Friday, September 04, 2009

Toilet Paper Shortage? Don't Worry, Communist Party (And Granma) To The Rescue!

The article is Cuba faces toilet paper shortage. Here is the intro:

"There's good news and bad news in Cuba.

The bad news: There's a shortage of toilet paper, and officials in Havana say it will not ease until the end of the year.

The good news: Day-old copies of the Communist party's newspaper Granma, a traditional substitute, are available for less than a U.S. penny. And that's six to eight full, if rough, pages per day.

Cuban officials say the shortage is the result of the global financial crisis and three devastating hurricanes last summer, which forced cuts in imports as well as domestic production because of reductions in electricity and imports of raw materials.

But CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria says that ``at the bottom of this toilet paper shortage is Cuba's continuing commitment to its bizarro world of socialist economics.''"

A socialist economy is a command economy. That is one of the three economic systems my students learn about in the first week of the semester. The other two are the market and the traditional economy. Socialist economies often have problems like this when they rely on planning. When unforseen events happen they may not be flexible enought to adjust and adapt very quickly.

To learn more about these issues, go to Robert Heilbroner's article on Socialism. Here is a key exerpt:

"Through the 1960s the Soviet economy continued to report strong overall growth—roughly twice that of the United States—but observers began to spot signs of impending trouble. One was the difficulty of specifying outputs in terms that would maximize the well-being of everyone in the economy, not merely the bonuses earned by individual factory managers for “overfulfilling” their assigned objectives. The problem was that the plan specified outputs in physical terms. One consequence was that managers maximized yardages or tonnages of output, not its quality. A famous cartoon in the satirical magazine Krokodil showed a factory manager proudly displaying his record output, a single gigantic nail suspended from a crane."

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