Friday, July 3, 2015

"Controlled socialism" and other stuff I learned from the New York Times today

The New York Times, which I heard defended yesterday in an Austin coffee shop as "one of our greatest cultural institutions," serves up front-page comedy gold: "Cuba's Environmental Concerns Grow With Prospects of U.S. Presence" by one Erica Goode. The point of the article is that Cuba has vast undeveloped shoreline, unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean, and that a flood of money from the United States might, er, develop it. Fair enough, but there are too many good moments in this otherwise pedestrian story to let it slip by without savoring the parlor-pinkness of the thing. To wit (emphasis added):

The country is in desperate need of the economic benefits that a lifting of the embargo would almost certainly bring. But the ban, combined with Cuba’s brand of controlled socialism, has also limited development and tourism that in other countries, including many of Cuba’s Caribbean neighbors, have eroded beaches, destroyed forests, polluted rivers, damaged coral reefs and wreaked other forms of environmental havoc.
What? Is "controlled socialism" the new cute and fuzzy term in liberal circles for freaking totalitarian Communism? I totally missed that, but they don't send me every memo anymore. I think that's on purpose.

At any rate, somebody needs to tell Ms. Goode, who apparently rocks an "ABD" in Social Psychology from UC Santa Cruz -- my every relevant prejudice confirmed with one little search on LinkedIn! -- that poverty is a feature of "controlled socialism," not some unintended byproduct. The only commies who aren't poor are the CINOs, and they don't give a fig about the environment.

Then there is this:

Cuba’s green sensitivities evolved as much out of necessity as ideology.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 and the continued isolation by the United States forced the country to fend for itself. With the tools of big agriculture — fuel for heavy machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides — out of reach, farming moved away from the increased sugar production that characterized the Soviet era, turning more to organic techniques and cooperatives of small farmers. Oxen replaced tractors, and even today, a farmer walking behind his plow is a common sight in the countryside.

“Basically, folks said we need the farmers to go out and figure out how we’re going to feed ourselves,” said Greg Watson, a former agriculture commissioner for Massachusetts, who visited Cuba last fall with a delegation studying sustainable agriculture.

Basically "folks said"? Yeah, I bet that's exactly how it went down.

Cut to the World Bank's data on Cuba's agricultural production, setting 2004-2006 at 100. Compared to that benchmark, in 1980 Cuba's ag production was at 134.4, in 1990 it was at 158.1, and by 1995 it had fallen to 88.2 (a decline of 44% in five years). No doubt, "folks" were saying all sorts of things.

By 2014 Cuban agriculture production was up to 103.2 (same index), so still more than 1/3 below the levels of 1990. Meanwhile, Cuba's population has increased around 10%, so the situation is even worse on a per capita basis.

The result of all of this "sustainability" has been, to say the least, not obviously sustainable.

Anyway, this state of affairs will be taken under advisement by the controlling socialists a bit later in the year:

How fully the country will pursue development is likely to be a leading topic at the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party next year, said Dan Whittle, a lawyer and senior director of the Cuba program for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

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