Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want to set up operations on the moon. “An exclusive look at Jeff Bezos’s plan to set up Amazon-like delivery for ‘future human settlement’ of the moon” (Washington Post, March 2, 2017) reports Bezo’s Blue Origin plans to to set up moon habitats by mid-2020. From separate story: “Jeff Bezos says NASA should return to the Moon, and he’s ready to help,” (Ars Technica, March 3, 2017):
Bezos explained the philosophy behind this idea. “We are hoping to partner with NASA on a program called Blue Moon where we would provide a cargo-delivery service to the surface of the Moon, with the intent over time of building a permanently inhabited human settlement on the Moon,”
The Washington Post also reported on Elon Musk’s plans for SpaceX moon flights in 2018: “Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year” (February 27, 2017).
The Diplomat asks “Are China and the US Set for a Showdown in Space?” (January 28, 2017). China’s interest is more economic than military, exploration, or for scientific research:
… Chinese views on space resources are particularly under-studied. Space resources deserve to be studied because of the potentially vast economic value and potential to cause inter-state conflict. … China conceptualizes space activity principally within the context of economic development, which has important implications for space resources and property.
Elon Musk and other private U.S. space companies also focus on economic opportunity, beginning with lucrative satellite launches, and preparing for space tourism for wealthy customers, and then looking at mining and other moon resource opportunities. Like high-definition televisions, the wealthy buy high-tech goods and services first. Their early high-dollar purchases help pay for further development and innovations that bring costs down for wider markets.
This Motley Fool article looks at SpaceX as a for-profit business: “How Does SpaceX Make Money?,” (June 25, 2016). This Space.com article, “Blue Origin’s Sweet Spot: An Untapped Suborbital Market for Private Spaceflight,” (August 12, 2016) reports:
A central objective of the company is creating a commercial suborbital space tourism vehicle for paying customers. But Blue Origin also plans to make money by taking science experiments into the final frontier.
Critics complain that much SpaceX income comes from federal funding (“Without NASA there would be no SpaceX and its brilliant boat landing,” (Ars Technica, April 11, 2016). But supporters of SpaceX, Blue Origin and other private space companies reply that NASA is fully federally funded and its launch and exploration costs are far, far higher (in part because they rely on traditional NASA/military contractors).
So, the debate over private vs. government space exploration tilts now toward private firms. This TEDx presentation by Jeff Greason, “Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It,” then of XCOR, outlines how commercial space development brings costs down.
The Chinese are heading to the moon as well, and Space.com reports on “China’s Lofty Space Ambitions Include 2018 Landing on Moon’s Far Side” (December 28, 2016):
China’s Information Office of the State Council on Tuesday (Dec. 27) released an expansive white paper on that country’s space activities in 2016. The document also projected a look at China’s space agenda over the coming years, a plan that includes a lunar sample-return mission and the first soft-landing on the far side of the moon in 2018.
And from 2015: “China unveils plan to land on mysterious far side of the moon” (Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2015).
Back to potential U.S./China conflicts in space, The Diplomat article above reports on controversial 2015 U.S. legislation:
While many analysts believe the topic of space resources is far removed, there are at least two companies in the United States working on mining asteroids: Deep Space Industries (DSI) and Planetary Resources International (PRI). In 2015, Congress passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which established a “first come, first serve” principle for property ownership in regard to space mining, and the United States has granted a license for Moon Express to accomplish the first commercial landing on the moon.
The U.S. law has been controversial worldwide. Since China is a growing power in space and an active member in formulating international space policy, its attitudes are perhaps of greatest importance in normalizing activity related to space resource utilization.
Mining and other operations on the moon may be a legal challenge as well as a technical and economic one. “Mining the Moon? Space Property Rights Still Unclear, Experts Say,” (Space.com, July 25, 2014):
But it’s unclear at the moment who is allowed to extract and profit from the moon’s resources, leading to a growing debate within scientific, entrepreneurial and policy circles — a debate made more lively and complicated by the changing landscape of stakeholders in space.
