What do Trump supporters want?

Dear Jeff (Giesea),

Thank you for reaching out to non-Trump supporters in the search for dialog and better understanding. I fully agree with you that we need civil discussion, which requires assuming the good intentions of those across the table.

As a Trump opponent, I voted for Gary Johnson, the starting point for me is to understand what you and other Trump supporter hope the Trump administration will do. Why did you and so many others support him? I don’t buy the liberal press’ (sorry for using short hand and thus inaccurate, but convenient labels) contention that most of his supporters are racists, bigots, etc. who actually liked and supported Trump’s rudeness, potty mouth, etc. Most of his supporters probably overlooked these character flaws (just as Hillary supporters overlooked rather than embraced her decades of dishonesty). But what did you and the others support? Trump’s protectionist, anti-immigrant, anti- Muslim rhetoric seems to reject long standing Republican Party and conservative positions. His threat to challenge the freedom of the press to criticize him hardly squares with conservative respect for the constitution.

You kindly responded to my question of why you supported Trump with six points only one of which referred to Trump (that you thought he would provide “big, bold thinking and executive-style leadership.” The other five referred to problems with current leadership and directions. In short you want change. Now we need to discuss what those changes should be.

It is now time to turn to a discussion of policy issues, something almost totally lacking in the most ugly, ad hominem campaign I have ever seen. In fact, as President elect Trump begins to spell out his positions he is already walking back many of his earlier more extreme positions, or at least what we thought were his positions. The way forward with the dialog you are helping to promote is to seriously undertake an examination of specific policy issues to see what we can agree on and where we disagree and why.

I think everyone agrees that our immigration policy is broken and needs to be fixed. So let’s explore what we each think needs to be fixed and the best way to do. Our rapidly aging population (more and more retired people relying on a shrinking working age population to grow our food etc) will require more immigration to survive. The important issues are who those immigrates should be, how to most effectively control the process, and what to do about existing illegals. Let’s have that discussion.

If we have learned anything about Obama Care it is that slipping through legislation that enacts significant changes on the basis of a narrow majority is a serious mistake. Significant changes should require broad support and that will certainly be true in the Trump administration as well.

What is behind Trump’s protectionist rhetoric? He is not likely to actually violate very beneficial international trade law and slap large tariffs on China for currency manipulation (something they are demonstrably not doing any more). When in the campaign he said that he would demand that Boeing stop sourcing its aircraft parts abroad in order to bring those jobs home, he seems not to have considered that the resulting higher cost of Boeing’s planes would reduce global demand for them thus costing American jobs (not to mention his general attack on free market efficiency). I expect to see such demands vanish, but what are the improvements in our trade agreements that Trump (and you) thinks are desirable? Lets have that discussion.

The separation of church and state and the freedom of religion enshrined in our constitution are fundamental to our values as a nation. There is no blood test to determine if you are a Muslim or a catholic or a Jew. Religion isn’t and can’t be a test of who is allowed to visit America. But striking a proper balance between our freedom and our security is a serious challenge. The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, was a serious intrusion on our freedom in the false name of security in my view, but lets discuss with the new Trump administration how best to balance the powers of government to protect us, against the risks of big brother overly controlling us.

Many of us have rebelled against the excesses of “political correctness” on university campuses and else where (I have written several blogs on the subject). The traditional goal of the university is the unrestrained pursuit of truth. But in its place good manners (civility as you rightly put it.) are essential if we are to live peaceably together and flourish. I would love to see Trump and Hillary together call upon their supporters to respect, though not necessarily agree with, the views (and property) of their opponents—of everyone.

Thank you again for promoting this dialog.

Trade and Globalization

Specialization and the accompanying astounding development of productive technologies have lifted the standard of living around the world to unbelievable heights over the last three centuries. Trade—selling what we specialize in making and exchanging them for the wide range of things we need and want to consume—has made this possible. The pace of wealth creation and poverty reduction has accelerated in the last half century as the size of the markets in which we trade have expanded rapidly with falling costs and barriers to global trade. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/free-markets-uber-alles/

But new technologies that displace older ways of doing things require workers and firms to adapt. New skills must be learned to replace the old, no longer needed, ones. Americans have been particularly adept at such flexible adjustments and thus have experienced greater increases in wealth and living standards than most other countries. No pain, no gain, as we might say.

Workers and firms have tried from time to time to defend their positions from the competition of other workers and from firms with newer and better technologies. Protectionist tariffs enacted to “protect” American jobs in 1930 deepened and prolonged the Great Depression. The closed shop autoworkers unions in Detroit seriously damaged the American auto industry. But generally Americans pushed aside these restraints on free markets and trade to the huge benefit of the population as a whole.

Nonetheless, such competitive advancements in our ability to produce more and more did require those with outmoded skills to acquire new ones. When the pace of innovation was measured, the required adjustments by workers and firms were easier to make. Younger workers would acquire the new skills from the outset while older ones would eventually retire. The turn over of firms, even very large and well established ones (Dell, Polaroid, Kodak, Motorola, Chrysler, Yahoo, etc.) has always been large in the U.S., continually making way for new and better ones.

The last half century has seen a rapid increase in the expansion of markets – globalization. While this increased competition and innovation has reduced poverty in the world at a never before seen rate, it has also increased the numbers of workers having to give up the skills they had refined and acquire new ones generally requiring a higher level of education. These adjustments have often been difficult for those having to make them, especially for middle aged and older workers. We seem to be experiencing a backlash from those forced to adjust.

“The experience of the past quarter century suggests strongly that the central factors of our era are not nationalism or militarism, but rather the two periods of radical change stimulated by technology and innovation during not one but two Industrial Revolutions. The first one began 175 years ago; the second, the information age, has now lasted about four decades.”[1]

Immigration is an aspect of globalization and the wealth creating impact of free trade. It raises similar but even more challenging tensions between freedom and progress and security and protection of the status quo. It also calls for careful management of the pace of immigration to soften the anxieties of potentially affected workers.

More liberal trade agreements facilitate globalization. Ironically President Obama, who opposed the trade agreements on the table when he first ran for the Presidency is now fighting for the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), while Hillary Clinton, never one to put the national interest above her own, who as Secretary of State helped start the TPP negotiations, now opposes it. And Donald Trump, who shouts out what ever passes through his mind at the moment, is currently strongly protectionist (i.e. protecting the status quo).

Rapidly increasing globalization has enabled an incredible lifting of living standards but has also increased the insecurity and costs to those displaced and needing to seek out new employment. We need to provide more effective assistance to these people. This should be the focus of our policy discussions, not closing off progress (protectionism).

[1] John Kornblum, “The Amerexit,” The American Interest, July 25, 2016

Brexit

The reality of Brexit unleashes a flood of questions, most of which cannot be answer for quite a while. The near term consequences of the UK’s exit from the European Union will depend on the details of the divorce, which will take several years to unfold. Divorces can take place smoothly and amicably or not. The result—the new reality—can be seen as fair (but invariably diminished on both sides, at least economically) or not.

