Dr. Paul Farmer’s Marxism

“For me to admire Cuban medicine is a given,” Farmer said. It was a poor country, and made that way at least in part by the United States’ long embargo, yet when the Soviet Union had dissolved and Cuba had lost both its patron and most of its foreign trade, the regime had listened to the warnings of its epidemiologists and had actually increased expenditures on public health….

One time he got in an argument about Cuba with some friends of his, fellow Harvard professors, who said that the Scandinavian countries offered the best examples of how to provide both excellent public health and political freedom. Farmer said they were talking about managing wealth. He was talking about managing poverty. Haiti was a bad example of how to do that. Cuba was a good one.

He had studied the world’s ideologies. The Marxist analysis, which liberation theology borrowed, seemed to him undeniably accurate. How could anyone say that no war among socioeconomic classes existed, or that suffering wasn’t a “social creation,” especially now, when humanity had developed a grand array of tools to alleviate suffering. And he was more interested in denouncing the faults of the capitalist world than in cataloging the failures of socialism. “We should all be criticizing the excesses of the powerful, if we can demonstrate so readily that these excesses hurt the poor and vulnerable.” But years ago he’d concluded that Marxism wouldn’t answer the questions posed by the suffering he encountered in Haiti. And he had quarrels with the Marxists he’d read: “What I don’t like about Marxist literature is what I don’t like about academic pursuits–and isn’t that what Marxism is, now? In general, the arrogance, the petty infighting, the dishonesty, the desire for self-promotion, the orthodoxy: I can’t stand the orthodoxy, and I’ll bet that’s one reason that science did not flourish in the former Soviet Union.”

SOURCE: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder (Random House, 2004), pp. 194-195

My biggest problem with Marxism–apart, of course, from “the arrogance, the petty infighting, the dishonesty, the desire for self-promotion, [and especially] the orthodoxy”–is that it takes wealth for granted (as Farmer does), and therefore assumes that poverty can only be eliminated by transferring existing wealth from rich people to poor people. The best way to destroy poverty is to enable poor people both to create new wealth and to accumulate it–and not just to rely on larger and larger transfers from those who have previously managed (legally) to create and accumulate it.

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Filed under Caribbean, economics

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