Tag Archives: Economic Prospects

CUBAN DEMOGRAPHY AND ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES

Humberto Barreto

ASCE Conference Proceedings, 2018

Complete Article: Cuban Demography

INTRODUCTION

Cuba is facing a demographic storm that will stress its economy and society: its large baby boom generation is reaching retirement age and fertility is extremely low. While this is not an original observation (Hollerbach, 1980; Díaz-Briquets, 2015 and 2016), this paper uses single-year age-distribution data to show the seriousness of the situation. Unlike previous work (including that at the Cuban government’s Oficina Nacional de Estadística e Información (ONEI), www.one.cu), which focuses on total population change and other aggregates, this paper presents and analyzes the movement of the entire age-distribution over time. Thus, the data display methods adopted in this paper more dramatically show the demographic challenges facing Cuba.

The economic impact of an aging population is usually presented in terms of resources needed for health care and social services. The old age dependency ratio (the fraction of adults over 65 years old) conveys the idea that society must find a way to pay for care of the elderly. While important, this understates the effect of population aging and misses a mechanism through which it influences the economy. A much more serious challenge for an economy than taking care of the aged revolves around the attitudes and expectations of a society dominated by old people. The old are more pessimistic, conservative, and short-run oriented than the young.

While Keynes (1936, Ch 12:VII) highlighted animal spirits, “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction,” as a driver of fluctuations in a market economy, economists have little to say about the effect of expectations on long-run growth. Below are rudimentary thoughts on why a society dominated by the old might languish. The optimism of young people drives their energy and motivation to undertake a whole host of activities, including starting new businesses, trying new products, building new  homes, and moving to new cities. The old, unlike the young, see the end of life and this affects their outlook. For many, the past seems better than the future and they stand pat—personally, socially, and economically.

Risk taking falls as people age and this occurs in every aspect of life. We settle into patterns and stick to what works. In terms of the economy, old people are less likely to buy new products and invest aggressively. They are more concerned with maintaining and conserving what they have than in taking chances with their accumulated wealth.

Young people provide a dynamism to the economy that is fundamental to the success of innovation and technological change. General outlook, attitudes toward risk-taking, and time horizon considerations are all highly correlated and change together as we age. Older people become more negative, careful, and unenthusiastic. These attitudes drag the economy. They have always been there, but they have never been as noticeable and prominent as they are today because of a worldwide revolution in demography.

Countries around the world face aging population distributions that will hamper economic performance. Rich countries, like Japan, are better able to withstand these demographic headwinds. Those that can attract immigrants, like the United States and Germany, can bolster diminishing numbers of younger aged cohorts by welcoming young people from other countries, although this solution  is fraught with challenging political and social effects.

Cuba is in a particularly vulnerable position. Not only are the demographic forces exceptionally strong, but the economy is unusually weak. This paper will focus on the former, examining changes in the population age-distribution since the Revolution and forecasting future outcomes. Even if Cuba somehow manages to reform the economy and incorporate market-based incentives, its population age-distribution presents formidable challenges for an economic take-off. Again, this is not merely an issue of resources devoted to caring for the aged, but requires figuring out how to overcome the stagnation resulting from an economy dominated by old people. Without the energy, optimism, and risk-seeking of the young, the Cuban economy’s long-run future seems bleak.

The next section uses a macro-enabled Excel workbook, PopPyrCuba.xslm, to analyze Cuba’s recent demographic past and current situation. Age-specific fertility and death rates are then used to examine future prospects by iteration.

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CONCLUSION

Although the demographic challenge facing  Cuba and its low fertility have been known for years, the primary contribution of this paper lies in the presentation of the data through the macro-enabled Excel workbook, PopPyrCuba.xlsm, freely available at academic.depauw.edu/~hbarreto/working.  Cuba’s  single-year population pyramid (Figure 1) offers an eyecatching display and, by utilizing simulation to evolve the process, we gain insight into the future prospects facing Cuba. In addition, this paper argues that the implications of an aging population for the economy need to be studied in much more detail.

Discussing teaching and learning at the university level, Marshall (1920, p. 822) said, “The springs of imagination belong to early youth: it is the greatest of all faculties; and in its full development it makes the great soldier, the great artist, the student who extends the boundaries of science, and the great business man.” Indeed, imagination, creativity, and discovery drive technological change and modern economic growth relies on waves of imaginative young people creating wonderful new ways to heal, entertain, and connect us.

It is no coincidence that, during the explosion of development enjoyed by the rich countries of the world in the last two centuries, population and educational attainment have been rising. There has been a constant stream of more educated young people replacing and revitalizing society, sending income per person ever higher. The innovation and technological progress that drives the engine of economic growth is itself dependent on imagination—the springs of which belong to the young. Creativity is less likely to be found in the old because their experiences discourage them from trying all possible solutions to a problem.

