The Sorry Tale Of Cuban Communism
Daniel J. Mitchell – September 06, 2016, 11:25 am
Before communism arrived in Cuba, it was one of the most prosperous
societies of the Americas. Now, its economy and society are both
severely crippled by it.
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
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 liberalisation.
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
summarised 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
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, subsidised 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 subsidised 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 unsubsidised 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 realise 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 liberalisation (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 sympathisers 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.
This piece was originally published on the author’s personal blog and
has been republished here with permission.
Source: The Sorry Tale Of Cuban Communism –