Damning Statistic

An island rich in raw materials and with no shortage of trading partners despite a 45- year-old US embargo now produces less than half as much food as in 1959…

The triumphs of socialist agriculture, eh?

16 comments on “Damning Statistic

  1. An island rich in raw materials and with no shortage of trading partners despite a 45- year-old US embargo now produces less than half as much food as in 1959 and a tenth as much sugar.

    Or – if you switch from growing a single monoculture cash-crop that’s ideally suited to growing in your island, to a mixed range of crops that feed your population, then total production in $ or kg biomass terms will fall.

    However, if your biggest neighbour and former main import/export partner bans you from trading with it and regularly threatens war/sponsors coup and terrorist attacks against you, and all your other neighbours are also monocultures growing the same cash-crop as you, then switching production from the cash-crop and its forex earnings in favour of guaranteed food self-sufficiency isn’t obviously a stupid move.

    It’s an international version of the whole “succesful trade requires enforceable laws” thing…

  2. I love the way that these lefties (I am not referring to John B here) are against free trade, and then bleat on about Cuba being so poor because of the embargo!

    Anyway, at least they’ve cracked the obesity problem!

  3. However, if your biggest neighbour and former main import/export partner bans you from trading with it and regularly threatens war/sponsors coup and terrorist attacks against you, and all your other neighbours are also monocultures growing the same cash-crop as you, then switching production from the cash-crop and its forex earnings in favour of guaranteed food self-sufficiency isn’t obviously a stupid move.

    The Soviets couldn’t produce enough food either. What was their excuse?

  4. Probably, that they started as a subsistence agricultural economy in 1917, then forcibly diverted resources they didn’t really have into building a massive military-industrial complex, because they thought it was more important to have a big army and lots of guns and tanks than to have the population not starve to death.

    [while there were sometimes food shortages post-Stalin, after the balance of the economy went a bit less mad, they weren’t people-starving-to-death food shortages, and were more to do with the inherent and obvious inefficiency of a command economy at doing things beyond basic food, healthcare, education and shelter]

  5. Colin – no, Lysenkoism was only introduced because Russian agriculture was *already* in crisis, largely because of the diversion of output they couldn’t afford to industry.

    Tim –
    1) it didn’t start off as a monoculture cash-crop exporter to China

    2) it still had Japan, Hong Kong and Korea nearbly, who developed as successful trading partners as it developed. And it has traded with China for some time, come to that.

    3) it has implicit and (at times in the past) explicit military support from the only country with any chance of defeating its neighbour in a war

    (of course, the latter is also why Fidel switched his allegiances from random-populist at the time of the revolution to communist once it became clear securing the USSR’s backing was the only way of preventing the US from overthrowing him…)

  6. john b,

    1) So? diversify. They had plenty of soviet money coming in.

    2) Korea wasn’t a rich country in the late 50s.

    3) Cuba had plenty of military assistance from the USSR too.

    and why did the US want to overthrow him? Maybe something to do with offering sub-market prices for the properties of US corporations. Not, a communist though.

  7. 1) They did – that’s why they became less efficient (if you’re a slightly-but-not-very-wet tropical country, growing sugar cane is a lot easier than more or less anything else you can do)

    2) Nor was Japan. That’s why I said “who developed as major trading partners…”. Had Haiti become an industrial powerhouse like Japan, who knows how things might have turned out?

    3) well, yes, as I mentioned. And annexing assets owned by foreigners which you believe were corruptly obtained under the previous government hardly makes you a communist, just a populist.

  8. Probably, that they started as a subsistence agricultural economy in 1917, then forcibly diverted resources they didn’t really have into building a massive military-industrial complex, because they thought it was more important to have a big army and lots of guns and tanks than to have the population not starve to death.

    The Soviets had more than enough resources in agriculture to feed themselves. The problem that these resources were forceably collectivised and centrally managed in such a manner that anything other than rock-bottom levels of efficiency were possible. This is probably the same reason why Cubans don’t have enough to eat.

  9. The Soviets had more than enough resources in agriculture to feed themselves.

    Enough to feed themselves, perhaps. But certainly not to feed themselves and build a massive military capability based on the agricultural system they inherited in 1917 (yes, market capitalism would have

    This is probably the same reason why Cubans don’t have enough to eat

    But Cubans *do* have enough to eat – it’s one of the weird things about Cuba, is that while more or less nothing works properly, nobody is actually starving – poor people in city ghettoes and remote villages alike are much more likely to be fat than skinny.

