Arnold Kling  

Look at Cuba

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Michael Stastny writes,


Cubans don't have access to "world news" (no foreign newspapers, no internet, no satellite dishes), so the people I talked with were actually quite happy with their situation ("We don't earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!" (translation mine)) and couldn't see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard

He took pictures. Go have a look.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen, who has traveled extensively in Latin America, is quite eloquent on this topic.


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/802
The author at The Volokh Conspiracy in a related article titled Do Cubans Know How Badly Off They Are? writes:

    Economist/blogger Michael Stastny has recently returned from a trip to Havana, Cuba, where he was surprised by the extent of the "misery and decay" that he found (hat t...

    [Tracked on February 25, 2008 1:51 AM]
COMMENTS (13 to date)
Fazal Majid writes:

It's hard to use Cuba as a test for anything without controlling for the impact of 40 years of economic sanctions, except if you use the even worse basket case that is Haiti.

Adam Ruth writes:

How much impact would economic sanctions from one country have? I'm certain there is some impact, but I can't see it being much when there are no sanctions from every other nation on earth.

manuelg writes:

> Cubans don't have access to "world news"

The same Cuba that has 11 millions citizens, but that takes in over a million and a half foreign tourists every year?

Let me guess. I can't handle the truth...

Boonton writes:

It's hard to use Cuba as a test for anything without controlling for the impact of 40 years of economic sanctions, except if you use the even worse basket case that is Haiti.

There was an old economists' joke, I think I remember Paul Krugman cited it. In communist economics there's no easy way to set the terms of trade between nations. In other words, if Poland makes 100 tractors and the USSR tons of vodka, how many tractors should Poland have to give for one ton of vodka? See since there's no market how do you set the prices?

Well what the Soviet bloc did was use the market prices that prevailed in Western economies. So one day a Western economist asked a Soviet one what they would do one day when the world revolution came and there was no capitalist countries. He replied that they would keep one country capitalist just for the purpose of getting prices!

The embargo has been counter-productive because it has given the regime in Cuba a scapegoat for their own economic failures. Plenty of countries with half-assed market economies (Iraq, Iran etc.) have done reasonably well even when the rest of the world was supposedly punishing them with sanctions and embargos. Why can't the Cuban economy do the same?

Unlike, say, Iran, the embargo has helped the regime stay in power by isolating the population's access to information.

Floccina writes:

("We don't earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!" (translation mine))

If you put it that way looks to me like free education and healthcare are very costly.

Ajay writes:

Ha ha, that's hilarious, Boonton. :)

TGGP writes:

Unlike, say, Iran, the embargo has helped the regime stay in power by isolating the population's access to information.
You do realize the regime in Iran is still in power after all these years? What reason do you have to believe the embargo is working in the case of Iran?

Sorge L. Diaz writes:

I didn't have the impression that they were afraid to speak openly).

Oh, the naivette. Of course they are afraid to speak openly. They don't know whether the person walking by is secret police. Geez. The people were giving him the Party line; "free education! free healthcare!" to avoid becoming targets.

(I'm Cuban; the overconfidence of tourists who visit Cuba is a constant source of annoyance.)

Sorge L. Diaz writes:

Mr. Majid;

In 1970, the price of sugar in the world market was higher than usual. Fidel Castro decided a heroic effort to produce 10 million of metric tons of sugar. The effort fell short, but, in a desperate attempt to plant sugar, things like mamey fruit trees (which take years to develop) were torn down.

That was the fault of the embargo, I'm sure of it.

Sorge L. Diaz writes:

The embargo has been counter-productive because it has given the regime in Cuba a scapegoat for their own economic failures.

Who exactly believes this excuse? Cubans may be smelly, since soap, toothpaste and deodorant are so hard to come by. But Cubans are not stupid.

and couldn't see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard

Why would this be surprising? Heck, the average European doesn't understand how immensely wealthier the average American is compared to him, and conversely, the average American doesn't understand how much poorer the average European is compared to him. This despite the fact that both get all the media they want.

Thus we get the average American liberal who lives in his suburban home that is palatial by European standards and owns a car for every member of the family old enough to drive, yet believes that his own life would not change in any way if America became economically like Europe.

Erica 920198148 writes:

Free education and health care sound wonderful (especially if you are an uninsured American, like many are), but you have to take a moment and take into consideration the cost Cubans forego to have this free education and health care. I would much rather pay for my education and health care, have the freedom to access world news, and live freely. I don't think that many Cubans would be so content with their situation if they had experienced life in America as we know it. As far as I am concerned they can keep their "free" education and healthcare because they are paying a much higher price (not necessarily monetary) than I have ever paid for my education or healthcare.

Boonton writes:

Sorge L. Diaz

Who exactly believes this excuse? Cubans may be smelly, since soap, toothpaste and deodorant are so hard to come by. But Cubans are not stupid.

I hope Cubans do know the truth, then again I was listening to NPR a few days ago and the commentator mentioned the news was published in the state newspaper but only online, not in the print version. He casually mentioned that almost no one in Cuba is allowed to have a home internet connection and sat. dishes are not to be seen all over. That is in stark contrast to, say, Iran where a somewhat more free culture can exist underneath state censorship.

Eitherway, I don't see how the embargo can be described as anything other than a failure. That additional restrictions that the US put in place keeping US Cubans from visiting their relatives or sending money as much as they would like are likewise counter productive. That is the networking that needs to take place for Cubans to create a viable alternative to the current regime.

Erica
Free education and health care sound wonderful (especially if you are an uninsured American, like many are), but you have to take a moment and take into consideration the cost Cubans forego to have this free education and health care. I would much rather pay for my education and health care, have the freedom to access world news, and live freely.

I don't think it's correct to depict this as an either or situation. Cuba is not unfree because they have health care and education. Cuba is unfree because the Castros will not entertain any risk to their power.

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