Archive for the ‘Cuba’ Category

Communism should be remembered first and foremost for the death, brutality, and repression that occurred whenever that evil system was imposed upon a nation.

Dictators like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the North Korean Kim dynasty either killed more than Hitler, or butchered higher proportions of their populations.

But let’s not forget that communism also has an awful economic legacy. The economic breakdown of the Soviet Empire. The horrid deprivation in North Korea. The giant gap that existed between West Germany and East Germany. The mass poverty in China before partial liberalization.

Today, let’s focus on how communism has severely crippled the Cuban economy.

In a column for Reason a few years ago, Steven Chapman accurately summarized the problems in that long-suffering nation.

There may yet be admirers of Cuban communism in certain precincts of Berkeley or Cambridge, but it’s hard to find them in Havana. …the average Cuban makes only about $20 a month—which is a bit spartan even if you add in free housing, food, and medical care. For that matter, the free stuff is not so easy to come by: Food shortages are frequent, the stock of adequate housing has shrunk, and hospital patients often have to bring their own sheets, food, and even medical supplies. …Roger Noriega, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, notes that before communism arrived, Cuba “was one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies of the Americas.” His colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has documented that pre-Castro Cuba had a high rate of literacy and a life expectancy surpassing that in Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Instead of accelerating development, Castro has hindered it. In 1980, living standards in Chile were double those in Cuba. Thanks to bold free-market reforms implemented in Chile but not Cuba, the average Chilean’s income now appears to be four times higher than the average Cuban’s. …In its latest annual report, Human Rights Watch says, “Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

The comparison between Chile and Cuba is especially apt since the pro-market reforms in the South American nation came after a coup against a Marxist government that severely weakened the Chilean economy.

Chapman points out that the standard leftist excuse for Cuban misery – the U.S. trade embargo – isn’t very legitimate.

The regime prefers to blame any problems on the Yankee imperialists, who have enforced an economic embargo for decades. In fact, its effect on the Cuban economy is modest, since Cuba trades freely with the rest of the world.

Since the U.S. accounts for nearly one-fourth of world economic output, I’m open to the hypothesis that the negative impact on Cuba is more than “modest.”

But it still would be just a partial explanation. Just remember that communist societies have always been economic basket cases even if they have unfettered ability to trade with all other nations.

Writing for the Huffington Post (hardly a pro-capitalism outfit), Terry Savage also explains that Cuba is an economic disaster.

…the economic consequences of a 50-year, totalitarian, socialistic experiment in government are obvious today. Cuba is a beautiful country filled with many friendly people, who have lived in poverty and deprivation for decades. Socialism in its purest form simply didn’t work there. I was immediately reminded of that old saying: “Capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth – but socialism is the equal distribution of poverty.” Once-magnificent buildings are literally crumbling, plaster falling and walls and stairways falling apart, as there are no ownership incentives to maintain them – or profit potential to incent their preservation. …Every Cuban gets a ration book and an assigned “bodega” in which to purchase the low-cost, subsidized food. The one I visited looked like an empty warehouse, with little on the shelves. If the rice, beans, eggs, and cooking oil are not in stock, the shopper must return the following week. Allowed five eggs per month, the basics barely cover a starvation existence. …the economic results of their 50-year rule have been abysmal. Cuba became a protectorate of the old Soviet Union (remember the Cuban missile crisis) -and that worked until the early 1990s, when the USSR fell apart. No longer receiving aid from its protector, Cuba entered a long period now remembered as “the special times” – when Cubans were literally starving, when there was electricity only two hours per day, and people turned any patch of dirt into a garden to survive. Cubans bear the scars of that terrible time, and for many the current situation is still not that much better.

So Cuba was a basket case that was subsidized by the Soviet Union. When the Evil Empire collapsed and the subsidies ended, the basket case became a hellhole.

The good news, if we’re grading on a curve, is that Cuba has now improved to again being a basket case.

But that improvement still leaves Cuba with a lot of room for improvement. It may not be at the level of North Korea, but it’s worse than Venezuela, and that’s saying something.

