An Overview Evaluation of Economic Policy in Cuba circa 2010

By Arch Ritter

The essay attached and summarized briefly here was presented at a conference at CIAPA, in San Jose, Costa Rica, February 3 and 4, 2009 organized by Paolo Spadonu of Tulane University.

The full essay is entitled An Overview Evaluation of Economic Policy in Cuba, circa 2010, June 30, 2010 and can be seen “HERE”. The Introduction and Conclusion are presented below.

Hopefully, this evaluation will change considerably for the better after the Sixth Congress of the Communist party of Cuba in April.

I. Introduction

The economic development of Cuba has been characterized by high levels of investment in people with successful results, but with weak performance in terms of the production of goods and services generally. Cuba’s achievements regarding human development are well known and are epitomized by the United Nations Development Program’s “Human Development Index” (HDI). On the one hand, this index ranks Cuba at #1 in the world for the Education component (somewhat surprisingly) and #31for the Life Expectancy component. On the other hand, Cuba’s world ranking is for GDP per capita in purchasing power parity terms is #94 with an overall world HDI ranking of #51(UNDP, HDR, 2009, 271.) These rankings underline the inconsistency between the Cuba’s high level of human development on the one hand and its economic underperformance on the other. The strong economic performance of the 2004 to 2008 period appeared to constitute a rapid recovery in terms of Cuban GDP statistics. However, this recovery, while perhaps not illusory, was fragile and unsustainable, based on factors such as support from Venezuela and high nickel export prices, and indeed it has been reversed in 2009-2010.

Given the quality of Cuba’s human resources, the economic performance for the last 15 years should have been excellent. The central argument of this essay is that Cuba’s weak economic performance has been the result of counter-productive public policy. The objective of this essay is to analyze and evaluate a number of central policy areas that shape Cuba’s economic performance, including monetary and exchange rate policy, policy towards micro-enterprise; agricultural policy, labor policy, foreign investment policy, policies towards infrastructure renewal, and the policy approach to self-correction and self-renewal.

In order to present a brief overview of the evaluations, an academic style of grading is employed, with an “A+” being excellent through to an “F” representing “failure”.

This evaluation schema is of course subjective, impressionistic and suggestive rather than rigorous. It is based on brief analyses of the various policy areas. However, the schema is similar to the scoring systems widely used in academia, and is used here with no more apology than is normally the case in the academic world.

Before proceeding with the policy analysis and evaluation, a brief overview of economic performance in the decade of the 2000s is presented to provide the context for the examinations of economic policy.

II. General Economic Performance

III.  Evaluation of Some Central Policy Areas

IV.   Summary and Conclusion:

A summary of the evaluations of the various assessment areas yields an overall evaluation of   “D +”. This is not a strong assessment of Cuban economic policies.

1. Monetary & Exchange Rate Policy                  C-

2. Micro-Enterprise Policy                                    F

3. Policy towards Agriculture                              C-

4. Labor Policy                                                        D+

5. Foreign Investment Policy D+

6. Infrastructure Renewal                                   D

7. Capacity for Self Correction                            D

Overall Grade: D +

The result of such weak policies in these areas is weak economic performance. Badly conceived economic policies nullify the potential efforts of the Cuban citizenry. The major investments in human capital, while fine in their own right, are not yielding strong economic performance. Indeed, misguided policies are undermining, sabotaging and wasting the economic energies and initiatives of Cuba’s citizens.

Major policy reforms amounting to a strategic reorientation of Cuban economic management are likely necessary to achieve a sustained economic recovery and future economic trajectory. So far, writing in June 2010, the Government of Raul Castro has made some modest moves, principally in agriculture, as mentioned earlier. Other policy areas such as those relating to micro-enterprise are reported to be under discussion at high levels in the government. On the other hand, the replacement of the reputed pragmatists Carlos Lage, (Secretary of the Council of Ministers) and Jose Luis Rodriguez, (Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning) and the replacement of Lage by Major General José Amado Ricardo Guerra of the Armed Forces seems to suggest that the Raul Castro Government may be moving towards a less reformist approach to economic management ( Granma International, 2009.)

The types of policy reforms that would be necessary to strengthen the policy areas discussed above would include the following:

  1. Monetary & Exchange Rate Policy: movement towards realistic and unified monetary and exchange rate systems;
  2. Micro-Enterprise Policy: establishment of an enabling and supportive policy environment rather than a punitive policy of containment;
  3. Policy towards Agriculture: further support for small-scale farmers plus a reinvigoration of the abandoned sugar fields with cane for ethanol, among other policies;
  4. Labor Policy: implement the International Labour Organization approach to fundamental labor rights;
  5. Foreign Investment Policy: establish a clearer and more unequivocal rules-based policy framework;
  6. Infrastructure Renewal: strengthening resource flows towards maintenance, especially for housing, water, and sanitation, and facilitating self-managed and do-it-yourself maintenance on the housing stock by liberalizing the trades and making repair supplies available at reasonable cost;
  7. Capacity for Self Correction: permit an authentic implementation of freedom of expression and freedom of association thereby permitting economic analysis and criticism through a free press and media and the formation of alternate “teams” of potential economic managers – some within political parties.

In sum, effective economic management requires new ideas, transparency and criticism, and, indeed, a major policy reform process in order to reverse the current wastage of human energies, talents and resources. Policy reorientations in the directions noted above are unlikely to be forthcoming from the Government of Raul Castro, which appears to be deeply conservative as well as “gerontocratic”. Cuba will likely have to wait for a “New Team” or more likely a “generational change” in its overall economic management before such major reforms can be implemented.

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