Power to the People

by Russ Roberts on September 18, 2006

in Cuba

The Cuban economic miracle leads to some creative homemaking. The Wall Street Journal ($) reports:

As homemaking gurus go, 72-year-old Margarita Gálvez is no Martha Stewart.

Mrs. Gálvez writes articles, churns out recipes and
hosts coffee klatches for the Roman Catholic bishop’s office in the
western Cuban city of Pinar del Rio. But her skillet skills can’t get
too fancy in a socialist economy where monthly meat rations roughly
equal two hamburger patties. Beauty tips must be simple enough for a
country where even soap and hot water are scarce — and where the
average monthly wage is $17.

Because of such obstacles, Mrs. Gálvez may be the only
homemaking authority whose salad-dressing recipe is useful to
hairdressers as well as to cooks.

Mrs. Gálvez’s vinegar topping can serve, in a pinch,
as a hair conditioner. Her advice: save the water used to rinse dried
rice rations and add two spoonfuls of dark sugar. After letting the
mixture marinate for 45 days, you’ll have a vinegary liquid that will
perk up lettuce greens at the dinner table — or add sheen to hair
after shampooing.

This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Elian Gonzalez sure is lucky to be growing up in such a non-materialistic society.

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Mike September 18, 2006 at 3:47 pm

But real socialism has never been given a chance!

… but, but, …

I bet measured inequality is not as bad as it is in the US either. Actually if it mattered anyway we don't know – we are not able to measure it. See here (http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/pdf/HDR05_HDI.pdf).

Randy Yniguez September 19, 2006 at 1:17 am

Makes me wonder what the "poor" in our country are worrying about. How does this not get people fired up to overthrow a government? I don't mean having the US interfere, I mean Cubans revolting? What does it take? Or am I imposing my personal beliefs and values when I ask those questions? I guess when I think about it, it would be easier to proclaim independence if the government wasn't in the same neighborhood. I'm kinda surprised that the Times would print an article like that. I had the notion that the Times was kind of a vehicle for spreading socialistic ideas.

TGGP September 19, 2006 at 11:02 am

Revolt? Castro crushed dissent along time ago and the government still has the power to do so. Revolts are more succesful against less dictatorial governments.

Bruce Hall September 19, 2006 at 7:01 pm

Based on U.S. cost of living, $17 per month means you starve to death in a few weeks.

Oh, but $17 doesn't REALLY mean $17 anymore than $45 per month earnings for a Chinese factory worker means $45. It's a funny money comparison.

Sure, the Cubans have a dirth of wide screen TVs that seem to be the measure of wealth here. But they somehow manage to eat well, dress sufficiently, have shelter, health care (yes, mentioned by Pelkabo), and plenty of those extremely rare and expensive Cuban cigars (which only the very wealthy can obtain in sufficienty quantities in the U.S.). Seems as if they might have a problem with "voting irregularities" NOT occurring, but they are not exactly living like the North Koreans.

Would they be better off if the U.S. did not impose economic hardship on them? Probably. But, hey, they aren't capitalists, so they deserve the bad treatment.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, thousands are leaving the area after losing their jobs and homes. Ah, but the voting machines are working better.

Mcwop September 20, 2006 at 8:39 am

I do not measure our wealth by the size of our televisions. But I do measure our wealth by our freedom to buy a TV, and watch something other than the state news channel.

JM September 20, 2006 at 11:53 am

But they somehow … have … expensive Cuban cigars.

As Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake".

David Gillies September 20, 2006 at 12:09 pm


Sorry for shouting. But Cubans are utterly, stunningly, unbelievably poor. Even with a PPP comparison $17 is peanuts. You can get two, maybe three, growing seasons at these latitudes. Cubans shouldn't be rationed in any basic foodstuff. Why is it that a middle class person in Costa Rica, where I live, has an income 75 times that of the poor benighted Cubans? At these income levels, basic staples such as rice are essentially free, and they sure as hell aren't rationed. Hint: no commies.

Robert Speirs September 20, 2006 at 1:43 pm

Yeah, it's all the fault of the US, because we surrounded Cuba with a wall and never allow any of the OTHER 220 NATIONS IN THE WORLD to trade with the collectivized wretched of the Cuban earth. Gee, it couldn't be that they've mismanaged their wretched economy so they have literally nothing to trade with anyone that anyone wants and nothing left over to feed their people after funding their bloated military just like – yes! – North Korea? Nah.

Lafayette September 22, 2006 at 12:59 am

Randy Yniguez: "But they have free health care!"

Yes, and when compared with the US by the World Health Organization, it was just behind the US in its ranking, at 37th place.

The US at 36 in a list of the quality of "health services"? Unthinkable!

Still, it is sad but true. The WHO study gave greater weight to health care accessibility and not point technology. The US is rich in point-technology health care … if you can afford it. At any given moment, however, between 15 and 20% of the American workforce (which does NOT necessarily mean "Americans") is without health coverage.

Now, that IS intolerable in a country that can spend billions and billions on new weapons systems.

You get what you pay for.

jomama September 22, 2006 at 7:57 am

Making $17 a month but nobody's producing much of anything so there's not much to buy.

Sad…and dead.

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