A land of Immigrants

Ken Burns’ latest documentary (with his co-directors Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein), “The U.S. and the Holocaust” is a well-timed reminder of Americans mixed views on immigration. As we all know, aside from the native Americans living here when Europeans began arriving, all of us, or our ancestors, are immigrants. But once here, many Americans decided that was enough and further immigration should be significantly curtailed.

The Burns’ documentary also reminds us of immigration seen from the perspective of those wanting to come.  Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, some of us will remember cheering as East Germans escaped from East Berlin in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). We were happy to see them escape their communist oppressors, but some were less happy to see them arrive in their own countries. But logically, if someone leaves one country, they must enter another. “Emigration and Immigration”

Immigrants fall into two broad categories: those fleeing persecution or mistreatment and those seeking better opportunities in new countries (America’s promised land). Some combine both motives. Not all asylum seekers desire to move to wealthier lands. Many Jews fleeing Germany hoped to return to their homeland after the era of Hitler. They chose to move temporarily to nearby countries such as the Netherlands, France, Poland, and Belgium. Otto Frank of the “Diary of Ann Frank” fame moved his family to Amsterdam.

“The U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 44.8 million in 2018.  Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Today those born abroad account for 13.7% of the U.S. population, nearly triple the share (4.8%) in 1970. However, today’s immigrant share remains below the record 14.8% share in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S…. More than 1 million immigrants now arrive in the U.S. each year….  New immigrant arrivals have fallen, mainly due to a decrease in the number of unauthorized immigrants coming to the U.S. The drop in the unauthorized immigrant population can primarily be attributed to more Mexican immigrants leaving the U.S. than coming in.” “Key findings about U.S. immigrants”

The American economy and the standard of living of the average household have benefited enormously from immigration. Those seeking better opportunities are disproportionately the best and the brightest from their home countries. The founders and heads of some of our best fintec companies were born abroad.  In fact, surprisingly, population growth in general in countries with free markets, property rights and rule of law has increased the standard of living enormously for almost everyone. From the emergence of humans individual living standards barely changed. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago created a small improvement. That changed with discovery of the “new world” and related expansion of trade 530 years ago and accelerated with the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution just 350 years ago. In the last 60 years per capita real incomes increased 2,414% in Ireland and 232% in Mexico (the least growth of those countries for which there was data). Over the last 40 years alone per capita real income in China doubled every 7.1 years. Between 1900 – 2018 the average real income of unskilled workers in the U.S. increased 1,473%. These and other amazing data can be found in “Superabundance” and extraordinary collection of very interesting income and resource data.

Accepting refugees has a different purpose and motivation. We accept immigrants for our benefit and we accept refugees for their benefit. Countries have an obligation to provide asylum to anyone who arrives at their territory with reason to fear persecution under the convention’s criteria. Ken Burns Holocaust documentary confronts us graphically with why this is necessary.   “Asylum in the United States”

Asylum seekers are a small fraction of total immigration each year. In FY 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year with available data, 46,508 individuals were granted asylum.  Most immigrants entering the U.S. each year are joining family already here or looking for better opportunities (better lives).  As noted above they invariably contribute to raising incomes of those of us already here.  

There are many problems with our immigration rules and their administration. Congress has tried for decades to address them without success. But the recent political stunts by the governors of Texas and Florida reflect America at its ugliest.

“The group of 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week had nearly all recently arrived from Venezuela. Another group of 100 dropped outside the vice president’s Washington, D.C., residence this weekend also included those fleeing the country. And buses sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) largely included Venezuelans. 

“The U.S. in recent weeks has seen an even greater shift in migration from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.”  “GOP stunts with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce”

Governor DeSantis and Abbott where not helping these refugees await their court hearings in greater comfort. They did not alert the authorities in Martha’s Vineyard, Chicago, or DC to prepare for their arrival. Their purpose was to share the burden with (and punish) “sanctuary cities”. Their purpose was to make a political statement using the refugees as innocent pawns.

A “suit was filed in federal court in Massachusetts. It takes aim at DeSantis, Florida Secretary of Transportation Jared Perdue and the state of Florida.

“The core of the case is the allegation that the migrants were coaxed onto the flights by false promises — “fraudulent inducement” in legal terms — and that this means DeSantis and his allies infringed those migrants’ rights and committed fraud.

“It asserts that migrants were approached outside a shelter in San Antonio by mysterious people who won their trust by supplying them with minimal benefits such as McDonald’s vouchers.”   “What you need to know about the complex legal challenges to DeSantis’s migrant flights”

Nunca from Texas provides important information on who these refugees are and understanding those facts is important: 

“I volunteer as a translator with asylees coming through the Texas border and I wanted to make a thread on who these migrants are, what help is actually needed and why what DeSantis and Abbott are doing is so needlessly cruel….

“The first and most important thing you should understand, these are LEGAL asylum seekers. They are not illegals. They are not undocumented.

“They have been given permission by our government to enter the US pending their official court date. The law ONLY requires that asylum seekers be present on US soil and that they present themselves to officials to request asylum.  That is it.

