When Will They Ever Learn?

Socialism is, by a very wide margin, the worst disaster in the history of the human race. Nothing else comes close. It always fails, and it always brings death-dealing totalitarianism in its wake. Socialism is, in essence, rule by a criminal gang. It generally works for members of the gang, but it never works for anyone else.

Given socialism’s history of universal and comprehensive failure, why does the idea still have allure for so many Westerners who have not experienced it? This remains, in my view, a great mystery, unless one assumes that there are lots of people who envision themselves as part of the ruling gang. Seen from that perspective, maybe socialism looks OK.

In City Journal, Michael Totten reports on his visit to “The Last Communist City,” Havana. Cuba has the fascination of a train wreck. Among the country’s most striking features is its rigid caste system. Members of the ruling elite–the criminal gang, i.e. the Communist Party–live in a semi-capitalist bubble and are able to enjoy not just power, but relatively luxurious living conditions. Everyone else bears the full brunt of socialism, and is mired in want and misery:

Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of [Havana] looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins. …

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Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed it—and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few. . . . Cuban society was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.” In 1958, Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe. …
Communism destroyed Cuba’s prosperity, but the country experienced unprecedented pain and deprivation when Moscow cut off its subsidies after the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalist and 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. . . . Worm dung was the only fertilizer.” He quotes a nurse who tells him that Cubans “used to make hamburgers out of grapefruit rinds and banana peels; we cleaned with lime and bitter orange and used the black powder in batteries for hair dye and makeup.” “It was a haunting time,” Frank wrote, “that still sends shivers down Cubans’ collective spines.”

In Cuba, they don’t have a minimum wage: they have a maximum wage. The stupidity of their economic model can hardly be imagined:

In the United States, we have 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 inside the quasi-capitalist bubble don’t get paid more. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract, Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only after pocketing most of the money. I asked several Cubans in my hotel if that arrangement is really true. All confirmed that it is. The workers don’t get $8–$10 an hour; they get 67 cents a day—a child’s allowance.

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 expend extraordinary manpower ensuring that everyone required to live miserably at the bottom actually does live miserably at the bottom. Dissident blogger and author Yoani Sánchez describes the harassment sarcastically 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.”

You want a war on women? Women in Cuba often turn to prostitution in order to obtain basic necessities like food.

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Pro-Castro leftists in the U.S have long touted Cuba’s “free” medical care. But the quality of the free care is equal to that of the free housing:

As for the 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 illegal black market, moreover, and must be paid for in hard currency—and sometimes they’re not available at all. Cuba has sent so many doctors abroad—especially to Venezuela, in exchange for oil—that the island is now facing a personnel shortage. “I don’t want to say there are no doctors left,” says an American man who married a Cuban woman and has been back dozens of times, “but the island is now almost empty. I saw a banner once, hanging from somebody’s balcony, that said, DO I NEED TO GO TO VENEZUELA FOR MY HEADACHE?”

This is the sad state to which non-elite Cubans have been reduced:

Even things as simple as cooking oil and soap are black-market goods. Individuals who, by some illegal means or another, manage to acquire such desirables will stand on street corners and whisper “cooking oil” or “sugar” to passersby, and then sell the product on the sly out of their living room.

The privileged live within a different economy from that of the poor masses, with a different currency:

Cuba has two economies now: the national Communist economy for the majority; and a quasi-capitalist one for foreigners and the elite. Each has its own currency: the Communist economy uses the Cuban peso, and the capitalist bubble uses the convertible peso. Cuban pesos are worth nothing. They can’t be converted to dollars or euros. Foreigners can’t even spend them in Cuba. The convertible pesos are pegged to the U.S. dollar, but banks and hotels pay only 87 Cuban cents for each one—the government takes 13 percent off the top. …

Castro created the convertible peso mainly to seal off Cuba’s little capitalist bubble from the ragged majority in the Communist economy.

It is hard to imagine that there could be any other country in the world more corrupt than Cuba. But that’s what happens when you put socialist criminals in charge for 50 years. Totten notes Cuba’s rare distinction:

Cuba isn’t a developing country; it’s a once-developed country destroyed by its own government.

That’s the inevitable consequence of socialism. When will they–the liberals–ever learn? Never, apparently. And don’t think it can’t happen here. Socialism’s effects are always and everywhere the same.

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