrial policy and intervene to mitigate risks. Accordingly, China owes its success, first and foremost, to the government’s “control” over the entire economy. This explanation is fundamentally wrong. …China is using its long-term planning and robust implementation capacity not to entrench state capitalism, but rather to advance economic liberalization and structural reform. It is this long-term strategy – which has remained unswerving, despite some stumbles and short-term deviations – that lies at the heart of the country’s decades-long run of rapid economic growth. …this process of economic liberalization and structural reform is also uniquely Chinese, insofar as it has emphasized local-level competition and experimentation… The result is a kind of de facto fiscal federalism – and a powerful driver of economic transformation. …China has traveled far along the path of reform and opening up. But it should not underestimate the challenges ahead, let alone forget how it got this far in the first place.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Crazy Bernie hasn’t learned from this experience.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the Wall Street Journal by Joshua Muravchik.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s praise for the government of China should raise eyebrows… In an interview last month with the Hill, Mr. Sanders…asserted that “what we have to say about China, in fairness to China and its leadership, is . . . they have made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization.” …Mr. Sanders’s comment about China has a basis in fact. According to the World Bank, 88% of Chinese lived on less than $1.90 a day in 1981. Today less than 1% do. (These figures are in 2011 dollars, adjusted for purchasing power parity.) Yet that success didn’t come from socialism. It’s a product of China’s move away from socialism. And it came at the cost—at least by Mr. Sanders’s usual lights—of heightened inequality. …Mr. Sanders urges a “political revolution” and a “wholesale transformation of our society” from capitalism to socialism—the reverse of what China did 40 years ago. …Yet Mr. Sanders’s accurate observation about China’s record in ending poverty ought to give him pause. Mao Zedong’s China was the apotheosis of class warfare…and shared poverty (except Mao himself, who lived like royalty with a few of his cohorts). …the core difference between socialism, which focuses on how to distribute wealth, and capitalism, which is concerned primarily with how to produce it. China’s experience teaches anew that the latter is more important than the former, for the poor as well as the rich.

But what about the future? Is China on a reform trajectory?

There’s no way to answer that question with any certainty, but there are some worrisome signs.

Here’s a tweet from a journalist for the Economist (hopefully he has more sense than some of his colleagues). It shows a shift toward more state-driven investment.

I’m not sure if we’re seeing a trend of a blip.

But I am sure that much more reform is needed. One area is the “hukou” system, which Leo Austin describes in an article for CapX.

China has had a ‘hukou’ (or similar) household registration system…, which identifies and determines the rightful home of each individual, the place where they enjoy state education and medical services. If you are very lucky this is Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen. …But for most people it is a rural county. …It is very difficult for the children of rural migrants to graduate from an urban school… The hukou system has led to a long history of wage suppression in China. Compared to its Asian neighbours, wages in China have historically been much lower than they should be at the same level of GDP. …People weren’t free to move to where the best jobs were. The huge state enterprises in their hometowns provided free education and free medical services, but they didn’t have to compete for workers and they didn’t have to pay the best wages. …If you look at consumption as a share of GDP and compare China to the other Asian Tigers, by 2016 China was consuming 20% less than Japan and 30% less than Korea did at the same level of development.

And China also is being held back by the politicized allocation of capital.

Resources go to the wrong people. State owned enterprises represent maybe a third of GDP in China today, but they still received around 82% of all the corporate bank loans in 2018, at least in the legal banking system. The money is not invested wisely. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, for the nearly 300 non-financial state owned enterprises (SOE) listed in China, returns on equity fell by half in the loose-money boom years between 2007 and 2017. Over the same period, the return on equity for comparable US and European companies rose – ending more than double the level of Chinese SOEs. All this has a serious impact on productivity – as Conference Board research shows, China’s Total Factor Productivity for the period 2013 to 2018 was negative.  In most economies, productivity improvements drive GDP growth every year in the absence of population or capital growth. In China, productivity was a drag on growth… China cannot be a true competitor to the US until it allows merit and innovation to allocate capital and rewards. An economy built on wage suppression and state investment can be large, but it cannot be competitive in the long-term. …Unless the state retreats, it may yet bankrupt the country.

My two cents is that state-directed investment is a big problem, and it is an indirect cause of bad trade relations with the rest of the world.

Let’s wrap up with a look at the history of economic freedom in China.

As you can see, there was a big improvement from 1980-2000, then very incremental improvements this century.

The good news is that China continues to move in the right direction.

The bad news is that the pace of reform is very slow.

And the big worry is that China’s score could move in the wrong direction. Especially with policies that exacerbate the nation’s debt problem.

P.S. What happens with Hong Kong is a wild card. Hopefully, Beijing will resist any temptation to intervene.

P.P.S. China definitely needs to ignore the horrible advice it’s getting from the IMF and OECD. It should also ignore the New York Times.

