CUBA - A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT
Karl Arnold Belser
16 March 2016
and I just returned from a one-week trip to Cuba, and my
of Cuba and their government has dramatically changed.
I view the Cuban Socialist government as an experiment, like that of a start-up company, that might have solutions to some societal problems that are developing over the entire world. The problems revolve around automation and artificial intelligence eliminating many, maybe half, of all jobs today and that of the wealth inequality that will continue to get worse even though the world economy does not grow. Past history tells us that either government deals with these issues or there will be a war or other calamity that will destroy the machines and make everyone poor but ironically equal. Some of what Cuba has implemented deals directly with these concerns.
What has Cuba done?
Cuba is experimenting with the idea I discussed in my post Minimum Basic Income. The idea has advantages and disadvantages. I will summarize what I know and what might be learned from this social experiment.
In 1961 Cuba initiated an education program that in one year brought the illiteracy rate down from about 25% to about 2 percent. Many literate Cubans worked to achieve this amazing feat. Literacy should have helped the Cuban citizens to educate themselves. However, the restriction of information undermined much of this advantage.
In 1962 Cuba initiated a ration card, which they call a supplies booklet or Libreta. This system has been in effect for more than 50 years. Raul Castro would now like to eliminate this subsidy, but probably cannot because a majority of the population is older and probably could not survive. A Miami Herald story describes the history and what the rations are today. This ration card system is certainly costly, but is it really worse than the food stamp and welfare system that the US has. I don't think so.
Everyone in Cuba has a place to live, although it might be pretty privative. The US has an epidemic of homeless people. It would actually cost the US government less if each of these people had a government subsidized residence.
Cuba has free medical care for everyone. Of course the Cuban doctors do not get paid excessive salaries. In spite of that, Cuba has some of the best doctors in the world.
In the early 1960s Che Guevara arranged a trade agreement between Cuba and Russia. This trade kept the Cuban economy solvent for some 30 years until the fall of the Berlin wall in the late 1980s when Russia cut its subsidy to Cuba. Cuba entered what they call the Special Period which required a major modification of its economy. In 1992 the Cuban government relaxed restriction of property rights and allowed people to start businesses.
The special Period resulted in the average Cuban loosing about 10 pounds and the incidence of some diseases like diabetes and heart disease were dramatically reduced. However, the death rate of older people increased. Also many people left Cuba to move to the US.
The demographics of Cuba is still poor. They have a birth rate of 1.1 child per family, about half of what is necessary to maintain their population. Further many young people are still leaving Cuba for better opportunities elsewhere. The lack of young people may cause Cuba serious problems in supporting the older population. The result will likely be more reforms to make Cuba an immigration destination.
The United States has encouraged the exodus of young people by the Cuban Adjustment Act. This act essentially allows any Cuban to get a green card if he touches US soil. Further the trade embargo with Cuba has made life in Cuba much less affluent than that of the US. The incentive is for the Cuban youth to leave Cuba and come the the US. They can then bring goods and money back to their parents in Cuba where the older people apparently prefer to live.
Three Popes John Paul 1998, Benedict 2012 and Francis 2015 have visited Cuba which has resulted in a freedom of religion. However, a large part of the Cuban population is influenced by African religions such as Santeria. Cuba seems to have solid moral underpinnings.
Lastly, Cuba has strict control of accumulated wealth. world peace will in my opinion ultimately require some limitation on wealth as i describe in my post Limiting Wealth Accumulation.
Cuba is apparently adapting to the changes it is experiencing. Even though the standard of living is relatively low, the quality of life is reasonable.
I personally think that the United States might benefit from the Cuban experience. The US is, in my opinion, mismanaging much of the public economy. I don't know if the US will ever change in the way Cuba has done, but I now know that it is possible.
Last updated March 23, 2016
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