“Anyone who calls them illegal immigrants is really telling on themselves and deliberately trying to confuse the issue. 

“Once they present themselves to border officials, they are processed and then given a court date to officially plead their case.  This court date is almost always a year away and in a major city far from the border, like Boston, NY, Miami, Chicago, etc. 

“You can always spot the asylum seekers coming out of detention facilities because they don’t have shoelaces (story for another day) and they have court papers in one hand.

“Another thing I would note, the Biden admin is STILL immediately deporting the vast majority of asylees. The folks that make it through come from the most harrowing conditions you can imagine. I have met whole families who had to flee El Salvador on foot because gangs threatened to kill them if their son did not join.

“I met a man who was attacked by police for leading a protest. In almost every case, these are smart, hard working CHRISTIAN refugees. Their ability to assimilate into America and thrive is limitless. They love America. They just want a chance to live and thrive in peace. 

“WHAT HELP DO THEY NEED?

“Because these groups already have court dates and in almost every case, they have family they can stay with, they only really need two things: short term food and shelter and transportation. And I mean short term. Usually less than 12 hours. 

“In most cases, these asylees only need help getting to the bus station and maybe a bite to eat while they wait. Sometimes they need to stay overnight until the next bus leaves and sometimes they need help buying a ticket, though family usually buys the ticket for them. 

Border towns and local non profits have been dealing with this for 4 years. This did not start with Biden. It was actually worse under Trump.

“But these areas already know what to do with these transient asylees and they already have the resource networks in place to manage them. In most cases, an asylee will leave detention and organizations like Catholic Charities are right there to greet them and figure out if they can go straight to the bus station or if they need temporary shelter. Local municipalities & non profits here have gotten real good at it 

“WHY IS “BUSSING” ASYLEES AROUND THE COUNTRY SO BAD?

“Initially, I didn’t complain too much about Abbott’s decision to bus immigrants because it actually helped them. It gave them a free ticket to get closer to family. And they weren’t being forced to go.

“But…. The problem with Abbott’s approach is that they are often lying to the migrants about where they are going and what will be waiting for them. And even worse, when they get to NY or DC, Abbott is deliberately choosing to drop them off far away from the resources they need.  Abbott could easily notify DC that they are coming and then he could drop the migrants off right at the doorstep of the bus station or non-profit ready to greet them. It would cost him nothing.

“But he is choosing to dump them where it harms the City and migrants the most. 

By dumping them in front of the VPs house, like he did this week, now local officials have to figure out, without any notice, how to get 50 people in the heart of the City out to where the resources are ready to receive them. 

“And what DeSantis did yesterday takes it up another notch. He deliberately lied to immigrants in Texas who were already being managed by non-profits and shipped them into MV where no one was ready to help them. It was deliberately cruel and created to maximize pain. 

“Credit to the people of Martha’s Vineyard who stepped up in a huge way and responded. They did exactly what they were supposed to: they took care of their immediate needs and helped them get on their way. What folks here in Texas have been doing for years. 

“If Abbott and DeSantis actually cared about helping relieve the burden created by asylum seekers, they could just as easily and far more cost-effectively funnel the millions they are spending on their cynical stunt and give it to the non profits already doing the job. 

“Do asylees create a burden on border communities? Sure. But it is a burden we have already learned how to manage and the only thing we really need is more resources. It would be far more effective to just buy migrants a sandwich and a bus ticket than a private plane to MV. This is the kind of deliberate misinformation Conservatives are being fed.

“These migrants SHOULDN’T stay in MV because they have family and court dates in other places. They were TRICKED into being there.”

***********  

In an interview with the Washington Post about his new documentary, Ken Burns said:  I made a comment about the [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis play in Martha’s Vineyard as being a kind of an authoritarian response, just as it was when Disney says we don’t agree with you, he punishes them. When a state employee doesn’t do what he says, he fires them. That’s the authoritarian thing. It’s not the democratic way that you handle it. But the right-wing media has said that I’ve equated what DeSantis did with the Holocaust, which is obscene. I mean, literally obscene to do that. But it is also classic authoritarian playbook to sort of lie about what somebody just said in order to make it so outrageous that then you can deny the complexity of what’s being presented.”  “Ken Burns holocaust documentary”

What DeSantis and Abbott are guilty of is fraud. They lied to those sent to Martha’s Vineyard and Washington DC about where they were being sent and what they would receive when they got there. Fortunately, most of us still believe in the rule of law where fraud is punished.

“’The Republicans are so quick to bash the Venezuelan government and to say, ‘But we love the Venezuelans.’ And then the minute that vulnerable populations from Venezuela arrive in our country, they then use them as political pawns. It’s really beyond reprehensible. It’s a really repugnant motivation,’ Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told The Hill.”   “GOP stunts with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce”

“Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based legal advocacy group, filed the lawsuit on Tuesday challenging what it called the “fraudulent and discriminatory” scheme to charter private planes to transport almost 50 vulnerable people, including children as young as two, from San Antonio, Texas, via Florida, to Martha’s Vineyard last week without liaising to arrange shelter and other resources.