Lunar exploration is no longer the domain of governmental agencies alone. With activities like the Google Lunar X Prize and private-public partnerships stimulating a “New Space” industry, commercial organizations have business plans and are attracting investment to develop low-cost, regular, reliable access to the moon within a decade…
See also, “Moon Mining Idea Digs Up Lunar Legal Issues,” (Space.com, January 13, 2011)
More on Google’s Lunar X Prize here: “Google Lunar X Prize: The Private Moon Race Teams (Images).”
Also opening possible paths to the moon is the nonprofit Waypaver Foundation:
WayPaver is a catalyst for possibility. Through our efforts to eliminate roadblocks to Lunar Settlement we generate momentum for sustainability on Earth, the moon, and progress in further space development.
Waypaver’s lunar settlement page is here.
For the March/April 2017 Lincoln-Douglas Debate: “Resolved: The United States ought to guarantee the right to housing,” students enter the value side of a century old debate on policies to provide access to safe and affordable housing.
Students searching for “a right to housing” quickly find supporting articles and books, such as: “The Case for a Right to Housing,” “A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda,” “Housing as a Human Right – National Low Income Housing Coalition,” “The Right to Adequate Housing” and many others.
The “right” has been written into several international standards documents and covenants and is widely supported by human rights groups.”
[Then quoting Alexander:] The human right to housing, embodied in several international treaties, declarations, and constitutions, establishes that every person has a right to adequate housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.
After quoting the 1949 Housing Act goal of “the implementation as soon as feasible of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family,” Everyday Debate asserts:
However, to date, the goal has never been met since there has been no serious effort by the federal government to provide the needed resources.
It’s not clear what a “serious effort” would look like, but the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars providing low-income housing and billions more have been spent by state and local governments for housing projects and subsidies. Affirmative debaters can advocate housing rights and for far more to be spent. Mixes with city, state, and federal housing programs are the efforts NGOs (non-government agencies) like Habitat for Humanity and many other local, state, and national nonprofits. More on NGOs and private housing below.
Students find claims that governments are not doing enough for [food safety, housing, education, child care, health care, etc.] and claims by conservatives and libertarians that government is doing too much. Across the political spectrum critics insist housing policy and programs need reform.
Public Choice economists make a separate case that government programs are often subverted or “captured” by corporations and other organized interest groups. The history of housing for the poor in the U.S. illustrates the many ways local, state, and federal policies and regulations protect established interests (Section 8 landlords, housing developers, current homeowners, and some NGOs and housing agencies).
To the question of federal spending on housing for the poor, according to the Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2017, Analytical Perspectives (quoted by Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute):
Federal housing subsidies… In 2016, the federal government spent $30 billion on rental subsidies for low-income households and almost $6 billion on public housing. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2016), Table 29-1.
USGovernmentSpending.com has page on total federal welfare spending, with housing expenditures in red in the chart at right, explaining:
There are three major welfare programs: relief (or income security), housing rent subsidies, and unemployment benefits.
The US Government Spending site also offers downloads of year-by-year federal housing expenditures, shown in table here for 2000 to
2017 (in billions of dollars). This is not a claim the federal government “already spends enough” or that current programs already address “a right to housing.” And obviously federal spending on housing subsidies is a lot less than spent in 2016 on national defense ($522 billion or $598 billion).
Students can dive into debates on local, state, and federal housing programs ranging from fraud and cronyism claims for Section 8 housing to stories of local misdeeds in diverting affordable housing funds.
Three housing stories some a range of housing issues: Philadelphia: “Affordable-housing dreams become Section 8 nightmares” (July 8, 2016), Texas/nationwide: “How Housing Policy Is Failing America’s Poor: Section 8 was intended to help people escape poverty, but instead it’s trapping them in it,” and Seattle: “Anatomy of a Swindle: How a Rogue Non-profit Captured the Emerald City,” (September 13, 2016).
