Toothbrush Solutions for Cuba

Julio De La Yncera


HAVANA TIMES, Dec 30 — A few days ago I read an article in Cubadebate that caught my attention. The article deals with the production of toothbrushes in what is apparently the only factory that produces them in Cuba – and which is, of course, state-run.

The article informs us of the low demand for the factory’s product. It also noted that the price of a toothbrush is high for consumers. A Cuban must pay 16 pesos, which is equivalent to more than a half day of work.

The article ends by explaining that the Cuban population is not in the habit of changing toothbrushes regularly and that they don’t brush their teeth four times a day. They add that the high price explains the low demand. The piece then concludes saying that this situation causes major expenses in dental services.

I was reviewing comments on the article and many people complained about the quality of toothbrushes. Supposedly the bristles detach easily, thereby posing a danger. Some people complained about the high price while others explained that the toothbrushes are actually inexpensive, pointing to low wages as the problem.

This article reminded me of the wise English expression, “Never put all your eggs in one basket,” which translated into our context would be written as “Don’t make all your toothbrushes in a single factory.”

In this case, the fundamental problem is not the consumers. The explanation for the low demand is certainly the product’s poor quality and its high price for ordinary Cubans.

One wonders how the price of a toothbrush produced in a Cuban socialist company is determined, and how do they ensure that the products produced have the quality necessary to avoid creating greater problems.

I think the problem occurs for several reasons.

The management of the company, like all socialist enterprises, has nothing personal invested in the company’s success. If what occurs is like what happens in the worst cases, they will be transferred to manage (or rather de-manage) another company.

This is an example of why a state monopoly is terrible from any perspective one looks at it.

Let’s say that instead of one company, there were at least two companies producing toothbrushes. And let’s say that these two companies were owned by individuals. It would be in the best interest of these individuals to make the company work properly.

This means they would produce quality and affordable products, the opposite of what happens at the socialist enterprise in question.

In addition, these companies would probably pay for television and radio commercials for their products, explaining and educating the public about why oral hygiene is necessary and how their product is better than that of the competition.

From the competition between the two companies, the price would be optimized to the maximum that consumers were willing to pay and the companies would price the product at the minimum necessary to trigger the sale and movement of these so as not to cause them losses.

These individuals would pay taxes to the government on their profits, and another part of the proceeds could be devoted to research for better toothbrushes or other methods of cleaning the teeth that are less costly and more effective.

Meanwhile, with a state monopoly we have a group of workers who might lose their jobs, and rightly so, because they don’t do them well.


27 thoughts on “Toothbrush Solutions for Cuba

  • January 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Well, it is evident that, no matter how many times I tell you that I reject state monopoly socialism, you will continue to hammer me with declarations that it cannot and does not work.

    No matter how many times I assure you that state monopoly socialism is not state monopoly capitalism, you will continue to insist that it is.

    Conclusion: Let’s stop beating the old proverbial dead horse.

    Like you, I believe in free enterprise. Like you, I am against monopoly, and in favor of democracy.

    Unlike you, I know that the capitalism we know in the world is not free enterprise, that it is monopoly and that it is destroying the world environment and thereby the futures of our children and grandchildren.

  • January 4, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Sorry guys for the delay

    Grady let me address this

    “This of course speaks to an issue that you do not deal with, that life and our consciousness under capitalism is forced to focus on products and consumerism. All the spiritual and communal joy we ought to be enjoying, that ought to make our lives seem worth living, recedes into the background and is often lost.”

    Yes, you are right some people do get affected with consumerism but it does not happen to every one. My point is always that this should be a choice each individual must make. There should never be a State making that decision for all of us. There are decisions that should be made by a state. This is not one of them. The same goes for economic system. The state should not be responsible for this. The state should not tell us that we should all work for the state (State monopoly) or that we should all work for our own cooperative. But should let ourselves decide what we like. If you like to work for the state and government you do, if you like to work on your own you do. If you like to work for a cooperative you do. It becomes your own personal choice. This is exactly what we have. I see no problem with that. You mentioned that there are some Mondragon style projects in the US. I see no problem with that. I think the decision to integrate oneself in any of these projects is an individual decision and it should not be a dictatorial decision coming from above, from an elite or a party.
    When I speak of socialism I speak about the kind of socialism I know. The one from Russia and Cuba and Eastern Europe, I know you have mentioned that this is not socialism. I think I have proof that what they call socialism is in fact state monopoly capitalism. I already advice you not to use socialism for your system because it confuses people, you can called for example cooperativism or something else but do not call it socialism. Now with regards to cooperativism, again I asked some questions you have not answered me.

