A Brief Rejoinder

Against the Current, No. 143, November/December 2009

Frank Thompson

I AVOID LIKE like the plague likely unproductive exchanges, so I will be brief (and I hope, not unproductive) in my response to Barry’s response to my brief article.

To be sure, I used comparisons based on market prices. For better or for worse, these are the prices that most of us have to pay. And yes, these prices are poorly related to the labor embodied in commodities. (A first task for any latter-day Marxist economist is to understand what labor theories of value try to achieve and how they fail.)

And thus, yes, using market prices, Cuba was very substantially subsidized by the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent by others, e.g. by East Germany and Hungary (a few of those wonderful Ikarus buses are still running in Cuba). Cuba’s only alternative at the time was to pay instead much higher relative (market) prices.

It’s also true, of course, that the U.S. embargo has cost Cuba dearly in the neighborhood of $1 billion yearly (market prices!) in contrast to the reasonably estimated $5 billion yearly subsidies once enjoyed. Cuba can trade with the rest of the world and now does so increasingly with the United States (which is currently the largest source of Cuban food imports).

As to the bloqueo, it will fall, but along with many Cubans I harbor some ambivalence about the doubtless approaching end of the U.S. government prohibition of its citizens coming to Cuba as tourists. (I say to my students and friends, even as I tell them how they can in fact now travel to Cuba, that I don’t want to personally see them there.) But I think Cubans can manage even that coming influx pretty well.

November-December 2009, web only