If you've ever met one you know Leftists, socialists, "progressives"--and most Democrats--are practically giddy about the wonders of communism or socialism or whatever the latest camouflage term is.
Not only do they think socialism is wonderful...they think it works.
Take, for example, Venezuela--which once had the highest per-capita income in Latin America. Then the morons heard the siren song of the socialist Chavez: Hope and change! Free phones! Free housing! Free university education!
And they bought it.
Now that they have it, how have things worked out?
Shortages of everything. Government troops beating peaceful protesters in the streets. But hey, it's all good, eh? Because...socialism! Viva la revolucion!
"But...but...but..." (Leftists sputter a lot when they're fighting cognitive dissonance) "Venezuela is an exception!
Socialism actually works reeally well! Look at Cuba, for example! Free health care! Virtually no crime!"
Michael J. Totten is a gifted writer who recently visited Cuba to see for himself if the Left's glowing tales of communism's success in Cuba were true. He wrote of his trip in "The Last Communist City" in City Journal,
and it's well worth a read. Highlights:
He was appalled by the economic misery endured by the average Cuban.
Many American tourists return home convinced that the Cuban model succeeds, but that’s because they only see the tourist areas and don't get out on the "real" economy.
Outside Havana's tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina: Roofs have collapsed, walls are splitting apart, window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished--a luxury no one can afford. Most people struggle to eke out a life in the ruins.
1958, Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe. And the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. Cuban society
was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.”
But then in 1958 Fidel Castro and his psychotic comrade Che Guevara overthrew the government and took power. Now Marxists have ruled Cuba for more than a half-century. They promised liberal democracy, but after Castro was secure in absolute power the wraps came off and they instituted full-fledged communism. The objectives were--ostensibly--total equality and the abolition of money; the methods were total surveillance and political prisons. The state slogan, then and now, is “socialism or death.”
But in a totally shocking and unexpected
turn of events, the result was not prosperity but total economic collapse.
Longtime Cuba resident Mark Frank writes vividly about this period in his book Cuban Revelations
. “The lights were off more than they were on, and so too was the water. . . . Food was scarce and other consumer goods almost nonexistent. . . . Doctors set broken bones without anesthesia." He quotes a resident saying Cubans “used to make hamburgers out of grapefruit rinds and banana peels; we cleaned with lime and bitter orange.”
Because the Castro regime was the first openly communist one in the western hemisphere, the Soviet Union was eager to make it look like a success--and was willing to give Cuba billions of dollars worth of...virtually everything each year to achieve that appearance. While it's hard to confirm the numbers, some economists estimate Soviet gifts accounted for almost a third of Cuba's economy!
When daddy subsidizes a third of your economy it makes horrible policies look a lot better.
But when the Soviet Union broke up these subsidies ended, and the Castro regime had to do something to make up the loss. Castro wasn’t about to change his firmly communist ideology but as more things vanished from shelves and with no "hard" currency he decided to replace the Soviet subsidy with tourists, mostly from Europe and Latin America.
Of course tourists would have to eat, so the regime allowed people to open restaurants in private homes—though no one outside the family could work in them. (That would be “exploitative.”) Another profit center was government-run stores that sold relatively luxurious imported goods to tourists. But for the average Cuban almost nothing changed.
The United States has a minimum wage; Cuba has a maximum
wage—$20 a month for almost every job in the country. (Professionals such as doctors and lawyers can make a whopping $10 extra a month.)
Even employees in the showcase tourist industry don’t get a higher salary. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. In its pitch to win the contract, Meliá told the regime it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The regime happily agreed, so the company ostensibly pays hotel workers $8–$10 an hour. But at the regime's insistence the company doesn't pay its employees directly. Instead it pays the compensation to the government, which pays the workers...the standard 67 cents per day.
In other words, the Castro regime simply pockets most of the $8-$10 per hour that the company pays in wages.
Totten asked several Cubans working at his hotel if that was really true. All confirmed that it was.
Socialist paradise. Absolute equality. For the workers, anyway.
The maximum wage is just the beginning. Not only are most Cubans not allowed to have money; they’re hardly allowed to have things. The police go to great lengths to ensure that the average Cuban--forced to live miserably--actually does so. Dissident author Yoani Sánchez describes the harassment in her book Havana Real
: “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”
he government defends its maximum wage by arguing that necessities are either free or so deeply subsidized in Cuba that citizens don’t need much money. The free and subsidized goods and services, though, are as dismal as everything else on the island. Cuba hardly has any cars, so people wait in lines for up to two hours each way to get on a bus. And commuters must pay for their ride out of their $20 a month wage.
At least local commuter buses are cheap. By contrast, a one-way ticket to the other side of the island costs several months’ pay; a round-trip costs almost a year's salary.
And "free" is useless if goods aren't available. Sánchez describes an astonishing television appearance by Raúl Castro
in which he boasted that the economy was doing so well that every Cuban
could finally have...milk. “To me,” Sánchez wrote, “someone who grew up on a
gulp of orange-peel tea, the news seemed incredible.” And sure enough,
Raúl’s boast that Cubans were finally producing enough milk for everyone was deleted from the official transcript of
the speech in the government-run newspaper. In true Orwellian fashion the regime didn't want a written record of Raul making a statement that every Cuban knew was an outright lie.
And that much-touted "free"
health care? Patients have to bring their own medicine, their own bedsheets, and even their own iodine to the hospital. Most of these items are available only on the black market--if they can be found at all--and must be paid for in hard currency. The Castro regime made a deal to send Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil—and the island now faces a shortage of doctors.
Housing is free, too, but so what? Americans can get houses in abandoned parts of Detroit for only $500—which makes them practically free—but no one wants to live in a crumbling house. Almost everyone in Havana lives in a Detroit-style wreck, with caved-in roofs, peeling paint, and doors hanging on their hinges at odd angles.
Education is free and the country is effectively 100 percent literate, but does it take a totalitarian police state to get virtually 100% literacy? Somehow almost every other country in the Western Hemisphere has managed the same feat, without the brutal repression.
Even such basics as cooking oil, sugar and soap are scarce. People who manage to acquire these stand on street corners and whisper “cooking oil” or “sugar” to passersby, and then sell the product out of their home. If they’re caught, both sellers and buyers will be arrested, of course, but in a dismal economy a lot of people take the risk.
Until a few years ago ordinary Cubans weren’t even allowed to set foot inside tourist hotels or restaurants unless they worked there, lest they see for themselves the luxurious lifestyles of decadent capitalist nations-- like Mexico, Chile and Spain. But a few years ago the regime stopped barring Cubans from tourist hotels and restaurants.
Of course most Cubans can’t afford to go to these places anyway: A restaurant meal in Havana costs an entire month’s salary for the average Cuban. A single bottle of beer at a tourist restaurant costs a week’s salary. A middle-class tourist can easily spend more in one day than most Cubans make in a year. Totten had dinner with four Americans at a tourist restaurant. The only Cubans in the place were the cooks and the waiters. The bill for five was about $100--five months’ salary for Cubans.
Vital as the tourist industry is for the regime, it also poses a problem--because it enables Cubans to see how foreigners live. The only way to prevent this would be to shut down the hotels, and the regime can’t do that because it needs the money. So Cubans working in this industry can't avoid seeing the vast contrast--and that most of the tourists don't seem particularly smarter or more motivated than the average Cuban. No wonder the regime wants to keep foreigners and locals apart.
Tourists tip waiters, taxi drivers, tour guides, and chambermaids in hard currency, and to stave off a revolt from these people the regime lets them keep the money. As a result they’re relatively rich compared to most Cubans. In fact they enjoy elite privileges—enough income to afford a cell phone or go out to a restaurant occasionally—that ordinary Cubans can’t afford. Totten asked a few people how much maids earned in tips: Supposedly they got about $1 per day for each room. If they clean an average of 30 rooms a day and work five days a week, they’d earn $600 a month—a staggering sum in Cuba, 30 times the official maximum monthly wage.
Only in the bizarre economy of a communist country is the cleaning lady richer than the doctor. Yet even these relatively rich Cubans are poor compared to the middle class--or even the poor--outside Cuba.
For example, American Leftists complain about “food deserts” in U.S. cities, where the poor supposedly can't find a nearby store that sells nutritious food. But if they want to see a real
food desert they should come to Havana. Totten writes of going to a hard-currency grocery store across the street from a tourist hotel, where the few Cubans lucky enough to have hard currency could shop to supplement their meager state rations. It sold rice, beans, frozen chicken, milk, bottled water, booze, a little cheese, minuscule amounts of rancid-looking meat, some low-end cookies and chips from Brazil—and that was it
. No produce, cereal, no cans of soup, no pasta. And this was a place for Cuba’s “rich” to shop.
Castro wants the world to compare Cuba to poor third-world countries like Guatemala or Haiti. But Cuba isn’t a developing country; it’s a country that was highly developed just 50 years ago but has been destroyed by its communist government.
Fifty-eight years ago Havana was an elegant, modern city. It should be compared not with Kabul, Guatemala City, or Port-au-Prince but with formerly communist cities like Budapest, Prague, or Berlin. And the comparison is devastating.
On his last night in Cuba Totten dined at the restaurant on the top floor of his luxury tourist hotel. He had his first and only steak on the island, with wine from Chile. The bill was about what he would have paid to have a pizza delivered at home--but more than a month’s wages for ordinary Cubans.
Not surprisingly, he was the only customer in the place.
Labels: Cuba, socialism