    I already predicted bad consequence from the economical point of view. If I recall correctly what I said before.
    A system where a group of people get to share more or less equally the profit will conduce to hyperinflation.
    My example in particular was Apple. If Apple was a cooperative each of their employees will get millions of dollars. The issue with it is that if you have too many rich people the price for everything goes up. Because there is more money but the actual things we want food, services and anything else is still the same. That produces inflation. The Mondragon system may work at small scale because at small scale is no different from a capitalist enterprise. But this does not scale well when you take it to the whole society as a system.
    The other big issue I believe your system presents is that it will be extremely difficult for start ups to small enterprises to compete with the great cooperative conglomerates.
    I have to tell you that socialism in Cuba the communal thing have disappear and right now is more like the “dog eat dog” that Luis mentioned with regards to capitalism. It has become very individualistic where people are in survival mode with some of them literally starving. For example I used to work in a school in Cuba and the principal will eat lunch that was different and better than ours. Now I work for a fortune 500 corporation and the owner have lunch in the same place and the same food we eat. Do you see? And this has been my experience here. Free capitalism may appear selfish but people that live in free capitalism are not. Socialism appears as unselfish but people do become more selfish. Interesting right? I think sociologist should investigate why this is. I think is got a lot to do with scarcity. Socialism there is a lot of it. While in free capitalism there is abundance of everything that is my guess.

    I have already said this but here it goes again. I believe there is a future that is near where many of the problems that we see today will just disappear. All of them thru technology and some human will. There will be real big changes in the next 20 years. From robots to machines that can talk and answer questions and be smart maybe as smart as humans or more. Those are huge changes with really big implications. The question as to what system should we use may not be a valid question anymore. We will have a new set of questions then. About what means to be human, it will be a new universe to think about.

    It was not me but Luis who said you are Marx bashing but let me tell you what I think.
    I do not believe that Marx intentionally did what you said. I think he came up with a solution that he thought will work. As it happens, in theory it looks good but in practice it does not work. What surprises me is why we humans take so long to realize this. There are many still out there that believe that Marxism (State monopoly capitalism) will work. It Is like this people can not draw conclusions from history. They can not learn from past mistakes. Again I like you to note that the capitalism that Marx witness is not the same we have today. Maybe if he was alive today he will be perfectly ok with it specially when compare to “socialism”.

    Look in my article the prediction was that some workers will loose their job and the truth is that really is not all their fault. I will place the real fault on the system. State monopoly does not incentivize people to work. It does not matter how many times Raul or any other leader asks them to produce more or to produce more with quality it will not happen. Words have no practical value to people, real money does. I am not sure if you guys are aware that Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban peso that is worthless and the CUC that is almost equivalent to the dollar. The Cuban workers are paid in Cuban pesos and the majority of the things they purchase they have to acquired it using CUC. This is a very exploitative system where the government not only pays them next to nothing for their labor but also gets them with an extra tax when they convert from one currency to the other before purchase. I do not think is an exaggeration when I have called the current regime a mafia in power.


    “No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.”

    I do not agree with this. I think is important how you get there. Let me explain. Suppose workers did not get pay anything and that we just each work and when we go to the stores just get what we need. That sound beautiful right?
    Well here is what will happen in practice.
    People will not work and people will just look like they work but do nothing. Nothing will be produce in the country and there will be not enough to satisfy all the people’s needs. Then the president will have to ask of us to please work or to do our job better or to be careful with the quality. Because nothing is assigned a value we loose sense of what it means to eat a lobster versus an egg or anything else. This is almost what happens in Cuba. In some sense this is almost like going back to slavery! So do you really think that the white cat is the same as the black cat?

    I think there have to be some restrictions on free capitalism too. Specially that one about monopoly I totally agree with you about the concentration of Power/Money in a small group of people is very dangerous. Is a monopoly of the will. This is what has happen to Cuba.
    The socialist economy thinks they can plan the economy and that they can do better. This is not so. They plan nothing. Everything does not work according to plans and many of the plans are totally wrong. Capitalism is self regulating just like the centrifugal governor on the Watt’s engine to control the speed of the engine. Here in the US we pretend to control capitalism thru monetary policies. Interest rates and so on. We control the economy setting low or high interest rates. The rates at what companies can request loans. The short term interest rates and the long term and from there banks take guidance and set their own interest rates. So in a sort of way there is direction setting at grand scale by the government. Some how I visualize the US economy like a big mothership (the US government) surrounded by a huge army of small little ships. Each of those little ships are the big businesses in this country. The fortune 500 companies and then each of this surrounded again by even smaller ships and so on until we get to each of us. We are the sailors. When any of the big ships is sinking the big mothership could decide to save it or let it sink. For example the car companies where sinking a few years past and our government decided to save them. I think they did the right thing but this point to another problem. When a company is too big that it can not fail, It is in practice a monopoly of sorts. We should not let that happen.

    I really enjoy having this conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *