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Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

Nine days ago, I wrote about Dana Milbank scoring an “own goal” because he claimed we needed bigger government to deal with coronavirus, yet all the nations he cited for their effective responses actually have a much smaller fiscal burden than the United States.

Today, we have the Twitter equivalent of an “own goal.”

R.D. Hale, a British guy from the #SocialistCampaignGroup tweeted that he wants to move to an island and start a new country with Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good idea. I certainly wouldn’t be upset if hard-core leftists decided to leave the United States (there’s even a satirical version of this idea).

But Tom Harwood, as you can see, had a response that was far more clever.

Ouch! I don’t know if “own goal” does this justice. This is a brutal dunk by Harwood on Hale.

Especially since both Sanders and Corbyn actually have offered praise for Castro and Cuba.

The bottom line is that the utter misery and deprivation of the Cuban people is a pretty good indication of what would happen if lunatics like Sanders and Corbyn ever had free rein to impose their policies in the U.S. or U.K.

P.S. Here’s the best counter-tweet of 2019.

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Last week, I shared a 24-question quiz that ostensibly determines whether you’re a communist.

Though it might be just as accurate to ask one simple question: Do you have warm feelings about the Marxist dictatorship in Cuba?

On that basis, Bernie Sanders fails.

At best, he’s an ignorant dupe and apologist. At worst, he’s a true believer.

Regardless, his views are wrong and easy to debunk.

Writing in the Washington Post, Francisco Toro opines about Bernie Sanders and Cuba.

…you can begin to glimpse the enormous concern Venezuelans and Cubans feel when we hear Bernie Sanders praise Fidel Castro’s education system. …Cuba’s overall educational performance is middling for the region: roughly similar to that of many other Latin American countries… There was never any need to build a police state to bring people to school — an insight so obvious, it’s ludicrous to even have to write it. …To Cubans and Venezuelans — who have witnessed much the same kind of propaganda — talk of Cuban educational prowess grates not because it’s wrong, exactly, but because it serves as a simple way to identify who’s ready to be duped by regime apologists. …When Sanders parrots Fidel’s propaganda, he fails the test.

What’s especially grating is that the propaganda is either false or misleading.

Marian Tupy and Chelsea Follett summarize just a few of the problems with fawning claims about Cuba’s performance.

…in a recent 60 Minutes interview on CBS. Senator Sanders applauded Cuba’s education and healthcare system. Potential Sanders supporters should know that Cuba’s literacy rate and healthcare system are nothing to lionize. First, consider literacy. …Cuba’s literacy rate rose by 26 percent between 1950/53 and 2000. But literacy rose even more, by 37 percent, in Paraguay. Food consumption in Cuba actually declined by 12 percent between 1954/57 and 1995/97. It rose by 19 percent in Chile and by 28 percent in Mexico over the same time period. …Next, consider healthcare. Sanders has repeatedly extolled Cuba’s healthcare system… Life expectancy is the best proxy measure of health. According to Cuba’s official data, it rose by 25 percent between 1960 and 2017. Yet life expectancy increased even faster in comparable countries: in Mexico it improved by 35 percent, in the Dominican Republic by 43 percent, and in impoverished Haiti by 51 percent.

For what it’s worth, President Obama’s favorable comments about Cuban health care also were embarrassingly inaccurate.

The bottom line is that Cuba performs poorly when looking at education, health, nutrition, and other variables.

But none of that should be a surprise since poor countries generally can’t afford good things or deliver good outcomes.

And the lesson we should learn is that Cuba is poor because government is far too big. Simply stated, the absence of capitalism has been a recipe for misery.

The most shocking statistic is that living standards in Cuba and Hong Kong were very similar when Castro first imposed his version of Marxist socialism.

Yet now there’s a giant gap, with people in Hong Kong enjoying unimaginable prosperity compared to the impoverished residents of Cuba.

Let’s close with two additional items. First, here’s a video from four guys who traveled to Cuba for an up-close view of socialism.

And if you liked that video, here’s another first-hand account of the (nonexistent) glories of Cuban socialism.

Our final item is this look at a street, both as it looked before communism and how it looks today.

The lesson, of course, is similar to the one that we get when examining North Korea from outer space. Communism simply doesn’t work.