“The two charter flights cost about $615,000 – $12,300 per person – of taxpayers’ money, according to the legal filing….

“’This cowardly political stunt has placed our clients in peril. Numerous laws were brazenly violated to secure media headlines,’ said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for LRC.” “Martha’s Vineyard immigration lawsuit”

Immigration is a very complicated and fluid issue and what I have pointed out above is just one part of many parts of the problem. Racial and religious discrimination is another avenue of contention in the immigration debate. One wonders whether deSantis (or anyone opposed to immigration in general) would behave differently if these asylum seekers where of a different color and from a different country. My Afghan friends unable to escape from Kabul look enviously at the Western welcome of Ukrainian refugees. But that’s a discussion for another article.

May justice be done.  “Immigrants from hell”

Econ 101:  Oil Price Cap

Among U.S. (and E.U. and some other primarily Northern countries) objectives in reacting to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is to diminish its capacity to continue this war, in part by reducing its export (largely oil and gas) income with minimum damage to the U.S. and other embargo supporters and to pressure it to the bargaining table sooner rather than later (we are trying to do that aren’t we??). As you can see from the previous sentence, this is not a particularly simple issue.

One measure being promoted by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is to cap the price at which we are willing to buy Russian oil.  If we just stop buying Russian oil all together (effectively a price of zero), global oil supply would presumably fall, and oil prices would rise. We know, of course that Russia will redirect its sales to countries not participating in the embargo, such as China and India, to the extent it can and the oil these countries would have purchased from Saudi Arabia and other suppliers would then be available to us and global oil supply would not fall as much as we might have expected nor would prices increase as much as otherwise. Much could be written about this (the limited potential of embargoes if not everyone participates), but I won’t.

The idea of Secretary Yellen’s cap is that rather than buying no Russia oil we (and all embargo participants) would continue to buy it but at an agreed price that is below normal market prices in normal time (the price cap). Thus, hopefully, Russia would still sell its oil to the West but would earn less foreign exchange from it and the West would have more oil than with a total blockage and thus avoid sharp market price increases.

“There are several outstanding issues to settle on the price-cap idea. Those include figuring out exactly how to enforce it, convincing other nations to subscribe to it and deciding the sales price at which Western countries would permit the purchase of Russian oil. Looming over the proposal is also the presumption that Russia would continue to sell oil at a price mandated by the U.S. and its allies.”  “WSJ: Janet Yellen begins Asia trip to win support for cap on Russian oil price”

“Some economists and oil industry experts are skeptical that the plan will work, either as a way to reduce revenues for the Kremlin or to push down prices at the pump. They warn the plan could mostly enrich oil refiners and could be ripe for evasion by Russia and its allies. Moscow could refuse to sell at the capped price…. 

“Mr. Biden… moved swiftly to ban imports of Russian oil to the United States and coordinate similar bans among allies. In some ways, the price-cap proposal is an acknowledgment that those penalties have not worked as intended: Russia has continued to sell oil at elevated prices — even accounting for the discounts it is giving to buyers like India and China, which did not join in the oil sanctions — while Western drivers pay a premium….

“The cap plan seeks to keep the Russian oil moving to market, but only if it is steeply discounted. Russia could still ship its oil with Western backing if that oil is sold for no more than a price set by the cap.”  “NYT Biden gas price cap Russia”

John Bolton, whose view I don’t generally share, said about Yellen’s oil price cap: “The proposal, academic and untried, faces multiple practical obstacles and uncertainties. Widespread sanctions violations by Russian maritime cargoes already exist, with no reason to think the oil-price cap is more enforceable.” “WP: Biden oil price cap-Russia Sanctions”

Such efforts to “hurt” Russia cannot avoid also hurting us. What other approaches might the Biden administration consider?

“The White House… has held off for months on backing a gas tax holiday, amid divisions within the Democratic Party and skepticism a roughly 18.4 cent-per-gallon discount would be passed on to consumers….  In private meetings with senior Energy Department officials to discuss ideas for boosting supply and lowering prices, some industry representatives have instead used the sessions to push for longer-term priorities like building pipelines and easing environmental restrictions.”  “Politico: White House-Biden-gas prices”

“Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash.,… called it “infuriating” that spikes in gas prices were “happening at the same time that gas and oil companies are making record profits and taking advantage of international crises to make a profit. This must stop.″ “PBS: House approves bill to combat gasoline price gouging”

When the supply of a product falls short of its demand, the gap can be closed in one of two ways. Both involve rationing a scarce commodity as is required for anything in limited supply which is virtually everything. The first approach—the market approach of price rationing—allocates the product to those who want it the most, i.e. those who are willing to pay the most for it. The second approach—the administrative allocation approach—allocates the product to those the government agency responsible for choosing who gets it, determine are most worthy or in most need of it based on the criteria the agency sets (which in practice invariably includes friends and relatives). History has clearly documented which of these methods of allocation works best.  Some of you will remember the long lines at gas stations when President Richard Nixon capped gasoline prices (another form of rationing).

