Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Translation: The economy, and the economist?

Here, Juventud Rebelde columnist Ricardo Ronquillo Bello takes up the role of the economics profession in the "updating" of the Cuban economic model. 

How to harmonise the political and social objectives of the Cuban Revolution with the striving for labour productivity growth, the wellspring of human social progress for millennia? Where does the pursuit of economic rationality become an end in itself rather than a means to an end? These are difficult questions that Cuba's revolutionaries are grappling with today.   

I've also translated selected comments by readers as they appear on the Juventud Rebelde website.

The economy, and the economist?

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello,

Juventud Rebelde, November 26, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

We won’t have an updated economy if we don’t respect economists. Cuba is obliged to not only transform the former, but to dignify the latter.

Hardly anything we propose regarding the structural, and even moral, reconfiguration of the country in the economic arena will be possible if this “column” – in the way that Jose Marti used this word – is unable to take its rightful place, without the encumbrance of the old traumas and put-downs, in the process of change.

On the eve of this November 26, the day dedicated to economists, I recalled how a prominent National Economics Award recipient and respected lecturer in the field confessed to me that his children didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. They’d been silent witnesses to the “bruisings” that were part and parcel of his profession.

This very Cuban “bruising” transcended insufficient incomes and their material and spiritual consequences for the family or the individual. Those of us who, through our profession, were aware of the dilemmas of the Cuban economists and accountants, know that the deepest wound was the marginalisation that their work – along with their studies, analyses and opinions – suffered within Cuba’s socioeconomic framework.

It seemed that the aggravation of our failings in this area at all levels was proportional to the degree of ignorance of their specialty. All this led to the absence of real participation and leadership in the identification and resolution of the problems of the economy, from the most immediate to the most structural.

Perhaps we need to recognise that in some cases we’ve had a lot of meetings, but we’ve barely listened [to economists]. Otherwise, there’s no explanation for why – in a society structured in such a special way as Cuba’s and with such diverse spaces for the airing of opinions – the economic mismatches ended up imposing themselves on the latter.

Surely, as referred to in an extensive and in-depth report by our Juventud Rebelde colleague Alina Perera, “participation” is a word that is heard frequently, yet in reality it is poorly understood or rarely fully utilised, even though it seems to embody many of the magical combinations we’d fervently get caught up in as we continue to weave the fate of the nation.

As a distinguished analyst in this field would affirm, we’ve passed up opportunities to create a propitious atmosphere for constructive reflection and creative input, which must go hand in hand with taking our plans for social development back to the drawing board. If these spaces for reflection and debate are cultivated, yet certain institutions have such narrow rules that they don’t allow for the channelling of thinking, this creates a disconnect between the scope of the objectives and what can be accomplished.

Quite simply, to the extent to which some procedures become routine, people lose interest in them, when ideally they would feel that these procedures are necessary because something really is at stake.

The circumstances of the updating [of Cuba’s socialist-oriented economic model], including the broad national debate that shaped it, favour a new form of consensus-building between the technical and the political visions, so that the right point is found between radicalism and equilibrium, as Jose Marti brilliantly wrote.

It would be inconsistent with the postulates of flexibility and keeping our ears to the ground of the updating to disregard opinions based on years of experience or solid and well-founded studies, while obstacles that rarefy the desired atmosphere of economic wellbeing – and that the transformations underway seek to clear away – prevail or become entrenched.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to ask ourselves why a technical workforce as impressive as that trained by the Revolution didn’t work the miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes. Should we not hope for this from the 80,000 members of the National Association of Cuban Economists and Accountants that we have today?

It does not seem that ardour is lacking among these professionals, since they’ve arrived at this November 26, on a date so radically Guevaran*, involved in very diverse ways in the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution.

But to participate in [the management of social] property means abandoning a certain instrumental and mobilisation-oriented vision. To boost the pride of the Cuban economist and accountant, as well as involving them, to have them present or expressing opinions, means to continue solidifying their illustrious position of influencing decisions.

*Ernersto “Che” Guevara served as industries minister and national bank president in Cuba’s revolutionary socialist government in the early 1960s.


Comment No. 2 by “Pepe”:

In my opinion, the self-criticisms for the decline in the influence of the economists in rectifying the decisions that have created the situation that the country finds itself in don’t apply so much to the economists themselves, but to those who have had the responsibility for defining economic policy. I don’t think you need a university degree to understand what is negative, discouraging and absurd about these decisions. Nor do I understand why it has taken 50 years to begin to discuss these things. There are a pile of things that demonstrated for a long time that they weren’t going to advance the country economically. There’s no doubt that there has been the political will to improve in the areas of education and public health. But with an efficient economy, despite the external blockade, I think the standard of living of Cubans today would have been much higher if the economic policies had been rectified along the way, eliminating everything that had been shown to be wrong. Finally, I’d say: “better late than never”.

Comment No. 3 by “Toyo55”:

Of course the economists must feel “bruised” in an environment where the economy isn’t governed by any of the laws they studied and others that they verified, but by a command and control voluntarism that has nothing to do with this science. Luckily for them and for everyone we’re now beginning to see the changes and their results.

Comment No. 4 by “Sophia”:

To understand in a more practical and realistic way the point of the comment above, I’ll say this, when the top leadership of any society doesn’t make possible the required economic participation in the big and small executive decisions, there will be an accumulation of negative implications for the development of the economy itself, something that is really incomprehensible in a country where the government has trained a notable technical workforce in professions related to the economy. With the new policy of President Raul, steps are being taken to recuperate the economy. In my view this will take several years.

Comment No. 5 by Fidel Garcia:

Certainly there will be no relaunching of an economic model without a professional approach to its redesign. So the work of the economists is vital as a science. The economy is not sociology, it isn’t culture, it’s not politics, it’s not ideology, it’s that: the ECONOMY. If the economic responses place the ECONOMY at the centre of decisions, we’ll achieve better results and our economists will be less “bruised”.

Comment No. 8 by “Davo davo”:

The economy cannot be placed above politics, otherwise we’d end up with neoliberalism. The indignados who protest all over the world don’t do it out of rebelliousness or as a hobby, but because they have no choice. OK, now if politics is done without any basis in economics then everything goes to ruin, there's the squandering of resources and constant ups and downs, social apathy when it comes to finding solutions, the list goes on. Everything we’ve worked on in terms of economics during the past few decades has been pushed aside and even marginalised, this is the reality.

Comment No. 9 by “Dariem”:

An excess of politics and too little economics, this is something that has characterised us for the past 50 years, so no wonder what has happened has happened. Many of our “cadres” have no idea about the economy and many are leading sectors about which they have no idea, because they’re not economics graduates, but are in charge because they’re “politically suitable”. Meanwhile, nobody pays attention to the economists nor the experts in the various branches, and the bureaucracy corrodes everything. The ideas that enter the heads of certain bureaucrats are implemented without consulting experts, while the proposals of qualified people fall on deaf ears because they’re not part of the leadership team. I hope they come to their senses and correct all these deformations in our current economic model.

Comment No. 14 by “JuanCriollo”:

It has become a habit in these forums to take advantage of any topic or opportunity to lash out at our social system. I ask myself how naive we are when we try to paint everything in a bad light, when we know everything is nuanced. Some talk as if in 50 years only mistakes were made in our economy, somebody says in a comment above that the laws of the science of economics are violated. The situation today hardly resembles that of 20, 30, 40 years ago. Therefore we cannot judge today the decisions that were made back then. Mistakes have been made and we’ll continue to make them, above all if the desire is to transform a country the way ours was transformed, and above all because the people who began the transformations were inexperienced and the required knowledge comes from this transformation. I don’t justify or sanctify anything, I just remind them that thanks to how things have developed, many of us who criticise and express opinions here exist today. It’s good that we criticise, it’s necessary, more than necessary it’s indispensable, but let’s do it in an objective manner, let’s point out the error and the corrective action. And please, those who recommend the “traditional” economic recipes, take a look at what’s happening in the world where these recipes are always applied, and ask yourself why there are so many indignados today.

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