Freedom (and Free Beer) Tomorrow

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Casey Mulligan on Cuba... Judith Donath on Signaling, De...

Che in Cuba.jpg What's it really like to live in communist Cuba today? In this week's episode, host Russ Roberts welcomes back the University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan, who recently returned from a week-long trip there. Mulligan's observations on the current state of the Cuban people, as well as his optimism for their future, made for fascinating conversation, and left me with lots to think about.

Now it's your turn...What's the promise of freedom for Cubans today? Is it merely a dream that's always just around the corner, or will the Castro regime continue to allow for change in the form of less state control? Have you ever been to Cuba? If so, how does your experience compare to Mulligan's?

1. Mulligan has a lot to say about the differences he perceived between Cuban-Americans and "Cuban-Cubans." What are some of these differences, and what does Mulligan believe accounts for them? What do you think such differences suggest?

2. What has been the effect of the American trade embargo on Cuba, according to Mulligan? Does he underestimate the power of the embargo as a propaganda weapon against the Castro regime as Roberts suggests? What do you think- was the embargo a good idea? What sort of policy ought the United States adopt toward Cuba today, and why?

3. What does Mulligan mean when he suggests that the Castro regime "has passed some kind of market test?" Is he right? What does this suggest about other totalitarian regimes in place in the world today?

4. Which of Mulligan's observations about life in Cuba today most surprised you, and why? Are you as optimistic about the Cuban people's future as Mulligan? Why?

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Trent writes:

Answering #4...

Prof. Mulligan's description of the crumbling buildings in Havana was most surprising. I've read about Cuba's automobile inventory being mostly pre-Castro, but didn't realize that not much new building has been done since then, too. I didn't expect to hear about Cubans living in deteriorating buildings right up to the minute that they're condemned/falls apart.

In my visit to Panama about 10 years ago, I saw some new construction in the port city, but then saw very old construction as we rode into the interior. I recall seeing one multi-story building that looked like it was ready to fall over & was just about to say "At least nobody has to live there" when we went around a corner and saw that a lot of the backside of the building had fallen off....but people were still living in what what left of the shell of it. Very depressing.

Also, I was surprised to learn that Cuba imports almost all of their fish - but it made sense when Prof. Mulligan explained the boat situation (small & falling apart) today - that certainly wasn't the case when Hemingway frequented Cuba!

Dr. Ralph Soule writes:

This was an interesting conversation. I do not believe I have the ability to attempt to answer many of the questions posed because of insufficient data or perhaps it is just my belief that the responses would not meaningful coming from someone like me outside Cuba ("What is the promise of freedom for Cubans?"). Of course American Cubans are much different, in many regards, from Cuban Cubans. They have grown up entirely different social and cultural systems. Certainly, nursing property related grievances like many American Cubans and Palestinians do is bound to have strong impacts on how you see the world.

The only thing I found unexpected in the conversation was the dividing of floors that produces a BBQ level. Not surprising exactly because property scarcity seems to inspire all kinds of innovative approaches.

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