That leaves measures that encourage increased supply from everywhere except Russia or that facilitate reducing demand. “Biden officials are openly pleading with Big Oil to pump more, not less. ‘We want them to get their rig counts up. We want them to increase production so that people are not hurting,’ [Energy Secretary Jennifer] Granholm said.”  “CNN: Gas prices-Biden-inflation” A higher price at the pump provides the market a strong incentive to increase supply, but that generally takes years to achieve much of an increase. In the interim profits of the suppliers will be higher than usual.

Some months back policy sought to reduce the consumption of carbon omitting products as part of our effort to slow global warming. For that objective an increase in gasoline prices would be a good thing, whether from a gas tax or restrictions on finding and pumping more oil out of the ground.

For the moment, encouraging more production by Saudi Arabia and other (non Russian) members of OPEC would be helpful. Finally rejoining the JCPOA (Iran deal), Trump’s withdrawal from which Max Boot called the “single worst diplomatic blunder in U.S. history” “WP: Trump-Biden Iran nuclear deal dead with no alternative”, would, among other important things, increase an important source of oil supply, as would dropping sanctions on Venezuela. If we can make deals with Saudi Arabia, given all it has done, deals with Iran and Venezuela should be no brainers.

Ending the war in Ukraine promptly is the most important measure for addressing the shortage of oil (and food more generally). “End the war in Ukraine”

End the war in Ukraine

With regard to Russia’s war in Ukraine, are you in the “peace camp” or the “Justice camp”? Do you want a peace agreement to end the war or do you want to punish Russia for the terrible things it has done no matter how long it takes?  “The Economist on Ukraine” It is rarely wise to take strategic decisions when enraged by someone’s behavior. It is currently hard not to want to flatten Russia for its illegal and brutal war with Ukraine (the Justice camp) but it would not be in our or the world’s interest to do so (Peace camp).  “The Russian war in Ukraine”

Everyone will suffer from continuing the war even without escalation. The world will suffer serious food shortages, oil and gas shortages, disruption and reorganization of the global trading system, and Ukraine and its economy will be in ruins.  And no one should forget that Russia is a nuclear power, in fact it has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

Ukraine President Zelensky said that he is willing to keep Ukraine neutral and out of NATO (but in the EU). He also demanded that Russia withdraw to the territories it occupied on February 23, 2022, which included the Crimea and parts of the largely Russian speaking Donbas. In a face-to-face interview with the managing editor of the Economist magazine on March 27 and as quoted in my blog above, Zelensky stated that: “Victory is being able to save as many lives as possible…because without this nothing would make sense. Our land is important, yes, but ultimately, it’s just territory.”

But on April 17, “President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that Ukraine is not willing to give up territory in the eastern part of the country to end the war with Russia.”   “Zelensky Russia war tapper interview-cnn-tv”  

Speaking at the Davos World Economic Forum last week, Henry Kissinger stated that “it’s time to think about a diplomatic settlement to end the war, and that settlement will have to include territorial concessions to Russia. ‘Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante,’ referring to the pre-war lines in which Russia controlled the Crimean Peninsula and approximately a third of territory in the Donbas. ‘Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself.’” “Does Henry Kissinger have a point?”

It is politically very difficult for either Ukraine or Russia to give up territory they hold or aspire to.  Edward Luttwak, a strategist and author of “The Logic of War and Peace” among many other books, has proposed a solution to this political dilemma, which like all political compromises should be acceptable to both sides without being fully satisfactory to either.  He proposes to settle the territorial issues via an internationally supervised referendum for determining the fate of each Oblast:

“That leaves the disposition of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, substantial territories that Zelensky does not have the authority to give up, and without which Putin cannot leave the table where he has gambled and lost so much. While Putin cannot be given the two regions he demanded before starting the war, he can be provided with something that he can portray as a victory: plebiscites in both regions where properly certified residents, including returning refugees, would be allowed to vote on whether their oblast should remain Ukrainian or join Russia.

“Upon acceptance of the plebiscites in principle, a cease-fire would come into immediate effect, with Russia’s respect of their terms guaranteed by the ease of reimposing sanctions just lifted.”  “How the Ukraine war must end”  Allowing the residents of each region to determine their own affiliation can hardly be objectionable to the rest of us.

The Justice Camp and the military industry that cheers it on should yield to the Peace Camp in the interest of all of us.  “Ukraine’s and Russia’s war”

Ukraine’s and Russia’s War

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is horrifying, unjustified and illegal. We can’t help admiring the courage of the Ukrainian people in attempting to defend their country nor being enraged at Russia’s brutality.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Alexander Vindman argued that: “America Must Embrace the Goal of Ukrainian Victory  It’s Time to Move Past Washington’s Cautious Approach” “Will America embrace Ukraine victory goal?”  Vindman, best known to us as Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, was born in Ukraine. It is understandable, but not excusable, that Vindman puts Ukraine’s interests above those of the United States.

As a naturalized American, Vindman proved his patriotism by testifying on October 29, 2019, before the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, for whom he worked as a member of the White House’s National Security Council. But when determining our role in Ukraine’s war with Russia, we should give primacy to America’s best interests in both the short and long term.

