Why Isn’t Cuba Held to the Same Moral Standard as McDonald’s?


The Huffington Post recently ran a story that took aim at McDonald’s for paying just 17 per cent of its revenue to employees in wages and benefits. The article, which suggested that doubling worker pay at McDonald’s would add just 68 cents to the cost of a Big Mac, quickly circulated through the blogosphere, with critics framing the revenue-to-wage ratio as a clear example of corporate greed.

Source: wallpoper.com.
Source: wallpoper.com.

As it turns out, the story, written by a University of Kansas undergraduate student, was misleading since it excluded McDonald’s franchise stores, which employ the vast majority of McDonald’s employees. On average, fast food franchises pay about 30 to 35 per cent of revenue in labor costs.

Given the outrage prompted by the initial story, however, it is worth considering revenue-to-wage ratios in the socialist camp.

Andrés Oppenheimer reports that Cuba’s Marxist-Leninist regime receives the equivalent of USD $4,080 monthly from public coffers in Brasilia for each Cuban doctor serving in Brazil’s controversial Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program.

The Cuban government does not disclose how much of the revenue from its lucrative medical internationalism program goes to the doctors themselves. However, based on the testimony of Cuban doctors who have defected while working internationally the pay is estimated to average between USD $250 and $300 monthly, or about 7 per cent of the total Cuba receives from Brazil under the Mais Medicos program – a far cry from the 30 per cent share of profits that Fidel Castro proposed in his “revolutionary laws” of 1953.

While Cuban doctors serving internationally may receive only a fraction of the revenue generated by their labor, the remuneration is more than what they would receive in Cuba, where doctors often earn less than taxi drivers, who have access to foreign currency in the tourism industry.

The rapid expansion of the medical internationalism program, which now outstrips tourism as Cuba’s greatest source of revenue, has led to concerns over increased wait times and decreased quality of care in Cuba, reflecting the stagnation that occurs in planned economies, where markets cannot self-adjust to changes in supply and demand.

Polls show the vast majority of Brazilians support Mais Medicos. But the no-bid contract for the program, which was brokered by the Pan American Health Organization, is under scrutiny for possible violation of domestic and international labor codes. According to the National Federation of Brazilian Physicians, the Cuban doctors amount to slave labor. The Federation, itself a special interest lobby, has organized protests against the program, including shaming campaigns against the Cuban doctors.

Other critics of the program have ruffled feathers for arguing that Brazil is conspiring with a dictatorship. In his recent address to the Brazilian Congress, Carlos Rafael Jorge Jiménez, a Cuban doctor now living in Brazil who was expected to testify in support of Mais Medicos, harshly criticized the program, demanding to know why the Cuban doctors are not paid directly and why they cannot enter and leave Brazil at will, or apply for political asylum.

At the end of the day, Cuba’s medical internationalism program should be seen as a litmus test for the depth of “progressive” concern over both the revenue-to-wage ratio and labor issues more broadly.

If activists are correct to target the maquila industry in Mexico (as elsewhere) for paying double the minimum wage, for example, one wonders why these same activists have not raised concerns about the Mais Medicos program, under which Cuban doctors receive less than the mandated minimum wage of Brazil.

Similarly, if a fictitious 17 per cent revenue-to-wage ratio was deemed scandalous for McDonald’s, where is the outcry over a 7 per cent revenue-to-wage ratio for Cuban doctors?

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