July 10, 2017

President Obama established official ties (Embassies and all) with Cuba in 2015.

a year before his term ended. In March 2016 Obama, with his family, visited Havana for two days. He was the first sitting U.S. President to visit since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. President Trump and the GOP-led Congress have not lifted the embargo, and are not likely to do so anytime in the future.

Jane and I also visited Cuba a few years ago when it was illegal to fly there from the US (we flew from Mexico). It was also illegal to spend US dollars in Cuba. (We did spend a few but not a lot.)

Our impressions will no doubt be different from the Obama family. We stayed in friendly citizen’s “bed & breakfast “ rooms for less than $20 a night. The beds were comfortable enough but the showers in the bathrooms left something to be desired. The showers were fitted with a Rube Goldberg type fixture to supply hot water. When we tried to turn it on sparks flew. We decided to stay dirty.

The Obama family of course had more luxurious quarters at the U.S. ambassador’s residence that is half the size of the White House “This is a place that was built to impress. It is one of the grandest diplomatic residences we have anywhere,” says John Caulfield, America’s chief diplomat in Cuba from 2011 to 2014. It sits on a 5-acre site in Havana that once featured a swimming pool and tennis courts. The upper level has four large bedrooms with private baths, among them the presidential suite. Obama, Michelle, their two daughters, and the first lady’s mother will stay there two nights.

Of course the Obamas could have stayed in tourist luxury at the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski where the cheapest room is $440 a night (almost 30 times the monthly pay of any Cuban citizen). They also could have stayed of course in the Presidential Suite at $2,485 a night.

I learned that none of these tourist hotels or residences were built or remodeled by Cuban workers. Foreign craftsmen (mostly from France, Spain, or India) were paid an average of 1500 euros a month by the government to do the work (over thirty times what their Cuban counterparts would have made!).

Which brings up an interesting point about the respective efficiency of free markets and socialism. It also sheds light on the current minimum wage issue. There is a lot of goofing off in Cuba. Every worker in Cuba makes the same salary. When we visited it was the peso equivalent of $16 a month (probably slightly more now) whether you cleaned the floor or operated on a patient’s brain. One of our cab drivers had been a lawyer. He told us that he could make more money in tips than he ever made as a government lawyer. Doctors and other professionals often do the same.

You ask how could anyone survive much less prosper on that small amount of cash? The government gives many freebies.

Education through college and professional school is free. Health care is free. Rent, food, and heat/cooling, and transportation are all heavily subsidized—very close to free. People make do. No one gets rich, except the ruling clergy, but many of them are dedicated socialists so they choose on principle to live on pitifully small cash incomes.

This is not as hard as you might think because there is really not much to buy! The government owns all land, farms, houses, apartments, buildings, offices, and factories so you can’t buy property. There are severe shortages of most consumer goods like coffee, soft drinks, prescription drugs, aspirin, toilet paper, coffee shops, restaurants, cars, refrigerators, watches, TV sets, furniture, etc., etc. The Internet is not available for ordinary citizens. Books, magazines, and newspapers are censored or not available.

The government blames these chronic shortages on the US embargo. This is actually a good reason to abolish the embargo! It would deprive the Castro’s and their communist colleagues of the excuse and force them to confront the obvious fact that their system has failed.

What can we learn from Cuba’s failure?

For starters, we can learn that efficienct diversity, freedom, and creative science and technology are all essential to creating wealth. In fact the very year our nation was founded, an Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith, pointed out they are the way, and really the only way short of theft and imperialist war, for individuals and nations to get richer.

We can also can learn that equality has two faces. Our Declaration of Independence promised one—equal treatment under the law. Equality is good in that sense and very necessary for profits and progress, but government mandating too much equality—of talent, income, and wealth—is usually bad. Bad for all.

For instance, leftists in this country, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are fond of claiming wealth never trickles down. How then can they explain countries that tried to make income and talent equal—like Cuba, North Korea, China under Mao, Venezuela today, and the Soviet bloc en masse yesterday—have all failed miserably? On the other hand, countries that allow, even encourage, diversity in income and talent, like China and India today and European countries in the past, have been successful. Even the poor and less talented have done relatively well.

As for minimum wage it is equally obvious. Why not increase it to $100 an hour or even $1000 an hour?

The answer is obvious—soon you will need a bushel basket of cash to buy toilet paper, aspirin, or an apple, if as in Cuba or North Korea, you can find any for sale!

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President (and sole employee), Hawkhill

P. S. For the minority who want to know more details on my journey through the ideas swamp from devout Catholic to left-liberal clergy to conservative libertarian, I seriously suggest you buy, curl up on the couch, and read slowly—Twilight or Dawn: a Traveler’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy, East Gilman Street, or Bill’s Blogs.

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