Cuba is sometimes idealized as a successful counter model to capitalism. This month, however, the University of Chicago’s NORC released a study about the opinions of Cuba’s population. The findings of the poll were clear: Cubans want capitalism.
The Cuban people are ready and willing to improve their lives, but the government prevents them from doing so.
This kind of information was not previously available because the Cuban government repressed information in and out of the island. As such, the study, based on in-person interviews with 840 randomly chosen adults, gives a rare glimpse into the sentiments of Cubans about the system under which they live.
Cubans on Cuba
65 percent of interviewees said they want to privatize more businesses and decentralize the economy. 68 percent see competition as a positive way to promote ideas and as a motivator to work hard. Many Cubans have an entrepreneurial mindset with 56 percent of the people planning to start a business in the next 5 years. To compare, 57 percent of Americans plan to become entrepreneurs. The Cuban people are ready and willing to improve their lives, but the government prevents them from doing so.
Further, only 13 percent of the population thinks the Cuban economy is doing well. GDP shrunk by almost one percent last year. Venezuela, one of Cuba’s main benefactors, had to reduce its oil deliveries by 60 percent due to their own economic crisis, which has had a heavy impact on Cuba’s GDP.
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With the death of Fidel Castro, many are wondering what the future holds for Cuba. Could the island nation finally free itself from the chains of communism with the Dear Leader finally dead? A recent trip I took to Vietnam gives me hope for Cuba’s successful transition to a market economy.
In all likelihood, an economic sea change isn’t likely to sweep the Caribbean country immediately. Nevertheless, Cuba has taken some positive steps towards a market economy in recent years. In 2011, President Raul Castro legalized private property, allowing citizens to buy and sell their homes and farmers to cultivate a portion of their land for profit. This year brought even more optimistic changes, with many United States embargo restrictions on travel and trade lifted, facilitating the freer flow of goods and services.
Historically speaking, Cuba is likely to join most other so-called “communist” countries still standing today by embracing more capitalist reforms. While China, Laos and Vietnam are all red in theory, in practice the three Asian countries have enjoyed some of the fastest economic growth in recent decades because of free market reforms. North Korea is arguably the last true communist holdout, with the state completely owning the means of production to disastrous results.
This odd juxtaposition of communist ideology with capitalist practice was on full display when I visited Vietnam in November. The monuments and museums are still filled with propaganda. Nearly every mention of the Vietnam War is presented in black and white, as “imperialists” versus “patriots.” Granted, that time period wasn’t exactly the brightest for American foreign policy, but the communist recollection is so biased to the point of humor. While strolling through Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum, for example, I couldn’t help but laugh at a panel claiming to show a photograph of South Vietnamese soldiers “drinking blood and swearing to destroy the communists.”
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In light of Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, here’s a humble suggestion. Obama should create a charter city in Guantanamo Bay. A charter city would accomplish two of Obama’s goals. First, it would show Cubans the power of capitalism, improving the lives of those who move to the city. Second, it would provide a pretext for closing the Guantanamo naval base, long a stain on America’s human rights record.
Charter cities are the brainchild of Paul Romer. The idea is to import good institutions like the rule of law, private property, and economic freedom, into countries which currently lack them. A charter is created between the host country, Cuba in this case, and a developed country, America. The charter allows the use of American laws and regulations, which are more conducive to economic development than Cuba’s.
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Bernie Sanders’ success is remarkable. He may be behind in delegates, but he remains competitive in a two-horse primary race, despite being an avowed socialist who has made denouncing capitalism central to his campaign.
In the last Democratic Party debate, Sanders even refused to disavow the Castro regime in Cuba, after video surfaced of a younger Sanders praising Cuba’s “revolution of values,” and how the Cuban people were working for the common good, rather than just themselves.
Sanders does not favor political oppression, but he clearly prefers Cuba’s collectivist approach over the greed he thinks comes from competitive markets.
He may be surprised to learn that, far from creating selfishness, markets actually promote kindness and a respect for the lives of our fellow man.
Read the rest on FEE, here.
After more than a decade of state-centric policies, markets may finally be back in Latin America. Voters in the recent Argentinian election offered a stiff rebuke to advocates of big-government Peronist policies, opting for the economically conservative candidate, Mauricio Macri, as their next president.
The United States could take a lesson from the experiences of our friends to the south, as we enter our next election cycle.
For a large portion of the 20th century, the countries of Latin America devoted themselves to state-centric economic policies. Centered on high protectionist measures, en-masse unionization, and the nationalization of many key industries. These policies led to quick industrialization and growth in the short term, while driving the country down the road to serfdom in the long term.
In Argentina, it was the regime of Juan Domingo Peron that took this approach. That is, until the 1980s hit, when the massive debt, necessitated by an economy that failed to export at a competitive level, and rising interest rates in the U.S., dramatically impacted the borrowing capabilities of many Latin American countries. In the face of chaos, and a new wave of classical-liberal thought, Argentina and many other Latin American countries overhauled their systems with pro-market reforms.
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