My friend Michel Kelly-Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute echoes the horrid news about Cuba’s economy.

As anyone who has spent any amount of time in Cuba outside the tourist compounds can tell you, socialism, particularly the unsubsidized version that we have seen since the fall of the Soviet empire, has been a disaster. …The hospitals which supposedly offer free care only do so quickly and effectively to the politically connected, friends and family of staff members, and to those who pay the largest bribes… That “free” university education that many Cubans get in technical fields is rarely worth much more than what students pay for it. There are few books in the country’s schools, and those that can be found are years, if not decades old. The country’s libraries are empty… The guaranteed jobs that all Cubans have are fine, until you realize that the average salary is in the range of $20 a month. Worse, the food and other staple allotments that Cubans have long felt entitled to, have shrunk over the years. Tourists often marvel at how thin and healthy Cubans look. Sadly many of them are outright hungry.

Though Michel includes a bit of optimism in his column, pointing out that there’s been a modest bit of economic liberalization (a point that I’ve also made, even to the point of joking about whether we should trade Obama for Castro).

Communist Cuba, beset with an oppressive bureaucracy, an anachronistic cradle-to-grave welfare state, a hopelessly subpar economy, and widespread poverty, is gradually shifting to private sector solutions. Starting when Raul Castro “temporarily” took over power from his brother Fidel six years ago and culminating with the Communist party’s approval of a major package of reforms…, Cuba has taken a series of increasingly bold steps to implement free market reforms. These range from providing entrepreneurs with increased flexibility to run small businesses, and use of state agricultural lands by individual farmers, to the elimination of a variety of burdensome rules and regulations. Ironically, there is a lot that Canadians…can learn from that shift.

And there’s a lot the United States can learn, particularly our President, who is so deluded that he said there are (presumably positive) things America can learn from Cuba.

One common talking point from Cuban sympathizers is that the country has done a good job of reducing infant mortality. But, as Johan Norberg explains, that claim largely evaporates upon closer examination.

The bottom line is that communism is a system that is grossly inconsistent with both human freedom and economic liberty.

And because it squashes economic liberty (thanks to central planning, price controls, and the various other features of total statism), that ensures mass poverty.

Amazingly, there are still some leftists who want us to believe that communism would work if “good people” were in charge. I guess they don’t understand that good people, by definition, don’t want to control the lives of others.

P.S. No analysis of Cuba would be complete without noting the bizarre fetish of some leftists to wear t-shirts celebrating the homicidal racist Che Guevara. What’s next, baseball caps featuring Kim Jong-un. Computer screen savers featuring Hermann Göring? Pol Pot bobble head dolls?

There are some sick weirdos in this world to defend any form of coercive statism.

P.S. Here’s my only communist-themed joke (other than the video of Reagan’s jokes about communism).

P.P.S. At the advice of a reader, let me add one more point. Probably the most amazing indictment of communism is that living standards in Cuba when Castro took power were about even with living standards in Hong Kong. Today, the gap between the two is enormous.

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Over the years, Barack Obama has made some statements that indicate a very statist worldview.

Now he may have added to that list. Check out this excerpt from a report in the Daily Caller.

President Barack Obama downplayed the differences between capitalism and communism, claiming that they are just “intellectual arguments.” …Obama said…”I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works.”

It’s hard to object to the notion that people should choose “what works,” so perhaps there’s not a specific quote that I can add to my collection. However, the President’s implication that there’s some kind of equivalence between capitalism and communism, which both systems having desirable features, is morally offensive. Sort of like saying that we should “choose from what works” in Hitler’s national socialism.

Communism is a disgusting system that butchered more than 100,000,000 people.

It is a system that leads to starvation and suffering.

Communism produces Nazi-level horrors of brutality.

