Sam Bowles Takes a Look at Cuba

How Is The Revolution Going?

(Samuel Boyles is an assistant professors of Economics whose area of interest and research is the economics of education, an area of economic study which he has been partly responsible for developing. This spring, on leave from Harvard, he spent two months in Cuba. Radicalism is a tradition in his family; his great-grandfather, of the same name, was the Abolitionist editor of The Springfield Republican. Here, in an interview with SUMMER NEWS Contributing Editor Jerald R. Gerst, Bowles discusses his impressions of Cuba.) Just How Was The Decision To Visit Cuba Made?

Well, about this time last year--a little earlier, actually--a number of us decided we'd like to go. As economists, we were interested in the Cuban economy as a case study in revolutionary development.

It took a long time to get our visas from Cuba. Permission finally came through last August, and Art MacEwan [instructor in Economics] did go then. I decided to wait in order to do a little more preparatory work and so that I would be able to stay longer.

The Cubans, it turned out, were--and are--interested in learning more about the study of economic planning in this country and, particularly, in the study of the economics of education. On my part, I was anxious to offer whatever skills useful to them I had, and to learn about the Cuban economy, and its relation to the educational system. Did You Do Any Teaching While You Were There?

I taught two courses on mathematical models for economic planning at the Economic Institute, which corresponds roughly to a department of economics at a university here, at the University of Havana. And I gave a series of seminars--colloquia really, since the membership varied considerably--on the economics of education. I also spent some time advising economists in the Ministry of Education and as well as the men responsible for the long-term planning of the University. What About Your Family


Well, the kids, my two daughters, went to school, and my wife Nancy did research on housing policy, the role of housing in social and economic development strategy. She's working on her master's in city planning at M.I.T. Both Nancy and I participated in voluntary labor, she worked at planting fields, and I helped clearing brush. Although It May sound Like A Hopelessly Vague And Shopworn Question, What Impressions did You Get Of The Cuban Economy And The Progress The Revolution Has Made?

There are, or at least seem to be, two major objectives of the Cuban Revolution, and what I can say relates to them and the problems and drawbacks surrounding them. The first is to simultaneously establish equality and increase per capita income. The second is to change the nature of man's relation to the process of production, and to alter the way he feels about work.

What is striking about Cuba is the depth of the commitment to achieving equality at the same time as increasing income. The rhetoric is not unique; the commitment is. There are four sorts of inequality that Cuba is trying to eliminate: racial, urban-rural, rich-poor--there is some overlapping between these, of course, but they don't overlap completely--and the social and economic inequality between women and men.

There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of professional women in Cuba since 1959. It's particularly remarkable because of the pre-revolution situation of women in Cuba. Like most Latin countries, women in Cuba weren't particularly active, and their opportunities were limited by the tradition of male dominance. But in Cuba, because of the particular form of tourism, the problem took on an extra dimension, that of prostitution and the dependence of many woman on other service industries associated with tourism. The Revolution, of course, ended the prostitution and gambling immediately. Now, I don't want to make it sound like all the women of Havana were prostitutes or cleaning women; but it was significant numerically and much more so psychologically. The Revolution broke that pattern, and women are playing an increasingly independent role in the economy.

With regard to racial inequality, immediately after the Revolution all formal racial exclusions from clubs, associations, and the like, were eliminated. Accomplishing racial equality is being helped, naturally, by eliminating inequalities between rich and poor.

Racism was never as extreme in Cuba as here, though, so the problem is somewhat easier. And I get the impression that there still hasn't been a complete elimination; for example, some people still frown on mixed marriages.

The inequality between rich and poor, to the extent that it was based on the ownership of property, has been virtually eliminated. Except for taxi cubs and a few other minor exceptions, all non-agricultural means of production are owned by the state, and the government owns about 60 per cent of all the land. And the social inequality due to ownership of property is pretty much gone. There are still some peasants, who by Cuban standards are fairly wealthy and you can make a very good living through owning housing. Private Individuals Can Still Own And Rent Housing?

Yes, There is a limit to the amount of money an individual can obtain from renting housing, but it is fairly high. The fact that the government allows this is evidence of its willingness to accommodate as many groups as possible--at least, in the short run. However, large property owners and shopkeepers were eliminated; one night they nationalized something like 550 bars in Havana alone.

But what is really important is that the tremendous inequalities that existed from this source, from the ownership of property, before have been eliminated. What Percentage Of Housing Is Nationally Owned?

I don't know, exactly. But the government has committed itself to abolishing all rents by the early 70's.