Combining Moral and Material Incentives in Cuba

Eloise Linger


Since their revolution of 1959, Cubans have used two types of incentives to attain their stated goals of developing the economy, meeting basic needs of the population, and overcoming the alienation or dehumanization of modern capitalism. Moral incentives have been defined as motivation to work voluntarily for the (global or local) community, with no personal gain except the satisfaction of working collectively for the good of all. Material incentives imply a tangible, concrete reward in exchange for work performed, and are presumed to be the basis of capitalist market relations. The experimental mini-brigades, contingents, and modes of distribution show how the two incentives work in practice in Cuba. Although many past debates have dichotomized the two types of incentives, this paper concludes that while Cuba’ s public pronouncements have at times emphasized moral incentives for ideological reasons, the real practice has been a combination of the two, because through the system of distribution of scarce durable goods, participants’ co-workers or peers are more likely to vote for material rewards to those workers who have demonstrated “morally motivated” volunteer efforts over time.

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