Monday, February 19, 2018

Real-world capitalism is better than real-world communism (part III)

(this is a continuation of the discussion that began here, and left off here)

Erica: I'm going to respond to this putting my PLAS major hat on.

Let's compare Cuba to it's peer countries. Now I'm not saying Cuba has no problems nor that people haven't had bad experiences with its government. I'm looking at data here.

According to the CIA, which can hardly be said to have a pro-socialist bias:

  • Cuba's maternal mortality rate is #106 globally
  • its infant mortality rate is number #181 globally
  • it has 7.5 physicians per 1000 citizens, and 5.3 hospital beds per 1000 citizens
  • 93.2% of its population has sanitation facility access
  • 95% of the population has improved drinking water access
  • a HIV prevalence rate of 0.4%.  Less than 200 deaths from HIV per year
  • a literacy rate of 99.9%
  • ranked #131 globally for unemployment
  • has a 99.9% electrification rate (100% for urban areas, 95% for rural areas)
These statistics are superior to every single peer country across the global and every country in Latin America, including every capitalist country.

But we don't even have to compare to peer countries. If we compare to United States stat by stat, the United States, the world's richest and most powerful country, Cuba still beats it on some of the stats:

  • USA maternal mortality rate is #131 globally (better than Cuba)
  • infant mortality rate is #170 worldwide (worse than Cuba)
  • 2.55 physicians/1,000 population (worse than Cuba)
  • 2.9 beds/1,000 population (worse than Cuba)
  • 99% access to clean drinking water (better than cuba)
  • 100% access to sanction facilities (better than Cuba)
  • (CIA doesn't have USA HIV stats for some reason)
  • 97% literacy rate (worse than Cuba)
  • ranked #68 for unemployment (wrote than Cuba)

  • 100% electrification rate

Also, reminder of the trade embargo against Cuba.

There’s a recurring theme in some of these comments that sort of fascinates me and that I’d like to draw the debate towards, which is the apparent belief among communist sympathizers that the success of an economy should be measured primarily by outcomes in education and healthcare. I’m happy to talk about those sectors if that’s all you care about – but why is that all you care about? Why are those two particular sectors of the economy some ultra-important benchmark for success that warrant extra weight in our comparison? I have two arguments related to that.

First, healthcare and education outcomes should NOT be the metric by which we evaluate an economy, for several reasons. One is that healthcare outcomes like life expectancy are determined as much by non-economic factors like cultural diet and exercise levels, car accident levels, and crime rates as they are by the actual quality of the healthcare received. Cuba had high literacy rates even before Castro and higher life expectancy than many European nations. But more importantly, healthcare and education are simply a poor proxy for “prosperity” as most people understand it.

Nowhere is this clearer than Cuba. Erica provides all these stats about Cuba’s mediocre healthcare as if they’re some dagger to the heart of capitalism – but healthcare notwithstanding, their people remain dirt fucking poor! The average income is less than $25 a month; that’s pretty austere no matter how healthy you are. They remain one of the least internet-connected societies in the world; until 2015 it was basically nonexistent unless you paid $7 an hour on a slow, censored hotel connection. They’re still not allowed to have home internet, nor private internet, and hourly rates remain. Their only source of entertainment is black market American TV shows and a baseball league full of players who can’t wait to escape to the US. Food shortages are common, and the (legal) food is plain and uninventive (they only just legalized pizzerias…) It’s telling that the single biggest improver of this quality of life for Cubans is the massive, thriving black market, where Cubans have access to better clothing, better food, and better entertainment, and where prices are set by those evil capitalist forces of supply and demand. The same is true in North Korea.

Don’t try to blame the embargo for this. The embargo is only from just one country – they remain free to trade with the rest of the world – and for most of their history it was more than offset by massive subsidies from the Soviet Union (without which their economy crashed in the early 90s). What limited gains they’ve had since resulted primarily from the Castro brothers backtracking and easing off state control of the economy, allowing self-employment, etc. Fidel admitted “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”

I shouldn’t need to elaborate on how the conditions I described above are even worse in North Korea. It’s clear communist nations’ “accomplishments” in healthcare and education come at the expense of prosperity in every other facet of life. Their governments made deliberate decisions to funnel much bigger portions of their productive energies into providing healthcare and education than consumers armed with the same funds would have elected to purchase for themselves. That’s Pareto inefficiency by definition.

Erica: if this is the response to the Cuba stats you have to compare Cuba to its peer countries.