Historian and military expert Edward Luttwak tweeted recently that “Friends complain that my suggested war aim of restoring the Feb 23, 2022, status quo ante is too modest; some want the expulsion of all Russian forces from all parts of Ukraine incl Crimea, with others emphasizing the need to drive Putin from office. But both mean much more war…”  “Luttwak on war in Ukraine”

It is hard not to sympathize with the desire to punish Russia for what Putin has done and is doing—i.e., to demand justice. Many aspects of the world are not to our liking or of our making, even here at home. But we must deal rationally with the world that exists in the hopes of moving it bit by bit toward a better place.

In today’s Washington Post Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Catlin Talmadge wrote an oped titled: “The U.S. is expanding its goals in Ukraine. That’s dangerous. Comments by political and military leaders suggest the goal is no longer to drive Russia to the negotiating table but to seek a total defeat of Russian forces. That increases the odds of catastrophe.”

 “Talk of total victory aligns well with another recently floated objective: an extended bloodletting of the Russian army. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asserted on April 25 that the United States wants ‘to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.’ Yet crippling Russia’s military or expelling Russia from Ukraine are significantly more dangerous aims than preventing the further loss of Ukrainian territory or, through limited offensive operations, gaining some of it back. Unfortunately, if Russian President Vladimir Putin begins to think that his back is against the wall, he may lash out by directly confronting NATO, intensifying the conventional war in the east, or even using nuclear weapons.” “Ukraine war expansion risks nuclear”

Mr. Vindman wants us to make Russia a permanent enemy. That is never a good objective. Over the last half year both Presidents Zelenskyy and Putin have offered peace conditions that represented reasonable starting points for serious negotiations. Why haven’t we pressed them both to the negotiating table?

Vindman stated that: “A Ukrainian victory against Russia will be defined, first and foremost, by the Ukrainians themselves.” But then he also says that the US should give Ukraine more and better weapons. I am not sure that he sees the disconnect here. We should not push Putin into feeling he must escalate or lose. We should exert maximum pressure to bring this war to an end that is acceptable to both Ukrainian and Russian people and in a way that opens the door to a more peaceful Russia in the future. “Ukraine-France playing good cop with Putin”

Aside from the strong emotional desire to punish Russia for what it is doing, several of the usual suspects are dangerously prolonging this war. Billions of dollars are pouring into our defense industries, which, as always, have a profit incentive to keep things going. Though we are confronted with horrifying pictures of mangled buildings and bodies, they are “over there” somewhere. For most Americans the assumed horrors of war are academic, while in fact they are all too real for those involved. The huge cost of war in lives lost, human suffering, and economic and property damage are rarely given the weight they deserve as we cheer on the brave Ukrainians fighting to the last Ukrainian. Those very well-meaning Americans thanking our soldiers for their service rarely have any idea what we have asked of them to go and fight in other people’s wars.

So our emotions cry out to smash and punish the Russians. But how it ends will have a large impact on conditions in the world ten or twenty years from now. Our standard of living and the degree of security and cooperation in the world—particularly with Russia—will depend on when and how this war ends. We need to temper our emotions and engage our minds.

Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, looked quite different at the end than they did as we undertook them. Ukraine is ranked only slightly less corrupt than Russia. “Transparency International” It is much more difficult doing business there than in Russia (Ease of doing business ranking lists New Zealand at the top, Russia 29 and Ukraine 64). “World Bank Ease of Doing Business index”  Thus it is a small wonder that John Hudson wrote in today’s Washington Post that: “Flood of weapons to Ukraine raises fear of arms smuggling Vague U.S. assurances spark concern about lost military equipment in Ukraine, a longtime hub of arms trafficking.” “Ukraine weapons trafficking”

It is too late to point fingers and ask why we did not press Ukraine and Russia to the bargaining table six months ago or four months ago. It is in our self-interest and the interest of Europe and the world to do so now.

What future Russia do we want?

It is not possible to see the pictures of dead bodies (320 and counting) and to hear the reports of the barbaric massacre of citizens of Bucha or the recent rocket attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed 50 and injured 98 civilians without feeling outrage towards the Russians and sorrow for the people of Ukraine. Understandable though such feels are, it is not a good state of mind in which to plan for a better future.

In a face-to-face interview with the Editor in Chief of The Economist in Kyiv on March 25, President Volodymyr Zelenskyin defined victory as: “being able to save as many lives as possible…because without this nothing would make sense.”  “The Russian war in Ukraine”  In this spirit, compromises will be made by both sides and a peace deal will be signed. It is for Ukraine to decide what is acceptable to them. But what should we wish for and— via various sanctions around the globe against Russia—what should we press for?

Our hearts cry out for revenge and punishment for Russia’s aggression and inhumane and barbaric behavior. But we would be much wiser to rely more on our minds than our hearts in fashioning the future. Existing and potentially strengthened sanctions will flatten the Russian economy if not lifted. Reallocating confiscated Russian property (e.g., the Central Bank of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves) for the reconstruction of Ukraine may seem justifiable but is surely illegal and no one should forget the role played by the Treaty of Versailles (providing for German reparations for WWI) in bringing about WWII. “How to stop a new cold war”

Ukraine President Zelensky has already indicated Ukraine’s potential willingness to become politically neutral ala Austria and give up seeking NATO membership. While taking territory by force violates international law, the formal return of Crimea to Russia, which is supported by over 80% of its residents, may well be part of a peace agreement. Should the U.S. and EU oppose such provisions? Should?