P.S. On the topic of silly propaganda, Jeffrey Sachs actually rates Cuba above the United States for meeting development goals, and Cuba also was placed above the United States by a radical environmental group.

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Back in 2014, I compared Hong Kong’s amazing growth with Cuba’s pitiful stagnation and made the obvious point that free markets and limited government are the right recipe for prosperity.

Especially if you care about improving the lives of the less fortunate.

Communists claim that their ideology represents the downtrodden against the elite, yet the evidence from Cuba shows wretched material deprivation for most people.

In Hong Kong, by contrast, incomes have soared for all segments of the population.

Today, let’s update our comparison of Cuba and Hong Kong. Law & Liberty has posted a a fascinating review of Neil Monnery’s book, A Tale of Two Economies, authored by Alberto Mingardi from Italy’s Bruno Leoni Institute.

As Alberto explains, the book is about how developments in both Hong Kong and Cuba were shaped by two individuals.

How important are key individuals in shaping the success or failure of economies? …Neil Monnery’s A Tale of Two Economies is in some sense a polemic against historical determinism, at least insofar as promoting economic reforms is concerned. It stresses the importance of two single individuals, one a great man for many, one an obscure official and political unknown to the most, in shaping the destiny of their respective countries. …Ernesto “Che” Guevara and John Cowperthwaite. …Monnery insists that both of them were “deep and original thinkers.” …The key difference between the two was perhaps that Cowperthwaite had a solid education in economics… Neither the way in which Hong Kong progressed, nor Cuba’s, were thus inevitable.

I’ve written previously about the noble role of John Cowperthwaite.

Here’s what Alberto culled from the book.

Monnery points out that Hong Kong’s success happened not because Cowperthwaite and his colleague were trying “to plant an ideological flag,” but because they were “professional pragmatists.” …Then the success of relatively libertarian arrangements in Hong Kong perpetuated itself. …Cowperthwaite tested what he knew about classical economics when he “first arrived in Hong Kong, in 1945” and “was put in charge of price control.… He soon realized the problems with attempting to set prices low enough to meet consumer needs but high enough to encourage supply, and in a dynamic environment.” He opposed subsidies that he saw as “a brazen attempt to feed at the trough of government subsidies.” …Cowperthwaite is a hero to Monnery, who emphasises his competence, and even more, his integrity.

And I’ve also written about Che Guevara, but only to comment on his brutality.

It turns out he was also a lousy economic planner.

Guevara held office in a variety of capacities related to economic matters and took them seriously. In 1959, he took a three months trip to countries as different as India, Japan and Burma, to learn “how they managed their economy.” He was struck by examples of countries that succeeded in developing heavy industries and thought Cuba could do the same. …Guevara, who, once converted to Marxism, had swallowed the whole thing. Since he maintained that “the sine qua non for an economic plan is that the state controls the bulk of the means of production, and better yet, if possible, all the means of production,” he acted accordingly.

So what’s the bottom line?

Hong Kong and Cuba were roughly equal at the start of the process. Today, not so much.

To the reader of A Tale of Two Economies, it is rather obvious which lessons ought to be taken: “in the late 1950s, both economies had a GDP per capita of around $4,500 in today’s money. By 2018 Cuba had slightly more than doubled its GDP per capita to around $9,000 per person. But Hong Kong reached $64,000 per capita”—seven times Cuba’s, and even exceeding the UK’s as well.

Here’s my modest contribution to the discussion, based on the Maddison database.

P.S. Hong Kong still ranks as the world’s freest economy, though there are increasing worries about whether China will allow economic liberty in the long run.

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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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There’s a long and sordid history of people in Western nations acting as dupes and apologists for communism.

This is especially the case with the wretchedly impoverished totalitarian outpost 90 miles south of Florida.

Based on what he wrote for the opinion pages of the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof belongs on that list of “useful idiots.”

Cuba…in health care…does an impressive job that the United States could learn from. …an American infant is, by official statistics, almost 50 percent more likely to die than a Cuban infant. By my calculations, that means that 7,500 American kids die each year because we don’t have as good an infant mortality rate as Cuba reports. …a major strength of the Cuban system is that it assures universal access. Cuba has the Medicare for All that many Americans dream about. …It’s also notable that Cuba achieves excellent health outcomes even though the American trade and financial embargo… Cuba overflows with doctors — it has three times as many per capita as the United States… Outsiders mostly say they admire the Cuban health system. The World Health Organization has praised it, and Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, described it as “a model for many countries.”