My concern in this note is whether the underlying public sentiments that pushed Brexit over the finish line—the fear of job losses and cultural dilution as a result of excessive immigration—herald a retreat from the globalization that has dramatically raised standards of living and reduced poverty around the world in the last several decades.

As we know from Adam Smith, our ability to increase our output and thus income rests heavily on the productivity gains made possible by specialization. But we can only specialize in our work and output if we are able to trade what we produce for the other things we need and want to consume. The freer and more extensively we can trade, the more we can specialize and prosper. As I never tire of pointing out, the boundaries of trading within the family, the village, the province and the country and beyond are largely arbitrary. However, trade requires shared rules and standards. Within the family these can be more informally developed and understood. Even within villages customary understandings of weights and measures and value may suffice among people who know each other. But as the domain of trade expands and buyers and sellers no longer know each other, such standards and rules need to be formalized into laws and their enforcement supported by courts and impartial judges. Parties to agreements need to be confident that their contract will be enforced as agreed.

The U.S. Constitution gives our federal government the power and responsibility to establish standards of weights and measures and the monetary unit without which trade within the United States would be greatly encumbered. Agreeing on the voltage standard for electrical devises is one of thousands of examples. Businesses themselves recognize the benefits to themselves and their customers of harmonizing many elements of the products they produce and trade. Thus bottom up negotiations over many years have produced the Uniform Commercial Code, which removes many unnecessary costs of trading across different legal jurisdictions through standardization.

Trade across national borders could not exist without international laws and understandings about the nature of contracts and their enforcement, the description and measure of content and statements of value (unit of account), etc. Leaving the EU does not free the UK from the need to conform to such standards if they wish to continue trading with the rest of the world.

In their efforts to facilitate free trade within Europe by harmonizing product standards, the European Commission bureaucrats in Brussels got off to a bad start by failing to distinguish between those standards that facilitated trade from those that unnecessarily limited product diversity and competition. Their definition of the acceptable features of bananas has become the poster child of their misguided and laughable efforts. This does not mean, however, that the facilitation of international (or intra EU) trade does not need harmonized standards (weights and measures of food content, length, volume, etc.) in order to remove unproductive and unnecessary costs of trade.

The huge benefits of trade—global trade—also require that each of us can produce (work at) whatever we do best. The fullest measure of such freedom—free labor mobility—would require the free movement of labor to the best jobs they can find and this is what the EU required of its members within Europe. It is also what has raised fears and reactions within the UK of having, for example, too many Polish plumbers. As the vote for Brexit dramatically demonstrates, we dare not ignore these fears and they are not easily dealt with. See my earlier discussion of this challenge: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/the-challenges-of-change-globalization-immigration-and-technology/

The growing anti-immigrant sentiments in continental Europe have little to do with free labor mobility within the EU and are more directed to the refugee problem created by the wars in the Middle East. The British vote to leave the EU seems to reflect some mix of a reaction to ill informed harmonization measures taken by the EU (largely some time ago) and a lack of appreciation of the benefits of properly directed harmonization of codes and standards as well as of fears of losing jobs to immigrants (and on the part of some, a natural fear of strangers). The key question for the future of free trade and globalization and the enormous benefits they bring is whether Brexit is the beginning of a closing of that door. We need to make every effort to address and mitigate these fears so that that does not happen.

The establishment of an efficient international trading order (the international establishment of rules and laws and their enforcement) can come about in a variety of ways. The international agreements and organizations established after World War II to perform this role (e.g., UN, WTO, IMF, World Bank) have generally served this international order well though they are not perfect. The statement by Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and possible successor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, that: “I believe we now have a glorious opportunity: We can pass our laws and set our taxes entirely according to the needs of the U.K. economy,” either reflects stunning ignorance of the role of international law in underpinning globalization or blatant dishonesty. The international institutions that oversee our liberal international order need to be preserved and where appropriate strengthened, not destroyed.

The European Union itself was always much more than an economic (free trade) project. Following WWII after centuries of devastating wars, the European project was always more about establishing the mechanisms of political cooperation that would avoid another European war. It has been stunningly successful in this endeavor, but still struggles to find the right balance in the devolution of authority and the best formulation of European wide governments for preserving peace and promoting economic well-being. An excellent discussion of these issues can be found in Dalibor Rohac’s Toward an Imperfect Union: A Conservatives Case for the EU.

The consequences of Brexit for Britain (what ever might be left of it) and for the EU (what ever might be left of it) will not be known for many years. But the risks of an inward looking nationalism and a retreat from a liberal international order that it seems to reflect should be taken seriously and resisted vigorously.

The challenges of change: Globalization, Immigration, and Technology

“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”  Alvin Toffler 1970

Some people welcome change as a challenge and embrace the adventures it provides, while others resist it as threatening and disruptive. In addition to differences in temperament, some people gain from specific changes while others lose. Starting with the industrial revolution in the mid eighteenth century, the worlds’ economic life has undergone dramatic changes that continue to this day. As a result the average family’s material well-being has sky rocketed to unbelievable heights. But in the process equally troublesome changes were imposed on almost everyone. To maintain (or regain) public support for the policies that allow these beneficial but disruptive changes, we need to carefully consider what policies would ease or compensate for the costs that often accompany them.

Across the world the standard of living saw virtually no change for thousands of years. Starting with the industrial revolution 250 years ago incomes and individual welfare have exploded. From $712 in 1820, world annual GDP per person shot up to $7,814 by 2010 (in 1990 dollars). The number of people living in extreme poverty, which peaked at 2.2 billion in 1970, has been cut in half since then. The percent of the world’s population living on less than $2 a day has plunged from 61% in 1980 to 13% in 2012.[1]

These dramatic gains are the result of increases in what each person was able to produce. Individual output has dramatically increased in the last several centuries because trade has allowed more specialized and productive ways of organizing work to serve larger markets (factories, etc) supported by new technologies (including improvements in public health and medicine) and better transportation infrastructure. We might summarize these factors as expansions of product markets because of cheaper and freer trade, improved labor output from freer labor mobility to move to the best paying jobs and better tools from investments in technical innovation. If we extend these factors across national boundaries we call these “globalization,” “immigration” and “technical innovation.”

On average, the world’s population has benefited enormously from each of these, i.e., from “globalization,” “immigration” and “technology.” But each of these has also disrupted the status quo, imposing sometimes-painful adjustments on business owners and workers whose products or skills are no longer wanted or needed, not to mention many misstarts and failure along the way.

Those who have lost jobs to technical innovations, cheaper imports, or immigrants are understandably unhappy at the changes, though in the longer run better, higher paying jobs may have been created in the process. Donald Trump’s promise of a Mexican wall and high tariffs on Chinese imports seem to resonate with many of these people. Given the enormous, widely shared benefits from globalization, immigration and technology, it is very desirable to adopt policies and approaches to promoting these activities that minimize and mitigate their damage to specific individuals. I will lightly touch on this need with regard to globalization and technology as a prelude to the particularly challenging issue of immigration.