The notes and links above on housing policy history and spending may seem more for policy debate than LD value debaters. Students can research positive and negative rights, and the views of natural law classical liberals that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are negative rights. By negative they mean right to life and liberty should not be interfered with by others.
Every claimed right creates an obligation on the part of others not to interfere to restrict rights. A right to swing your arms freely is limited by your neighbor’s nose, and your neighbor’s right to not be hit in the nose limits your freedom of movement.
A natural right to housing would prevent others from interfering with our right to housing, and as a negative right would protect building, rent, boarding, or share a house, apartment, or room. A negative housing right would protect from neighbors or governments unjustly interfering with housing choices (though also would restrict new housing where it imposed unjust burdens on neighbors).
A positive rights claim for housing, on the other hand, creates an obligation on the part of others or government to provide housing. Negative rights claims insist others leave us alone to build, rent, or share housing as we please, but a positive rights claim call upon others to provide housing. This would create a positive obligation on the part of others or government to build, rent, or provide housing.
For much more on positive and negative rights claims for value debaters see the online collection Liberalism, Values and Lincoln-Douglas Debate, (pdf: liberalvaluesld), from “The LD/Extemp Monthly” and later debate newsletters.
We know this because of remarkable success in other major cities. The best example is probably Houston (with Harris and Fort Bend counties), where a determined mayor, Annise Parker, built a public-private campaign that has rescued 77 percent of the region’s unsheltered homeless population, reducing their numbers from 5,194 in 2007 to 1,186 as of last January.
Houston’s unsheltered homeless population is down about 75 percent since 2011, and leaders there credit their new housing-first approach.
The Atlanta Housing Authority uses even stronger language to explain its work requirement for the nondisabled: “AHA continues to believe strongly in the value, dignity, and economic independence that work provides.” In some Atlanta developments, employment rates (or enrollment in education or training) run as high as 94 percent. The Abt report also found that 20 of 34 MTW [Moving To Work] authorities are moving to change rent rules that require tenants to pay 30 percent of their incomes in rent—implying a rent increase of 30 cents for every additional dollar earned and providing an unintended incentive to move to the underground or even criminal economy.
In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that’s often thought of as unfixable: chronic homelessness. The state had almost two thousand chronically homeless people. Most of them had mental-health or substance-abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to try to make homeless people “housing ready”: first, you got people into shelters or halfway houses and put them into treatment; only when they made progress could they get a chance at permanent housing. Utah, though, embraced a different strategy, called Housing First: it started by just giving the homeless homes.
Three teens took home $9,000 in scholarships from Debate Central’s Young Patriots Essay Contest, sponsored by NCPA and Copart, with essays on whether international free trade agreements are in the best interest of the United States. Over 700 students entered and from those the 2017 Winners are [click to continue]
See more HERE.
The department will spend $154 billion in 2016, or $1,230 for every U.S. household. After adjusting for inflation, spending has increased 45 percent since 2000. The department operates about 268 subsidy programs and employs 90,100 workers in about 7,000 offices across the country.
These agricultural subsidies distort trade, which adversely affects poor farmers and environmental protection in developing countries. Subsidies also impose a fiscal burden on taxpayers. Conversely, reducing agricultural subsidies in the United States (and other developed countries) could help poor farmers in developing countries compete in the marketplace, reduce ecosystem degradation and help reduce federal spending
…the United States has been a major player in the global rice trade since the 1970s. The country may only produce around 2 percent of global output, but it is consistently among the top five exporters in the world. Arkansas rice is eaten around the world — from Japan to Mexico to Turkey — and roughly half of the rice grown in the state is sold in foreign markets.
The U.S. reached an agreement that would enable rice exports to China, according to a trade group, a development that would give U.S. rice farmers their first foothold in the world’s largest market for the grain.