    I think it’s because more or less the entire economy is devoted to food production, health and education, to the exclusion of absolutely everything else – the opposite of why people starved under Stalin, in other words.

  10. a 50% drop isn’t that bad by the standards of a Socialist system. At least we’re not talking about a mass famine. Like the USSR, or China, or Ethiopia, or North Korea, or Zimbabwe, or Cambodia etc.

  11. “if you switch from growing a single monoculture cash-crop that’s ideally suited to growing in your island, to a mixed range of crops that feed your population, then total production in $ or kg biomass terms will fall.”

    So why is it that the Cubans could not keep on producing their monoculture sugar? Two excuses are offered.

    One, because the Americans refused to buy it. Nonsense, sugar is fungible.

    Two, because the Americans ‘regularly’ threatened war, coup, major spankings yadda yadda. Nonsense. That was largely self inflicted (you do remember Russian nuclear tipped missiles dont’cha?) and never affected commerce even for a moment. The Russians took all the sugar they could get.

    No, it’s the same sad old story: The state pretends to pay and the workers pretend to work. No property rights leads to no self interest leads to no work leads to production drops. The logic is so clear and compelling that only a lefty could miss it.

  12. JohnB, may I just ask you to look at this quote once more – “An island rich in raw materials and with no shortage of trading partners despite a 45- year-old US embargo now produces less than half as much food as in 1959 and a tenth as much sugar.”

    So how is it, if Cuba switched from growing a single monoculture cash-crop that’s ideally suited to growing on Cuba, to a mixed range of crops that feed your population, they are only producing half as much food as they did before the Revolution? They have added more land to food production but are producing half as much food?

    If your biggest neighbour and former main import/export partner bans you from trading with it you have probably done something to annoy it. Like, Oh I don’t know, stolen a large amount of property and investment owned by citizens of that State for instance.

    And if they regularly threaten war/sponsors coup and terrorist attacks against you, then perhaps you have done something too – like support Communist insurgencies and other associated terrorist acts across Latin America.

    And if all your other neighbours are also monocultures growing the same cash-crop as you, then how did you make a profit at producing said cash crop *before* the Revolution?

    Lysenkoism was introduced for entirely ideological reasons as far as I can see – because Communism demanded that Revolutionary science was better than Capitalist science which, as Engels pointed out, Darwinianism is par excellance. But Soviet agriculture was already in crisis, not largely because of the diversion of output they couldn’t afford to industry, but because of the idiocies of Soviet agricultural policies of which diversion of resources to industry was only one factor. If you tie the farmers to the land and refuse to pay them properly for the work they do, then obviously production is going to drop off enormously. Tsarist Russia was a massive exporter of grain. The Soviet Union an importer. Even if there had not been a massive diversion of resources to industry, agricultural production would have dropped off in the circumstances.

    Taiwan didn’t start off as a monoculture cash-crop exporter to China, but close to it. And the Japanese certainly turned it into a producer of two main cash crops for Japan – Sugar and rice. Much like Cuba, Taiwan became a large scale sugar producer but with independent peasant producers rather than plantations.

    If Castro hadn’t sided with the USSR Cuba too might have had the implicit and (at times in the past) explicit military support from the only country with any chance of defeating its neighbour in a war. Chicken and egg really. Castro came to power with support of many Americans if not the American g0vernment. He decided to side with the USSR well before the US started to get nasty.

  13. One, because the Americans refused to buy it. Nonsense, sugar is fungible

    Who, in 1960, is going to buy Cuban sugar apart from the Americans? I guess you could send it all to Canada.

    So how is it, if Cuba switched from growing a single monoculture cash-crop that’s ideally suited to growing on Cuba, to a mixed range of crops that feed your population, they are only producing half as much food as they did before the Revolution?

    Read that sentence again, think it over, and get back to me (clue: sugar is a form of food).

    He decided to side with the USSR well before the US started to get nasty.

    No, Cuba didn’t start to side with (or even meet representatives from) the USSR until early 1960, by which time the US was already plotting to oust Castro and replace him with someone more congenial.

  14. “Who, in 1960, is going to buy Cuban sugar apart from the Americans? I guess you could send it all to Canada.”

    You reminded me of a historical fact that demolishes this argument totally. Both Canada and the USA have for a long time subsidized their own sugar producers. Sugar beets in Canada and cane and beets in the USA. In 1960 neither Canada nor the USA were buying Cuban sugar, we were doing everything in our power to exclude it. That was economic madness then and still is.

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