Shoes and Arbitrary Prices

By Daisy Valera

Street Scene, Havana, Cuba - photo: Caridad

About two weeks ago I went to several stores to buy some shoes, specifically some tennis shoes.

At the first store, located in the Cerro neighborhood of Havana, they had some I liked a lot; they were a nice color and had a streamlined design. I tried them on but took a long time to decide, because they didn’t fit quite right.

But when I finally decided to get them, the clerk handed me some laces that didn’t at all go with the shoes I had in my hand.

I got upset and left the store without buying the shoes, which cost $8 CUC (the equivalent of 200 regular Cuban pesos or $10 USD) or approximately just over half the average monthly take-home wage in Cuba.

I concluded that the laces had been stolen, but I have a hard time getting mad at the workers knowing that it would have been difficult for them to get them someplace else.

I walked to another store, and there I found the very same tennis shoes.  In addition, to my pleasant surprise, they were only $5 CUC.  Nonetheless, I decided to look for other models somewhere else, so I continued walking.

In the last place I went, they too had the same tennis shoes, and since I had by then decided that these were the ones I liked, I asked for them.  However, even though they were the same ones as in the previous stores, they went for a different price – $6 CUC.

I bought them; I wasn’t going to risk ending up finding they had been sold out in another place or were selling for $20.

Unfortunately, this was not my first adventure with varying prices for the same product in different places.  Almost all products vary in price from one store to another.

I’m not too surprised, the reason for this situation is too evident: the workers in these stores often jack up the prices, almost arbitrarily, for one simple reason: their wages aren’t enough to support them and they have no other remedy.

This is closely related to the fact that mechanisms established by the State to control this situation don’t work, and because the workers are not those who discuss and analyze what should be the most appropriate prices of the products.

These impositions of prices seriously threaten how a socialist society should be, where the workers are the ones who should make the decisions.