USA Rice, which represents growers, millers and exporters, said late Friday that officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture had informed it that Washington and Beijing agreed on a protocol to allow U.S. producers legal access to China, which has long barred American rice.
The article reports US rice production estimates for 2015-16 at 6.1 million tons, with over half, 3.1 billion tons, for export.
But federal rice subsidies distort rice production, encouraging marginal producers and artificially boosting rice supplies for export, foreign rice producers complain and lobby to restrict rice shipments from the US. Foreign governments also subsidize and protect domestic rice farmers, so trade negotiations often turn on “level of subsidy” claims.
“US files trade complaint over China’s ‘excessive’ ag subsidies“(CNBC, September 13, 2016) reports Obama Administration formal complaints to the World Trade Organization:
“China’s excessive market price support for rice, wheat, and corn inflates Chinese prices above market levels, creating artificial government incentives for Chinese farmers to increase production,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a release.
Froman noted that China exceeded its allowable subsidy limits on corn, rice, and wheat by $100 billion in 2015 alone. America’s rice, wheat, and corn industries typically average $20 billion per year in export activity, according to government figures.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the previous farm bills, the U.S. government provided an average of $1.53 billion in annual support for rice between 2000 and 2004. Under the Agricultural Act of 2014, CBO projects the annual outlay for rice from 2014 to 2018 will average around $231 million.
Thailand’s government spent far more:
Thailand’s rice paddy pledging program is a textbook case of how not to run a farm subsidy program. What started as an effort to win farmer support during parliamentary elections in 2010-11 became an economic disaster that cost the government of Thailand $27.7 billion before it ended in 2014.
The Economist‘s leader, “Hare-grained,” (November 14, 2015), outlines the mess that Japan, South Korea, China, and other Asian countries have made of the international rice trade:
Tariffs, quotas, floor prices, ceiling prices, producer subsidies, consumer subsidies, state monopolies—no measure is too meddlesome (see article). As a result, the market for rice is more distorted than that for any other staple. Rice growers pocketed at least $60 billion in subsidies last year, according to the OECD, twice as much as maize (corn) farmers, the second-most-coddled lot.
The full article, “Paddy-whacked,” explains the problem in its subtitle: “By meddling in the market for rice, Asian governments make their own citizens poorer.“
Rice policy matters a lot for Asia’s 4.4 billion people, about 60% of the world’s population, as Asians consume 90% of the world’s rice,
Asia consumes 90% of the world’s rice. It is used to make flour, noodles and puddings. Babies and the elderly survive on rice gruel. Steaming rice porridge is eaten for breakfast in skyscraping hotels in Hong Kong and rustic village kitchens in Hunan.
The U.S. government supports domestic rice production through tariffs on imported rice and direct taxpayer subsidies based on production, prices, and historical acreage. Those programs make rice one of the most heavily supported commodities in the United States, with ramifications for U.S. taxpayers and consumers and rice producers abroad.
Back in 2006, Dan Griswold’s Cato Institute Trade Policy Briefing looked at “Grain Drain: The Hidden Cost of U.S. Rice Subsidies.” Here is part of the paper’s Executive Summary:
Americans pay for the rice program three times over—as taxpayers, as consumers, and as workers. Direct taxpayer subsidies to the rice sector have averaged $1 billion a year since 1998 and are projected to average $700 million a year through 2015. Tariffs on imported rice drive up prices for consumers, and the rice program imposes a drag on the U.S. economy generally through a misallocation of resources. Rice payments tend to be concentrated among a small number of large producers.
Globally, U.S. policy drives down prices for rice by 4 to 6 percent. Those lower prices, in turn, perpetuate poverty and hardship for millions of rice farmers in developing countries, undermining our broader interests and our standing in the world. The U S. program also leaves the United States vulnerable to challenges in the World Trade Organization.
