Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bacardi and Fidel

In my view, everyone has it wrong.  The capitalists pride themselves on being rugged individualists when in fact nearly all capitalist enterprise is profoundly collective and cooperative.  The political activists pride themselves on being compassionate collectivists when in fact they are the most naked selfish and vain individualists imaginable.

Take the case of Cuba.  There was a time when the Bacardi rum company was the poster boy for Cuba: "the one that made Cuba famous."  But then along came Fidel Castro and nationalized the company--and everything else that moved in Cuba.  Bacardi's factory became "Administrative Unit 1, a subdivision of the Santiago Beverage Combine, which in turn was under the Provincial Directorate of Beverage and Liquor Enterprises."  It's all told with clarity and charm by NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten in Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba.

If you look at the story of the Bacardi company and the men that led it, they combined unquestioned leadership ability with the talent to herd a bunch of cats, from the Bacardi family to the talented employees.  Along the way there were numerous challenges, from bankruptcy after an earthquake in Santiago de Cuba to figuring out why the rum made at Bacardi's factory in Mexico tasted different from the rum made in Cuba.

Then there is Fidel Castro.  From his public debut as a student activist at the University of Havana he demonstrated himself as the most rugged individualist that ever lived.  Writes Gjelten:
Tall and solidly built, with a long, sloping nose and high forehead, the nineteen-year-old Castro projected self-confidence and authority.  His fellow students were either drawn to him as a natural leader or put off by his know-it-all attitude and his tendency to monopolize conversations.
And of course as he matured, he because more know-it-all and more monopolistic.

The fact is that even though capitalism ruthlessly uses people and resources, it must successfully mix them together and fine tune them in a thousand different ways every day; otherwise it will decline and die.  It lives and dies by cooperation, charming consumers into buying, and employees into over-performing.

But government is a horse of a different color.  It talks a good line about community and cooperation, but in fact what is does is force.  It divides people, exploits people, and everything it does has the taint of coercion.  And when things go wrong it blames the people.  Governments decline and die when the lose the will to use force.

In the 19th century and thereafter, business people and socialist activists have all agreed that business is the acme of rugged individualism and the survival of the fittest.  So it is, except that most of the time business is a team effort and a never-ending need to serve the consumer.

Government, on the other hand, tends always to an undeclared civil war and a naked attempt to loot the state on behalf of your supporters.  Because with government there is always the temptation to resort to force.  Why not?  The government has a monopoly on force.

Well, there's a reason why not.  Humans are social animals, and that means that they survive as cooperative beings that work with each other, because it turns out that cooperation is much more effective than individual effort.  When it is necessary to resort to force within the community it means that cooperative social behavior has failed.

And for anyone that doesn't get it, we humans have conducted a planet-wide experiment in the efficacy of force.  It was called Communism.  Everywhere it was tried it killed social cooperation and turned society into a prison where everything was conducted by the rule and nothing was done by trust and good will.

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