Cuba beats USA again, this time on child welfare

I’m no apologist for the Cuban government, but it’s noteworthy that despite its much lower GDP per capita, Cuba keeps beating much richer countries in social and environmental league tables drawn up by some highly respectable NGOs. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Oxfam America contrasted the carnage in New Orleans with Cuba’s extraordinarily effective disaster response. Then the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s 2006 Living Planet report identified Cuba as the only country that achieved high levels of human development while living within its environmental footprint. Now Save the Children UK has developed a new Child Development Index (CDI) and sure enough, there is Cuba at number 20, the highest placed developing country and three slots above the USA.

Launched today, the CDI builds on the UNDP’s work on the Human Development Index (indeed Terry McKinley, formerly of the UNDP’s International Poverty Centre and now based at SOAS in London, was involved in both). It combines three indices of child deprivation: non-enrolment rates in primary school, moderate or severe malnutrition and infant mortality to give countries an overall score. Of the 137 countries with reliable data, Japan comes top, Niger comes bottom, So what did all this number crunching reveal? In a seminar on Tuesday, SCF UK’s head of policy David Mepham gave his three headline findings as:

1. Nutrition is a massively neglected issue in development: progress on malnutrition is slower than on the other two indicators, malnutrition accounts for 3.5 of the 9.2 million child deaths every year, and some countries perform worse on child nutrition than their GDP per capita would suggest. India for example has child malnutrition rates approaching one child in every two.

2. Growth is not enough: growth is a very blunt instrument for improving children’s wellbeing (back to Cuba v US again)

3. Equity matters: issues of rights, power, discrimination and exclusion are crucial in understanding children’s wellbeing (or lack of it).

 The index, which comes along with a nice interactive map on the website, could become a very useful addition to the range of measures of development. So far, so good, but I think SCF could have gone further in two areas: firstly, it would have been interesting to make an explicit comparison between country performance on child development, compared to its ranking in the Human Development Index or GDP per capita league table, to assess which countries are particularly child (un)friendly. Cuba, for example, is only number 51 in the HDI league table, presumably reflecting its lack of economic dynamism. But what other patterns emerge?

Secondly, it could have tried to include measures of inequality, or even trickier issues such as children’s voice, agency and enjoyment of rights. These are harder to measure, but figure prominently in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides SCF’s work. Of course, adding equity would have meant Cuba ended up even further in front of the USA!

Which brings me back to the dangers of an excessive focus on indicators. I’ve agonised about this before on the blog, so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll end with a joke: One night a policeman saw a macroeconomist bent double scouring the gutter beneath a street light. He asked him if he had lost something. The economist pointed to a spot a hundred yards down the road and said, “I lost my keys over there in the alley.” Unsurprisingly, the policeman asked him why he was looking for them under the street lamp. “Because this is where the light is,” explained the economist. For light, read data – its availability draws us inexorably away from the keys and towards the streetlamp like (to mix a metaphor) moths to a flame. But what if those were the keys to development we were looking for?

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Comments

5 Responses to “Cuba beats USA again, this time on child welfare”
  1. The capitalist media is pro-capitalist, anti-socialist propaganda. I get my information from non-capitalist sources. And my sources tell me that most people in Cuba have a better life than people do in most countries. And my sources tell me that the minority who want to leave (and go to the USA) are people who allow themselves to believe in the myth (constantly broadcast from Florida to Cuba) that “everyone in the USA can be rich, and that being rich makes people happy.”

    What brings happiness? Participatory democracy (including participatory democracy in each workplace), and basic human rights, such as food, clean water, health care and shelter fit for human beings. Beyond that, we will not find happiness in getting extra wealth – but we will find happiness in relationships (e.g. romantic relationships and good times with friends), being altruistic, and in meditation/philosophy/religion/spi
    rituality. : )

  2. Ken Smith

    Yes – I’m no apologist for the US government either. Has anybody ever done any serious work why the flow of migrants is one way. Is who is leaving Cuba the ecomonic entrepreneurs with the resources to do so ? and the poor of the US who would benefit under Cuba’s social systems just are unable to leave ? or does the US just have a better Hollywood PR agent ?