For our own national interest, the U.S. Congress and the president should work together to adopt a more market-oriented rice program in the upcoming 2007 farm bill, including repeal of tariffs and a rapid phaseout of subsidies.
Federal government rice subsidies have changed since 2006, but still involve significant taxpayer subsidies and price distortions internationally. The U.S. could be a leader in reforming damaging rice policies in China and across Asia.
Mercantilist policies still dominate across many industries, from steel to agriculture. Rice is no exception. Governments want to be self-sufficient in rice and where possible promote exports. Subsidies to domestic rice growers cost each country’s taxpayers millions, and tariffs on imported rice (and other grains) cost each country’s consumers millions more.
Public Choice theory explains how concentrated special interests (like rice growers, millers, and exporters) gain political leverage to enact legislation that benefits them while raising costs for consumers and taxpayers (benefits of rice subsidies are concentrated and larger per rice producers and lobbyist, while total costs, though higher, are spread out across tens of millions of consumers and taxpayers).
The same mercantilist thinking and public choice pressures distort rice production and trade in the U.S.. This July 12, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “Should Washington End Agriculture Subsidies?” offers a debate on current agricultural policies, after 2014 reforms. Vincent Smith, arguing against farm subsidies, notes:
First, many people seem to believe that farmers, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” are poor, when in fact the average farm household enjoys an income that is about 15% higher than that of the average nonfarm family. What’s more, the 10% to 15% of farm families that receive more than 85% of all farm subsidies—amounting to millions of dollars a year in a few cases—have annual household incomes many times as large as those of the average U.S. taxpayer. Some estimates suggest that the farmers who receive the bulk of all subsidies—many of whom mainly raise corn, cotton, rice, peanuts, soybeans and wheat—are worth somewhere between $6 million and $10 million on average.
Rice is one of the big grain crops still subsidized, and because rice is the major food of Asia, students could argue that it should be the first to be pulled out of the world of subsidies and left to market competition and international trade.
This May 15, 2015 Bloomberg View article, “Rice Gets a Bath Amid California’s Drought,” looks in depth at subsidized rice production in California: “much of it destined for sushi … shipped to customers, about half of them outside the U.S.”:
As you read this, farmers in the Sacramento Valley are flooding hundreds of thousands of laser-leveled acres under five inches of water as they prepare to plant the annual rice crop. After that comes my favorite part. From the California Rice Commission’s “How Rice Grows” tutorial:
Rice seed is then soaked and loaded into planes. Flying at 100 mph, planes plant the fields from the air. The heavy seeds sink into the furrows and begin to grow.
They will keep growing throughout the hot valley summer (temperatures regularly top 100 degrees Fahrenheit), in the midst of a historic drought. Harvest comes in September, after which the rice — mostly medium-grain, much of it destined for sushi — will be milled and then shipped to customers, about half of them outside the U.S.
The Los Angeles Times article, June 11, 2015, “California rice farmers find Japanese trade negotiators a bit starchy,” looks at other foolish rice policies, beginning with Japanese rice protectionism:
For years Charley Mathews Jr. has exported tons of his best Sacramento Valley-grown rice to Japan, but it grates on him that very little of that has ever ended up on the tables of sushi restaurants or Japanese households.
Instead, the Japanese government, which controls rice imports under a 2-decade-old quota system, has given away most of his and other foreign rice as food aid or sold it domestically as animal feed and an ingredient for rice crackers.
Again, however, U.S. rice farmers benefit from a range of water and price subsidies. Bloomberg View’s “Save California Farmers From Themselves,” April 27, 2015, looks at the water subsidy values for California rice farmers:
In a 2004 study, the Environmental Working Group estimated that the total subsidies for the Central Valley Project added up to roughly $600 million a year. While farmers dispute that figure, they don’t deny they have a very special deal. Why else would they fight efforts to make the pricing of water more market-based and defend their “rights” to it?
