Based on ethnographic research in Havana over the past two
decades, this article examines how Cubans’ experience of poverty, or
‘need’, is linked to the increasing dollarization of the Cuban economy.
Dollars, I argue, are not just the emblem of a new moral disorder, but
also its main catalyst, inasmuch as they expand the realm of ‘need’, as
defined by a socialist paradigm of consumption rooted in the era before
the introduction of the dollar, by stripping it of its (socialist) moral
essence through acts of quantitative commensuration. This account of
Cubans’ experience of poverty since the end of the Soviet era, I suggest,
provides more general insights about the power of the money form itself
as a catalyst of moral transformation.