Saturday, January 7, 2012

Decapitating Cubans’ hope for political freedom

Posted on Saturday, 01.07.12

Decapitating Cubans' hope for political freedom

In the study of government transitions, particularly those that took
place in Eastern and Central Europe following the collapse of the Soviet
Union, a pivotal argument about the sequencing of reforms took the form
of a "chicken or the egg" causality dilemma: What should come first,
political or economic changes? Since, in most countries economic
prosperity is found together with personal freedoms, some postulate that
economic reforms cause the advent of political freedoms.

However, the fact that two events are frequently observed together does
not mean that one causes the other. Logicians often offer a quotidian
example to illustrate the reasoning error: We press the button to call
the elevator, wait impatiently, and then press it again. The elevator
arrives, and we incorrectly deduce that the second button push is what
caused the elevator to come. In logic, the principle that correlation
does not imply causation is known as the " cum hoc ergo propter hoc"
fallacy, (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this").

The error of this argument can be readily shown by examining the
experiences of China and Vietnam.

China began profound market-based economic reforms in 1978 and Vietnam
shortly after. Today, both of these countries are significantly
wealthier, but after three decades of economic progress, political
reforms have not followed. China and Vietnam remain totalitarian states
and classified as "Not Free" in the yearly Freedom House ranking.

What the experiences of China and Vietnam demonstrate is the virtue of
free-market reforms and capitalism as engines for economic progress. The
experiences of these countries cannot be logically offered as a path to
personal freedoms and citizenry empowerment. Note, for example, that
China's new wealthy business class increasingly is seeking to live
abroad to be able to enjoy a freedom as basic as having a second child.

This would be a pedantic discussion except that the reasoning fallacy
leads many, motivated by high ideals, to embrace coercive polices on
humanitarian grounds. Isabel Paterson in her classic 1943 book, The God
of the Machine, labels this syndrome "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine."

In the Cuba policy debate, the humanitarians with the guillotine endorse
minuscule and coercive changes by that totalitarian regime as
meaningful. For example the Cuban government recently announced, with
considerable fanfare, that the number of permitted self-employment
activities would be increased from 178 to 181. Now, in addition to being
able to baby-sit and shine shoes, Cubans will be allowed to do tile work
and become party planners. Humanitarians applaud this humiliating doling
out of subsistence.

The most recent reform captures headlines like "Cuba will allow the
purchase and sale of properties." The reality is much more pernicious.
The sales will be on a cash basis only since there is no mortgage
banking system. Cubans do not have discretionary capital for such
transactions, and thus the transactions are likely to be financed with
remittances from the Cuban diaspora — hard currency transfers that will
strengthen the regime.

In principle, humanitarians and all freedom-loving people would agree
that policies that tend to prolong the existence of totalitarian regimes
should not be supported. In practice, misled by the "with this,
therefore because of this" fallacy, they end up doing just that. In
doing so they release the guillotine's blade that decapitates the hope
for political freedoms.

There is a great deal of pain and distress incidental to existence, and
the desire to do good for others can lead us to accept change without
political freedoms and enforced by compulsion. But, the relief for this
existential distress lies, not only in improving material well-being,
but in obtaining the personal freedoms that give meaning to human existence.

In the political realm these freedoms are expressed in open debate and
via free, fair, and frequent elections that allow a citizenry to change
its leadership. These are conditions that do not exist in China, Vietnam
or Cuba and are not likely to follow economic liberalization.

Good governance and our pursuit of happiness require political pluralism
and an engaged citizenry empowered to change its leaders, as is vividly
expressed by the old adage: Politicians and diapers must be changed
often, and for the same reason.

José Azel is a senior scholar at the University of Miami's Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and the author of the book, Mañana in Cuba.

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