Kristof admits in his piece that there are critics who don’t believe the regime’s data, but it’s clear he doesn’t take their concerns seriously.

And he definitely doesn’t share their data. So lets take a close look at the facts that didn’t appear in Kristof’s column.

My first recommendation is to watch Johan Norberg’s video on the real truth about Cuba’s infant mortality.

But there’s so much more.

Jay Nordlinger authored the most comprehensive takedown of Cuba’s decrepit system back in 2007. Here are some of the highlights.

The Left has always had a deep psychological need to believe in the myth of Cuban health care. On that island, as everywhere else, Communism has turned out to be a disaster: economic, physical, and moral. Not only have persecution, torture, and murder been routine, there is nothing material to show for it. The Leninist rationalization was, “You have to break some eggs to make an omelet.” Orwell memorably replied, “Where’s the omelet?” There is never an omelet. …there is excellent health care on Cuba — just not for ordinary Cubans. …there is not just one system, or even two: There are three. The first is for foreigners who come to Cuba specifically for medical care. This is known as “medical tourism.” The tourists pay in hard currency… The second health-care system is for Cuban elites — the Party, the military, official artists and writers, and so on. In the Soviet Union, these people were called the “nomenklatura.” And their system, like the one for medical tourists, is top-notch. Then there is the real Cuban system, the one that ordinary people must use — and it is wretched. Testimony and documentation on the subject are vast. Hospitals and clinics are crumbling. Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs — even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. …The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent. Doctors have been known to reuse latex gloves — there is no choice. …So deplorable is the state of health care in Cuba that old-fashioned diseases are back with a vengeance. These include tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhoid fever. And dengue, another fever, is a particular menace.

Wow, I guess shortages extend well beyond toilet paper.

Next we have some very sobering data from a 2004 article in Canada’s National Post.

…a small bottle of tetracycline costs US$5 and a tube of cortisone cream will set you back as much as US$25. But neither are available at the local pharmacy, which is neat and spotless, but stocks almost nothing. Even the most common pharmaceutical items, such as Aspirin and rubbing alcohol, are conspicuously absent. …Antibiotics, one of the most valuable commodities on the cash-strapped Communist island, are in extremely short supply and available only on the black market. Aspirin can be purchased only at government-run dollar stores, which carry common medications at a huge markup in U.S. dollars. This puts them out of reach of most Cubans, who are paid little and in pesos. Their average wage is 300 pesos per month, about $12. …tourist hospitals in Cuba are well-stocked with the latest equipment and imported medicines, said a Cuban pediatrician, who did not want to be identified. …”Tourists have everything they need,… But for Cubans, it’s different. Unless you work with tourists or have a relative in Miami sending you money, you will not be able to get what you need if you are sick in Cuba. As a doctor, I find it disgusting.”

And here’s some scholarly research from Katherine Hirschfeld at the University of Oklahoma (h/t: Scott Johnson).

…the Cuban government continues to respond to international criticism of its human rights record by citing…praise for its achievements in health and medicine…the unequivocally positive descriptions of the Cuban health care system in the social science literature are somewhat misleading. In the late 1990s, I conducted over nine months of qualitative ethnographic and archival research in Cuba. During that time I shadowed physicians in family health clinics, conducted formal and informal interviews with a number of health professionals, lived in local communities, and sought to participate in everyday life as much as possible. Throughout the course of this research, I found a number of discrepancies between the way the Cuban health care system has been described in the scholarly literature, and the way it appears to be described and experienced by Cubans themselves. …After just a few months of research, …it became increasingly obvious that many Cubans did not appear to have a very positive view of the health care system themselves. A number of people complained to me informally that their doctors were unhelpful, that the best clinics and hospitals only served political elites and that scarce medical supplies were often stolen from hospitals and sold on the black market. Further criticisms were leveled at the politicization of medical care… Public criticism of the government is a crime in Cuba, and penalties are severe. Formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act both for me as a researcher, and for people who spoke openly with me. …One of the most readily apparent problems with the health care system in Cuba is the severe shortage of medicines, equipment, and other supplies. …Many Cubans (including a number of health professionals) also had serious complaints about the intrusion of politics into medical treatment and health care decision-making.