There are some, not just the defense industry, which profits from war, who believe that Putin is determined to reestablish the Imperial Russian Empire and must be resisted at all costs. We should fight Russia “to the last Ukrainian.” “How to stop a new cold war”  See the following interesting interview of Noam Chomsky: “Chomsky-US policy toward Putin assures no path to de-escalation in Ukraine”

Others, myself included, take seriously Putin’s (and Boris Yeltsin before him) pleas for a European security architecture in which Russia feels comfortable. We believe that America’s Monroe Doctrine is applicable to all major powers. Our true interest is in a peaceful Russia that is a comfortable member of the European continent ten or more years into the future. We should encourage Ukraine’s peace negotiations and our own sanctions and defense policies in that direction. Our defense industries have profited enough from our never-ending wars. Enough is enough. “Economic sanctions”

And we must never forget that our own flourishing rests, in part, on our reliable commitment to the rule of law. Why are we sanctioning Russians living outside of Russia and confiscating their yachts when they have not been convicted of any crimes? “The American Civil Liberties Union helped scuttle a bill this week that would have enabled the Biden administration to liquidate Russian oligarchs’ assets and turn the proceeds over to Ukraine.” “ACLU Ukraine-Russia-Oligarchs”

Our news media are confronting us daily with Russia’s atrocities (facts Russians are unable to see in their own country). It is hard not to want to strike out against Russia in kind. Such short-sighted reactions are not in Ukraine’s, nor the world’s, long run interest. We are, and should behave, better than that. “Ukraine itself is proposing terms that, if backed by a combination of U.S. and European sticks and carrots, stand some prospect of success.” “What can the US really do to protect civilians in Ukraine”  We should not let our short sighted, emotional, anger towards Russia and our military industry get in the way.

The good and evil in us all

Listening to political dialog in the U.S. has become very painful and disheartening because there is no dialog. The Republicans and Democrats simply hurdle nasty insults at each other. They are enemies rather than fellow citizens with different views. Serious policy issues and challenges do not receive the serious debate they need. The atmosphere is ugly.

Russia’s unjustified and increasingly barbaric attacks on Ukraine is another example of the worst in mankind.  Following four weeks of Russian attacks on Mariupol, Bucha, and other cities the destruction of lives and property is clearly visible. While it may take a while to sort out the truth of who did what, “President Biden on Monday joined the chorus of world leaders who have said reports of mass killings in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha constituted a ‘war crime,’ vowing to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘accountable’ for the apparent atrocities in Ukraine.” “Bucha Biden sanctions Russia Ukraine”  However, it is natural, and appropriate, that we honor the bravery of Ukrainians defending their homeland and despise the savagery of the Russians invading it.

These understandable reactions do not excuse our damaging loss of our ability to differentiate among people, judging each other individually. Removing Russian performers from western stages may seem a childish reaction–OK it is a childish reaction–but it reveals a dangerous predisposition of caveman behavior. What are we to make of the removal of compositions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky from current orchestral programs? He has been dead for more than a hundred years. Or as tweeted by Edward Luttwak: “The U of Milano cancels Dostoevsky course; Poland cancels Mussorgsky, Shostakovich & Stravinsky…. Actual thought is needed.”

Not all Russians living in Russia disapprove of their country’s war in Ukraine (hearing only official Russian propaganda) but many do according to those now leaving Russia in fear or disgust. We are told that many of the young Russian soldiers sent into Ukraine didn’t know why they were there and are not happy fighting their Ukrainian cousins.

Seeing such behavior has been very disheartening.

But man left the caves with admirable instincts as well. Helping their fellow man in need contributed to their own survival as well. The incredible welcome of 4 million Ukrainians in Europe in one month is breathtakingly heartwarming. Though I am embarrassed that the admission of Afghan and other war refugees has not been as easy or welcoming. My friend Tom Palmer continues to help fleeing Ukrainians relocate to Poland as do many others. A recent J Street webinar interview of Naomi Steinberg from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society about their work assisting Ukrainian immigrants was equally heartwarming. She noted that in earlier days HIAS helped Jews flying from persecution. Today, she said: “We are helping refugees, not because theyare Jewish but because we are Jewish.”

The fear and loathing of “others” and the desire to help those in need are both impulses that helped cavemen survive. But we no longer live in caves and our survival and flourishing requires that we tame the first instinct and encourage the second one.