Technology: While displaced workers have long complained about the hardships imposed on them by improved technology (though manufacturing output in the U.S. is at an all time high, improved productivity has resulted in a continual decline in manufacturing employment), the benefits to society as a whole are so obvious that few would propose freezing or slowing technological progress in order to protect their jobs. Of course, the adoption of new technologies concerns more than its impact on employment (e.g. public safety) but the case for allowing such progress basically makes itself. Instead we attempt to ease the transition to the skills needed for newer jobs through adapting educational programs and adopting retraining programs to the changing employment needs (though firms tend to do a better job providing such training themselves than does the government) while providing temporary unemployment compensation.

Globalization: The impact of freer and more extensive cross border trade on employment is similar to the impact of technology and the policy approaches are similar. The freer mobility of capital aspect of globalization will not be discussed here while the freer mobility of labor is discussed under the heading of immigration. While the benefits from trade are enormous and those from further liberalization of trade are still worth the effort, these benefits are less obvious to the general public than are the costs to a limited number of individuals. While strengthening those programs that help displaced workers find and qualify for the new jobs created (essentially the same programs needed for adjusting to technical improvements) is desirable, we also need to make a more convincing case for the benefits of trade. All studies of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement forecast increases in American income from its adoption (and obviously in the incomes of our trading partners as well), but such projections are more abstract and thus carry less emotional and political impact than would examples of the specific industries and firms that would benefit from increased exports (though it is not always possible to anticipate what these will be).

The benefits of trade and globalization are not just economic. Countries that trade with each other and companies that operate around the globe are less likely to go to war with each other. Robert Samuelson noted that “If there was an organizing principle to U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War, it was globalization.” Balancing China’s growing influence in Asia is clearly an important motivation for TPP. /us-presidential-candidates-shouldnt-put-globalization-in-retreat/2016/06/05/

Immigration: The issues raised by immigration are much more complex and challenging. Capital and labor mobility are necessary for maximizing the output of existing labor and capital resources (deploying each where its marginal product is highest). But along with the immigration of hard working people looking for better opportunities and greater freedom, the United States has enjoyed the extra benefit of attracting to its shores the world’s “best and brightest.” This has been true from its founding to this very day. Nonetheless, immigrants sometimes displace existing workers from their jobs, who most often (but not always) move to better ones.

The flaws of the U.S. immigration laws (preference for extended family is crowding out the quotas for badly needed skilled workers, the status of the undocumented MUST be resolved, etc.) are well known. The bill passed by the U.S. Senate in 2013 (S-744), which was drafted by the bipartisan gang of eight (which included Marco Rubio back when he cared about legislating in the American interest) deserves serious consideration.

The economic/jobs aspect of immigration is only part of the challenges it raises, however. Our genetic clannishness, which arouses our fear and hostility toward “others” can be softened and overcome by our genetic curiosity. Exposure to other peoples and cultures can be exciting and enriching. Deriving the economic as well as the cultural benefits of immigration both depend on the success with which immigrants are assimilated into the economy and culture of their new home. The host population needs to be confident that new arrivals embrace its laws and culture. With its more liberal labor laws and active civil society support, the United States has been more successful at assimilating immigrants than have most other countries. British complaints a few years back about a flood of Polish plumbers have largely faded away. In fact, the hard working Polish plumbers proved to be very advantageous for Britain.

The flood of war refugees into Europe and fear of terrorism are adding a new element to the fears of immigrants. The Western world, especially Europe, faces serious challenges to accommodate the rapid inflows of refugees, which we all have a moral and legal obligation to house and protect, and immigrants seeking a better life from the predominantly Muslim Middle East and North Africa at a time when a fringe of the Muslim world (ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc.) has declared war on the rest of us. Thus the fear of terrorist attacks, especially following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., has become a real factor in public attitudes toward immigrants. Donald Trump and right wing nationalist parties across Europe have attracted growing support exploiting these fears.

Western fears of Muslim immigrants are not limited to the fear of admitting terrorist. Donald Trump’s recommendation to stop all Muslim’s at the border “until we figure out what is going on” either reflects ignorance of the exhaustive process such visitors must go through to get visas and the much easier ways for terrorist to enter the country if they are not here already, or deliberate exploitation of public fears. With Trump it is probably both of these. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/what-to-do-about-syrian-refugees/ These fears also concern whether the prescriptions and doctrine of Islam are compatible with liberal, western, democratic values. /2016/03/24/fighting-terrorists-part-ii/

Some statements in the Koran seem to be incompatible with “Western Values” just as are some statements in the Christian bible. Muslims, like Christians, have developed different interpretations of the meaning and requirements of their faith in today’s world. Some American’s and Europeans worry that the Salafi (Wahhabi), fundamentalist interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings and some of the provisions of one or the other versions of Sharia (Islamic law) that are incompatible with the American constitution, laws and traditions, will come to dominate Muslim beliefs and that they will attempt to impose them on the rest of us. These are serious concerns and are shared by many Muslims as well. Immigrants and residence of any faith should only be welcomed if they accept the laws of their host country. Mainstream Christians are not generally blamed for the fanatical and racist beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan. Quoting from Wikipedia: “Although members of the KKK swear to uphold Christian morality, virtually every Christian denomination has officially denounced the KKK.” The same should be true for Muslims, though they need to make a bigger effort to distance themselves from their minority of radical jihadists than they seem to have so far.

The growing fear of Islam has begun to take on a form and tone reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany: /trump-like-opposition-to-islam-is-growing-in-europe/2016/06/06/. The key question is what to do about it. Just as the overwhelming benefits of globalization and technical progress were not enough by themselves to win broad public support without addressing the accompanying costs, the benefits of immigration and the moral obligations to house and protect refugees, will not be enough by themselves to over come the growing public fear of immigrants (especially of Muslims). Attempting to push immigration on a reluctant public seems to be creating the backlash that we are now seeing in America and Europe.

The Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade abortion decision short-circuited the state-by-state process of liberalization that was already moving in the same direction. Forcing a mother’s legal right to an abortion on states that had not yet come to that view has been counter productive and created a protracted debate that most likely would have faded away long ago. The partisan forcing of Obama Care on Americans without a broad consensus on its new directions provides another example of ill-advised legislation lacking broad support. The Court’s decisions striking down restrictions on interracial marriages (Loving vs. Virginia) and more recently extending equal protection of the law to same sex marriages (United States vs. Windsor and Obergefell vs. Hodges), were only taken after a much wider public acceptance of these freedoms had developed. They have been accepted with far less controversy. What are the lessons for our immigration policies?

The previous waves of immigrants in the U.S., generally concentrated from particular geographical areas, have always complained about the next one, generally concentrated from a different geographical area, and there have often been religious tensions and concerns. What is new this time (in addition to terrorist concerns) is the fear that Muslim immigrants seek to overturn our laws and customs with those of a radical fundamentalist understanding of Islam that is incompatible with liberal Western values. To address these concerns the United States (it will be more difficult in Europe) needs to update its immigration laws (as in the Senate bill already passed) and continue to build on its previous successes in assimilating immigrants, and Muslim communities need to more clearly differentiate and separate themselves and their beliefs from those of the radical jihadist. The U.S. and Europe need to undertake a frank and reasoned discussion of the rules for immigration that best serve the needs and interests of each country. It will not do to force more immigrants on an unwilling public even if it is to their benefit in the long run.