Three academics at Texas Tech University also found very troubling data when they investigated the nation’s health system (h/t: David Henderson).

With 11.1% of GDP dedicated to health care and 0.8% of the population working as physicians, a substantial amount of resources is directed towards reducing infant mortality and increasing longevity. An economy with centralized economic planning by government like that of Cuba can force more resources into an industry than its population might desire in order to achieve improved outcomes in that industry at the expense of other goods and services the population might more highly desire. …Physicians are given health outcome targets to meet or face penalties. This provides incentives to manipulate data. Take Cuba’s much praised infant mortality rate for example. In most countries, the ratio of the numbers of neonatal deaths and late fetal deaths stay within a certain range of each other as they have many common causes and determinants. …Cuba, with a ratio of 6, was a clear outlier. This skewed ratio is evidence that physicians likely reclassified early neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths, thus deflating the infant mortality statistics and propping up life expectancy. Cuban doctors were re-categorizing neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths in order for doctors to meet government targets for infant mortality. …Physicians often perform abortions without clear consent of the mother, raising serious issues of medical ethics, when ultrasound reveals fetal abnormalities because ‘otherwise it might raise the infant mortality rate’. …The role of Cuban economic and political oppression in coercing ‘good’ health outcomes merits further study.

The bottom line is that Cuba is a hellhole and statistics from a repressive regime can’t be trusted.

Though the real message of today’s column is that we should be revolted by people who are willing to be dupes for totalitarianism.

And I can understand why people willing to debase themselves in that way are so sensitive to criticism.

P.S. The New York Times has a pathetic history of covering up for the crimes of communism, most notably Walter Duranty, who was given a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 even though he despicably lied in his reports to promote Stalin’s horrid regime. He even covered up Stalin’s holocaust of the Ukrainian people. Even though Duranty’s evil actions are now public knowledge, the Pulitzer Prize Board has not revoked the award. The New York Times, to its credit, at least has acknowledged that Duranty lied to promote Stalin’s brutal dictatorship. One wonders if the newspaper eventually will apologize for Kristof.

P.P.S. I’m also not impressed that a former Secretary General of the U.N. endorsed Cuba’s health care system. After all, it was an official from the U.N. who praised the lack of obesity among the starving people of North Korea.

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It’s time for the final installment of my series commemorating the evil impact of 100 years of communism.

Today we’re going to wrap up the series with a look at Che Guevera and contemplate how a mass-murdering racist and homophobe became a cultural icon.

Jay Nordlinger looks at the legacy of Guevera in a column for National Review.

Danilo Maldonado Machado, a.k.a. El Sexto, the Cuban street artist and human-rights activist, who is in and out of prison. I interviewed him at the Oslo Freedom Forum. …At the end of our interview, I asked him a standard question: “What do you wish people could know?” And you know what he said? You know what were the first words out of his mouth? “Che Guevara was a murderer.  He wasn’t a hero.” …“Maldonado says he can excuse Cubans who wear Che shirts: They have been propagandized all their lives. He has a much harder time excusing men and women from free societies.”

Writing for the Washington Examiner, Tom Rogan has a good summary of Guevera’s monstrous life.

Che Guevara was definitely evil, almost certainly a moron, and possibly also a psychopath. …Acting as Castro’s Treasury Secretary, Guevara ignored the failures and associated moral hardships his collectivist policies imposed. …Guevara may have been a psychopath. …for ideological zealots like Guevara, purifying the Earth of non-believers is an act of the highest moral order. In Guevara’s blood lust, we see his mental union with the propaganda offerings of ISIS… Guevara was also intellectually defective to the point of being a moron. …Guevara’s fervent obstinance planted the roots of far-left delusion that prevail today. It doesn’t matter that every population that tries out capitalism…does better than under communism. …He might have murdered hundreds of political prisoners…the true metaphor of Guevara’s cigar smoking face is not one of moral courage, insurgent glory, and resolute intellect, but of a useful idiot for totalitarian propaganda.

Even the establishment understands that there’s something wrong about Che idolatry, as illustrated by this Economist column.