  3. Well, in reply to what you have written, Ken:

    In answer to your question, I guess you are asking about a rigorous academic-type of study- and that I don’t know.

    However, I can say this:

    Most sources (including the more “respectable” sources, such as the U.N., and including many of the non-socialist sources which criticise things about Cuba) agree that Cuba prioritises free health care and free education for all of its citizens, and so has a great education system, which produces a very highly educated population.

    Cuba has a different economic situation to the ex-colonial countries of Europe and Japan, and also different to certain ex-colonies, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. And the reasons for this are clear to anyone who does a basic study of economic history.

    It is different to Europe, because Eastern Europe was not colonised, and Western Europe colonised Cuba and many other lands, and exploited them, taking the wealth of their empires back to Western Europe, enabling them to industrialise. This devastated the colonised lands and peoples, halting their development, and often damaging their development – e.g. during the British Raj, India’s superior textile industry was destroyed by British economic laws, enforced by superior military power, thus enabling Britain to develop its own then weak textile industry.

    Cuba’s development is also different to that of the prosperous ex-colonies (e.g. the USA) for a few reasons:

    Unlike those other ex-colonies, Cuba remained a colony much longer – until 1959 (first a colony of Spain, and then from 1900 to 1959, a colony of the USA). This means that Cuba’s wealth was plundered until 1959, enriching Spain and the USA, and impoverishing Cuba – with devastating economic effects in Cuba. Then after 1959, there was some capital flight which the nationalisations did not prevent, and also a massive brain-drain (because many of the more educated people preferred privileged lifestyles, and so emigrated to capitalist countries where they could continue to live in privilege).

    Hmmm… Australia, New Zealand and Canada developed their capitalist economies in a similar way to the USA – by genocidal expansion across massive resource-rich lands, at the expense of Indigenous peoples. Cuba did its expansion early, when much of its wealth was still being taken to Spain (unlike the Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, which were “settler colonies” and so kept most of their wealth, even while part of the British Empire). And Cuba’s colonial expansion happened early, before capitalism, so the gains could not be used to industrialise Cuba.

    Also, Cuba was a slave economy, with a largely slave population for most of the years between the landing of Colombus until 1959 – (from 1492 until almost 1900). As a colony of Spain, it was the last, or one of the last, countries to end slavery. Thus for most of those years, and until more recently than most countries, the majority of the population was not educated, and given little regard in other ways, and allowed little opportunity for self-improvement. (The effects of slavery on a population can be seen in the legacy of slavery in Haiti. Haiti is still very messed up, and one of the main reasons is because most of its population were slaves, and so once they kicked out their white masters, they started with almost no education, and so on. They were severely handicapped because of this, compared with ex-colonies which had larger educated classes. When confronted with the neo-colonialism that ex-colonies with weaker economies have all faced, and when faced with numerous U.S. invasions, Haiti often capitaluated, because they had been weakened by slavery.)

    Another problem with slave economies and their legacy can be seen in the difference between the Southern states of the USA, compared with the Northern states. During the civil war, the South was doomed, because of the economic difference… and even now, the South is still much weaker economically, compared with the North. This same phenomenon has had an effect on Cuba.

    And as I said, those 4 examples of prosperous ex-colonies are rich in resources, while Cuba is poor in resources. This is another reason for Cuba’s weaker economy.

    And of course, the USA, Cuba’s closest neighbour and Cuba’s main trading partner before the 1959 revolution, has engaged in an economic embargo of Cuba (under “the Helms-Burton Act”), preventing even U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba (if they do, the USA punishes them with fines and prison terms), and not only making U.S. business with Cuba illegal, but also severely punishing any non-U.S. entities that do business with Cuba, by refusing to allow them to do business with the USA. Thus for example, medical researchers, health corporations, and internet corporations such as Google and Yahoo cannot serve both U.S. and Cuban customers.

