Cuba is the new “it” place to go. First, Beyoncé and Jay-Z vacationed. Then earlier this week, the Obamas made historic trip they obviously regard as historic. Perhaps it’s the dirty-low prices, the 50’s nostalgia or maybe it’s the picturesque poverty in a socialist country.
Amidst the many headlines about the Obamas' trip is the celebration of Michelle Obama’s wardrobe. Instead of fawning over what designers she donned for her flight, the president's giddy behavior at a baseball game shortly after a terrorist attack in Brussels, and state dinner with Raul Castro, we want to point out how her wardrobe choices make Marie Antoinette appear sympathetic to the hardships of others. Just one of her dresses could feed a Cuban family for six years. That exposes the stark reality of life in a socialist nation where people equally share pain and hardship.
FLOTUS donned a floral Naeem Khan cocktail dress that costs about $4,490 and a Carolina Herrera dress that costs $2,190. For Washington, D.C. elites like the Obamas, that is what you spend to look good because you can afford it. Cubans aren’t so blessed.
The average worker’s salary in Cuba was only $288 per year as of 2014. That means the Naeem Khan and a Carolina Herrera frocks cost 23 times the average annual salary for an ordinary Cuban citizen. Or better put, just two dresses could support nearly two dozen Cubans for a year.
Some think this is a slap in the face of the poor:
Cuba is an island where even government workers don't earn a living wage, and doctors who work in the Cuban health care system earn $67 a month. The food in Cuba is in such short supply that it's rationed, and in some cases, it's purchased illegally on the black market.
Yet despite the magnitude of Cuba's abject poverty, America's sartorial preener arrived in Havana wearing an ensemble whose cash value could support a Cuban family for six years.
It's probably unfair for me to project my standard for how to treat people onto the first lady. Just because Michelle dresses like nobility in the company of the lowly doesn't mean she has little regard for the predicament of the poor. After all, the woman who sports overpriced clothes does have a husband who, when not paying for her haute couture, stresses the value of "sharing our wealth."
Our free market system rewards hard work, risk-taking, education, and skills with high salaries and incomes. Americans have the luxury of spending what we earn on 4-figure dresses if we choose. Even low and middle class or median-income American households have life quite better in the U.S. From flat screen TVs to cars, we have a lot. According to the Census Bureau in September 2014, the median household income in the U.S. was $51,939, over 180 times the average annual Cuban salary.
Should Michelle have donned a dress that could support a family for years? Maybe, maybe not depending on the message she wants to send.
The larger point is that democracy, freedom, and free markets make possible the impressive prosperity that Americans enjoy and which is an envy of the world. If only the Obamas recognized that socialist policies of shared responsibility payments (aka taxes) don’t lift the poor out of poverty but take money out of the pockets of hard-working families.
Cubans need the same kind of economic freedom America enjoy, but as long as the president's new BFF Raul Castro (or one of his relatives) is in power, they will live in poverty.