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Cuba, Greece, and the United States

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Well, it seems that Greece and the United States aren’t the only countries that are suffering the consequences of socialism. So is Cuba. But the difference is that unlike Greece and the United States, Cuba seems to be moving in the right direction.

The Cuban regime has just announced that for the first time since the Cuban revolution in 1959, Cubans will be permitted to buy and sell both homes and automobiles. That might not be a big deal to Americans or Greeks, but it is an enormous thing for the Cuban people, who have lived in a country in which the state owns everything.

Cuba’s socialist economic system is really just a logical extension of the American and Greeks welfare states. The welfare state is based on the notion that inequalities of wealth are inherently bad. Thus, the state forcibly takes money from those who own it and redistributes it to those who the state feels need it more. The welfare state is also based on the idea that people cannot be trusted to make the correct charitable decisions. Thus, the state forces people to share their money with the poor and disadvantaged. That’s what such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, and education grants are all about.

Fidel Castro simply took those statist precepts to their logical conclusion. Early on, the state took all the money, businesses, and homes of the rich in order to equalize everyone. According to this Associated Press article about the new changes in Cuba, today 80 percent of the Cuban workforce works for the government. The pay rate is $20 a month, which includes free education, free health care, free transportation, and nearly free housing. The best thing, from the statist perspective, is that most everyone is equal, in terms of how poor everyone is.

Reflecting the statist mindset that afflicts so many Americans and Greeks, the new Cuban law does not permit people to own more than one home in the city. Why? Because it would lead to speculative buying and the danger of large concentrations of wealth. Sound familiar?

Another fascinating aspect to this new development in Cuba is how it reflects the similarity of statist mindsets in Cuba, Greece, and the United States. What I’m referring to is the concept of permission. The Cuban government is permitting Cubans to own property. The operative word is “permitting.”

In other words, the Cuban government doesn’t view private property and economic liberty as fundamental, natural, God-given rights, as libertarians do. Instead, it views such concepts as government-granted privileges, by which the government permits people to own homes and cars.

Of course, in principle it’s no different here in the United States, thanks to the statists.

Consider, for example, the 50-year U.S. embargo on Cuba. Many Americans have convinced themselves that the embargo is just a way to effect regime change in Cuba by bringing untold suffering onto the Cuban people until they oust the communists from power and install a U.S.-approved regime.

That’s true, of course, but the embargo represents much more than that. It’s also a direct infringement on the economic liberty of the American people. Under the embargo, Americans are not permitted to spend money in Cuba or transact business there without the official permission of the U.S. government.

The operative word is “permission.” Like the Cuban government, the U.S. government takes the position that it wields ultimate control over what people do with their money. If Americans travel to Cuba and spend money there without permission, the U.S. government severely punishes them, the same thing that the Cuban government does to Cuban citizens who violate its economic regulations.

But let’s give credit where credit is due: At least the Cuban government, which is also discharging 100,000 government employees into the private sector, is moving in the direction of economic liberalization, while the U.S. and Greek governments continue to move more in the opposite direction.

The ideal, of course, is libertarianism, which recognizes what the Declaration of Independence observed: that everyone — Cubans, Greeks, Americans, and everyone else — is endowed with fundamental, natural, God-given rights which no government can legitimately interfere with or infringe upon. Among these rights is private ownership of property, the unlimited accumulation of wealth, and the choice on what to do with one’s own money — save, spend, invest, donate, or whatever.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.