This competitive advantage has been worth tens of billions of dollars. All over the West, farmers served by federal projects have benefited from 50-year zero-interest loans, with generous repayment rates, plus low-cost power. And about 45 percent of the farmers who receive irrigation subsidies are growing commodity crops (such as rice and cotton) that qualify for price supports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a classic example of double dipping.
This giant international rice farming mess seems endlessly complicated. But at the least the U.S. could be a leader in saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by ending the rice subsidies that also encourage rice protectionism in Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries.
Ending the Cuba trade embargo would shift sugar production back to Cuba and away from ecologically fragile lands in the U.S. “Protect the Everglades, not sugar farmers,” (Florida Sun Sentinel, Feb 16, 2017) argues:
Unfortunately, the most important state agency involved with Everglades restoration remains committed to the interests of sugar farmers instead of the environment.
At Wednesday’s hearing, South Florida Water Management Executive Director Peter Antonacci restated the district’s opposition to Negron’s proposal. Antonacci told senators that buying the land actually could hurt restoration efforts.
Why does the water management district oppose the idea? Because U.S. Sugar opposes the idea, and U.S. Sugar has donated $425,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s political action committee since the 2014 election cycle. The company owns only a portion of one of the two parcels, but U.S. Sugar doesn’t want any more farmland out of production.
Sugar production causes political and pollution problems. Since the Cuban embargo blocked sugar imports, acreage around the Florida everglades put into sugar production increased four-fold.
U.S. sugar prices are far higher than market prices because of federal sugar quotas, raising costs for American consumers and reducing competitiveness of U.S. candy and chocolate companies.
In “Protectionist sugar policy cost Americans $3 billion in 2012,” AEI’s Mark Perry looks at costs and consequences of sugar trade restriction:
…American consumers and US sugar-using businesses, who have been forced to pay more than twice the world price of sugar on average since 1982 (29.1 cents for domestic sugar vs. 14.4 cents for world sugar…
See also Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Sugar Soars Above World Prices: Candy Makers Prepare Price Increases,” (WSJ, Dec 7 2014).
Apart from money costs to consumers are environmental costs from water diverted from and pollution seeping from sugar acreage into the Everglades ecosystem. According to colorful Grist article “Is sugar production still wrecking the Everglades?” (Grist, Jan 4, 2016).
As happens in so many places where agriculture butts up against nature, excess phosphorus in run-off contributes to algal blooms and otherwise mucks up the area’s ecological balance — in this case, feeding weedy plants like cattails and choking out native species like sawgrass. This kind of nutrient pollution can be traced back to several human sources, but a recent analysis by the nonprofit Everglades Foundation found that 76 percent of the phosphorus problem there comes from agriculture — and in that neck of the woods, that primarily means sugarcane.
New Study: Agriculture Industry contributes 76% of the pollution in the Everglades, pays only 24% of the clean-up costs.
The EPA is suing the state of Florida for not reducing nutrient flows into Florida waters. Nutrient runoff into Florida waters is caused in part by four hundred thousands acres of sugar plantations in south Florida producing some thirteen million tons of sugar in 2011 (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, May 2012).
Reducing pollution from Florida sugar plantations seems costly, as does reducing sugar production. But actually it is sugar production in Florida itself that is costly for American taxpayers and consumers. Turns out much less Florida sugar would be produced without diverse Federal sugar subsidies and import restrictions.
This March 13, 2013 WSJ article, “Big Sugar is Set for a Sweet Bailout” explains the latest chapter in the decades-long interventionist dynamics of the sugar industry (may be paywalled).
Interventionist dynamics means the ongoing political and economic consequences of government intervention in the economy. Government programs to support sugar producers may be designed to be modest efforts but they soon cause sugar production to go up, which pushes sugar prices lower, which hurts producers. So government looks to further legislation to fix the overproduction problem, but that causes later problems inspiring further legislation. Over the years layer upon layer of legislation makes sugar production ever more complex and convoluted, and tends to benefit established sugar producers while costing consumers and taxpayers millions or billions of dollars.
