Beating back homo sovieticus in Cuba

Ever since Fidel Castro handed over the official reins of power to his (not that much) younger brother Raul, pundits and editorial writers have taken to speculating on which way Raul will take Cuba with an enthusiasm worthy of Miami’s Calle Ocho. But whether Raul opts for a Chinese-style opening or a Myanmar-style crackdown, he may have a tough time getting any Cubans to do…well, much of anything, absent wholesale liberalization.

As The Miami Herald reports, the Castro regime’s half-century of banning most economic activity has succeeded in killing all incentives to work and produce. For many Cubans, the employment options open to them are simply not worth the effort.

Decades of measly salaries and vast government subsidies have kept many young people off the labor rolls because it’s more lucrative to hustle on the street. Others live comfortably enough off remittances from Miami and elsewhere.

Loraicys passes on neighborhood janitor positions in hopes of higher-paying work at nearby resort hotels, where she also would have a chance of earning tips in dollars.

”I am not going to tell you something different: there are jobs here in Cárdenas where I live. Doing what? Cleaning hospitals for 150 pesos ($7) a month,” said Loraicys, a single mom. “For 150 pesos, I would rather stay home with my kid. I am willing to work really hard, but not for nothing in return.”

This is depressing, and bodes ill for Cuba’s future prosperity after both Castros are gone. But there is hope in that homo sovieticus may not be as triumphant as appearances first indicate. Seeing the economic activity they need to improve their lot driven underground, many Cubans have chosen to follow it there.

”In their work life, Cubans have two approaches to labor. In the state sector, for many, their attitude is: `they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work,”’ said Archibald Ritter, who teaches about the Cuban economy at Carleton University in Canada. “Yet they will even pay to get jobs where it’s possible to get bribes or steal. Lots of Cubans work hard. They work very hard at quasi-legal, unofficial activities.”

Ritter said the government has to create opportunities for more people to run private businesses and have clear incentives to produce and earn more coveted CUCs.

”For decades, Cuba tried to create the new socialist man, and what they created instead was a nation of entrepreneurs,” he said.

Here’s hoping Professor Ritter is right about Cuban entrepreneurship. Judging from how Cubans in Florida have prospered, I would venture to say he is. However, rule of law will be much more difficult to implement.