Furthermore, parents are willing to undertake heroic and expensive efforts on behalf of their children. Parents deny themselves present consumption to provide a better future for their children. Economies without this kind of forward-looking orientation will invest less and grow more slowly.

Over the next decades, we will get data on how economies function in the presence of smaller cohorts of young people. Japan is a leader in this unfortunate race (see the Japan sheet in PopPyrCuba.xlsm) and the early returns are not promising. Their economy has not fared well after decades of superb post-WWII growth and no standard policy has managed to shake it out of its doldrums. Luckily, Japan is a rich, developed country. Cuba is not and it is facing the same demographic headwinds as Japan.

There do not seem to be any practical policy levers to pull. Mortality is essentially exogenous. We can safely expect small, continued improvement in health and longevity in countries all around the world. Fertility is the key variable here, but we do not understand it well (long-run prediction has been dismal), but there is no reason to expect a Cuban fertility boom. Many countries have tax credits, baby bonuses, parental leaves, and other supports, but these are small relative to the total cost of raising a child and even if they were effective, the Cuban government does not have the resources for ambitious programs to increase fertility. Immigration (the solution, however unwittingly, adopted by the United States) seems highly unlikely to help Cuba withstand the coming demographic storm. Any easing of barriers to movement on the part of Cuba or other countries (especially the United States), would seem to exacerbate   Cuba’s   demographic   challenge   since   more young adults are likely to leave Cuba than enter.

Viewing the number of children as a choice variable that responds to incentives leads to the realization that family planning is an outstanding example of an externality—a cost or benefit not taken into account by the decision-maker. The usual examples in economics involve pollution and education—the former a negative and the latter a positive externality. Standard economic theory says that because negative externalities result in too much of a good or service, we should tax them; but we subsidize positive externalities because they lead too few resources allocated in a given area. The optimal tax or subsidy would close the gap between private and social costs and benefits. This framework was developed by Pigou (1920). He supported taxing sellers of alcoholic drinks, zoning laws, and other government interventions as necessary measures to correct what would come to be known as market failures—misallocation of resources in the presence of a market imperfection such as monopoly or externalities. 1

Since parents do not capture the societal benefits of children,  which  are  a  function  of  the  population’s age-distribution, they do not include these benefits in deciding how many children to have. Countries with inverted population pyramids are in a situation in which too few children are being produced and there is no effective way to signal the need for an increased quantity to individual decision-makers. The externality, in which the full benefit (to society) of having a child cannot be captured by its parents, prevents the system from self-correcting.

Absent a sea change in attitudes toward children, a reduction in the economic penalties  women  must pay to have children, or a technological revolution in how we produce human beings, we should expect that relatively low fertility rates will persist in Cuba and many other countries. The adjustment as population pyramids invert worldwide will not be easy. Cuba, with a weak economy and an especially large elderly cohort, seems to be in a dire position as it becomes the island of the old.

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BOOK REVIEW, ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

Boulder, CO: First Forum Press, 2015. 373 pp.

By Archibald R. M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

Review by Sergio Díaz-Briquets,

Cuban Studies, Volume 46, 2018, pp. 375-377, University of Pittsburgh Press

The small business sector, under many different guises, often has been, since the 1960s, at the center of Cuban economic policy. In some ways, it has been the canary in the mine. As ideological winds have shifted and economic conditions changed, it has been repressed or encouraged, morphed and gone underground, surviving, if not thriving, as part of the second or underground economy. Along the way, it has helped satisfy consumer needs not fulfilled by the inefficient state economy. This intricate, at times even colorful, trajectory has seen the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive that did away with even the smallest private businesses, modest efforts to legalize self-employment in the 1979s, the Mercados Libres Campesinos experiment of the 1980s, and the late 1980s ideological retrenchment associated with the late 1980s Rectification Process.

Of much consequence—ideologically and increasingly economically—are the policy decisions implemented since the 1990s by the regime, under the leadership of both Castro brothers. Initially as part of Special Period, various emergency measures were introduced to allow Cuba to cope with the economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the communist bloc and the end of Soviet subsidies. These early, modest entrepreneurial openings were eventually expanded as part of the deeper institutional reforms implemented by Raúl upon assuming power in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently upon the resignation of his brother as head of the Cuban government.

In keeping with the historical zigzag policy pattern surrounding small businesses activities—euphemistically labeled these days as the “non-state sector”—while increasingly liberal, they have not been immune to temporary reversals. Among the more significant reforms were the approval of an increasing number of self-employment occupations, gradual expansion of the number of patrons restaurants could serve (as dictated by the allowed number of chairs in privately owned paladares), and the gradual, if uneven, relaxation of regulatory, taxing, and employment regulations. Absent has been the authorization for professionals (with minor exceptions, such as student tutoring) to privately engage in their crafts and the inability to provide wholesale markets where self-employed workers could purchase inputs for their small enterprises.

