Frequent commenter Pototo brought up something in the open thread which I think is worth commenting on. He referenced a NYT article on a study in Cuba conducted by the International Republican Institute. The study is a survey of Cubans about the issues confronting their country. I have previously blogged about the IRI’s poll of Cubans when they conducted the first “wave” and published the results in October of last year. Interestingly, I don’t think the NYT picked up on the story back then. Perhaps another sign of changing coverage of Cuba.
Pototo was worried that the Cubans surveyed selected economic concerns as the issue that most troubles them. The actual question was:
What do you think is the biggest problem in Cuba?
The most popular answer was “low salaries/high cost of living” with 43.1% giving that response.
“Lack of political freedoms” was third with only 8.9% giving that answer.
As someone that works with surveys a lot, I can assure you that there’s a lot of different ways to interpret this data. And of course we are assuming that the data was correctly accumulated (and in the right proportion of men to women, young to old, and in correct proportions from around the island).
The first thing we have to look at is the question. In this case the respondent could only give one answer that would be characterized as “the biggest” problem in Cuba. That doesn’t preclude other problems from being “big” but just not “as big” as the one they selected as “biggest”.
It makes perfect sense that economic concerns would rise to the top of the list in the minds of most Cubans. Here’s why:
You may have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a theory that states that humans have a series of needs but that each need has a different priority. As basic needs are met, humans seek out fulfillment of their higher needs.
Not surprisingly, food, shelter and water are among the basic needs that we all have. The thing is that the policies in communist countries are based on the idea that some people don’t get their basic needs met because other people are using resources to meet their higher needs. It’s a false premise that states that there is a finite amount of wealth and as a result if someone is wealthy he must be wealthy at the expense of others. We know, of course, that this is crazy. For example a wealthy person from the past, Henry Ford, helped raise the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of workers who had jobs thanks to him. In turn the economy grew because of the increased motorization of our country. Things feed off of each other and, no matter how many times they tell you the contrary, a rising tide does in fact raise all boats.
But communist dictatorships are premised on a bargain. The bargain is that you gave away your right to fulfill your higher needs in exchange for the security of having a guarantee that your basic needs (and everyone else’s) will be fulfilled. Although the citizens never voted on it, it is a certain form of social compact. The reason Cubans have economics on the top of their list for what screwed up about Cuba is that they very clearly recognize that the regime is not living up to its end of the bargain. It’s not putting food on the table, it’s not putting enough money in their pockets to fulfill basic needs.
Just because they don’t put political liberty at the top of their list of complaints does not mean that they are blind to the connection between political reform and economic well-being. As the same survey shows, the majority of Cubans believe that a democratic government would be better suited to solve the country’s biggest problems. Even among those who felt the biggest problems were economic 63% said a democracy is called for to fix them.
H/T to Adventures in home working for the image.