On Sunday, March 5, Washington Post business columnist
Michelle Singletary weighed in with her own observations of the case
of Elian Gonzalez, the youngster who has lived in the United States
since late November, when his mother and nine other people died
while fleeing Cuba. Her column, written after a visit to the
Communist-controlled island, is noteworthy for the completeness with
which she missed the point of the entire controversy.
Singletary reported that she visited Cuba "under the auspices of
an organization of black columnists. We wanted to see for ourselves,
among other things, how bad things might be for 6-year Elian
Gonzalez if he were sent home to his father and communist Cuba."
wrote of meeting Alicia and her 8-year-old daughter Patricia, a
"charming little girl" who likes butterscotch candy, popcorn and
snuggling, and whose smile "seems to stretch from ear to ear."
The visit appears to have been something of a revelation to
Singletary. "When I think about this controversy over Elian," she
wrote, "I now think of the faces of Patricia and all the other Cuban
children I met or saw while in Havana.
"What I see are sweet-faced children — and intangibles that
transcend all foolish materialistic arguments about who’s better off
"I could see no reason why Patricia would be happier anywhere
else than with her mother, even though her mommy doesn’t have many
Singletary then recited a list of the luxuries that are available
to American children but that are scarce in Cuba, such as Barbie
dolls, aerodynamic skateboards and sparkling Rollerblades.
"Now, I’m not naive about Cuba," Singletary assured readers.
"Riding and walking around Havana, with its dilapidated apartment
buildings and treacherously pothole-ridden streets, it would be easy
to pity the people.
"But I’m not naive about poverty either. I’ve been there.
"And I can tell you that it is just as wrong to equate
deprivation with misery as it is to equate prosperity with
Singletary conveniently defined the dispute as about whether a
child is better off in a rich society or a poor one, concluding that
"as I watch Patricia and her 2-year-old cousin, Anna, hug, kiss and
tickle each other, with not a single toy in sight, that question
wasn’t so hard to answer."
But that’s not the main question, or even an important question
in this case. Elian Gonzalez’s mother risked her life and her son’s
life to flee Cuba not to provide her child with expensive toys, but
to give him the opportunity to grow to manhood in a free society
where he could speak his own mind, choose his own destiny and raise
his own family as he saw fit.
It’s true that free societies such as the United States are
wealthier than totalitarian societies such as Cuba. But Singletary
seems not to grasp that the poorest person in the U.S. is still
better off than the richest person in Cuba, since the free person
enjoys unlimited opportunities to improve their situation while
those living under dictatorship are in constant risk of having their
futures snatched from them if they run afoul of the government.
Ultimately, capitalism and free markets aren’t about maximizing
profits; they’re about the fact that each individual deserves the
freedom to make their own decisions and control their own lives. The
creation of wealth is merely one of many benefits that societies
gain when they recognize this basic fact of human nature.
Business writers such as Singletary do their readers a great
disservice when they wrongly equate free markets and capitalism with
profit-seeking and materialism.