P.P.P.S. If nothing else, China shows us why policy makers should focus on growth rather than equality.

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Time to augment our growing collection of satire about the twin horrors of socialism and communism.

Today, we’ll concentrate on the latter form of totalitarianism and mock Marxism.

The New York Times has a bizarre history of going out of its way to praise communism, often for very weird reasons.

So this bit of satire from Babylon Bee seems like it could be real.

The New York Times…prais[ed] the Soviet Union for its unprecedented gender equality at its brutal prison camps. …the Soviets provided forced labor opportunities for people of all races, genders, and orientations, pointing out that while the United States may have won the Cold War and the Space Race, the USSR won the victories that counted: imprisoning all people equally. “They even employed female guards, LGBTQ guards, and guards of color,” the piece read. “From prison guards to prisoners, the Soviets were years and years ahead of the U.S. when it came to equality. …Many people on social media pointed out that gender equality wasn’t really something to be praised when it comes to a totalitarian regime. But the Times simply doubled down, publishing pieces that praised the Soviet Union for.. The wage gap: everybody made almost no money equally…Environmental policy: constant blackouts mean smaller carbon footprint.

The last sentence of that excerpt is especially funny since it’s true.

Folks on the left have actually lauded impoverished nations because they don’t produce and consume as much.

Now let’s look at the communist version of a famous board game.

For what it’s worth, the communist version of the game isn’t quite as elaborate as the Bernie version.

Now let’s return to Babylon Bee for some additional mockery.

A study performed by researchers at Harvard University found a strong link between supporting the idea of communism and never once having even briefly opened a history book, sources confirmed Tuesday. …“We found that of the people who advocate communism today, over 97% slept all the way through each of their history classes in elementary school, high school, and college,” head researcher Todd Devlin said in a statement accompanying the release of the study’s findings. …The study also found that the majority of modern communists who do happen across a stray piece of information showing the horrors and atrocities of real-life communism are able to quickly rationalize the historical facts away by labeling those examples “not real communism.”

Reminds me of this cartoon about AOC.

Speaking of the never-ending rationalization that communist failures weren’t “real communism,” let’s close today’s column with this link sent by a reader.

There’s a similar lather-rinse-repeat cycle among apologists for socialism.

But while it’s amusing to mock socialism and communism, let’s never forget the horrific suffering and death that these evil ideologies have produced.

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Cuba has a very sad history.

It traded a regular dictatorship for a communist dictatorship six decades ago, and the results have been predictably awful.

Oppression, persecution, rationing, spying, deprivation, and suffering are facts of life in that socialist hellhole.

For a while, it was subsidized by the Soviet Union, but that communist system eventually collapsed. More recently, it’s been subsidized by Venezuela, but now that socialist system also is collapsing.

And this means extra hardship for the people of Cuba.

Jose Nino explains one of the grim consequences of Cuba’s central planning.

Cuba is now implementing a rationing program to combat its very own shortages of basic goods. A CBC report indicates this program would cover basic items such as chicken, eggs, rice, beans, and soap. …When Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, the Cuban state maintained an iron grip on the economy. For decades, the country has been a communist garrison state with very little respect for property rights… Because of the economic dislocations caused by state control of many industries, the government has had to provide citizens with Libretas de Abastecimiento (supply booklets) to ration out basic goods like rice, sugar, and matches. …Cuba’s recent political behavior indicates that the country’s leadership still does not get basic economics. …After more than 50 years of embracing socialist governance, Cuba will have to learn that it needs to stick to the basic economic principles if it wants to break free from its long-standing cycle of poverty.

Bizarrely, there are still some proponents of the Cuban dictatorship.

Writing for CapX, Kristian Niemietz ponders this lingering semi-support for Cuba on the left.

…socialist experiments usually go through three stages, in terms of their reception by Western intellectuals. The first is a honeymoon period, during which they are widely held up as a glorious example of “real” socialism in action. The second is a period of angry defensiveness, during which some of the system’s failures are acknowledged, but blamed on external constraints. The third stage is the stage of retroactive disowning: intellectuals now claim that the country in question was never socialist, and that it is a cheap strawman to even mention it. The Western reception of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Vietnam and, more recently, Venezuela followed this pattern to a tee. Cuba, in contrast, is a bit of an outlier, in that the country seems to be permanently stuck somewhere between stages two and three. It may no longer attract widespread enthusiasm, but Cuban socialism has never completely gone the way of Soviet, Maoist, Vietnamese or North Korean socialism.

Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell have a book about statism and socialism that’s very informative. But also very entertaining.

Here are some excerpts from their chapter about a visit to Cuba.

