Why Dysfunctional Countries Don’t Recover

The US and much of the rest of the West are in deep doo-doo these days, a foreseeable result of the brand of politics and business we have practiced for decades. But our failings are as nothing compared to dysfunctional Communist and other autocratic nations. Some things work poorly here, but they work. In dysfunctional states nothing is reliable.

There are several reasons Communism doesn’t work very well. One is that corruption is just as likely in Communist countries as elsewhere, but it’s apparently easier to get away with it. Soviet Communist bosses all had their luxury dachas, while the people starved. Tyrants such as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe simply transfer money from the national treasury into their numbered Swiss accounts, while the people starve. Cuba simply starves from ineptitude, although it’s also corrupt. Perhaps if so many of us weren’t prone to corruption, Communism might have had a chance, but that’s not how people are.

In dysfunctional countries nothing is reliable.

A socially coherent society depends on people who act honestly and for the social good. But they aren’t expected to give it all away to the state. People expect their personal initiative to be rewarded with things that sustain them and bring them a better life. Communism removes that personal motivation by dumping all the money that people earn into a common piggy bank. Everyone soon learns that the bank is raided at will by corrupt politicians for their own benefit. When that happens, the state begins a long downward spiral that winds up with practically everything out of order. This is the Cuba and the North Korea we see today. (China, on the other hand, is thriving because they now practice their own mix of communism and market economy, although there is still plenty of corruption.)

For each part of an economy, for example the electric grid, there are a series of people and services that must all function properly in order have electricity. So, if there is no supplier of wire because corrupt bureaucrats have stolen all the copper and sold it, it is irrelevant that the state makes and installs excellent transformer units, which will be unused until they rust away.

When the system screws the people,
the state begins a downward spiral
that ends with everything out of order.

No amount of bureaucratic insistence will bring a dysfunctional system back to life, because it depends entirely on the motivation of people who are no longer motivated because they are routinely cheated. In time the entire system becomes outdated and obsolete, and it is not possible to recover even when there is motivation.

Cuba and North Korea are almost perfect illustrations of how and why these Communists systems become dysfunctional. (It’s worth noting that Cuba just made an important decision to allow citizens to travel without the usually-denied travel visa. North Korea is now allowing some money to be spent on pleasures. It remains to be seen whether either of these steps amounts to anything.) Places like Zimbabwe illustrate how autocratic tyrants remove all motivation and drive the entire country into the ground.

Cuba’s dysfunction is its own, but the people themselves have also suffered from the half century of injustice emanating from the United States. Our embargo has done nothing to alter the Cuban political system, which we should not be attempting anyway. It is hypocritical because we don’t embargo other Communist nations, like China or Vietnam, and US farmers have for decades sold products to Cuba with the blessing of both governments. Much of the reason we participate in this injustice is due to the intransigence of the Miami-Cuban cabal of business owners whose properties were stolen by Castro half a century ago. It is akin to the American Jewish cabal that supports Israel’s half century of mistreatment of Palestinians in their own land. US political leaders have uniformly failed in bringing some semblance of balance to American policy in this regard, largely because they fear the anger of these divisive cabals at election time.

In time the entire system becomes
outdated and obsolete.

But the governments in Cuba and North Korea do not need misdeeds by the US to fail. Their political systems are up to the task all by themselves.

Political malfunction is always given a boost by a good dose of paranoia, and paranoia is itself boosted by various American projects in meddling. The Cuban government claims that over 800 attempts have been made to assassinate Fidel Castro. The number is unrealistic, but there is no doubt that many attempts have been made, often sponsored by the US. We have even attempted to invade. We have a long and sordid history of such meddling all over the Americas.

North Korea is so paranoid that the echo of their iron doors clanging shut in 1953 still reverberates today, and millions of brainwashed and brutal soldiers guard the borders—mostly to prevent anyone from leaving. NK has been so successful at this that the few who do manage to escape are dumbfounded to discover that everything they were told is lies. Everything.

When the vital infrastructure of a country
lapses into dysfunction, it eventually becomes
obsolete, making it nearly impossible to recover.

But North Korea’s dysfunction rests on the same foundation as Cuba’s. A centrally planned economy does have the virtue of efficiency, but if no one orders paper clips, the state planning reports fall apart, pages get lost, and nobody knows what to do. The most important part of NK society is the army, and virtually all the money goes to it, supposedly to defend the country from imminent attack by the West, particularly the US. They go so far as to assemble fake ICBMs for their military parades to impress everyone with their prowess, while just about everyone else thinks an invasion of a totally dysfunctional state built on a stack of lies would be pointless. Meantime, the standard of living for most North Koreans is among the worst in the world. Millions literally starved to death some years ago, rather than the Beloved Leader risking some imagined danger that might be brought about by accepting food grants from the West.

Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe have suffered under such misrule for so long that almost nothing works. When the vital infrastructure of a country lapses over time into total dysfunction, everything eventually becomes obsolete and nobody knows how to make things work, making it nearly impossible to recover. Even when you try to fix something, a crucial element is always missing, so even significant investments of cash simply make some corrupt bureaucrat rich.

These countries might as well be unoccupied virgin territory, if it weren’t for the corrosive autocrat who turns it to dust. New settlers, as it were, would hew a living from the raw wilderness bit by bit, building a civilization from nothing that would slowly bring to life all of the millions of interconnected pieces to make it a modern society. It would take that long. But this is not happening in these three countries and others like them. The long, slow process can only begin when the tyrants are gone (or have a serious change of heart; Castro is unconvinced by a half century of failure) and better people and more democratic institutions gain the reins of government.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for this thought provoking article. My instinct is to bring out the point of a “demotivated” population. That’s the problem no matter what government you have. We are a complex species and cannot be “lived” at a macro scale. We aren’t synchronized robots. Until we realize what drives the human spirit at its core level and develop micro systems that empower and not enslave, govt is lost an so are we as individuals. the rest of the natural world works the same way: look at the diseases of mono-cropping vs a wild ecosystem. The former is controlled and treated as means to an end and where plants are simplified and generalized; the latter is allowed to constantly evolve and respond to new events thy no one can predict. People have been put into straight rows to benefit the whole. Doesn’t work that way, never will.

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    • I wish I’d said that.

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  2. […] following a certain political blog and commented on an article and drew this parallel. The author, John Pennington, basically says that dysfunctional governments such as communism […]

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