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?


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

11 thoughts on “Freedom to Choose

  • 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.

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