In government-directed economies, a disproportionate amount of money is spent on what political leaders desire—typically, great Olympic sports teams, and a few showcase hotels and restaurants to impress foreigners. In Cuba’s case, this included the opulent Hotel Nacional… But we were on a mission to see what life was like inside Cuba’s socialist system. We couldn’t experience that by drinking Cuba libres at a fancy resort… Before the revolution, Cuba had a thriving urban middle class, along with widespread rural poverty. Twentieth-century socialists claimed socialism would deliver greater equality and out-produce capitalism by ending wasteful competition, business cycles, and predatory monopolies. Socialism hasn’t delivered the goods it promised in Cuba or anywhere else. Today, Cuba is a poor country made poorer by socialism. Socialism also gives tremendous power to government officials and bureaucrats who are the system’s planners—and with that power comes corruption, abuse, and tyranny. It is no accident that the worst democides of the twentieth century occurred in socialist countries like the Soviet Union, Communist China, and Nazi (National Socialist) Germany.

The book is basically a travelogue, mixed with economic insights that oscillate between amusing and horrifying.

The hotels are no good.

The Hotel Tritón’s decaying edifice was a crumbling tribute to Cuba’s central-planning problems. Cuba had the resources to make large capital investments in state-run enterprises when it received aid from the Soviet Union. But many of these hotels can’t generate enough revenue to sustain the initial investment. Cuban government planners then had to pick which hotels to subsidize to prevent decay. The Hotel Tritón didn’t make the cut. It was rotting, inside and out. And nobody cared because nobody owned it. …In a capitalist economy, entrepreneurs create businesses to make profits, which they earn by pleasing their customers. But in a socialist system, a bureaucrat decides which businesses can open, where they can operate, and what they can sell, and he really doesn’t care what the customer thinks. Adopting a socialist system is like turning your whole economy into a giant Department of Motor Vehicles.

The shopping is no good.

In Central Havana, the lack of commerce unrelated to tobacco, alcohol, or sex was striking. Habaneros lived in these neighborhoods. So where did they shop? …We found one store that was a large open room with high ceilings and cement support columns. …behind a counter, there were shelves with bottles of rum, cases of the local cola, a few canned goods, cartons of eggs, and large sacks of rice next to a scale. A line of Cubans shopped their way down the counter. The place was an odd mix, somewhere between the worst imaginable version of a grade school cafeteria and a grocery in which 95 percent of the stock is depleted.

The dining is no good.

… we decided on our last evening on the island to try a state-owned “Italian” restaurant on the main boulevard between the shitty Hotel Caribbean and the Capitol. We were disappointed to see that Italian meant nothing more than a few basic pizzas and a couple types of pasta, along with the same chicken, pork, seafood, and beef dishes we found everywhere else. We ordered two beers and “mozzarella from the oven” as an appetizer. To say that it was the equivalent of Taco Bell queso with tomato chunks in it would be insulting to Taco Bell. In fact, it was a steaming pot of greasy white goo. … most Cubans can’t afford to eat at the places we ate, and Cuba’s socialist economic system can’t even deliver variety to rich tourists. We were tired of the food after a week. But we could leave; Cubans are stuck with lousy food (outside the private restaurants), limited ingredients, and little variety for as long as they’re stuck with socialism.

And Che is no good.

Unfortunately for Cubans, Che wasn’t nearly as good at planning production as capitalists have been at plastering his image on merchandise. During Che’s stints as head of the National Bank of Cuba, minister of finance, and minister of industry, Cuba not only failed to industrialize (as promised), but its sugar production collapsed and severe rationing was introduced.

But Cubans are very good, at least when they’re out from under the tyranny of socialism.

We were in Little Havana, in Miami. The economic contrast between Little Havana and the real thing began before we even stepped out of our Uber. The half-hour car ride cost us only $13.72 instead of the absurd taxi costs in Cuba. …Unlike stores in Cuba, this store had hundreds of different items for sale. …we headed off to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. The six-page menu contained more options than we had seen from all of the restaurants in Cuba combined. …Cuban cuisine is excellent—just not when it’s served in Cuba. It’s not the Cubans’ fault. It’s the fact that socialism sucks. Cubans under a socialist system remain poor and eat bland food. Ninety miles away, Cubans who live in Miami become relatively rich and make wonderful food. Same people, two different economic systems, two drastically different economic— and gastronomic—outcomes.

By the way, I recommend the book.

There are also chapters about Sweden, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Georgia, and Russia/Ukraine.

My contribution today is this chart showing per-capita economic output in various Latin nations, derived from the Maddison database. At the time of the revolution, Cuba (orange line) was one of the richest nations. Now it has fallen far behind.

It’s always useful to look at decades of data because short-run blips aren’t a factor. Instead, you really learn a lot about which nations are enjoying good growth and which ones are stagnating.

What we’ve learned today is that the people of Cuba are poor because of awful economic policy. Other nations (most of which started in worse shape) have become much richer.

Perfect policy would be great, but even decent policy creates enough “breathing room” for more prosperity. Unfortunately, even that’s not allowed in Cuba.

P.S. For some unintentional Cuban-related humor, see here and here.

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