In the comments section of this EconLog post, one commentator, pasjer, attempts to defend Castro’s legacy in particular and communism in general. He (she?) writes:
I like Castro’s egalitarian planned economy; good health and education systems, existential safety, increased equality. Reasonably good GDP growth last 25 years. That economy, like in USSR and China saved lives. (Don’t rush to argue without checking life expectancy and child mortality data before.)
Life expectancy in China (1978), Soviet Union (1989) and Cuba (these days) was/is 3-8 years longer than world average; child mortality in these countries was/is 2-10 times lower than world average; all three countries, particularly China, started with planned economy poorer than world average.
That those three countries were barely above the World Average (and even then, they beat out mainly war-torn or plagued countries and lagged well behind their developed-world counterparts), is a poor argument for communism. But it is also a mistake to focus just on life expectancy without looking at the quality of that life.
A simple historical example:
According to the book Time on the Cross, the life expectancy of a US slave in 1850 was about 36 years, slightly lower than the US average (40 years), but higher than many European countries (Italy – 35, Austria – 31) and about the same as others (Holland – 36, France – 36). And while no estimates exist from the African continent at the time, it is possible these lifespans were even longer than in Africa. Could one claim, then, that slavery was good for the black man? Many often did, for this and similar reasons. These statistics were how slavery was justified on moral (and Christian!) grounds. But the life and care of the slave was not out of good will or in any genuine attempt to improve his life. The care was done for the same reason a craftsman takes care of his tools: they serve a purpose and are expensive to replace. But they have no freedom, no care beyond what is necessary to achieve goals. They are not living for themselves, but for others. It’s a very poor quality of life.
When we look at statistics, we must be careful. Statistics can mislead just as easily as they can enlighten. Given the extreme lengths Soviet, Cuban, Chinese, etc citizens went to escape their countries with “good health and education systems, existential safety, increased equality…,”I have to conclude the quality of life, of health care and education and equality, left much to be desired. Just like the slave trying to escape his master despite the master providing him with housing, clothing, food, and care.