]]]]]]]]]]   COMMUNISM: MYTHS ON MORAL SUPERIORITY      [[[[[[[[[ 
                    By Heather S. Richardson           (12/10/88)
    From The Wall Street Journal, 9 December 1988, p. A20:4
    (Ms. Richardson is a portfolio manager at U.S. Trust Co.)
Review of ``The Poverty of Communism'' By Nick Eberstadt

            [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Even  staunch  adherents  of  free  markets  often  accept the
premise  that, on  a fundamental  level, communist  economies are
morally superior, providing a  more thorough and equitable safety
nets  for  their populations.   Marxist-Leninist  governments fan
this  contention by  boasting of  their literacy  programs, basic
health care,  and full  employment.  After  all, their legitimacy
hinges  on  a  self-proclaimed ability  to  end  exploitation and
material want.
   But what if that premise is wrong?
   In his book, ``The  Poverty of Communism'' (Transaction Books,
311 pages, 24.95), Nick Eberstadt  examines the available data on
poverty  in  communist  countries.   He  focuses  on  demographic
statistics,  which   are  easily  comparable,   provide  a  solid
indication  of  the  quality  of  life,  and  are  independent of
ideology or social system.  What he finds is fascinating.
   Cuba,  as we  all have  heard, is  often cited  as a  model of
literacy  and  health.  Castro,  in  fact, told  a  visiting U.S.
congressional  delegation  in  1977  that  since  the revolution,
Cuba's  literacy  rate  had  jumped from  25%  to  99%.   Yet the
literacy  rate at  the time  of the  revolution was  already 79%.
Furthermore, Cuba subsequently changed its definition of literacy
to include only those age groups  most likely to be literate.  At
best, Cuba's likely literacy rate  currently runs between 90% and
93%, which is  equal to or  below its socioeconomic  peers in the
Western hemisphere, many of which 30 years ago had literacy rates
equal to or lower than Cuba's.
   In  the area  of health,  Cuba's statistics  may be  even more
suspect.  The Cuban Ministry of  Health (which is responsible for
producing  and  checking the  numbers  used to  evaluate  its own
effectiveness)  has averred  that  between 1975  and  1985 infant
mortality declined  40%.  Yet  in the  same period,  the reported
incidence of acute diarrhea was  up 52%, food poisoning increased
63%, acute respiratory infection was up 146%, German measles grew
at 220%, and chicken pox rose  406%.  All have a high correlation
with infant mortality.
   This  paradox is  heightened  by the  use  of life  tables (an
indirect  and more  accurate way  to  calculate, and  check, life
expectancy statistics),  which indicate that  for certain periods
in  the  1970s,   Cuba's  infant  mortality   rates  were  rising
substantially.
   Cuba  is not  the only  communist country  experiencing health
problems, however.  Based on its medical system, the Soviet Union
can  no  longer be  considered  a developed  nation;  Soviet life
expectancy, at 69, is not only back  down to a level last seen in
the late  1950s, but  is below that  of such  countries as Chile,
Guyana, Panama and Uruguay.   The country suffers from increasing
infant  mortality  (children  still  suffer  from  influenza  and
rickets, while the high abortion rate, which runs at six to eight
per woman, vs. 0.5 per woman  in the U.S., damages the uterus and
affects the health of newborns).  Mortality rates for all age and
sex groups are rising.
   It  is not  surprising to  find,  therefore, that  health care
spending, as a percent of Soviet gross national product, declined
from 9.8% in 1955 to 7.5% in  1977 (vs. an increase over the same
time period  from 6.8%  to 11%  in the  U.S.).  What  health care
there  is focuses  on quantity  over  quality, providing  lots of
low-paid staff but  lacking in drugs,  anesthetics and disposable
bedding  and  needles.   Nor  is  the  Soviet  Union  alone; life
expectancy  in the  Warsaw Pact  countries, which  was comparable
with that of Western Europe in the early 1960s, now lags by three
to  four  years, having  held  constant or  fallen  while Western
Europe's has risen.
   Even China is not exempt.   Its overall health care statistics
have kept up with  its peers.  But these  achievements seem to be
occurring at the cost  of systematic discrimination against rural
areas, where life  expectancies are three  to four years shorter,
and where  medical expenditures  are one-ninth  what they  are in
cities, and food subsidies are one-tenth.
   As  Mr.  Eberstadt   notes,  Marxist-Leninists  claim  special
insight, promise special  results, and demand  special powers and
authority  to make  concrete their  vision  of a  better society.
Communist  countries, after  all,  purport to  be  without crime,
without  homelessness, without  unemployment,  and also  claim to
provide  adequate  health  care for  all.   Yet  their  record in
improving health is no better  than that of comparable countries,
and  may even  be worse.   Nor  are they  much more  effective in
alleviating hunger or increasing literacy than their peers.
   They have founded systems that produce one-time gains from the
initial redistribution of  wealth, but in  which wasted resources
and production  inefficiencies lead to  stagnant economies unable
to  keep pace  with the  needs  of their  populations.  Communist
governments  rule   the  lives   of  one-third   of  the  world's
population.   Since  they  have set  the  terms  of  discourse on
poverty, communist countries now should be measured against their
promises.

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