So what exactly “works” in that system, Mr. President? If you watch Obama’s speech, you’ll notice there’s not a lot of substance. There is a bit of praise for Cuba’s decrepit government-run healthcare system (you can click here, here, and here if you want to learn why the system is horrifying and terrible for ordinary citizens). And he also seems to think it’s some sort of achievement that Cuba has schools.

So let’s take a closer look at what Cuba actually has to offer. Natalie Morales is a Cuban-American actor, writer, and filmmaker. Here’s some of what she wrote about her country and her relatives still trapped on the island.

…we send money, medicine or syringes for the diabetic aunt (since the hospital doesn’t have any unused disposable ones), baby clothes, adult clothes, shoes, or food… a doctor, a lawyer, or another similar profession that is considered to be high-earning everywhere else in the world will make about twenty to thirty dollars per month in Cuba. Yet shampoo at the store still costs three dollars. This is because everything is supposed to be rationed out to you, but the reality is that they’re always out of most things, and your designated ration is always meager. …if you’re a farmer and you’ve raised a cow, and you’re starving, and your family is also starving, and you decide to kill that cow and eat it? You’ll be put in jail for life. Because it’s not “your” cow, it’s everyone’s cow. That’s good ol’ Communism in practice.

Ms. Morales is especially irritated by Americans who fret that capitalism will “ruin” Cuba.

…picture me at any dinner party or Hollywood event or drugstore or press interview or pretty much any situation where someone who considers themselves “cultured” finds out I’m Cuban. I prepare myself for the seemingly unavoidable…“I have to go there before it’s ruined!”…I will say some version of this: “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba? Running water? Available food? Freedom of speech? Uncontrolled media and Internet? Access to proper healthcare? You want to go to Cuba before the buildings get repaired? Before people can actually live off their wages? Or before the oppressive Communist regime is someday overthrown?”

Here’s more about Cuba’s communist paradise, including her observations of the healthcare system that Obama admires.

The very, very young girls prostituting themselves are not doing it because they can’t get enough of old Canadian men, but because it pays more than being a doctor does. Hospitals for regular Cuban citizens are not what Michael Moore showed you in Sicko. …That was a Communist hospital for members of the Party and for tourists… There are no janitors in the hospitals because it pays more money to steal janitorial supplies and sell them on the street than it does to actually have a job there. Therefore, the halls and rooms are covered in blood, urine, and feces, and you need to bring your own sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, and mattresses when you are admitted. Doctors have to reuse needles on patients. My mom’s aunt had a stroke and the doctor’s course of treatment was to “put her feet up and let the blood rush back to her head.”

She closes with a PG-13 request for idiotic westerners.

…for God’s sake, please don’t wear a fucking Che t-shirt.

Very well said.

By the way, none of this means we shouldn’t normalize relations with Cuba. There’s no longer a Soviet Union, so Cuba doesn’t represent a strategic threat. So, yes, relax restrictions on trade and travel, just like we have for China, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Russia, Venezuela, and other nations that have unsavory political systems.

But the opening of relations doesn’t mean we should pretend that other systems are somehow good or equivalent to capitalism and classical liberalism.

Let’s close by sharing some news from another garden spot of communism.

If North Korea’s reputation as a place of hunger, hardship and repression was not bad enough, scientists have now discovered that it is too grim even for vultures. …Eurasian black vultures are no longer bothering to stop over in North Korea as they fly from their breeding grounds in Mongolia to their winter homes in South Korea. They concluded that food is so short under the communist regime that even the world’s best-known carrion birds cannot feed themselves. …Lee Han Su, of the institute, said: “This seems to happen because in North Korea the vultures can barely find animal corpses, which are major food resources for them.” Under the draconian regime of Kim Jong Un the country is unable to feed itself. International aid agencies report chronic malnutrition in some regions. …wild animals face the risk of being eaten by people. Defectors describe how victims of the famine were driven to eat dogs, cats, rats, grasshoppers, dragonflies, sparrows and crows. Vultures, for the time being at least, are off the menu.

I’m not sure what American leftists will say we can learn from North Korea. Even PETA presumably won’t be happy that starving North Koreans are eating sparrows and grasshoppers.