The bottom line here is that the clear benefits to society at large of globalization, immigration and technology are not sufficient to insure their continued support. Though the flow of economic immigrants have been responsive to economic needs, open borders are unfortunately not likely to be acceptable to the general public yet. Despite the racist comments of Donald Trump, between 2009 to 2014, 140,000 more Mexicans left the U.S. than came, largely to reunite with their families in the face of a drop in the demand for their labor in the U.S. There has been no net immigration from Mexico between 2007 and 2014. Most immigration in recent years has been from south of Mexico, East and South Asia and to a lesser extent from Africa and the Middle East. Important public policy decisions should be openly, frankly and thoughtfully discussed with the goal of gaining broad public support. The costs that fall on some in the course of broad gains for the many should be minimized, and fears should be honestly addressed. It is critically important in this regard that mainline Muslims distance themselves from the radical Islamists.

[1] http://humanprogress.org

The Market vs. the State

It is in our natures to serve our personal interests first and those of others second. The interests of others include not only those around us in need but also our children and future generations in general, which are served by far sighted policies that might entail short-run and immediate sacrifices. Communities and societies that have instilled in each generation the values that promote and serve such longer-run interests will flourish relative to those with more narrowly “selfish” values.

Adam Smith famously explained in The Wealth of Nations how an individual’s pursuit of his personal gain benefits society at large. In the marketplace the fruits of our labors enjoy the greatest profit the better they meet the desires and needs of our customers at the lowest possible cost. While we might like to cut corners and raise our prices if we could get away with it, competition in the market prevents us from doing so.

Free trade and the international agreements that promote it is an example of the trade off between personal and community or national interests that I am raising. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will further extend the freedom to trade among the countries signing up to them while raising the standards for working conditions, intellectual property protection, and conflict resolution.

I began an article on free trade written a year and a half ago with: “World per capita income didn’t change much from the time of Christ to the founding of the United States ($444 to $650 in 1990 dollars), a period of 1,790 years. But in the following 320 years it jumped to $8,080. And about half of that jump came over the last 50 years. What explains this fairly recent explosion of well being? Many things, of course, but central to this explosion of wealth was trade.” free-markets-uber-alles As the most disheartening and distressing U.S. presidential campaign in my lifetime has made clear, the huge gains from freer trade as with the huge gains from technical advances have not been evenly shared thus highlighting the trade off between personal and community interests I am exploring.

We have long accepted that economic progress should not be stopped because it would make a particular set of skills or tools less valuable. When someone developed cheaper and better ways of providing us with music than the old 78 inch vinyl record—itself an amazing technological feat in its time—those producing the old records were forced to learn new skills. We should debate whether society (family, church, community governments, etc.) should help those adversely affected by technological progress and how best to do it, but few would want to prevent such progress from which almost everyone in the world has eventually benefited enormously.

Government, which represents an exercise of our collective will, is meant in part to give primacy to our concerns for the interests of others and/or the long run over our individual, immediate personal well being. The American constitution was all about trying to do that without the government becoming captive of the self-interest of those running it. Our natures, whether we operate as private individuals constrained by the market place or as public officials constrained by the law and a broadly agreed public purpose, remain a mix of self-interest and public interest. The fundamental difference between our behavior as private citizens or public servants is in the external constraints that impact our behavior. Our natures otherwise remain the same.

The power of government can be exploited to thwart the discipline of competitive markets on the dominance of self-interest over the common interest. Preventing government from being captured by the self-interest of those running it or those who seek special privileges from it is no easy task. To that end our constitution strictly limited what government could do (the enumerated powers) and encumbered it with checks and balances. The dangers of such capture posed by the military industrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned, is well known and real (e.g. $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that few believe we need), but the same is true of most other intrusions of government into private affairs, such as all of our many wars (on drugs, terror, poverty, etc.) as well.

Sadly our government has expanded well beyond its necessary functions into every nook and cranny of our personal lives with increasingly pernicious and alarming results. The abuses of its ever-expanding powers for personal and partisan benefits are exemplified by the scandal of asset forfeiture,the-abuse-of-civil-forfeiture/, which alarmingly continues, the long and bipartisan history of political abuse of the IRS, irs-tea-party-political, and most recently the legal attack on companies questioning the climate change forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the AGs United for Clean Power using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in an effort to silence criticisms of UN climate studies. prosecuting-climate-chaos-skeptics-with-rico. Such a blatant government attack on free speech is truly shocking. These are but a few examples of growing government tyranny and corruption.

The most effective defenses against such corruption are to limit the scope of government as much as possible (i.e. subject individual actions to the discipline of the market as much as possible) and to strengthen public insistence on adherence to the rule of generally applicable law. As trade has moved beyond the village and nation, so must the rule of law.

Following World War II the United States led the establishment of international arrangements and laws governing trade (WTO) and financial (IMF and WB) and diplomatic (UN, NATO) relations among nations. The U.S. was the natural leader of this globalized world not only because it had the largest economy and the largest military, but because it was generally respected for its commitment to the rule of law. More than any other country the U.S. was seen as committed to the longer run prosperity of the world above short run tactical benefits for itself.

In an April 12, 2016 interview by Steve Clemons in The Atlantic, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew observed that “In the 21st century, the world needs the United States to be a North Star. The world wants us to be the North Star. I really do believe that. I am amazed at how other countries want to hear our advice and what we think makes sense. Sometimes we may have the habit of lecturing too much. We have to be careful not to do that.”

In recent years American leadership has been slipping. Rather than draw China more tightly into the global rule based trading system, we have pushed them away. After the United States convinced the IMF’s European members to accept a reduction in their share of votes in the IMF in order to bring the voting shares of China, India, and some other emerging economies more in line with their economic size, it took the U.S. Congress more than five years before it approved the amendments to the IMF Articles of Agreement needed to implement this agreement. In the mean time China set up its own international lending organization. US-leadership-and-the-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank

Rather than strengthen cooperative, diplomacy based relationships the U.S. has launched a series of generally failed wars to promote “democracy,” (Gulf War 1990-91, Somalia 1992-5, Haiti 1994-5, Bosnia 1994-5, Kosovo 1998-99, Afghanistan 2001 – to date, Iraq 2003-11, Libya 2011). These have weakened respect for American leadership.

On the economic front the United States has imposed hugely costly anti-money laundering (AML) and global tax reporting (FACTA) requirements on the rest of the world without regard for their cost and despite the lack of any evidence of benefits.  Operation Choke Point   These are serious abuses of American leadership that will produce a growing backlash. But it is not just misguided arrogance that is undermining our role in the world, it is the growing perception that our leadership is increasingly motivated by the selfish personal interests of crony capitalists rather than the high principles that have serviced us and world so well in the past.

Consider the example of the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). Badly designed corporate and income tax laws in the United States have pushed an increasing number of companies and wealthy people out of the U.S. Rather than clean up its tax laws, the U.S. attempts to tax the income of Americans where ever they earn it and where ever they might live. The only escape is to renounce U.S. citizenship. The Obama administration is now proposing an exit wealth tax for American’s giving up their citizenship. It reminds me of the measures the Soviet Union took to prevent its citizens from leaving. Have we really fallen so low?

