This is an extraordinary piece. This little book goes out to powerfully demonstrate that Cuban GDP has not fallen due to the US-imposed economic blockade. If you, too, wonder what the point of such nonsense is, that makes two of us.
Atikian’s starting position is that the often repeated claim that Cuba has been hurt economically by the blockade has not been proven in numbers. From this position, he leaps to a statistical orgy, which in the end only shows that GDP has not decreased in the years right after the imposing of the blockade. He in fact manages to present it as something positive for Cuban economy, since it forced the Cubans to find new trading partners, who, in the end, happened to pay them above market-prices for their sugar. And likewise, when this fantastic trading partner disintegrated in 1991, Cuba opened up for tourism – another boon for the economy! No problems there.
Of course, Atikian is a bureaucrat, a math-fetishist who tries to depict complex economical issues using GDP as the sword of Alexander (which makes it all the more ironic when he accuses others of maintaining ‘a myopic focus on Cuba’s poor output level instead of its growth record’). Well, GDP doesn’t encompass literacy levels, social equality, the crippling brain-drain after the revolution, agrarian reform, national vs. private ownership of resources and manufacturing, (attempted) industrialization, and so forth – major economic issues that were turned upside-down in a few decades and affected millions of peoples’ lives. But Atikian persists. Since Cuba’s GDP increase is similar Jamaica’s in period X, it thus follows that the embargo had no ‘macroeconomic impact’.
Another point worth mentioning is Atikian’s handling of agricultural vs. industrialized countries. Of course, if one were to only read statistics, one could easily get the impression that countries who ‘concentrate less’ on agriculture have higher economic output, just as one could prove a correlation between shoe size and IQ (adults have larger feet and usually higher IQ). But then one would completely misrepresent the reality of a sliding development from agriculture to industry that most advanced economies go through. The key here is that industry replaces agriculture in a country that is allowed to develop (what is popularly called ‘3rd world’, ‘South’, ‘developing countries’, etc.) – countries do not choose either agriculture or industry (in fact, there is something called industrialized agriculture). Atikian’s cluelessness reaches its climax when he bundles Botswana and Iceland together in terms of economic growth (and ballyhoos Botswana’s ‘concentration’ on diamond mining).
I do find this text, with its naïve economic dogmatism, illustrative of our times. Books usually help our understanding an issue by adding another point of view, or a ground-breaking analysis. Cuba Under Embargo does the opposite: it tries to cram a lively and multi-faceted discussion into a single number. When reality doesn’t fit, he adapts it to his theory – textbook definition of dogmatism. Atikian writes: According to its own data, Cuba shows no mass poverty, illiteracy, or high infant mortality. Simply put, what the rest of the world – even Cuba’s worst critics and sworn enemies – praise Cuba for, namely their highly conscious and egalitarian social policies, Atikian uses to smear them. Cuba has no mass poverty (depends on your definition) – ergo, the blockade has not harmed them. What a pitiful sight an economist becomes, when he is detached from the planet.