Sketch For A Debate On Inequality / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Social differences (Photo Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Social differences (Photo Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

Regina Coyula, Havana, 5 September 2015 — The distinguished researcher Pedro Monreal in his interesting work Social Inequality In Cuba, Triumphal March? which I recommend reading, notes that there is no scientific evidence to support that economic decentralization brings inequality. The inequalities are not the result of economic adjustments implemented in recent years. They are older; only now they are more, greater and more visible. While I do not have a scientific formula, observation of the environment allows one to also diagnose with sufficient empirical logic that Cuban society is experiencing rising inequality.

Economic policy has served to widen the gap between different income levels, more evident since the expansion of self-employment. Previous policies, in their intent to reduce this gap, had the dubious achievement of making a clean sweep downwards, that is, impoverishment. Improvisation and voluntarism still have their day and have been a constant which economists and planners have had to deal with.

Privileging the term social justice rather than the equality offers better perspectives

The full social equality, liberty and dignity that so many talk about, are relative concepts in our society; the so-called “circumstantial necessity” of inequality seems much more permanent; social equality rests in equality of opportunities, but not of possibilities. To privilege the term “social justice” before that of equality offers better perspectives.

If I understood the Palma coefficient correctly as an indicator of the degree of inequality comparing the richest 10% of society and the poorest 40%; in the study of the statistics a comparative analysis with similar strata of society before the economic crisis of the ‘90s and before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 cannot be omitted.

Beyond production and productivity, a source of income that has nothing to do with work is remittances—money sent from family or friends abroad. Any citizen who receives just 100 CUC a month lives notably better than the immense majority of Cubans. Nor should we forget the point that remittances are received mostly by residents of the capital and by white people, and the terms of this paragraph are very important when speaking of inequality.

Let passion blind no one: mismanagement of the economy has been the responsibility of the socialist government, no matter how many attacks, “blockades” and “media campaigns against Cuba” have been generated from the exterior. It is not enough to have guaranteed health care, education and social security prior to our hitting bottom in the crisis of the ‘90s, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

The disappearance of Soviet subsidies exposed the vulnerability and the ineffectiveness of the domestic economy; not only had the national project that would bring welfare and justice not been achieved, but along the way, the social cost meant a loss of freedoms, moral and material impoverishment, and massive emigration. This is not the idea of a successful naitonal project.

Policy changes often create expectations that end up being disappointed

Monreal discusses the overlap between the political analysis of inequality and economic analysis. Like the academic adventure itself, policy changes often create expectations that end up being disappointed. I believe that this element, which refers directly to a criticism of the government, is intended to avoid leaving the analysis in the field of the economists.

To mention the Battle of Ideas* strikes a dissonant tone in a study of inequality, because that effort absorbed substantial economic resources for an exclusively political objective. These unknown and difficult to measure figures impede the calculation of a cost-benefit balance, but I have not the least doubt that those resources would have been much better employed had they been used for the construction and repair of houses, for one example.

It will be very hard for the socialist vision to see the workers happy to offer their skins for tanning – according to the Marxist allegory cited by Monreal – if in that way they can finish the month without “production failures” or “diversion of resources.”

This will happen with the coming of foreign businesses paying poverty-level wages, relative to their countries of origin, but yet much higher than current Cuban wages. This is what happened in Vietnam and China, now “revisionists” (a word now fallen into oblivion but so in vogue in the sixties and seventies of the last century) with respect to Marxist theory.

Without proof, I say this more as an observation and common sense, my impression is that Cubans are not entirely satisfied with the maxim “better the known evil”… and feel inclined to take risks and test their strengths in the vagaries of an open economy, and perhaps in this way, feel themselves to be less unequal.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro coined the term “Battle of Ideas” during the custody battle over the Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old lone survivor of a group of Cuban rafters, rescued off the coast of Florida in 2008.