    This embargo has caused over $80 billion worth of economic damage to Cuba, a tiny country with a poorly developed economy. What can we expect as a result of this on top of all that Cuba has been through since Colombus? Prosperity??? Let us not ignore the context of history – and let us not talk like Cuba’s socialist experiment is occurring in a vacuum! It is a struggle against the legacy of COLONIALISM, and the aggression of CAPITALISM, which continues to try to use any means necessary to bring Cuba back into the capitalist world – to be exploited by the first world once more, as the other Third World countries are.

    Now, all of that said, apparently, the current economic situation in Cuba means that people working in the tourism sector can get much more (e.g. from tips) than doctors and other professionals who most people would agree are more essential to humanity’s well-being. This capitalist distortion of the economy means that Cuba has “the best educated taxi-drivers, waiters and prostitutes” in the world….

    And another result of Cuba’s economic situation is that many people in Cuba get their free Cuban university education, and can get much moremoney, working as a doctor, engineer, etc., treating privileged people in a capitalist country. So those who value money more than they value solidarity with poor people, and more than they value helping the Cuban economy, well they leave, and take the benefit of their Cuban education with them….

    There is something else that makes a big difference: thereis a U.S. law which favours Cuban immigrants, giving them automatic citizenship. Massive numbers of people go into the USA illegally from other Latin American countries, too, across the Mexico-U.S. border. But they are treated as illegal immigrants! The incentive for people from Cuba naturally increases the U.S. immigration from Cuba compared with people from other Third World countries.

    As for immigration into Cuba…. Well, thousands of people from other Third World countries study at university in Cuba for free. The program is to help other countries, by educating their citizens….

    Apart from that, most people outside of Cuba live in capitalist countries, where the information they get is from the capitalist media, etc., so most of them have capitalist values (e.g. become rich and accumulate possessions to become happy), and with all the anti-Cuba propaganda, most of them imagine life in Cuba to be no good. Therefore few people would have any reason to try to immigrate there.

    Just a side note: there is immigration into revolutionary Venezuela – e.g. from Colombia. There is also immigration out of Venezuela – mainly by people from the privileged classes….

    And one more thing about Cuba: there have been other reasons for immigration out of Cuba. For example, when the USSR collapsed, Cuba had food shortages, and other economic problems, because Cuba imported much of its goods from the USSR, and with the collapse, Russia’s generosity and trade relationship with Cuba ended. For a number of years, life in Cuba was much more difficult because of that. However, Cuba is recovering from that.

    A recent hurricane also devastated Cuba, causing massive damage to the electricity network, destroying 500,000 homes. In a Third World nation of 10 million people, that is a very serious economic catastrophe!

    Cuba’s post-1959 culture is much more about solidarity than capitalist countries, so in the wake of that disaster, people are helping each other alot…. And Cuba values human life alot, so they have an effective system to save lives when there are hurricanes… therefore, despite that massive a damage to property, only 7 people lost their lives. (Compare this with Hurricane Katrina and hurricane effects in capitalist Third World countries, and you willsee the difference in how Cuba cares about human life.)

    Viva Cuba!

  4. Oh, I forgot to say, my last point was that, with the recent hurricane’s massive devastation of Cuba, we can expect an increase in immigration out of Cuba. But is this reason to attack Cuba’s political-economic system? Is this reason to maintain a devastating economic embargo against the people of Cuba?

    Would it be preferable for Cuba to have a system like that of Haiti, Honduras or Guatemala? Would that make people less likely to leave Cuba then? Ha! Only in the vivid imaginations of people who ignore the economic reality of other Caribbean Third World countries. Better to be one of the poorer people in Cuba than beone of the poorer people in Haiti, Honduras or Guatemala, or the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, the “Democratic Republic of Congo”, Nigeria, South Africa, etc..

    Viva Cuba!

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