September 19, 2010
Cuba's communist leaders are laying off more than 500,000 workers from
their bloated government payroll and telling them to get jobs in the
private sector. Just one flaw in the planning: There is no private
sector -- at least, not much of one. The Castro brothers have spent the
past 50 years systematically eliminating it.
As a result, the government controls at least 90 percent of the economy.
By official count, there are only 143,000 private-sector workers,
although there is an active underground economy. Many Cubans have
something going on the side, outside their official state jobs.
There are 5.1 million government employees, about 1 million too many,
estimates President Raul Castro. He proposes first laying off those who
frequently don't show up for work and don't do much when they do. This
doesn't sound like the most promising human capital to build a private
sector basically from scratch.
But, he told the National Assembly, "Now we have to erase forever the
notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live
without working." Since the average monthly wage is $20, you're barely
living if you do work.
These layoffs are to be completed by next March. By then, according to a
Communist Party document obtained by the Associated Press, the workers
put out on the street will have found raising rabbits, painting
buildings, making bricks, collecting garbage, piloting ferries, driving
taxis, repairing cars, cutting hair and making candy and dried fruit.
That's a real severance package for you -- a pair of rabbits.
"Many of them could fail within a year," the document says.
There is no mention of what happens to the workers whose small
businesses fail, but presumably they will still receive heavily
subsidized food, transportation and housing and free medical care.
Cuba has been mulling some kind of privatization since Raul took over
from his brother Fidel in 2008. And he has let private farmers begin
cultivating unused state-owned land. But unless and until this
private-sector experiment works out, Cuba-style socialism remains an
inefficient remnant of a Soviet-style economy.
In an admission that probably caused the Cuban people to gasp
collectively, "Why didn't you tell us this 50 years ago?," Fidel Castro
remarked offhandedly to an American reporter, "The Cuban model doesn't
even work for us anymore."
He later said he had been misunderstood and that he had meant to say
capitalism doesn't work anymore. Sure, he did. Those rabbits may yet
prove him wrong.
By Scripps Howard News Service