The use of off shore, tax minimizing structures by American companies and individuals (i.e. legal tax planning measures) as well as illegal efforts to hide income have been met by increasingly intrusive efforts by the U.S. to find and tax such income. Quoting from the introduction of the Wikipedia article on FATCA: “The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is a 2010 United States federal law to enforce the requirement for United States persons including those living outside the U.S. to file yearly reports on their non-U.S. financial accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN). It requires all non-U.S. (foreign) financial institutions (FFI’s) to search their records for indicia indicating U.S. person-status and to report the assets and identities of such persons to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

As the world attempts to comply with American extra territorial demands, the United States itself is not. Such reporting requires knowledge of the beneficial owners of companies. Most companies established in the United States, such as those incorporated in Delaware, are not required to provide the identities of beneficial owners. The U.S. seems to have no intention of requiring its companies to comply with what it demands from other countries.

The decline and fall of the “American Empire” seems to be underway. It doesn’t need to be.

Fairness or Envy?

After many decades of impressive and relatively steady increases in the standard of living (increases in real per capital income) of all quintiles of the American income distribution, since 2000 all quintiles have lost ground. In the run up to 2000 incomes in the top quintile increased more rapidly than those in the lower quintiles resulting in a less equal distribution income.

Mean income

The mean real incomes of each quintile are lower now (2014) than they were in 2000. However, the percentage decline has been larger for the middle and lower income quintiles (see table below) leaving the more unequal income distribution in place. Some of the relative gains of the top quintile are attributed to the growing premium for higher education, but as claimed by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, some have not been earned by providing higher valued products.

Income table

Most of us do not resent and in fact are grateful for those whose wealth resulted from inventing and giving us products we greatly enjoy. However, we are rightly angry at both political parties for increasingly supporting crony capitalists—those who benefit from their connection with and influence on the government—who benefit at the expense of the rest of us. They are capturing economic rents at the expense of the rest of us rather than enjoying the fruits of greater productivity.

The broad political consensus in the United States that we are each entitled to the wealth we each create, but must fairly share in the cost of providing our national defense, public goods and a satisfactory safety net for the poor, seems to be falling apart. In the economic sphere, the left increasingly favors one group, the working class represented by labor unions, against the professional and entrepreneurial classes. Classical liberals (i.e., economic conservatives) champion fairness – a level playing field – and the freedom to get rich if you work harder, or create a better product, or a more efficient way of producing what people want. They champion measures that facilitate entrepreneurship and economic growth without much regard for its impact on income distribution. Trade – globalization – is an essential part of promoting economic efficiency and thus growth, allowing, if not forcing, firms to shift resources into goods for export in which they are relatively more efficient in order to pay for the cheaper imports enjoyed by the average middle class consumer.

The Republican Party more so than the Democratic Party, though not by much, has increasingly been failing to preserve a level playing field in various areas (Wall Street, defense industry etc.). But the embrace of protectionism offered by Donald Trump reflects either class warfare or ignorance of globalization’s enormous contribution to our standard of living. The big trade and industrial unions of old—think of the United Auto Workers in Detroit—followed a different drummer. They were not interested in fairness but rather fought to bring economic rents (monopoly returns) to themselves at the expense of other workers via a deal with their employers to create, defend, and share monopoly returns. This worked with the auto industry, where auto workers earned at least double the prevailing wages for nonunion workers with comparable skills as long as GM, Ford and Chrysler could hold off competition from German and Japanese (plus a growing list) auto producers via a combination of tariffs and safety standards. Globalization gradually destroyed this monopoly arrangement and almost killed the American automobile industry until U.S. automakers relocated to southern, non-union states.

While good working conditions are win win for workers and employers, pushing up wages above their competitive level either drives firms to other locations (non union states or abroad) or kills them all together. Voters supporting protectionist policies either don’t understand that they lower the standard of living for most people (here and abroad) by lowering the overall productivity of workers or they seek to exploit monopoly rents for themselves at the expense of other workers.

Such thinking was dramatically illustrated by the recent strike of workers at Tesla Motor’s giga battery factory project in Nevada. As reported in the Washington Post on March 2: “On Monday, hundreds of workers walked off their jobs at the giant battery factory that Tesla Motors is building in the desert outside Reno, Nevada. It wasn’t your typical picket: They weren’t protesting bad working conditions, or making a show of force around contract negotiations. Rather, they were protesting other workers — specifically, the fact that they were from somewhere else.” Their complaint was that workers from out side Nevada were willing to work for less than the $35 per hour that members of the local union were making. These were not “foreign” workers from South of the border. These were workers from Arizona and New Mexico. The out of state workers obviously found their “low” wages with Tesla in Nevada better than the wages they would receive staying at home so they were better off coming to Reno.

The Post further reported: “That dispute explains an important debate underway right now in all sorts of skilled trades: Builders say there’s a labor supply problem, which needs to be fixed by bringing more people into the field from across the country and across the border. Worker groups say there isn’t a supply problem — it’s just that builders aren’t paying enough to make the jobs worth someone’s while.”

Trump’s pledge to protect America workers from cheap Chinese and other imports so they can produce them in the U.S. at a higher cost, is bad economics and bad policy. He is pledging to benefit one group of workers at the expense of other workers and at the expense of the standard of living more generally. This is not what the Republican Party has stood for in the past and not what it should stand for now. It should stand for fairness and equal opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs to benefit from doing things better and thereby raising their incomes and the income of the nation. The principle of fairness is widely held in the United States but has always had to battle for dominance against the temptation of the zero sum claims of special interests for government to serve their interests at the expense of others and at the expense of fairness. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are appealing to special rather than general interests at the expense of fairness.

Economics Lesson: Is deflation bad?

Fortunately the key insights about inflation or deflation are fairly intuitive and easy to understand. Stable prices—i.e., zero inflation—is best, fully anticipated inflation (or deflation) is second best, and inflation/deflation surprises are bad. If you would like a bit more detail, read on.

Inflation refers to the rate at which the value of money (average prices usually measure by a consumer price index—CPI) changes over time. Zero inflation, constant purchasing power of a currency over time in its local market (e.g. the value of the US dollar in the US), is best because all of the other factors impacting the supply and demand for individual goods that potentially change their prices relative to other goods and services can be expressed in terms of a constant unit account, a constant measuring rod. This makes comparing prices stated in that unit of account, especially over time, much easier. Imagine if the length or weight of something had to be expressed in units of weights and measure that themselves were always changing. Economic resources are better allocated to the satisfaction of public demand when the relative scarcity of each good and service can be clearly discerned. Decisions about the allocation of resources (whether to build a new factory to produce a new product or more of an old one and/or to hire more workers, etc.) are necessarily forward looking. The entrepreneurs’ question is what will people pay for something next year and the year after and what will it cost to produce it and how does this compare with producing something else. This is more difficult to do when the forecast of prices need to mix in the changing value of the currency in which they are stated.

However, a decent second best is a rate of inflation (positive or negative) that is steady and predictable. The inflation target of 2 percent chosen by many central banks, if reliably achieved, provides an example. If the inflation rate is fully and correctly anticipated, whether positive or negative, all other relative prices, including interest rates and wage contracts, can and will take the anticipated rate into account when setting prices in contracts for the future (e.g., a wage contract). If borrowers and lenders are willing to contract for a loan for five years at 3% per year with zero inflation in the value of the money borrowed and repaid, they would both be willing to undertake the same loan at 5% if they both expected inflation of 2% per year over those five years. If that expectation were rather uncertain, a suitable risk premium would need to be added to the interest rate. If everyone expected with certainty a 2% deflation over the same period, the loan would carry a 1% nominal rate. In both of these examples, the so-called real rate of interest—the rate adjusted for inflation—would be 3%. Thus, modest deflation does no harm if everyone fully and correctly anticipates it.

As an aside for the more advanced students, Milton Friedman explained why a fully anticipated, mild deflation was actually good because it would reduce or eliminate the opportunity cost of holding money and thus encourage people to hold larger cash balances on average without any cost to themselves or society. The money we hold in our wallets or nightstands or in our checking accounts at the bank is like any other inventory of goods that shop keepers keep on their shelves. Without an adequate inventory of what they sell, they would occasionally run out and miss some potential sales. But it cost money to hold an inventory of something. The cost can be measured by the interest you could have earned investing the money you spent to acquire the inventory (called “opportunity cost” by economists), plus any storage costs. Deflation reduces the opportunity cost of holding money by generating a real return from holding it (it is worth more in the future).

Unanticipated inflation, however, is bad because contracts written in dollar terms (so called “nominal” terms) will turn out to have a different real value than was expected. Normally a voluntary contract benefits both parties to it; it is win win. But when the inflation outcome was not anticipated, it will produce unexpected winners and losers. Debtors benefit from unanticipated inflation and creditors lose. More to the point in our current, over indebted environment, a deflation that was not anticipated when the money was borrowed, will increase the real value of the money that must be repaid. Lenders will benefit from the unexpected windfall only if borrowers actually repay their loans. But the unexpected increase in the real value of the debt being repaid may result in a larger number of defaults. So central banks are trying to avoid deflation, or more accurately are trying to achieve their inflation targets (generally 2%) in order to avoid making the economy’s excessive indebtedness even worse.

The above discussion concerns the value of a currency in its own country. But given the very extensive commerce across borders and the fact that most countries use their own currencies, cross border payments require exchanging one currency for the other. If the exchange rates of all currencies were fixed and never changed, the above analysis would apply globally as well. However, the exchange rates of many currencies, such as the USD/Euro rate, vary continuously and sometimes very significantly. The USD/Euro rate has fallen (i.e., the dollar has appreciated) 30% in the last 12 months (on April 9, 2015). This represents an enormous and very disruptive shock to the value of US trade with Europe, increasing the cost of our exports and reducing the cost of imports from Europe by very large, unpredicted amounts. Following the collapse of the gold standard, which fixed the exchange rates of most currencies, in the early 1970s, a costly financial market of insurance against exchange rate movements has developed. The total daily value of FX related transactions (spot, forwards, swaps, options) are estimated at around 4 trillion US dollars. Yes, that is daily and yes, that is trillions. These added costs of international trade would be eliminated if all or most countries returned to credibly fixed exchange rates or better still one globally used currency. The enormous gains in the standard of living from this trade could be extended even further.

The world is now “blessed” with a variety of monetary policy regimes. All of them aim in one way or another to deliver stable value for their currency either domestically or relative to another currency. The major industrial countries generally target inflation domestically and allow the exchange rates of their currency to float against other currencies. Many smaller countries fix or target the exchange rate of their currency to the US dollar or the Euro or the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) thus causing the domestic values of their currencies to reflect the inflation rates of the currency to which they are fixed.

Two major reforms would establish a global monetary system with stable money (zero inflation). The first would be to change the IMF’s international reserve asset, the SDR, from a currency whose value is determined by a basket of key currencies (the USD, Euro, UK pound, and Japanese Yen) and allocated on the basis of political decisions, to a currency whose value is determined by a basket of real goods that is issued on the basis of market demand in accordance with currency board rules. These reforms are explained in more detail in earlier articles such as https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/the-u-s-dollar-and-the-sdr-as-international-reserve-currencies/ and https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/a-hard-anchor-for-the-dollar/. The above reforms in the SDR would include an international agreement to replace the US dollar and Euro in international pricing and payments with the reformed SDR, which I call the Real SDR.  http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/25/

The second reform would follow naturally given the greater stability of the Real SDR. Countries would fix the exchange rate of their national currencies to the Real SDR or replace them all together with the Real SDR (the equivalent of dollarization). If all or most countries did this, the world would enjoy the benefits described above of a global currency with a completely predictable and stable value relative to a “typical household consumption basket” across the globe. It is worth fighting for.

US Global Leadership – More on AIIB

Following the end of the second of two devastating World Wars within three decades, the world came together to establish international institutions and norms meant to prevent another world war and to promote the shared economic and political interests of all peace loving countries. The United States led this effort and has dominated the resulting global governance structure (the UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO to name a few of the best known). The one-country-one-vote structure of the UN has limited its effectiveness. The International Financial Institutions like the IMF, on the other hand, are governed on the basis of votes and financial contributions proportional to their economic importance. Their effectiveness and legitimacy depend, in part, on maintaining such relative voting strength as countries’ economies grow.

Resolving conflicts without world war has been a magnificent achievement. But the opening of the world to freer trade and finance with broadly agreed rules under which it is conducted are dramatically important achievements as well. Economic growth is not a zero sum game. Every country has benefited from global financial cooperation. Estimates (by Bradford DeLong and the World Bank) of Global World Product rose from $1.1 trillion dollars in 1900 to 4.1 trillion in 1950 but exploded there after reaching $41.1 trillion in 2010 (all in 1990 US dollars). According to the World Bank, global poverty has been cut in half in the last twenty years.

The dominant role of the US in International Financial Institutions reflects its economic size and military strength but equally the perception of the rest of the world that the liberal, free markets and trade model promoted by the US was indeed the right one for each country’s growth and prosperity. The world’s continued acceptance of the US’s leadership rests on the general belief that the US is an honest broker, fairly promoting rules that serve the general good rather than seeking special advantage for its own people and industries. The US cannot expect other countries to abide by such international norms of behavior if it is not willing to conform to them itself (i.e. subjugate its sovereignty to international agreements in these areas).

America’s record is not pure by any means. The increasing crony capitalist nature of our military industrial complex, about which we were so presciently warned by President Eisenhower, is hardly a model of competitive market capitalism. But the political structures established after WWII have generally worked well to coordinate national cross boarder activities peacefully and without wars. To cite one example, the International Telecommunications Union has developed rules and procedures for allocating radio spectrum, satellite orbits and technical telecommunications standards that have made possible efficient and interconnected global communications systems. You could not telephone anyone you want any where in the world from anywhere in the world (not to mention the Internet) without them.

