Ever since I discovered libertarianism 20 years ago, people have asked me why libertarians have such extreme views. After all, libertarians advocate the abolition, not the reform, of such things as public schooling, public housing, farm subsidies, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, drug laws, gun control, and the IRS and the federal income tax. Why, we libertarians even call for the privatization of public libraries and the national highway system!
“Our free-enterprise system may need reform,” people have pointed out, “but it surely is superior to socialism. Why do you libertarians want to throw the baby out with the bath water?”
A trip to a purely socialist country might bring Americans a healthy dose of reality as to what actually constitutes capitalism and socialism. I’d recommend Cuba, which I recently visited to conduct an informal study of the socialist way of life.
Everyone would agree that Cuba ranks among the top five models of socialism in the world today. Even with “reforms” since Soviet subsidies were terminated, no one would accuse Cuba of being even “oriented” toward free enterprise. If you want to see the essence of socialism, travel to Cuba (but don’t spend money there because Congress has made it illegal to do that).
What you would find in Cuba might shock, befuddle, and confuse you. For you would discover much of what Democrats and Republicans have foisted onto the American people for the past several decades in the name of “saving” or “reforming” America’s “free-enterprise” system.
For example, you might be surprised to find public schooling and national health care in Cuba. If you tried to convince the Cuban people that those government programs are actually characteristic of a system of free enterprise, rather than socialism, they would laugh. They would explain to you that public schooling and national health care are the elements of Cuban socialism that Fidel Castro is most proud of. They might even take you to see Cuba’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health.
In socialist Cuba, you would also find public housing, public universities, and public libraries. Old-age assistance and subsidized food. A national highway system. A war on drugs. Gun control. Occupational licensure and economic regulations. Income taxation and income-tax returns.
Even though I knew it was illegal to criticize Cuba’s socialist system (a point that was being reinforced by the sedition trial of four dissidents while I was there), I was determined to deliver a presentation of libertarian principles in the middle of this socialist “paradise.”
I figured out a “safe” route to follow. This is what I said in a presentation to a research group at the University of Havana:
“In the United States, the state runs our educational system, and it’s a disaster. We libertarians challenge the state by asking: Why not let the free market provide education?
“The state also runs a health-care system for the poor and the elderly called Medicare and Medicaid and an old-age retirement system called Social Security. They are bankrupt messes. We libertarians challenge the state by asking: Why shouldn’t people be free to keep everything they earn and manage their own health care and retirement?
“Our government wages a vicious war against drugs that is tearing apart the fabric of our society. We libertarians challenge the state by asking: Why shouldn’t people be free to live their lives the way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful?
“Our government wages a brutal war on immigrants along our southern border. We libertarians challenge the state by asking: Why shouldn’t people be free to cross borders to seek a better way of life, to start their own businesses or work for others, and to accumulate wealth and decide what to do with it?”
In just a few minutes, I had leveled a principled challenge against the core tenets of Cuban socialism, and I had used American socialism to do it.
Goethe once pointed out that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. The Cuban people have suffered through decades of socialism, but at least they know what socialism is. Who is freer — those who know the truth or those who do not?