Me: Does Chile qualify as a peer nation? Because it's the richest country in Latin America. Of course, have to say it, I'm by no means endorsing Pinochet nor his brutal murder of a few thousand political dissidents...but since the Castro and KJU and USSR apologists in here are happy to ignore political repression to isolate economic performance, it bear's mentioning that Pinochet’s reforms indisputably helped the economy relative to his socialist predecessors. Today the average Chilean’s income is four times the average Cubans, and they’ve doubled income growths since 1980 relative to Cuba.

It's even more fun to compare Chile to Venezuela. According to Marian Tupy from Capx:

"Between 1974 and 2016, average annual GDP per capita (PPP) rose by 230 percent. It shrunk by 20 percent in Venezuela.

Today, Chileans are 51 per cent richer than Venezuelans. Unemployment in Chile stands at 6 percent. In Venezuela it stands at 17 percent. Chile’s inflation is 3 per cent and Venezuela’s 487 per cent. In 2016, the Chilean economy grew by 2.7 percent. It shrunk by 10 percent in Venezuela. Chile’s debt is 17 percent of its GDP. Venezuela’s is 50 percent.

In 1974, life expectancy in Venezuela was 1 year higher (66) than that in Chile (65). In 2015, an average Chilean could expect to live 8 years longer (82) than an average Venezuelan (74).

In 1974, infant mortality in Chile was 60 out of 1,000 live births. In Venezuela, it stood at 43. Since then, Chile reduced infant mortality by 88 per cent (to 7) and Venezuela by 70 per cent (to 13). Last, but not least, Chile has received a perfect score (10 out of 10) on a democracy index compiled by the Center for Systemic Peace, while Venezuela languishes at 4 out of 10.”

Sam: If you don't see why healthcare, education and housing are more meaningful indicators of an economy's health than raw profit and raw production, you may want to consider what function an economy is meant to serve.

The function an economy is meant to serve is the enrichment of its members and the improvement of their lives. What you denigrate as “raw production” is mostly that.

Steve: It really isn't. There is a difference between looking at just how much an economy produces vs what it produces, who has access to that production and who doesn't.

How well has Puerto Rico fared under capitalism? Which island recovered from a hurricane in two weeks and which is still fighting to open its schools while vulture capitalists bid for resort contracts and its inhabitants are forced to flee to the mainland?

Daniel:  I’ll write a serious answer later, but here’s a pic I took at the pulsing heart of capitalism — World Bank’s Youth Summit. The participants from all over the globe were asked what they think is the most important step for ending poverty the WB group should do.  E D U C A T I O N.

Oh, also lol at the only source of entertainment in Cuba being black market US shows, Cuban cinema is lit. WHO KNEW FILM MAJOR WOULD HELP ME IN A FB DEBATE?

highly recommend watching soy Cuba which is a Cuban-Soviet 60s film which has better longtakes than birdman or the revenant

SteveI'm not done reading all of his responses but all I see is regurgitated neoliberal ideology. There are no facts in these arguments, only vague assertions of starvation (in a country with a lower malnutrition rate than capitalist Mexico) and other horrors that I'm shocked people still believe (human feces as fertilizer, really? Will you be bringing up execution of musicians by anti-aircraft guns next?).

There is also the trend of attributing anything good to capitalism, even when the great capitalist powers fought it tooth and nail (national liberation struggles in Africa for example), and everything evil to communism, with no analytical framework to draw the line.

Me: The World Food Programme says between a quarter and a third of North Korean children 6-59 months old suffer from chronic malnutrition, and that North Korean pre-school children are up to 5 inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than South-Korean pre-school children. The index Emeline posted earlier reported DEATH-rates by malnutrition, which North Korea was middle-of-the-pack on (supposing you believe its numbers, which may be intuitively harder for the WHO to verify than they are elsewhere). But you can be malnourished short of starvation (particularly when you have plenty of foodstuffs like rice and Chinese corn, but no fruits nor protein to speak of).

Here are three recent sources confirming that North Koreans use human feces to fertilize their crops. Is Reuters spewing fabricated bourgeoisie propaganda too?

My analytical framework for attributing evil to communism was found in my longest comment under point #2 – you’ll have to scroll up. My analytical framework for attributing wealth creation and dispersion to capitalism has admittedly been piecemeal throughout, but the most recent installment can be found in my comment below with the refrigerator example.

Me: Second, even if healthcare and education were the most important metrics by which to evaluate an economy, capitalism still holds its own.