The International Monetary Fund is another example of an international cooperative agreement, in this case for facilitating the financing of trade and capital movements (cross border investments). It has played an important role in removing economic restrictions on global trade and finance, though that role has been undermined to some extent and made more complex by the US abandonment of its obligations to redeem its currency for gold under the gold exchange standard imbedded in the IMF’s Articles of Agreement when President Nixon killed what was left of the gold standard.

Few countries want the leadership provided by the US replaced by China or anyone else, but as China and many other country’s economies and trade have grown relative to the US and especially to Europe, they rightly expect to have a larger role in organizations that act for the entire world. The US congress has very shortsightedly and foolishly refused to approve the adjustments in the governance of the IMF that would accomplish that. As a result it is undermining the foundation of the US’s leadership role. “Indeed, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew made this point implicitly in testimony this week in which he also restated U.S. reservations about the AIIB: Our continued failure to approve the IMF quota and governance reforms is causing other countries, including some of our allies, to question our commitment to the IMF and other multilateral institutions that we worked to create and that advance important US and global economic and security interests.

…The IMF reforms will help convince emerging economies to remain anchored in the multilateral system that the United States helped design and continues to lead.” http://www.lobelog.com/washington-misses-bigger-picture-of-new-chinese-bank/#more-28547

While there are legitimate arguments over whether an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a good thing or whether such funds would be better spent through the Asian Development Bank (China, which would lead the new AIIB, doesn’t have such a great record with the quality of its own infrastructure spending), the real issue is whether the world will remain united in the post WWII international order and presumably under US leadership of the International Financial Institutions it helped establish. The principles of inclusiveness and a level playing field that have always been the foundation of US promoted institutions clearly call for and would be promoted by supporting the expanded role of China in these institutions in keeping with its increasing involvement in the world economy. US opposition to the IMF governance reforms and its reaction against the AIIB appear duplicitous and are undermining the foundations of its leadership. “The decision by the UK, and subsequently, France, Germany, and Italy, to participate is therefore significant not only because they will be major shareholders, but also because the decision by traditional U.S. allies signals that Washington is increasingly isolated.” http://www.cfr.org/global-governance/bank-too-far/p36290

Everyone has a strong interest in having China join and work within the established liberal economic order rather than going its own way with a competing order. Recent US behavior hardly promotes that goal.

For my earlier comments on the AIIB see: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/the-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank-aiib/

Economic Sanctions

Economic sanctions can be a political tool to punish and hopefully stop or deter bad behavior by another country, group, firm, or individual. However, sanctions are rarely effective, often hurting the wrong people. Robert Pape’s examination of past sanctions on countries found that only 4% were clearly effective. Their virtue is that they tangibly register disapproval of bad behavior without going to war. An important policy question is when to use them. In my opinion sanctions should be used very rarely against countries when there is a broad global consensus that the behavior of the country is significantly and unacceptably at variance with established international norms. This is both because they are rarely effective, in part because they often hurt the general public rather than the leaders responsible for the bad behavior, and because it should generally not be the business of our government to dictate how other governments behave unless that behavior is directly against us. What that means, for example, is that sanctions should not generally be used against countries whose human rights behavior we disapprove of.

Under what circumstances might the use of economic sanctions be justified and effective? The effectiveness of economic sanctions varies greatly with their nature and the circumstances in which they are applied. In what follows I very briefly illustrate the range of experience and possibilities.

Cuba

Clearly the sanctions of one country against another, such as outlawing trade in certain products or outlawing trade and financial transactions of any sort, are of very limited effectiveness as the sanctioned country can simply trade with others instead. Cuba illustrates this point. First imposed over 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy and now enforced through six different statutes, the United States forbids most trade with Cuba by its citizens or companies. President Bill Clinton extended and stretched the reach of this embargo to apply to the foreign subsidiaries of American companies as well. The purpose of this embargo as stated in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 is to encourage the Cuban government to move toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights”.

Though the U.S. has put a lot of pressure on other countries to restrict their own trade with and travel to Cuba, it has been largely ignored. The U.S. pretty much stands alone. The cost of the embargo has fallen more on the U.S. than on Cuba. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports. More over it has not improved governance in Cuba nor led to regime change. In 2009, Daniel Griswold, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, criticized the embargo by stating:

“The embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more free. At the same time, it has deprived Americans of their freedom to travel and has cost US farmers and other producers billions of dollars of potential exports.” Former Secretary of State George P Schultz called the embargo “insane.”

Cuba is a mess not because of U.S. sanctions but because of the highly repressive Marxist regime in control for the last 52 years. The American embargo has given the Castro government an escape goat for its own failures—and the Castro government still rules. President Obama recently reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba but the embargoes will remain until Congress amends or removes them. The President has been criticized for not getting enough in return for reestablishing relations and its link with Cuba’s freeing of American spy Alan P. Gross is certainly unfortunate, but the U.S.’s diplomatic recognition of a country should have nothing to do with whether we approve of its government and its approach to governing. The 50 plus year-old embargo has totally failed in its objectives as well, which were not justified in any event. It should finally be lifted and we, and our government, should continue to criticize the Cuban government’s oppressive and destructive policies.

Iran

Economic and financial sanctions against Iran have been more successful. Though the U.S. initially imposed limited sanctions following the Iranian revolution in 1979, international sanctions were imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2006 and later by the EU in response to Iran’s refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program. These sanctions banned supplying Iran with nuclear-related materials and technology, and froze the assets of key individuals and companies related to the program. In the following years these sanctions were expanded to include an arms embargo and broader freezes on assets held abroad and monitoring the activities of Iranian banks, and inspecting Iranian ships and aircraft.

These sanctions have reduced Iran’s export (largely oil) revenue and sharply restricted its imports of materials needed for its uranium enrichment program. The international arms embargo has negatively impacted Iran’s military capacity as it is now reliant on Russian and Chinese military assistance. The U.S./EU embargo on oil shipments was made more effective when the EU extended its embargo to ship insurance resulting in most supertankers refusing to load Iranian oil. Excluding Iran from international payments via SWIFT has significantly complicated such payments. The value of Iranian rial plunged by 80% and the standard of living is suffering.

While smuggling has allowed wide spread evasion of many restrictions, they significantly raise the cost of, and thus reduce the gains from, trade. In the list of unintended consequences, Fareed Zakaria argues that sanctions have strengthened the state relative to civil society because in Iran the market for imports is dominated by state enterprises and state-friendly enterprises, thus smuggling requires strong connections with the government.

While it is difficult to assess the impact of sanctions on public attitudes, they seem to be succeeding in increasing pressure on the government to reach an agreement with the U.S. and EU to reign in its uranium enrichment program. This qualified success reflects the broadly accepted purpose for the sanctions (thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons potential), and hence broad (but not universal) enforcement of such sanctions.

Islamic State — Da’ish

Da’ish is not a recognized state but is so widely seen as an evil pariah that it constitutes an entity and cause for which sanctions should have their maximum impact. Moreover it is being resisted and attacked militarily as well. While direct U.S. military engagement would be counterproductive in the long run (it is their region and interest, not ours), logistical and weapons support to the government of Iraq and close coordination with Iraq’s neighbors has been and will be helpful. Blocking every possible source of income, payments, and weapons procurement by Da’ish will gradually degrade its ability to fight and to hold on to the territory it needs to fulfill its Islamic caliphate objective.