Some history of US/Cuba sugar can be found in “U.S Sugar Subsidies and the Caribbean’s Sugar Economies,” (Council on Hemispheric Affairs, July 31, 2013):
The U.S. government heavily subsidizes its sugar sector, imposes quotas on sugar imports, and then hectors developing countries on the wisdom of cutting back on their own subsidies. These measures protect private U.S. sugar producers from foreign competition, allowing them to seek unreasonably high prices in the U.S. market. U.S. consumers are likely to lose from these policies, as they end up paying higher prices at U.S. supermarkets, and, moreover, Caribbean sugar prices also have been adversely affected by U.S. protectionism in the sugar industry.
The article continues with some history:
The United States now has an absolute trade embargo with Cuba after U.S.-owned sugar companies in Cuba were nationalized in 1961. Before the revolution, 69.1 percent of Cuban trade overall and 54.8 percent of its sugar trade was with the United States.  The revolutionary government nationalized the sugar industry, a move that was seen as against free market principles. Yet Washington violates similar principles by keeping its sugar policy narrowly in place. Such double standards that block sugar imports from struggling Caribbean markets will continue to impair and distort U.S.-Caribbean relations.
However, opposing the Cuban government’s seizure of privately-owned sugar acreage and then blocking imports of sugar from seized acreage isn’t a “double standard.”
If the Canadian government seized a Ford engine plant in Windsor, Ontario, and then tried to continue exporting engines made there to the U.S., Ford motor company would file suit for return of their plant and for damages. And the U.S. government would support Ford (or maybe send in troops).
But revolutions happen around the world, and when the bullets stop flying and dust settles, lawyers and title insurance companies begin the work of negotiating and litigating to determine compensation and the return or property to owners.
The challenge of the Cuban revolution has been tied up in Cold War politics, and Florida politics. (See: “Why has the US embargo against Cuba lasted so long?” (The Telegraph, Dec 18, 2014) Cubans who fled Castro and prospered in the U.S. know the damage caused by the revolution then, and know from friends and relatives still in Cuba, the ongoing suffering and repression. Many believe opening trade for sugar imported from Cuban government lands would provide income to the communist government, helping sustain the ongoing repression of political dissidents and everyday Cubans.
For half a century the U.S. federal government blocked economic engagement with Cuba, forbidding trade and travel. Ending these restrictions would open the door for curious Americans to visit Cuba more easily, bringing goods and ideas to and from the long-suffering people of Cuba.
Balseros (DVD available on Netflix) offers a captivating look at life in Cuba as the economy’s downward spiral continued after the fall of the Soviet Union. The USSR had long subsidized communism in Cuba. This from an online review of Balseros:
…works like Joe Morris Doss’s recently published Let the Bastards Go: From Cuba to Freedom on God’s Mercy and Carlos Bosch and José María Doménech’s new documentary Balseros (Cuban Rafters) are much grander humanist statements because they give a particularly human face to the horror of two separate Cuban refugee debacles.
Balseros begins with a shot of a woman boarding a ferry in Cuba. An officer passes a hand-held metal detector over her body. “I only have sadness in my heart,” she says, a statement that lingers in the mind way past this devastating film’s final credits. But there are those who still cling to Castro despite the fact that he has left his people with nothing but the cold metal of resentment in their hearts. Bosch and Doménech focus on the struggles of seven rafters: Guillermo Armas, Rafael Cano, Méricys González, Oscar Del Valle, Míriam Hernández, Juan Carlos, and Misclaida. All of them struggle with leaving their families behind or reuniting with family members who left before them. One woman must whore herself to afford the inner tubes and canvas that will build the raft that may or may not succumb under the unpredictable force of the waters between Cuba and Florida.
The U.S. trade and travel blockade has long prevented both gains from trade but also knowledge and ideas crossing borders.
