As if to unintentionally discredit the phrase "income inequality" as a meaningful indicator of human regress, The New York Times today has a remarkable article lamenting that "As Cuba Shifts Toward Capitalism, Inequality Grows More Visible." Here's a taste:
As Cuba opens the door wider to private enterprise, the gap between the haves and have-nots — and between whites and blacks — that the revolution sought to diminish is growing more evident. […]
Raising the [U.S.] remittance cap, along with allowing more Americans to visit Cuba and other steps toward normal diplomatic relations, will help "support the Cuban people," the Obama administration contends.
But some will enjoy that support more than others. Cuban economists say that whites are 2.5 times more likely than blacks to receive remittances, leaving many in crumbling neighborhoods like Little Swamp nearly invisible in the rise of commerce, especially the restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts that tourists tend to favor.
"Remittances have produced new forms of inequality, particularly racial inequality," said Alejandro de la Fuente, director of the AfroLatin American Research Institute at Harvard University.
Bolding mine, to highlight the vacuousness.
There are two main points, absent from this article, to be made about Castro-era inequality (that is, the inequality that existed long before this year, or this decade). One is that while, yes, the earnings gap within the majority of the population is smaller than that in most capitalist countries, THAT'S BECAUSE ALMOST EVERYONE IS POOR. Why, some might even say that those two facts are related!
If your goal is equality of opportunity, enforced equality of outcome is your enemy, because the kinds of strictures the state must place upon human freedom in order to produce that outcome will strangle productive economic activity. As the old saying goes, under communism, everyone has a job, and no one works. The conditions of poverty described in the article—the "crumbling neighborhoods," the miserable goods available via ration cards, barely livable state wages, jury-rigged electrical wiring and vulnerability to flooding—all of this is a failure of applied communist economics. Which is, let us never stop reminding ourselves, an economics based (in theory anyway) on reducing inequality.
Which brings us to point number two about Castroite/communist unequalness. There is no equivalent inequality in the democratic west than the inequality between a dictatorship's nomenklatura and its captive citizens. All animals are equal under communism, but some animals are more equal than others. The ones that are more equal can travel abroad, shop at stores with actual goods using salaries of actual money, and live mostly free from fear of the omnipresent Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. The less equal can have their entire families barred—not by lack of income, but through direct government order—from good schools and good jobs. They can only dream of owning such extravagances as refrigerators, cannot place an international phone call, do not dare speak freely, and cannot leave the island without escaping, just like a prisoner. Which is what they are.
Want to see some truly stomach-churning inequality? Go visit The DDR Museum sometime, and compare the sections about ordinary East German lives and those of their dungeon masters. The single most potent weapon against Cuban inequality is not somehow blocking U.S. remittances, or forcibly funneling them through Castro's benevolent equalizers, but to dismantle the Cuban police state.
From the Reason TV archives: Michael C. Moynihan, on the politics of Cuba travel guides: