Communism is Bad, Policy is Discontinuous

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Cuban economic performance under 50 years of Communist dictatorship has been unimpressive as even Fidel Castro seems prepared to admit. This leads Daniel Mitchell to post the following chart which he deems “a good illustration of the human cost of excessive government.”

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I think this mostly illustrates the difficulty of having a rational conversation with Cato Institute employees about economic policy in the developed world. Cuba is poor, but it’s much richer than Somalia. Is Somalia’s poor performance an illustration of the human costs of inadequate taxation? Or maybe we can act like reasonable people and note that these illustrations of the cost of Communist dictatorship and anarchy have little bearing on the optimal location on the Korea-Sweden axis of mixed economies?

More broadly, I note that orthodox right-of-center Americans have a very schizophrenic attitude toward mixed economies and the welfare state. Both historical and international comparisons illustrate that mixed economies and welfare states are highly successful. When paying attention to this fact, right-of-center Americans tend to laud the virtues of “free markets” and “capitalism.” Which is fine and accurate from one point of view. But then when something goes wrong in the US economy—a big financial crisis—it’s suddenly illegitimate to note that these kind of problems are endemic to free market economies. You see, the American economic system isn’t really free market, we have all these taxes and regulations and subsidies. And so we do! But so does Chile. And so did Chile when it was outperforming Cuba and Somalia alike.

Conversely, liberals seem to me to often do a terrible job of taking ownership of what is a very successful country. The US public policy status quo doesn’t 100 percent reflect progressive ideas, but it’s not libertopia or a country where history stopped in 1955 either. And guess what? By global or historical terms, Americans alive today are some of the best-off people ever. And it’s not a coincidence.