Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Friedman, Free Trade and the Embargo

As a follow up to one of my latest "Ask a Cuban-American" posts that was about how an economist, free-trader, and admirer of Milton Friedman like me could be in favor of the embargo, I'd like bring your attention to this column about Friedman by Alvaro Vargas-Llosa.

Some pertinent excerpts (emphasis is mine):

Yes, he briefly met Pinochet and, during his rule, visited Santiago to talk about free markets. Friedman was by no means a permanent adviser and many of his admirers who undertook the reforms under Pinochet had little relationship with him. But his argument that free markets would eventually undermine the dictatorship sounded like a rationalization for the status quo rather than a wish to terminate it. His critics used that charge against him even as they had the good sense to preserve Friedman-style reforms when democracy came to Chile.
I bring this up because it's important to note that leftists felt that trade with Chile propped Pinochet up. The same leftists that claim to be democrats (small "d") today, yet advocate for lifting the embargo on Cuba. I think it's obvious where the hypocrisy truly lies but just in case, here's another key excerpt from Llosa's analysis.
As for Friedman’s supposed espousal of big business to the detriment of the little guy, the truth was exactly the opposite. For him, the separation between government and business was as important as the separation between church and state. He understood that businesses prefer for governments to bend the rules in their favor rather than compete, and he wanted the little guy—that is, the consumer, and not the legislator and his cronies in big business—to determine success and failure in the marketplace. The expression “free to choose” said it all: It was about expanding choice for the little guy. In those countries where Friedman’s ideas triumphed, workers became shareowners, tenants in housing projects became proprietors, kids without college degrees became entrepreneurs and many a corporate giant came tumbling down, unable to withstand the daily choices of the common folk empowered by the separation between state and business.
And that is the key difference between Pinochet's Chile and castro's Cuba. In Chile the democratizing aspects of trade were allowed to work because there was a separation between the private and public sector. The same could be said of today's China, which has a long way to go in the areas of human rights but where economic liberty is growing. When Cuba takes steps to privatize large segments of its economy, I believe that we should lift the embargo. I would also in that moment pressure the Cuban government to release all the political prisoners unconditionally.

No comments: