Venezuela in social and economic collapse provides a contemporary case study of where socialism takes a country, but one too easily dismissed as a special case of gross mismanagement.
A recent visit to the region has reminded this tourist that Cuba’s experience has much to offer as an antidote to the affection for socialism increasingly evident in advanced western democracies, particularly among younger people.
The practice of socialism in Cuba dates back almost 60 years and includes not just the web of social benefits and ‘free’ public goods that are the hallmark of what is called socialism in many western democracies, but also public ownership and control of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy.
Cuba has become a tourist hot-spot, with its blend of cultures from almost four centuries as a Spanish colony and liberal injections of African slave labour. It also offers a frozen-in-time 1950s authenticity reflecting a lack of economic development and the absence of American fast-food chains.
But Cuba is also home to 11 million people, most of whom have no realistic chance of leaving if they don’t like it. What is charming and authentic to the tourist is underdevelopment, dilapidation, bare shelves in austere stores and a generally low standard of living for Cubans themselves.
The visitor encounters few expressions of discontent, but can’t help wondering what sentiment lurks just below the surface. The more Cubans know about the world outside, the more they must realise what the visitor sees—– that their country remains in the horse and cart era (literally) and is so much less than it could be for its citizens.
Che Guevara played a pivotal role in the Cuban revolution and enjoys such hero status that a profile of his face — a huge version of the one seen on t-shirts — is displayed on the front of a building towering over Havana’s Revolution Square. Guevara is also something of a cult figure in the west — a symbol of rebellion and an icon of the left — particularly among young people.
If only Guevara’s fan club could join the dots between the ideology he promoted and helped put into practice in Cuba from 1959, the lack of political and economic freedom the people suffer, economic under-development and the palpably low standard of living. This is not to say Cuba’s pre-Castro government was a model — far from it — but there is a better road than the one Cuba has travelled since 1959.
Cuba provides a case study in where Hayek’s road to serfdom leads. It is a counter to the anti-market, anti-business, pro-redistribution ideas now gaining ground in the west.
Robert Carling is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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