The authors of this volume, an economist and a sociologist, have combined their talents and carefully documented this ever-changing policy landscape, including the cooperative sector. They have centered their attention on post–Special Period policies and their implications, specifically to “evaluate the effects of these policy changes in terms of the generation of productive employment in the non-state sector, the efficient provision of goods and services by this emergent sector, and the reduction in the size and scope of the underground economy” (297).

While assessing post-1990 changes, Entrepreneurial Cuba also generated a systematic examination of the evolution of the self-employment sector in the early decades of the revolution in light of shifting ideological, political, and economic motivations. Likewise, the contextual setting is enhanced by placing Cuban self-employment within the broader global informal economy framework, particularly in Latin America, and by assessing the overall features of the second economy in socialist economies “neither regulated by the state nor included in its central plan” (41). These historical and contextual factors are of prime importance in assessing the promise and potential pitfalls the small enterprise sector confronts in a changing Cuba.

Rich in its analysis, the book is balanced and comprehensive. It is wide ranging in that it carefully evaluates the many factors impinging on the performance of the small business sector, including their legal and regulatory underpinnings. The authors also evaluate challenges in the Cuban economic model and how they have shaped the proclivity for Cuban entrepreneurs to bend the rules. Present is a treatment of the informal social and trading networks that have sustained the second economy, including the ever-present pilfering of state property and the regulatory and transactional corruption so prevalent in Cuba’s centralized economy.

While none of the above is new to students of the Cuban economy—as documented in previous studies and in countless anecdotal reports—Ritter and Henken make two major contributions. First, they summarize and analyze in a single source a vast amount of historical and contemporary information. The value of the multidisciplinary approach is most evident in the authors’ assessment of how the evolving policy environment has influenced the growth of paladares, the most important and visible segment of the nonstate sector. By focusing on this segment, the authors validate and strengthen their conclusions by drawing from experiences documented in longitudinal, qualitative case studies. The latter provide insights not readily gleaned from documentary and statistical sources by grounding the analysis in realistic appreciations of the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurial Cubans. Most impressive is the capacity of Cuban entrepreneurs to adapt to a policy regime constantly shifting between encouraging and constraining their activities.

Commendable, too, is the authors’ balanced approach regarding the Cuban political environment and how it relates to the non-state sector. Without being bombastic, they are critical of the government when they need to be. One of their analytical premises is that the “growth of private employment and income represents a latent political threat to state power since it erodes the ideals of state ownership of the means of production, the central plan, and especially universal state employment” (275).

This dilemma dominates the concluding discussion of future policy options. Three scenarios are considered possible. The first entails a policy reversal with a return to Fidel’s orthodoxy. This scenario is regarded as unlikely, as Raúl’s policy discourse has discredited this option. A second scenario consists of maintaining the current course while allowing for the gradual but managed growth of the non-state sector. While this might be a viable alternative, it will have limited economic and employment generation effects unless the reform process is deepened by, for example, further liberalizing the tax and regulatory regimes and allowing for the provision of professional services.

The final scenario would be one in which reforms are accelerated, not only allowing for small business growth but also capable of accommodating the emergence of medium and large enterprises in a context where public, private, and cooperative sectors coexist (311). As Ritter and Henken recognize, this scenario is unlikely to come to fruition under the historical revolutionary leadership, it would have to entail the resolution of political antagonisms between Washington and Havana, and a reappraisal by the Cuban government of its relationship with the émigré population. Not mentioned by Ritter and Henken is that eventual political developments—not foreseen today—may facilitate the changes they anticipate under their third scenario.

In short, Entrepreneurial Cuba is a must-read for those interested in the country’s current situation. Its publication is timely not only for what it reveals regarding the country’s economic, social, and political situation but also for its insights regarding the country’s future evolution.

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Table of Contents

 Table of Contents,

 List of Charts and Figures

Chapter I Introduction       

Chapter II      Cuba’s Small Enterprise Sector in International and Theoretical Perspective

Chapter III    Revolutionary Trajectories, Strategic Shifts, and Small Enterprise, 1959-1989

Chapter IV    Emergence and Containment During the “Special Period”, 1990-2006

Chapter V        The 2006-2011 Policy Framework for Small Enterprise under the Presidency of    Raul Castro

Chapter VI    The Movement towards Non-Agricultural Cooperatives

Chapter VII  The Underground Economy and Economic Illegalities

Chapter VIII  Ethnographic Case Studies of Microenterprise, 2001 vs. 2011

Chapter IX  Summary and Conclusions

APPENDIX                                                              

GLOSSARY                                                                                                                         

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment

By Arch Ritter

Below is a Power Point Presentation made at the “Seminar on Prospects for Cuba’s Economy” at the Bildner Center, City University of New York, on May 21, 2012.

The full presentation can be found here: CUNY Bildner Presention, Arch Ritter on Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects….”, May 21 2012

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