News of Fidel Castro’s death has generated praise for him from numerous politicians on the left. While Castro has a murderous history, wielded dictatorial powers, and committed many human rights abuses, a record that even those who praise him abhor, it’s the very policies that some leftists praise which are the source of Cuba’s poverty.
For example, in response to news of Castro’s death, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein tweeted “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!” And U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who met with Castro eight times over the years, said that when she learned Castro had died, “I was very sad for the Cuban people. He led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people.”
There is no doubt that Castro has the blood of innocent people on his hands. The Cuba Archive Project, which requires stringent documentation, has verified the deaths of 5,600 people before firing squads and another 1,200 extrajudicial assassinations. Historian R.J. Rummel estimates a much larger 35,000 to 141,000 Cubans who have died at the hands of Castro’s government.
Leftists have often apologized for the brutality of socialist governments by claiming that the ends justify the means. A Stalin apologist reportedly told George Orwell that “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” To which Orwell answered, “Where’s the omelet?”
Castro had more than 50 years to cook the omelet and all he delivered was broken eggs. The problem is that the recipe, socialism, can’t create a meal of economic prosperity.
Socialism requires that the government own the major inputs to production (land, capital, and, at least implicitly, its own citizens’ labor) and to formulate an economy-wide production and distribution plan. But socialist planners cannot know what goods consumers most urgently want and the most economical way to produce them, because they lack the freely formed prices that underlie profit-and-loss calculations in market economies.
Moreover, planning necessarily entails centralizing a great deal of power. People in positions of power often lack any incentive to plan efficiently even if they knew how to do it. Meaningful political freedom is illusory when those in power control the economic livelihood of their citizens, so rulers often plan for their own benefit rather than the benefit of their people. The horrific abuses of power that have occurred under socialism are a feature of the system, not a bug.
Most former socialist countries converted to some form of mixed economy (interventionist capitalism) by the end of the 20th century. Only three socialist countries remain, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea, and they are all disasters because all socialist countries suffer from these severe incentive and information problems.
The failure of Cuban socialism should be apparent to anyone willing to recognize it. Poverty is widespread; transport is abysmal; basic consumer goods are lacking in both quantity and variety, infrastructure is crumbling, and even Cuba’s much praised socialized health care has failed. The health-care system for Cuban elites (the Communist Party, military, official writers, etc.) is what outsiders praise. The one for most Cubans is so bad they have to bring their own bed sheets, soap, towels, food, and toilet paper to the hospitals.
Castro dogmatically stuck to failed socialist policies, while most of the world outside Cuba pragmatically moved towards markets. Even China, where the Communist Party maintains its political control, made major reforms away from socialist planning and toward markets. China’s reforms have allowed nearly a billion people to escape from extreme poverty, while Cuba has remained stagnant.
Castro’s slogan was “Socialism or Death.” His socialism delivered a dead economy. The future of the Cuban people will be much brighter if Castro’s socialist policies go to the grave with him.