The Economic Transformation of Cuba, by Edward Boorstein, (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1968) pp. X, 303 $7.95.
Edward Boorstein is an American Marxist economist who worked in Cuba between May, 1960 and September, 1963.
In those three-odd years he spent most of his time helping to plan revolutionary Cuba’s foreign trade policy, enjoying what he calls “the most satisfying work experience I have ever had”.
The Economic Transformation of Cuba is thus the work of an individual who was positioned extremely well to observe the economic changes that the revolution brought to Cuba.
Boorstein’s book is much more a set of personal reflections than a systematic and scholarly study. Nonetheless, two levels of analysis appear throughout, one representing a valuable set of insights concerning what was going on in Cuba in these early crucial years of the revolution, and the other an interesting, if not always satisfactory, commentary on important issues associated with the process of economic development in general, and socialist development policy in particular.
The bulk of the book is concerned with tracing the chronological sequence through which revolutionary Cuba’s economy passed. Roughly this sequence can be described as 1959-60, revolutionary enthusiasm and spontaneous growth; 1961, increasingly severe economic problems associated with the failure of the regime to establish clear priorities in resource use; and 1962-63, introduction of comprehensive economic planning together with a reversal of the revolution’s previous negative attitude towards sugar. Presumably Cuba still is in the latter period in which earnings from sugar – Cuba’s “leading sector” – will be used to diversify and modernise the rest of the economy.
In one sense it is the 1959-60 period which is the most fascinating one from the point of view of a development economist. Boorstein recalls in detail the disorganization and chaos in Cuba’s economic institutions which appeared during this hectic period. By the end of 1960 most of Cuban industry had been nationalized, and the Cuban Government and people had to devise means by which the economy could be operated. It appears that not only were they successful in doing so, but, especially, based upon the utilization of previous wasted resources, substantial economic growth occurred. While economic blunders which later were to cost the Cubans dearly were made, this period was one in which the long dormant energy and enthusiasm of the Cuban population was mobilized and set in motion. According to Boorstein the intensity of effort exerted by the population during this period resulted in gains made by the economy in excess of the economic costs associated with its reorganization. He writes that “even from a narrow economic point of view, the benefits of rapid, mass action far outweighed the error and waste.”