I freely grant that the United States’ systems for PAYING for education and healthcare were designed by the devil
himself. But firstly, the United States is not the only capitalist nation in the world. Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, South Korea, Japan etc. each have private ownership of the means of production, and yet world-class education and healthcare systems (top 25 or so). Most of those nations beat out Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and even China (if you count them) handily by any sensible measure of education or healthcare.

And even in the United States, the quality of the education and healthcare itself (again, not considering why it costs so much, which I’d be happy to talk your ear off about later) is among the best in the world. For healthcare, the American life expectancy *once diagnosed* with a given disease or ailment (a much better measure of healthcare quality than life expectancy overall, for the aforementioned reasons) is consistently first in the world. Elite students from foreign nations flock to our colleges and universities. Even our K-12 system, while falling behind on test scores, typically offers a range of well-funded extracurricular activities unparalleled in most communist nations.

Inversely, to boast that the DPRK has provided every person with a free “education” is to make a mockery of what that word means. DPRK provides every person with a free brainwashing. The entire project of the North Korean state – and really communist state medias in general - has been to prevent their citizens from engaging in any sort of critical thinking whatsoever. That is the antithesis of education. The only thing that might educate them is the internet and the internet is illegal.

Steve: "The entire project of the North Korean state – and really communist state medias in general - has been to prevent their citizens from engaging in any sort of critical thinking whatsoever."

Again these kinds of statements are rich coming from the US,
as if we don't have the biggest propaganda machine in the world between corporate media and Hollywood.

The tactic of comparing imperialist powers to their former colonies is not only flawed it is insulting. Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Korea, even China to a lesser extent, were colonies of European nations, the US or Japan before their liberation struggles. Colonization is characterized by underdevelopment of the colonized nation and a systematic extraction of wealth, either in raw materials or in later stages labor. To compare nations that have freed themselves of the chains of imperialism, and proceeded to develop at previously unseen rates, to the countries that held those very chains, and still hold them for the rest of the global south. is only useful if you want to defend the global imperialist system. How does Cuba hold up to the rest of the Caribbean or Latin America? These comparisons are meaningful because you can actually measure the effects of socialist economic planning compared to a similar starting point that has continued to develop under anarchic capitalism.

Me: The former colonies are the places currently benefiting most from globalization and experiencing the fastest poverty reductions over the past 40 years - except the communist ones.

Alejandro: although I tend to agree with your sentiments--namely that capitalism is not inherently problematic--I disagree with the above claim. Since neoliberalism became the norm, inequality has swelled throughout democracies in the global south. To claim that there is poverty reduction is simply incorrect.

Me: Poverty and inequality are not the same thing. Neither indicates the extent of the other. I am referring to absolute poverty (not relative) because that is much more morally meaningful. Swelling inequality and poverty reduction are perfectly compatible.

Alejandro: In no way is absolute poverty more "morally meaningful" than relative poverty, hence my focus on inequality.

I think it's always necessary to focus on the larger issues than on anecdotal evidence. Failure to do so is no different than the claim that "my grandfather suffered in the ussr therefore all non-capitalist systems are bad." While I disagree with neoliberal policies, I nonetheless think it's vital to focus on the larger consequences--the IMF, WBO, WTO, and team of related NGOs sank the global south into insurmountable debt that continues to hurt them. The structural adjustment policies in these countries further inequality and ensure that the poorest citizens remain impoverished. As such, I don't think our discussion misses the point.

Me: I passionately disagree with you that relative poverty is as morally meaningful as absolute poverty. I care much more about the material conditions under which human beings live and how many of their physical needs are met than I do about how rich the richest in their country are. But supposing I’m wrong, I still win the argument, because the communist nations upheld by my opponents in this debate (except @Kazi, thankfully) are and were abysmal failures EVEN by their own preferred measure of equalizing wealth.

Members of the Soviet politburo and their families are widely known to have received perks and lifestyles the rest of their comrades did not. They had access to special shops, schools and hospitals, unsupervised trips abroad, access to Western publications, and a longer leash of immunity from political persecution. The same favors were extended to certain especially useful citizens, like nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov (by his own admission). Since @David Savliev likes it so much when I cite Orwell, I’ll do it again: “some animals were more equal than others.” The old class structure was merely replaced by another.

The same was true in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. It remains true today in Cuba, and certainly remains true in North Korea. Top members of ruling communist parties always enjoy privileged lifestyles that ordinary people do not, replicating the conditions of material inequality they originally railed against.

Sean: it's perfectly fun for you to play with mental abstractions about the conceptually meaningful difference between absolute poverty and relative inequality within an ahistorical frame of reference...until you find yourself as a farmer in latin america, having most of your existence determined by the neoliberal core (WTO/IMF) and its Washington Consensus.

Me: it’s perfectly fun for you to use those presently afflicted by absolute poverty in faraway places as a prop for the *equally conceptual* argument you typed on your laptop or iPhone, seated comfortably in your heated home or job or university.

It’s less fun for those farmers in Latin America – say, Venezuela, for example – to go without basic products and services readily available in nearby nations – say, Chile, for example – because their leaders prioritized combatting inequality instead of combating poverty. Perhaps they’ll be comforted by the knowledge that they’re all equally poor, so most of their neighbors are going hungry too?

I don’t mean to be condescending – just answering snark with snark. The point is that the stakes are high no matter which of us is right, so neither of us get a monopoly on leveraging the emotive plight of the poor in service of our argument on how to best help them.

Sean: Fair point.

Jacob: Andrew, why do you think 1. countries are closed systems 2. China is a capitalist country?

Me: I think neither of those things.

1. It is precisely because countries are NOT closed systems that international trade between economies of scale, with market prices set by supply and demand (read: capitalism) can raise people from poverty even in nati
ons that are not inwardly capitalist (so long as those nations remain open to global trade).

2. China is not a purely (and probably not even a primarily) capitalist country. Capitalism and socialism are not a binary with a thick black line in between. They are opposite poles of a spectrum depending on what portion of the economy is government run. China is indisputably closer to socialism than pure laissez-faire capitalism, but also indisputably more capitalist than it used to be. And the most important regard in which the latter is true is that after Mao Zedongs well overdue death, it finally liberalized its trade markets after centuries of economic isolationism. The massive capital investment that followed - from all those greedy, robber barons capitalists looking to exploit cheap labor and make sweatshops and yada yada yada - is what created a robust manufacturing and technology sector which so improved the condition of China's poorest citizens.

This is not some kooky libertarian crackpot theory; it is the mainstream economic consensus.

Jacob: Funny enough i already had this convo here today. They've baited the western bourgs into letting them absorb all of the Western tech and on a path to over take the US, hopefully in order to destroy this shitty imperialist nation. China is still under control of the communist party which runs their businesses. They heavily teach Marxism and have not strayed too far out of dialectical materialism.

Not a fan of Deng, but this is how the CCP viewed the reforms.

Which lead to this Not the type of socialism I'd personally advocate for, but people like Xi know better than I and they are doing well.

(I let him have the last word at that.  Moving on...)

Daniel brought up scientific progress and asks why capitalism gets the credit for it.  The answer is that it not only motivates technological innovation, but also mass produces new technology at ever-lower prices, making it accessible to the masses in ways that wouldn't be possible without capitalism.

As I mentioned in my earlier comment about the internet (scroll up to find it) technological innovation is not a sufficient condition for those innovations to become accessible to the
bulk of society. To make this new technology accessible, you need something that can efficiently mass produce it without sacrificing quality, all while incessantly driving down cost in order to make it widely affordable. Capitalism does that very well.

Take refrigerators, for example. I hope I don’t need to explain what massive improvement in quality of life refrigerators provide us, so I won’t until somebody inevitably questions it. The first self-contained refrigerator – the aptly named “Frigidaire” – was released in 1919. It stored 5 cubic feet (a mini-fridge by today’s standards) and cost $775 – over $11,000 in today’s money – at a time when the average hourly wage was $0.43. As such, it took the average American 1,802 hours of work to afford, and of course very few could. The scientific innovations necessary to invent the refrigerator were insufficient to expand its access.

Today, any Sears holds dozens of different refrigerators to choose from that are much bigger, cheaper (even without adjusting for inflation!). A quick google search showed new refrigerators ranging from $300-$900, at a time when the average hourly wage is $26.55. You do the math. Even in a country with a 13.5% poverty rate, 99.8% of American households own at least one refrigerator. This is a direct result of the price decrease, which was a direct result of profit-hungry capitalist mass production and competition.

The same stats could be replicated about computers and internet and video games and cell phones and televisions and cars and radios most of the other advances of the 20th century. That’s why capitalism gets the credit.

Daniel: Soviets did quite well in sci and tech progress too though.  I can dedicate an entire post to the achievements of soviet sci and tech which benefited an average soviet and sci-tech progress at large, from metro, electrification and food tech to EVM, AES and Sputniks. Little known fact — in academic and technical papers the second most widespread language after English is Russian, solely because of the USSR. This stuff is literally my Wilson research

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