The Russian War in Ukraine

“Mariupol. As things have worsened the escape routes, already dangerous, have become more deadly. Oleksandr Horbachenko, a welder, says that when he left on March 18th the city was in a state of collapse, with no municipal services, no drinkable water and no food. He says at least 80% of buildings are bombed out. ‘The whole of the centre is in ruins, with wires and glass everywhere. The worst thing is seeing the corpses strewn across the street. There are hundreds of them rotting away near the central market.’” The Economist: An uncertain outlook”

All wars are terrible, especially when seen up close. Those who recklessly urge them are almost always viewing them safely from afar.  Russia’s war on Ukraine has become tangible to us because the Internet brings it visually to us in our living rooms almost instantly and because Russia’s poor planning and poor excursion on the ground have pushed it to launch rocket attacks on civilian locations. Anatol Lieven: Why the Russians are losing their military gambit in Ukraine”

In an in-person interview of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in his compound in Kyiv, The Economist staff asked the President how he would define victory.

“’Victory is being able to save as many lives as possible…because without this nothing would make sense. Our land is important, yes, but ultimately, it’s just territory.’ To save everyone, defend all interests while protecting people and not giving up territory is probably an impossible task, he concedes.”

Why then, asked The Economist, hasn’t the President agreed with Putin on the terms of a peace?

Zelensky replied that: “Everyone has varied interests. There are those in the West who don’t mind a long war because it would mean exhausting Russia, even if this means the demise of Ukraine and comes at the cost of Ukrainian lives. This is definitely in the interests of some countries. For other countries, it would be better if the war ended quickly, because Russia’s market is a big one that their economies are suffering as a result of the war. They would like to see Russia keep certain markets” The Economist: Volodymyr Zelensky in his own words

This should give you pause. The severe economic sanctions being imposed on Russia (leaving aside the legally questionable confiscation of the private property of Russian oligarchs living in England and elsewhere) seem designed to flatten and isolate the Russian economy. Why? To what end?  That certainly doesn’t benefit me or my country. Presumably they are meant to bring an end to the fighting, but what conditions must Russia satisfy to have them lifted? I have heard none stated.

Why hasn’t the U.S. pressed harder for negotiations? Who benefits financially from prolonging this war? Who besides the usual profiters of war (Military Industrial Congressional Media Complex)?

Russia: How should we fight back?

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has rightly outraged most of us. Leaving aside the history that brought us to this present conflict, Russia’s attack is totally unjustified. Our natural instincts are to help Ukraine resist its aggressor. As we watch the destruction of lives and property, it is natural to want to send in our boys or planes to help. Surely, we can stop this by using the might of our military and advanced weapons. Wars tend to look like that in the beginning. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq (I still can’t sort out what Bush/Cheney thought was America’s interest in attacking Iraq) looked like slam dunks going in. The realities were invariably very different by the end. How should we help Ukraine?

The U.S. and Ukraine’s NATO neighbors have been supplying Ukraine with weapons but left them to fight on their own. This was my assessment a month ago: “Ukraine-Russia-NATO”  As much as it strains against our impulse to help, President Biden is absolutely correct in ruling out our joining the war. For most of us, war, and the incredible pain it inflicts on those directly involved, is fought elsewhere by others. It is far too easy to say “sure, lets go to war.” “Ukraine-how should we help?”

But wars can be fought economically as well as militarily. Much of the West (the designation seems relevant again) has joined together to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia. But the objectives of these sanctions are not clear. They are too late to deter Russia from its invasion of Ukraine, though perhaps they provide an example of the potential cost to China if it decides to invade Taiwan. Are they meant to pressure Russia to come to the negotiating table? But it takes two to tango–Zelensky must be there as well. I have heard no statement of what Russia must do for the sanctions to be lifted.

The sanctions seem designed to cripple the Russian economy. Sadly, the pain will fall mainly on the Russia people rather than its government. Considerable pain will also fall on those imposing the sanctions. “The war in Ukraine and globalization”

Supply chains and financial channels will be disrupted for many years. But like military wars, the collateral damage an economic war is hard to predict. China and Russia and maybe India and much of Africa are being driven together to establish new trading relationships and non-dollar payment channels that don’t seem to serve American interests. If they are not explicitly linked to accelerating a negotiated peace, what are the sanctions for?  I don’t necessarily believe that our military industrial complex deliberately promotes the perpetuation of war, but as an economist I can’t ignore the fact that they have an economic incentive to do so.  

Missing from all of this seems to be the skillful deployment of diplomacy. The first priority, of course, is to end the fighting in Ukraine. But any peace agreement must look beyond the immediate war to the conditions that will promote peace and prosperity for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the world well into the future. As is often the case Chas Freeman says it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vxufUeqnuc

The War in Ukraine and Globalization 

We will cripple the Russian economy by cutting off their access to world markets. They will have to buy Russian.

We will strengthen the American economy by cutting off our own access to world markets. Buy American!

Both sentiments are circulating in the U.S. at the same time. If you don’t see the contradiction, you should probably stop reading. Cutting Russia off from external markets will definitely make it poorer but it will also hurt its former trading partners.

