Freedom to Choose

Dmitri Prieto

Bayamo vendor.

The recent speech by President Raul Castro to the National Assembly laid out the prospects for the diversification of self-employment in Cuba.

The possibility of allowing self-employed people to hire their own workers was even mentioned.  In other words, they would no longer be self-employed workers, but true small business people.

Perhaps one of the positive consequences of such a measure will be a greater possibility for consumers to choose products and services based on quality and preference.  As economist Cristina Calvo told me, the freedom to choose is one of the conditions for a descent life, along with self-esteem and adequate sustenance.

I myself wrote a while ago (see Self-employment in Cuba: Who Wins?) of the “Special Period” crisis having now been “surmounted” (by the boring uniformity of State products) when at some of the city’s busiest bus stops there had been arrays of food stands with diverse selections of products.  In these places one could choose whatever refreshment to drink and whatever sandwich or sweet to eat, and the salespeople’s treatment is even congenial.

Let’s hope this happens again.

Even though we are now so accustomed to the same thing and more of the same thing being sold, a liberalization of small businesses would not be bad.

I would also want systems implemented in the public sector where it would be possible to choose your own doctor or the school where you could send your children.  Clearly, many of those things are addressed today through “pulling strings,” meaning the combination of personal relationships and administrative resources outside the established norms.

If education is truly diversified, it could stimulate qualitatively better forms of instruction.  This would also increase the capacity for creation in Cuban society as a whole and in the face of tremendous world challenges.

However…the proposed changes point toward a new private sector.  What will be the social effect of the appearance of a new small business class with a wage-labor work force?

On the other hand, is it indispensable that property be privately owned for the freedom of choice to exist?  The neo-liberals would respond yes, flatly.  Even some socialists would perhaps smile sadly in agreement… Or maybe not?


11 thoughts on “Freedom to Choose

  • August 10, 2010 at 3:14 pm
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    Dmitri, I just wanted to add a comment on the idea of choice. In Britain, “freedom to choose” with regards to the welfare state was a key policy of New Labour. In the end there was a backlash. The problem became known as “the tyranny of choice”. A quick google search gives the following article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=0006AD38-D9FB-1055-973683414B7F0000
    To quote its opening paragraph: “Logic suggests that having options allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. But, as studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery.” Rather than choice, what people were really concerned about was the quality of what was on offer. Thus in my opinion, choice is somewhat of a red herring. Socialism needs to have dynamism and diversity and that requires more complex feedback systems than are present in the Soviet Model. Choice is certainly a necessary component of such feedback, but it is not the be all and end all. Rather a balance is what is required.

  • August 10, 2010 at 12:54 am
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    Was the contradiction lost on everyone? Freedom to choose inherently requires freedom to produce, to sell, to respond to ever changing consumer needs. Co-operatives deal with the issue of income distribution among its members but not among co-operatives. So, it is really irrelevant here.

  • August 9, 2010 at 10:56 pm
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    George, thanks for the reply. My 2009 book is a short, futuristic novel entitled A Gladness in the Eyes. It was felt that a popularization in novel form would be a good first presentation. As it turned out, it’s a pretty good read! A second book, a non-fiction programmatic statement, should be available shortly.

    Wow . . . Thanks so much for your constructive and deliberative words, and especially for the info re Cyprus. What is occurring through HT in English is the kind of exchanges of ideas that the socialist movement needs, if we are ever to solve our movement’s problems. (Circles has accomplished quite a feat!)

    I’ve got about 100,000 things to say in reply, but not a lot of space in which to say them. So, let me just touch on one item, and perhaps talk more via email.

    Re “don’t attack Marx . . . It’s counterproductive.” Thanks, and I understand. It’s what everybody says. May I reply respectfully: I have to speak the truth as I see it. The evidence indicates that Engels and Marx were provocateurs. “By their fruits you will know them,” and their fruits have been a catastrophe for world socialism. Either they were stupid and incompetent, or they deliberately injected militant-sounding yet objectively counter-transformational ideology into the socialist movement.

    Whether they were provocateurs or not however, Marxism is the main obstacle to the triumph of authentic socialism in the world. Its unworkable state monopoly economic formula has utterly disgraced the name of socialism, and it has disoriented the socialist vanguard for a century-and-a-half. (Surely I’m not off the mark here.)

    Socialist theory can only develop if it is pursued with a scientific frame of mind. This means that the core economic formula of workable socialism should be worked out according the Scientific Method. A proposed economic formula for socialism should be taken as a “hypothesis” ready for debate and exprimentation.

    Marxism however did not and does not do it this way. Two bourgeois guys said in 1848 that “this is the way it is,” and everyone came to accept their pontifications as though they were holy scripture. I’m sorry, George, but historical experience and common sense says that their core formula was and is absolutely, utterly wrong.

    What am I supposed to say? “Yes, everybody, Marx was the Jesus Christ of socialism, for now and forever, and we have to abide by his holy words, no matter what our experiments and our experience in the real world indicate to the contrary.” I will not say it, and I will ask every honest in the world not to say it and be disoriented by it any longer.

    You are saying: “No, we shouldn’t be religious about Marx’s works, but let’s not attack Marx because so many have so much faith and affection for him.” Uh, George . . . If you buy this argument, that is fine. I cannot. I must speak the truth as I see it, and let the chips fall as they may.

    The bottom line is this:

    Marxism formulates socialism as “state monopolization of the land and all the instruments of production.”

    Modern cooperative socialism formulates it as “direct ownership of the instruments of production by those who do the work, through employee-owned cooperative corporations on the Mondragon model, with significant but partial “preferred” stock ownership by the socialist state.”

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