The bottom line is that there is zero moral equivalence between communism and capitalism. The former is based on servility to the state and the latter is based on liberty.

But if you’re amoral and simply want to know what works, compare the performance of North Korea and South Korea. Or look at the difference between Cuba and Hong Kong.

Very compelling evidence.

But this isn’t an issue that should be decided on the basis of utilitarian comparisons. What should matter most is that communism is evil.

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Early this year, I shared an amusing but accurate image that showed an important difference between capitalism and socialism.

And in 2012, I posted a comparison of Detroit and Hiroshima to illustrate the damage of big government.

Well, if you combine those concepts, you get this very pointed look at the evolution of Cuban socialism and Hong Kong capitalism.

Some might dismiss these photos as being unrepresentative, and it’s reasonable to be skeptical. After all, I’m sure it would be easy to put together a series of photos that make it seem as if the United States is suffering from decay while France is enjoying a boom.

So let’s go to the data. In previous posts, I’ve shared comparisons of long-run economic performance in market-oriented nations and statist countries. Examples include Chile vs. Argentina vs. VenezuelaNorth Korea vs. South Korea, Cuba vs. Chile, Ukraine vs. Poland, Hong Kong vs. ArgentinaSingapore vs. Jamaica, and the United States vs. Hong Kong and Singapore.

Now let’s add Cuba vs. Hong Kong to the mix.

Wow, this is amazing. Through much of the 1950s, Hong Kong and Cuba were economically similar, and both were very close to the world average.

Then Hong Kong became a poster child for capitalism while Cuba became an outpost of Soviet communism. And, as you might expect, the people of Hong Kong prospered.

What about the Cubans? Well, I suppose a leftist could argue that they’re all equally poor and that universal deprivation somehow makes Cuban society better Hong Kong, where not everybody gets rich at the same rate.

But even that would be a lie since Cuba’s communist elite doubtlessly enjoys a very comfortable lifestyle. So while the rest of the country endures hardships such as a toilet paper shortage, the party bosses presumably drink champagne and eat caviar.

The bottom line is that statists still don’t have an acceptable answer for my two-part challenge.

P.S. If you prefer stories rather than images or data, this updated version of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper makes a key point about incentives and redistribution. And you get a similar message from the PC version of the Little Red Hen.

P.P.S. Cuba’s system is so wretched that even Fidel Castro confessed it is a failure. So maybe there’s hope that Obama will have a similar epiphany about American-style statism!

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Even vicious, reprehensible, and disgusting tyrants sometimes make wise observations. Back in 2010, for instance, Cuba’s Murderer-in-Chief confessed that communism didn’t work.

More recently, the thug expressed unhappiness with the current crop of presidential candidates in America. Here’s some of what he wrote.

Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro said Monday that a “robot” would be better in the White House than President Barack Obama — or any of the Republicans candidates in the 2012 election race. …Under the title “The Best President for the United States,” Cuba’s ex-president said that if faced with a choice between Obama, a Republican rival or a robot, “90 percent of voting Americans, especially Hispanics, blacks and the growing number of the impoverished middle class, would vote for the robot.”

I imagine someone clever could come up with a good joke about Mitt Romney being a robot and Castro making a subliminal endorsement, but I’ll simply make the serious point that elections in the United States all too often feature two candidates who only differ in that one will expand the burden of government at a faster rate than the other.

So even though Castro’s thinking and my thinking are as different as night and day, I’m also less than thrilled about the likely options this November.

Though I’m not sure why Castro has soured on Obama. Has anything changed since 2010, when he endorsed Obamacare?


P.S. Here’s a good Jay Leno joke about Cuban and American economic policy.

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I’m not serious , of course, but it is rather ironic that Raul Castro is cutting the tax burden on small business at the same time that Obama is pushing for higher tax rates on small business. Reuters reports on the latest in supply-side communism.