When virtually the whole world is behind sanctions, we have many tools and capability to make them effective. But even in this most obvious and potentially effective case, there are challenges. While strongly and rightly defending the right of anyone to offend the Prophet or anyone else we can hardly forbid public statements in support of Da’ish. The British “human rights group” CAGE, for example, is under attack for calling Jihadist John “a beautiful young man.” The group, led by former Guantanamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg, is being attacked by both public and private groups in the UK for its jihadist sympathies. Similar issues exist in the U.S. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2972757/Fury-charities-fund-ISIS-Jihadi-John-apologists.html and http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31657333

But what about financial support to terrorist groups from their sympathizers? Striking the right balance between fighting terrorists and freedom of expression will require care. Who of my generation can forget the controversies raised in the 1970s and 80s over the financial contributions of Irish Americans and their charities to the Irish Republican Army (officially a terrorist group)?

Russia

In general, the modern world is blessed with many positive incentives for people and countries to behave well. The broadly embraced values of the Enlightenment, and classical liberalism’s respect for each individual and his and her rights has established a presumption against force and coercion and hence against war. It is far more profitable (for both sides) to buy what we want than to try to take it (trade vs war). But unfortunately this has not always been enough to deter bad behavior necessitating consideration of deterrents. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, whose behavior I can only understand as that of a self enriching gangster who is happy to exploit the fears and paranoia of the average Russian to enhance his power and control, but who cares little for the future well being of his country, is grossly violating post Westphalian principals of sovereignty. Our interest in Ukraine is marginal and Putin’s is intense for reasons of Russian history and its emotional value for Russian support of its new autocrat. U.S. intervention of any sort in Ukraine would likely precipitate intensified interference by Russia. Where and when would the escalation on each side end? Would Russia’s bankruptcy end the fighting before reaching the nuclear level? We should not try to find out. Whether we should provide the pro west Ukraine government with defensive arms is a more difficult question, but would risk ill-advised escalation by Ukraine, a risk we should not take. This leaves us with economic sanctions as the most appropriate deterrent of Russia’s bad behavior.

Interestingly and frustratingly the vary interdependencies that develop with trade also create weapons that can be used by either side to promote a country’s aims. Da’ish is not in a position to deprive us of anything in retaliation to sanctions we impose on it. Even shutting down all exports of oil in the territories it controls or is likely to control would be barely noticed. On the other hand, Russian threats to shut off the flow of oil and gas to Europe and especially Germany, which receives 40% of its oil from Russia, must be taken very seriously. All of the natural gas consumed in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Macedonia comes from Russia as does over 50% in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine. A Russian cut off of gas and to a lesser extent of oil would be devastating to Europe. On the other hand, the loss of that revenue would be devastating to Russia. This is the two-sided nature of trade. It introduces caution into measures to harm trading partners.

Russia’s recent deal to supply oil and gas to China will reduce its reliance on its European market and hopefully Europe will also take steps to reduce its reliance on Russia. However, the U.S. has moved slowly if at all to increase its capacity to ship gas and oil to Europe, which is currently heavily dependent on existing pipelines from Russia. Russia has spent billions of dollars in Europe through environmental groups and others to discourage the development of Europe’s oil shale potential and to encourage the reduction of its use of nuclear energy. http://www.thenewamerican.com/world-news/europe/item/18546-nato-head-russia-is-funding-anti-fracking-movement http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/2/richard-rahn-vladimir-putin-funding-opposition-to-/

Sanctions so far have been carefully (and wisely) targeted to a few specific individuals and companies. It is difficult to determine whether they are having any effect on Putin’s behavior. If they are increased, the risk of Russian retaliation will increase as well, the burden of which would fall on Europe, not the U.S. Russia has cut off the flow of its gas and oil to Europe before for relatively short periods but has resisted doing so for the last few years. Putin is now threatening it again: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/putin-threatens-to-cut-gas-to-ukraine-as-showdowns-shift-to-economy/2015/02/25/b0d709de-bcf6-11e4-9dfb-03366e719af8_story.html.

Putin’s behavior justifies increasing sanctions but they should remain well targeted. A total blockade of Russia, which would be extremely difficult for Europe, would lead to a collapse of the Russian economy with unpredictable political consequences. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 following the end of the cold war in December 8, 1987, with the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty launched the transition (for a while) to a more liberal regime. It was the most dramatic and totally peaceful regime change the world has ever seen, but it took 70 years of patience to achieve. In a letter to this week’s Economist former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton said: “The solution to the Russia problem is not to sanction and isolate, but to hug close and thus, eventually, subvert.” We have a strong interest in an orderly political transition in nuclear-armed Russia.

Israel

Ironically the opposite side of the page of the Washington Post story on Russia linked above reported on the very disturbing use of economic sanctions by Israel against the Palestinians living in the West Bank. Israel refused to turn on the promised water to a new upscale city (residences, shopping mall, theater complex, sports club, school, etc.) being built on a West Bank mountaintop. “Before granting water access to the planned city of Rawabi, Israel — which controls the area that the water pipe would run through — wants Palestinian Authority officials to return to an Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee. The Palestinians abandoned the group in 2010 because they don’t want to approve water projects to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are built on land that Palestinians want for a future state — and which still get plenty of water.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/new-palestinian-city-has-condos-a-mall-and-a-sports-club–but-no-water/2015/02/24/d5a28dcc-b92e-11e4-a200-c008a01a6692_story.html

After driving Palestinians from their homes in the war of 1948 that established the Jewish state of Israel, the new state of Israel and the international community accepted boundaries between Israel and the rest of Palestine that were somewhat enlarged from the UN approved partition of Palestine into Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The right of the 700,000 displaced Palestinians to return to their homes remain one of the unresolved issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The Jewish settlements referred to above are in the West Bank and have been ruled illegal in a number of UN resolutions and U.S. State Department opinions. http://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/26/

On several occasions Israel has also withheld the import tariffs that it collects on behalf of the WBG government (the Palestinian Authority) in order to pressure the PA not to challenge the construction of additional illegal settlements in the West Bank. “To protest the Palestinian Authority’s move this year to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Israel has also withheld for three months the transfer of $381 million in custom duties Israel collects on Palestinians’ behalf.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/israel-to-let-water-flow-to-west-bank-development-at-center-of-political-feud/2015/02/27/d1b598de-be84-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html

These are examples of a country’s use of “sanctions” to achieve its own, not widely shared, political ends. In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof said: “The reason to oppose settlements is not just that they are bad for Israel and America, but also that this nibbling of Arab land is just plain wrong. It’s a land grab.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/opinion/nicholas-kristof-the-human-stain.html?_r=0 The same can be said of Russia’s land grab in Ukraine.

Fortunately in the case of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu intervened on February 27 and approved turning on the water before traveling to the U.S., presumably worried about bad press from Israel’s behavior, something President Putin unfortunately but predictably doesn’t seem to care about.