In death Che, with his flowing hair and beret, has become one of the world’s favourite revolutionary icons. His fans span the globe. …The ascetic, asthmatic Argentine doctor first fought alongside Fidel Castro in the mountains of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra. After the Cuban revolution had imposed communism on the island, Guevara left to try to “liberate” first Congo and then Bolivia. Those who idolise Che do so because they see him as an idealist who laid down his life for a cause. An aura of Christian sacrifice surrounds him. …In Guevara’s view, equality was to be achieved by levelling down. As minister of industries in Cuba, he wanted to expropriate every farm and shop. …the cost of miserable wages, the denial of opportunity and the brutal suppression of dissent. In Venezuela’s pastiche of the Cuban revolution, installed by the late Hugo Chávez, another Che fan, the masses have been impoverished while insiders have become fabulously and corruptly rich. …Not only does democracy offer the best hope of progress for the masses, it also protects the left against its own mistakes. It is long past time to bury Che and find a better icon.

Let’s go back in time and look at excerpts from a 2004 Slate column.

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. …Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che’s imagination. … “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …”— and so on. …The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. …Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version… I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara…will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba—will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents.

And here’s a grim body count from the Cuba Archive.

Ernesto Guevara, better known as “Che,” is the ultimate poster boy of “revolutionary chic,” a quintessential icon of mass culture. …the flesh and blood “Che” exhibited a deep contempt for the sanctity of human life. He knew from his communist self-education that terror would be a necessary component of revolutionary order. …from day one of the new revolutionary government, January 1, 1959, he and the Castro brothers set out to take control in Cuba by sheer terror through mass killings. …From January 1 to 3, 1959, Che executed, or left orders to execute, 25 people in Santa Clara. On January 3, Fidel Castro appointed him commander of La Cabaña prison in Havana and supreme judge of the revolutionary tribunals. In the few months Che was in charge of La Cabaña (from January 4 to November 26, 1959), 73 people are believed to have been executed without basic legal guarantees; the vast majority was killed immediately after kangaroo summary trials that often lasted minutes and presented no evidence of the alleged crimes of the accused. …Che spoke frankly to the international community about the revolutionary government’s killings in Cuba. At the United Nations in New York on December 11, 1964, he made his famous statement: “”Fusilamientos” (executions by firing squad), yes, we have executed, we execute, and will continue executing while necessary.”

Here’s some more background on Guevara from Politifact, including his murder of fellow Cubans and his racist attitude.

Ernesto “Ché” Guevara was a Latin American guerrilla leader and Marxist revolutionary, and a major figure in the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro in the late 1950s. Although hailed in some circles as a legendary icon of rebellion, the Argentine-born doctor is also reviled by many Cubans for ruthlessly ordering the execution of more than 150 prisoners in Cuba without a fair trial. …But was he a racist? …The most compelling evidence was from The Motorcycle Diaries, a book based on diaries he kept while traveling through Latin America in the early 1950s. ” …their different ways of approaching life separate them completely: The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”

This story, by the way, attempts to exonerate Guevara even though it acknowledges his racist pedigree.

Guevara’s words in The Motorcycle Diaries were highly critical of the blacks he came across in that Caracas neighborhood, and he placed them beneath Europeans. The experts we consulted said the remarks are real and would not have been unusual coming from a 24-year-old from Argentina at the time. …We rate this claim Mostly False.

So he was racist, but it’s “Mostly False” to say he was racist because he was a product of his times.

Does anyone think Politifact would say that slaveowners in the 1840s weren’t really racist because they were products of their times? Likewise, who thinks defenders of the Jim Crow laws in the 1960s would get a free pass since they were products of their times?

For some bizarre reason, leftists (and lots of vacuous college kids and brainless celebrities) want to excuse – or even justify – Guevara’s unsavory life.

Indeed, notwithstanding a record of cruelty and hate, Che Guevara has a big contingent of fanboys.

Such as the government of Ireland.

An Post have issued a one euro stamp featuring the face of Che Guevara, a leading figure in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. The stamp, which features a famous image of Guevara by Dublin artist Jim Fitzpatrick, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary’s death on October 9, 1967. …Designed by Red&Grey, the stamp is based on Mr Fitzpatrick’s artwork, which appears on t-shirts, posters, badges and clothing worldwide and is now rated among the world’s top 10 most iconic images.

I’m assuming Ireland’s vacuous president somehow played a role in the decision to honor Guevera.