Cuba unveiled on Friday a new tax code it said was friendlier for small business, signaling authorities are serious about building a larger private sector within the state-dominated economy. The new system, outlined in the Communist Party daily Granma, greatly increases tax deductions… The tax redesign comes as the government has begun slashing 500,000 workers from state payrolls and preparing to issue 250,000 self-employment licenses to create new jobs in President Raul Castro’s biggest reform since taking office in 2008. …The new tax system enables the self-employed to deduct up to 40 percent from income for the cost of supplies, compared to just 10 percent under the old one. Formerly, small businesses simply paid a graduated income tax. Now they will also have to pay a 10 percent sales tax and 25 percent social security tax, but both are deductible at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, Obama seems to views tax issues through the prism of class warfare. This video explains why class warfare tax policy is misguided, and it includes the footage from the 2008 campaign where Obama basically said that he didn’t care whether his proposed tax increase on capital gains led to lower revenue.

The politics of hate-and-envy may be emotionally satisfying to some on the left, but there is strong evidence that high tax rates damage small business. And even though Obama apparently doesn’t think this means much, there is also lots of evidence that the so-called rich won’t wind up paying much additional tax because they can easily adjust their behavior. I guess the real question is why so many statists are consumed by disdain and resentment.

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I’ve already commented on Cuba’s surprising announcement to slash the number of government workers. And I’ve complained about the federal workforce expanding in the United States. This is not what one would expect when comparing policy developments in a communist nation and a (supposedly) capitalist nation. Well, Russia wisely is following the Cuban approach on this issue (I never thought I would type those words!) and plans to get rid of 100,000 bureaucrats over the next three years.
Russia will cut its army of bureaucrats by more than 100,000 within the next three years, saving 43 billion rubles ($1.5 billion), Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Monday. “We assume more than 100,000 federal state civil jobs will be cut within three years. The government has already included a schedule for cutting the number of federal civil servants in the draft budget for the next three years and coordinated it with ministries and agencies,” Kudrin told President Dmitry Medvedev, who in June ordered a 20 percent cut in the number of bureaucrats. Under the government plan, ministries and agencies will have to sack five percent of their staff in 2011 and 2012, and 10 percent in 2013. …In the last three years, the number of bureaucrats in the federal government had increased by nearly 20,000, in regional governments by 60,000 and at municipalities by 50,000, he said.

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Since we’re talking about a totalitarian nation, I suppose I should make clear that Raul Castro is getting rid of 500,000 government jobs, not executing a half-million bureaucrats. This is a remarkable development, particularly since the entire workforce is only 5 million people. What’s ironic, though, is that Cuba is trying to reverse its mistakes while politicians in the United States keep adding more bureaucrats. In other words, Obama  wants more people in the wagon and fewer people pulling the wagon. That’s not a good trend line. Here’s a CNN story about the Cuban reforms.

Cuba announced on Monday it would lay off “at least” half a million state workers over the next six months and simultaneously allow more jobs to be created in the private sector as the socialist economy struggles to get back on its feet. The plan announced in state media confirms that President Raul Castro is following through on his pledge to shed some one million state jobs, a full fifth of the official workforce — but in a shorter timeframe than initially anticipated. “Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities and services with inflated payrolls and losses that damage our economy and result counterproductive, create bad habits and distort workers’ conduct,” the CTC, Cuba’s official labor union, said in newspapers. …The state currently controls more than 90 percent of the economy, running everything from ice cream parlors and gas stations to factories and scientific laboratories. Traditionally independent professions, such as carpenters, plumbers and shoe repairmen, are also employed by the state. …The announcement avoided the word “private,” but said alternative forms of employment to be allowed included renting or borrowing state-owned facilities, cooperatives and self employment and that “hundreds of thousands of workers” would find jobs outside of the state sector over the next few years. Castro has launched a few, small free-market reforms since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2006. In April, for example, barbershops were handed over to employees, who pay rent and tax but charge what they want. Licenses have also been granted to private taxis. For a couple of years, fallow land in the countryside has been turned over to private farmers. The more they produce, the more they earn.

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