Reading Richard Feinberg’s book, Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy, reminds me of the phrase, “Sometimes it’s better to be approximately right rather than exactly wrong.” This point was driven home for me in the collapse of LTCM (run by two Nobel Prize-winning economists) – and provides an interesting counterpoint to Feinberg’s use of economics as a lens for understanding the study of relations between people during the production, distribution and consumption of wealth in a society.
The book uses economics as a social science to describe Cuba’s opaque economic situation and is the most authoritative tool for decision-makers formulating strategies for market entry into Cuba. It’s also an interesting read for Cubaphiles seeking accessible and thoughtful analysis on Cuba’s future.
I’m particularly fond of his simple descriptions of key issues that capture the rotting roots of Cuba’s problems as well as the green shoots, “The tragedy of the Cuban Revolution is this: it endowed its citizens with abundant human capital, while sadly it left them bereft of the tools or incentives to gainfully employ their acquired talents.”
Listen to Feinberg discuss Cuba issues and his book in a podcast from the Brookings Institute.
In terms of economic theory, there is enough to support his key conclusions without dissolving into an abstract intellectual exercise. For example, Feinberg elegantly describes the failed economic theory of the import substitution industrialization model (ISI) in the context of Costa Rica’s experience and the eventual reversal that led to the country’s successful transition to an open, mixed economy – much like one that Cuba could become.
The book details specific examples of the experiences of several high profile foreign investors along with an analysis of what’s worked and what has not worked from the point of view of Cuba’s potential to attract vital investment and know-how as it integrates with the global economy.
Cuba: Open for Business traces Cuba’s efforts to rebuild its economy following the disappearance of its long-term patron, the Soviet Union – Robert Feinberg
No examination of Cuba’s future potential would be complete without addressing Cuba’s rich artistic talent. On this, Feinberg says, “The creative industries could well become a hallmark of the new Cuban economy.” Add to this the influence of Cuba’s entrepreneurs and emerging middle class (the subject of a whole chapter) and Feinberg’s analysis puts a fine point on how Cuba may accelerate today’s modest economic gains into a, “genuine boom.”
There is a revealing chapter, Millennial Voices, that profiles the perspectives of 12 young Cubans who are meant to describe Cuba’s future from a personal perspective. This personalization ads a “Cuban” quality to the work, and I look forward to following the path of these contributors.
Finally, Feinberg offers three scenarios for Cuba’s future. They are: “inertia and exit,” “botched transition and decay” and “the soft landing.” I urge you to read the 222-page book over the weekend to discover these thoughtful potential outcomes.
Richard E. Feinberg is a nonresident senior fellow in the Latin America Initiative at Brookings and a professor of international political economy in the School of Global Policy and Strategy (formerly the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies) at the University of California, San Diego. Previously, Feinberg served as special assistant to President Clinton for National Security Affairs and senior director of the National Security Council’s (NSC) Office of Inter-American Affairs.
While at the NSC, he was the principal architect of the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami. He has served as president of the Inter-American Dialogue, executive vice president of the Overseas Development Council, and held positions on the policy planning staff of the U.S. Department of State and in the Office of International Affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department. Since 2005, he has been the book reviewer for the Western Hemisphere section of Foreign Affairs magazine, the flagship publication of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Council on Foreign Relations, member
University of California, San Diego, professor