In any event, I can’t wait to see the new stamps for Hitler, Mao, and Stalin that the Irish postal service doubtlessly is preparing.

The United Nations also is part of the Che death cult.

With an impeccable instinct for venerating murderous thugs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has now added to its Memory of the World Register the writings of Cuba’s Ernesto “Che” Guevara. That means that the documents generated by Che during his bloody career will now be treated as historical treasures, protected and cared for with the help of UNESCO. What’s next? The teachings of Stalin and Pol Pot? …Che’s works were nominated for UNESCO’s special attentions by Cuba and Bolivia, and to be added to the UNESCO Register the nomination had to be endorsed by UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova. You might suppose that as a former Bulgarian government functionary, from the days when Bulgaria orbited the Soviet Union, Bokova would be aware of the horrors behind Che’s radical “cool.” But Bokova appears to suffer from a longstanding infatuation with Cuba’s repressive regime. …one might wish for a UN cultural organization endowed with at least some hint of a moral compass.

Let’s look at a couple of videos.

We’ll start with Johan Norberg’s succinct summary of Guevara.

Reason has a video about the Che fetish, with a special focus on Hollywood’s moral bankruptcy.

Let’s close on an uplifting note.

Some people are waking up on the issue, as noted in a report from the Economist.

Che Guevara was born in Rosario, then Argentina’s second-largest city… A red banner marks the posh apartment block where he was born. A four-metre-high (13-foot) bronze statue stands in Che Guevara Square. The city council finances CELChe, a centre devoted to the study of his life, and celebrates “Che week” around his birthday in June. …Not everyone in Rosario thinks the bereted revolutionary…deserves such reverence. Fundación Bases, a liberal think-tank based in the city, has launched a petition to persuade the city council to remove the monuments. The martyr was himself a killer, says Franco Martín López, the institute’s director. Guevara was second-in-command to Fidel Castro, whose Cuban revolution killed more than 10,000 people. …Under the motto “a murderer doesn’t deserve state tributes”, Mr López’s foundation has produced videos to educate Argentines, and rosarinos in particular. One shows a clip of Guevara promising to “continue the firing squads for as long as necessary” in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 1964. In another, a narrator reads out the accusatory suicide note of Reinaldo Arenas, a gay novelist who died in 1990 after suffering decades of persecution by Cuba’s government. …Norberto Galiotti, the cigar-smoking secretary of Rosario’s Communist Party, …suspects liberals are envious of Che’s posthumous charisma. “You don’t see many kids walking around with Margaret Thatcher T-shirts,” he observes.

I rarely agree with communists, but it is sad that kids are more likely to idolize Guevara than a great leader like Margaret Thatcher.

By the way, my disdain for Che and the Cuban dictatorship does not mean I support a trade embargo by the United States.

Such a policy may have been appropriate when the Soviet Union still existed and was using Cuba as a proxy regime. But that’s no longer the case.

Yes, the current regime in Cuba is still deplorable. It impoverishes and oppresses its own people. But that description applies to a lot of nations that have normal economic relations with the United States. If we allow trade and travel with China, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, the same should be true for Cuba.

The bottom line is that we can have economic relations with unsavory nations. Even with nations that produce evil people like Che Guevara.

P.S. Returning to the topic of Che Guevara fanboys, don’t forget the cynical actions of Mercedes-Benz. But at least the company apologized.

P.P.S. If you want to understand the economic impact of communism, consider the astounding fact that Cuba and Hong Kong had similar living standards in the late 1950s.

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The United Nations has proposed a set of “sustainable development goals.” Most of them seem unobjectionable. After all, presumably everyone wants things such as less poverty, a cleaner environment, better education, and more growth, right?

That being said, I’m instinctively skeptical about the goal of “climate action” because of the U.N.’s past support for statist policies in that area.

And I also wonder why the bureaucrats picked “reduced inequalities” when “upward mobility for the poor” is a much better goal.

While I am tempted to nit-pick about some of the other goals as well, I’m actually more worried about how the U.N. thinks the goals should be achieved.

I participated in a U.N. conference in early April and almost every bureaucrat and government representative asserted that higher tax burdens were necessary to achieve the goals. It truly was a triumph of ideology over evidence.