A friend who grew up in communist Hungary tells of all the propoganda she heard as a child of poverty and disorder in capitalist countries. But when she met tourists from the west, she notice they were wearing expensive clothing.
There is no reason Cubans in Cuba should be poorer than Cubans in Miami. Just as Chinese escaping communism by boat to Hong Kong quickly prospered, Cubans rafting to Florida prospered as well.
The Cuban government has long blamed Cuba’s economic problems on the US trade embargo. By removing that excuse, the US would open trade relations that would engage more Cubans and Americans in commercial relationships.
The Cuban government apparently believed it had an agreement with the Reagan Administration to accept Cubans wishing to depart Cuba. Later U.S. Administrations continued to block Cuban immigration due to anti-immigration pressure from conservatives and unions.
The problem for Castro was that Cubans were fed up with shortages and were willing hijack ships to escape. One group hijacked a ferry and headed to Florida, but ran out of fuel.
Castro announced in 1994 that anyone wanting to, could depart Cuba. Quickly thousands began building rafts from whatever materials they could find to try to cross the “Sea of Death.” U.S. policy though was to prevent relatives in the U.S. from assisting, and to intern Cubans wishing social and economic freedom in the U.S..
U.S. policy still restricts Cubans wanting to come to the U.S., even when relatives are willing to support them as they look for work.
Students and teachers have visited Cuba for many years, as educational travel has been allowed by the U.S. government. Categories of legal travel to Cuba have been expanded.
“U.S. High Schoolers Discover Cuba on Educational Trips,” (US News, March 21, 2016) notes travel restrictions were further relaxed last year:
President Barack Obama is visiting Cuba this week, making him the first sitting president to visit the country in nearly 90 years. And last week his administration announced changes to travel restrictions that will make it easier for Americans to visit the country for educational purposes. …
And Marienfeld thinks her students were impressed with the Cuban students’ outlook on the future. Many dreamed of one day visiting the U.S., she says.
“One of the kids said, ‘You know, I was very impressed with how little they had, and how happy they were,'” she says. She thought that was a pretty good observation because they do have – and exist – on so very little, but culturally they are so rich, she says.
In an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s guest praises the amazing classic cars of Cuba. Seinfeld responds asking: “do you think that’s what they want?”
People in Cuba make the best of what they have. But their economy is too small to support automobile manufacturing. The U.S. embargo has blocked exports from the U.S. for over fifty years. So Cubans restore and maintain the Fords and Chevys already in Cuba before the 1959 revolution. For classic car enthusiasts, Cuba is wonderful. But for Cubans these cars are expensive to maintain, and their incomes are low. But why are Cubans in Cuba still so poor over a half century after the Batista regime? (Cubans who escaped to Miami have prospered.)
For decades the Cuban government has claimed the U.S. trade embargo is the cause of Cuba’s poverty. Economists agree the embargo blocked trade that would have allowed both Cubans and Americans to prosper.
But economists also argue that Cuba’s socialist economy system is a major source for the poverty of everyday Cubans. Still, the debate over Cuba’s lack of economic progress continues online, and students asking Google “Why are people so poor in Cuba?” will find a variety of links with opposing views.
For American tourists Cuba may seem a low-cost Disney-like “Fifties World” vacation. But for most who live and work in Cuba and can’t leave, living “on so very little” is not what they wish for if they could choose their government or do depart for the U.S.
This Miami Herald 20-year retrospective video on the 2004 Cuban Rafters story gives a glimpse of life in Cuba then and why so many were willing to take flimsy rafts for the U.S.
“Should the United States Maintain Its Embargo against Cuba?” on ProCon.org lists about a dozen arguments both for and against ending the embargo.
HBO offers a 2016 documentary, “Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death”
A raw, unvarnished look at contemporary Cuba through the lens of its people, who are at once fiercely loyal to their country while being extremely dissatisfied after decades of neglect.