The following article by Heiko Khoo is from China.org.cn:
Cuban President Raul Castro and the Cuban Workers’ Federation have announced a plan to reduce the state workforce by up to a million workers in the near future, signaling the start of profound changes. Cuban society is undoubtedly in need of radical reform. At present the state employs around 80 percent of the workforce and planning is supposed to control the entire economic system.
The Cuban government recognizes that the old system of bureaucratic planning does not work; the state employs ice-cream sellers, taxi drivers and hairdressers, branches of economy where private operations and incentives are normal and natural. Hairdressing is one of the oldest private professions in the world, at least 6000 years old, and private taxis have existed since the first horse drawn carriages. There is no rational argument for public ownership of these sectors.
The consequences of excessive nationalization have been a number of severe economic distortions. Rations of food and essentials supplement meager real wages; the consequence is that to secure elementary commodities people are compelled to turn to the black market. The black marketeers and corrupt officials collaborate to enrich themselves, parasitically stealing from the public. In many branches “people pretend to work and the state pretends to pay them”. Lethargy sets in, which fosters support for reactionary forces, thus the young often look to the United States as the model of the good life.
On the other side, Cuba reveals the strengths of planned economies. In spite of the US embargo, Cuba has continued to surprise the world in its achievements in health, education and welfare. Compared to its meager per capita production, Cuba produces miracles in these sectors. With only $300 per capita spent on health care annually, Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors to population in the world, 64 per 10,000.
If China wanted to catch up with Cuba’s in this sphere, it would need about 8 million doctors and 11 million nurses, compared to 1.8 million doctors and 1.3 million nurses today (according to the World Health Organization.) The percentage of healthcare costs met by the state is over 95 percent in Cuba, as opposed to 55 percent in China. China’s total numbers of doctors and nurses is the highest in the world, and given the inputs, China’s achievements in healthcare since 1949 have been immense. But economic transformation has left general medical provision lagging behind. Many people are unable to afford the treatment or medicines they need, fostering anger and social discontent. With the Chinese government promoting basic healthcare for all, and trying to reduce social inequality, the speed of China’s social advance can be judged by how rapidly it reaches Cuban levels of healthcare provision.
Capitalist ideologues argue that health care is simply a black hole in the state budget; but the US government spends more than ten times as much on healthcare per capita as Cuba, yet with results that are only marginally better. In fact, where the private sector is permitted to plunder the state health service, colossal resources are wasted and public money is squandered for short-term benefits and private profit.
Fidel Castro sought to focus the technical and scientific resources of the Cuban nation on sustaining its healthcare model, and attaining breakthroughs in vaccines and medical sciences. The present scientific and technical revolution in medical care opens up extraordinary potential to those publicly funded healthcare systems that plan, develop and apply visionary ideas. In stem-cell research, biotechnology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, revolutionary advances open up the possibility for the average healthy lifespan to reach 100yrs or more, in the foreseeable future.
Global research and development has been greatly promoted by the spread of communications technology and colossal advances in computing power. However, with multinational private companies dominating key domains of research and development, we face the danger that access to the results of the new sciences, will be rationed primarily by money. This can be prevented. With sufficient determination and support, Fidel Castro’s vision to transform Cuba into a world power in socialized medical science is realizable, and its healthcare model can bring immense benefits to the world.
China could easily meet all the consumer product needs of the Cuban people at low cost. This would alleviate many petty hardships for the Cuban people and undermine the inhumane and reactionary US blockade. When the USSR collapsed, the Cubans managed to survive without outside help; now both Venezuela and China are playing a big role in providing essential finance and support that permits Cuba to remodel its economy. The Cuban Communist Party wants to develop its economy while retaining public ownership of the commanding heights, and protecting the social benefits of the revolution. For China, with its booming economy, wealthy state enterprises, and colossal demand for quality socialized healthcare, there should be no limit to boldness in collaboration, investment and co-operation with Cuba.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: