Thinking of the Almighty $

Rosa Martinez

Breadline. Photo by Stephen Wong.

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 15 — Payday is a joyous day for many people.  The money received for a month of work gives them a little sense of well-being.

As for me, though, I get in a bad mood whenever I pick up my pay.  I get irritated thinking only about the thousand and one expenses that I have to cover so that nothing indispensable is left out.

A few days ago I was joking about this very same thing with an Italian friend who lived in Cuba for five years.

My friend Paolo responded telling me that Cubans attach too much importance to money.

“I know that the wages in Cuba aren’t enough,” he told me, “but at least you have things here that can’t be compared with what we have in my country.”  He mentioned the facts that education and health care are free.

Specifically, he gave the example of a medical exam that ended up costing him about 300 euros in Italy, because if he’d waited for the government to provide the service, he “probably would have been dead by the time he got it.”

“Cubans shouldn’t think so much of their idolized money, perhaps that way they’d be happier,” he concluded.

If we hadn’t been friends for so long and I didn’t know how much he cared for me, his words would have irritated me more than my measly salary.  But I didn’t allow myself to give in to my first impulse. Instead, I responded calmly.

Havana's Malecon Seawall. Photo: Yosvani Deya

“I think you’re right, Paolo,” I responded.  “We do think too much about money.  We spend a lot of time talking about the economic crisis, all the shortages, the poor economy, theft and graft.  Almost all conversations between Cubans end up like on one point: how bad things are!”

At that moment I even remembered the comments [in Spanish] made by readers German Castillo and Luismi de Sinope concerning my essay El sueño de una cubana (The Cuban Dream), and I felt anguish.

“I’m selfish,” I said.  “I shouldn’t complain so much.  I should be thankful for what I have had up to now, even though it’s not enough,” I responded to my friend.

“Paolo,” I told him.  “Imagine that here in Cuba you had a nine-year-old girl who was in elementary school.”

With that in mind, I’ll ask you three simple questions:

Did your little girl ever miss classes because one of the soles of her shoes fell off?

Did your daughter ever ask you for a simple toy but couldn’t get it because you didn’t have enough money?

Have you ever had nightmares because you don’t know what you’ll have for your daughter to eat the next day?

“Yeah, Paolo,” I continued, “Cubans do think too much about money.”

3 thoughts on “Thinking of the Almighty $

  • bjmack: Thanks for your socialist appreciation. With regard to solutions, may I recommend that you go to com and review two films: (1) The Mondragon Experiment (51 minutes); and (2) Democracy in the Workplace (27 minutes).

  • I was entranced by this article. I was equally taken back, in a major way, with Grady’s comment. To you both,
    “Brilliant writing!!” Now, let’s find some solutions.

  • Another excellent article, Rosa. Thanks. Please let me make a point and try to relate it to your point.

    One of the traditional beliefs of socialist economic theory is that all, or almost all of the surplus-value created by workers at the workplace–under capitalism–is “appropriated” by the capitalistic employer. But this is a fundamental error.

    Under capitalism the worker produces a great deal of surplus value, but most of it in modern times goes–by various means–to the worker. It is then divided up among the various governments via taxes, and then divided up by all sorts of mainly capitalistic providers of goods and services to the worker and family.

    If the employer has appropriated all or even most of the surplus-value at the point of production, there would have been nothing left for the governments, the banks, the landlords, the insurance companies and a hundred other entities that “service” the workers at the community and consumption level.

    What apparently happens in Cuba however is that the socialist state, which owns almost all workplaces, appropriates all or almost all the surplus-value created by the worker. The worker therefore has but a pittance to take home and purchase the things needed to live and thrive.

    You Cubans then are sucked dry of the surplus-value you create at the workplace as the bureaucratic state takes possession of almost everything. The Cuban state will not give you the monetary means to support a flourishing small business community because it deprecates the small business community, and it has an erroneous conception of “real” socialist economics.

    Do Cubans think too much of money? It would seem so, in the same way that a person walking in the dessert thinks too much about water. The fault is not the Cuban people. The fault is with a state monopoly conception of socialism that relies on a bourgeois moralistic view of money.

    The bourgeois view of money is always trying to tell the workers that they ought to not lust after a fatter paycheck, because the bourgeois wishes to keep a larger slice of the surplus-value pie.

    What is needed of course is a cooperative form of socialism that respects and utilizes private property rights and the trading market, and builds a proper, workable bridge to the future classless society.

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