And some of the cheerleaders for this initiative have a very extreme view on these issues. Consider a new report, issued by Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, that ranks nations based on how successful they are at achieving the sustainable development goals. Jeffrey Sachs was the lead author, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to discover that there are some very odd results.

Bernie Sanders will be naively happy since the Nordic nations dominate the top of the rankings. The United States is #42, by contrast, sandwiched between Argentina and Armenia. Moreover, the United States is behind countries such as Hungary, Belarus, Portugal, Moldova, Greece, and Ukraine, which seems strange because Americans enjoy significantly higher levels of consumption – even when compared to other rich jurisdictions.

But the most absurd feature – at least for anyone with the slightest familiarity with international economic data – is that Cuba (circled in green) is ranked considerably above the United States (circled in red).

This is a jaw-droppingly stupid assertion. Cuba is a staggeringly impoverished nation thanks to an oppressive communist dictatorship.

So how can Sachs and his colleagues produce a report putting that country well above a rich nation like the United States?

Let’s look at some of the data. Here’s the summary of Cuba from the report. Pay particular attention to the circle on the right. If the blue bars extend to the outer edge, that means the country supposedly is doing a very good job achieving a goal, whereas a small blue bar indicates poor performance.

And here is the same information for the United States.

It appears that Cuba does much better for poverty (#1), responsible consumption (#12), climate action (#13), life on land (#15), and partnership (#17), while the United States while the United State does much better for industry, innovation, and infrastructure (#9).

But here’s an easier and more precise way of comparing the two nations. All you need to know is that green is the best, yellow is second best, followed by burnt orange, and red is the worst.

Cuba wins in nine categories and the United States is ranked higher in three categories.

Now here’s why most of these rankings are total nonsense. If you go to page 51 of the report, you’ll see the actual variables that are used to produce the scores for the 17 U.N. goals.

And what do you find? Well, here are some things that caught my eye.

  • For the first goal of “no poverty,” the report includes a measure of income distribution rather than poverty. This is same dodgy approach that’s been used by the Obama Administration and the OECD, and because almost everyone is Cuba is equally poor, that means it scores much higher than the United States, where everyone is richer, but with varying degrees of wealth. I’m not joking.
  • For the second goal of “zero hunger,” I can’t figure out how they concocted a higher score for Cuba. After all, there’s pervasive food rationing in that hellhole of an island. My best guess is that the United States gets downgraded because the category includes an obesity variable. Having a lot of overweight people may not be a good feature of America, but is it rude for me to point out that a large number of heavy people is the opposite of hunger?
  • Jumping ahead to the fifth goal of “gender equality,” I assume the United States gets a bad score because of the variable for the gender wage gap, even though women in America earn far higher incomes than their unfortunate and impoverished counterparts in Cuba.
  • Regarding the eighth goal of “decent work and economic growth,” it’s not clear how Sachs and his colleagues gave Cuba the best possible score. But I know the final result is preposterous given that the Cuban people are suffering from crippling material deprivation.
  • For the twelfth (“responsible consumption and production”) and thirteenth (“climate action”) goals, it appears that the United States gets a lower score because rich nations consume more energy than poor nations. If this is why Cuba beats the USA (just as they “scored higher” in the so-called Happy Planet Index), then I’m glad America loses that contest.
  • Last but not least, I can’t resist commenting on Cuba getting the best score and the U.S. getting worst score for “partnerships,” which is the seventeenth goal. If you read the fine print, it turns out that nations get better grades if their tax burdens are higher. And countries like the United States get downgraded because they are tax havens and/or they respect financial privacy.

The main takeaway is that Sachs and his colleagues produced a shoddy report based on statist ideology and – in many cases – on dodgy methodology.

Anyone who ranks Cuba above the United States when trying to measure quality of life should be treated like a laughingstock.

The report also ranks the ultra-rich and very successful nation of Singapore at #61, below poor countries such as Uzbekistan and Mexico. Are these people smoking crack? That’s even more absurd than the OECD’s report on Asian taxes, which basically pretended Singapore didn’t exist.

Heck the report also has dysfunctional Venezuela ahead of Panama, even though tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to Panama to escape their poorly governed nation. But I guess real-world evidence doesn’t matter to people trying to promote statism.

P.S. I got to tangle with Jeffrey Sachs at a United Nations conference on the state of the world economy back in 2012. Nothing has changed.

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