There isn’t nearly as much public opinion data in Cuba as there is in the US, but an anecdotal bit of evidence for the popularity of the Cuban economic system comes from blogger Michael Stastny, who writes that
the people I talked with were actually quite happy with their situation (“We don’t earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!” (translation mine)) and couldn’t see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard (I didn’t have the impression that they were afraid to speak openly).
The pictures he took are vivid, and indicative of the truly dilapidated state of Cuban society, or at least the material dimension. Excepting the state of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I’ve seen no area of the US quite this bad, and covering so much area. The overhead shot looks like a hypothetical Brooklyn after having been bombed in roughly the 1950s, and unable to recover for 5 decades.
Assuming that the people Stastny talked to are representative of more or less a cross section of ordinary Cubans, it’s striking how much this goes against the concept of a universally valid desire to be “free”, at least as defined by, for example, the National Endowment for Democracy (a “private” organization receiving annual government appropriations). Whether it be Iraq, Cuba or the United States, there is a strong tendency to loss aversion, status quo bias and social proof heuristics. Essentially, the American move to full on state socialism is inhibited by fear of change and influential elite opinion, often implicit, but explicit too (see the phenomenon of “think tanks”.) Likewise with Cuba.
Now of course the proliferation of information contradicting official Cuban propaganda is hard to come by, so the proper balance between risk taking moves toward change and contentment with the current state of affairs isn’t allowed to manifest itself. But Stastny claims that he didn’t get the sense that people were afraid to speak openly, so perhaps things aren’t as “out of balance” as we might think. (After all, child pornography isn’t allowed in the US or the rest of the civilized world, but does anyone really think that allowing it would tip the scale toward a large portion of society embracing it?)
Many questions are raised by the above comments, but I’ll leave it at that.