Monday, January 15, 2007

Cuba: public opinion and economy

Via Marc Cooper an interesting Cuban public opinion poll summarized as:
About three-quarters are positive about their country's education and healthcare systems but only one quarter say they are happy with "their freedom to choose what to do with their life." Cubans are also divided about the communist state that has ruled the island nation for nearly five decades. A little less than half (47%) say they approve of their government and 40 percent say they disapprove. Approval is highest among those aged 55 to 59 (61%) and lowest among young adults aged 25 to 29 (38%).
A rebadged Communist party might have a chance under democratic elections on this basis, but I suspect the leading circles of the Party are so bemused by their foreign cheer squad that they cannot plan for the future, even although support for the regime will continue to decline. It also shows that the survival of Cuban Communism has rested on its social achievements, there is a tacit pact between the people and the government. At best one can characterise the motives of the Cuban leadership as, in the words of Chris Harman:
Castro’s regime over the last 47 years has amounted to a dictatorship by a group who think they understand what the mass of Cuban people really need—a variety of modern ‘enlightened despots’.
Yet as Harman notes the economic growth record of Cuban Communism is abysmal. He cites evidence from a 2005 article by Frank Thompson in the Review of Radical Political Economics. As the graph from this article shows Cuban per capita GDP is not much above its 1950(!) level , from a Marxist perspective the superiority of socialism did not lie in its ability to share misery more equally, Cuban socialism failed this test long ago. What if the limited but real achievements of the Castro regime in social policy had been combined with reasonable growth rates, then Cuba could have been a real model.

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