Without specialization and trade, we would all (the 99% of us) be poorer than dirt. See my very elementary explanation: “Econ-101-Trade in Very Simple Terms” This is why reducing Russia’s access to trade beyond Russia’s borders (cross border trade) will punish Russia and make it poorer. But this is often not properly understood even by very smart people: “Tony Judt on trade”

Trade is win-win, meaning that both the seller and buyer are better off as a result of their trades (assuming that their transactions are voluntary). Obviously then, restricting trade is lose-lose. Both sellers and buys are worse off as a result of restricting trade. I note this fact in my discussion of restricting trade with Russia: “How to Stop Russia in Ukraine” However, the rest of the world will have to scramble to replace Russian oil, gas, Ukrainian wheat, etc, and will pay higher prices for the substitutes.

Countries that impose trade restrictions on themselves (e.g., via tariffs) are often indulging in a form of corruption by enriching (“protecting”) favored industries or firms by reducing the competition they face from abroad (so called cheap Chinese labor, etc.). But trade policies and decisions can be more complicated than that.

Trade creates interdependencies. If a truck strike, or bad weather, or a cow disease, prevents the yogurt you no longer produce yourself from reaching your market (the local Safeway), you will go without it for a while. If semiconductors produced in Taiwan can’t reach American auto manufacturers on time and in sufficient numbers, car production is slowed. In short, supply chains that generally lower the cost of producing whatever, thus benefiting consumers, also increase the risks of supply chain interruptions. Businesses must (and do) evaluate the cost-risk trade off seeking a reasonable (profit maximizing) balance.  

Some products, e.g., those related to our national defense, are sufficiently critical that the government forces producers to forgo the economic efficiencies of importing them in order to minimize the risks of supply interruptions, especially in war time. While this is often justified, the line between risk reduction for national defense and corruption to buy votes or benefit friends is sometimes fuzzy. But no one can believe that buying steel from Canada is a national security risk as Trump claimed and as I note here: “Econ-101- Trade Deficits”  Buy American policies are more often in the corruption rather than the national interest category.

There is also an interesting political dimension to trade currently in our faces. The dramatic growth in trade in goods and services (from $63 billion in 1950 to $17,249 billion in 2020 “Worldwide export volume in trade since 1950”), has produced a dramatic reduction in poverty around the world (from 76% of the global population in extreme poverty in 1820 to 10% in 2018 “Extreme poverty in brief”’). It has also created significant interdependence between countries. This has positive and potentially negative aspects. While depending on Russia, China, Mexico, etc. for many of the things we enjoy (and sometimes even need) creates economic incentives to retain peaceful relationships, it also (the other side of the same coin) creates vulnerabilities and thus economic weapons to punish bad behavior. If the trade didn’t exist in the first place, cutting it off couldn’t be used to punish Russia. While we can inflict economic pain on Russia for its war on Ukraine by cutting off its access to our goods and services, Russia can and is inflicting pain on those of us who invested in Russia and who depend on Russian oil and enjoy Russian caviar.  

The pain some in the West have inflected on themselves (and the rest of us) out of their anger at Putin by canceling our enjoyment of Russia’s rich culture, is beyond comprehension coming from so called adults. “Russian musicians, artists, athletes and other cultural figures are facing broad backlash as Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to press his relentless and increasingly brutal invasion of Ukraine.” “Ukraine war-be careful canceling Russia”

Among the tragedies of the physical and human losses in Ukraine, and the disruption of the lives of millions of Ukrainian refugees, are the damage to trading relationships and the global order. See my commons in:  “Ukraine-Russia-Nato”  We failed to deal properly with Russia and its concerns the first time around after the USSR was dissolved. It will take a long time to repair the damage done to the international order by Russia’s attack on Ukraine. We need to do a better job next time around.  “Western sanctions on Russia are like none the world has seen” We also need to better address the costs to those who must seek out new jobs and skills as a result of new technology and greater labor productivity, to which trade contributes. “Our Social Safety Net”

How to stop Russia in Ukraine?

In violation of international law, Russia has invaded Ukraine and the world is rightly outraged. Countermeasures to stop the fighting and punish Russia’s aggression do not include sending NATO armies against Russia for the very good reasons that it would significantly increase the risk of a devastating nuclear war and because our experiences with such wars in the last half century are not encouraging. What countermeasures might we (and are we) use(ing)?

Our primary tools are to economically and culturally isolate Russia in order to damage their economic ability to continue waging their war and to hurt their pride. What might that include within the limits of our commitment to the rule of law?

Each of us as individuals, companies, and governments have the right to decide who we trade and deal with. Refusing to sell to or buy from Russia can have a powerful impact on the Russian economy. Examples of companies that have ended or restricted their sales to and/or operations in Russia include Ford, GM, Toyota, VW, Volvo, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Harley Davidson, Apple, BP, Equinor, Shell, ExxonMobil, Visa, Mastercard, Google, and Netflix. And the list continues to grow by the hour.

“Ikea, the world’s largest furniture company, is closing its 17 stores in Russia. The company said the conflict is having a “huge human impact” and “resulting in serious disruptions to supply chain and trading conditions.” In addition to pausing its retail and manufacturing operations in Russia, it will suspend all trade with the country and its ally, Belarus.” “CNN: Companies pulling back from Russia”

Sports and entertainment organizations certainly have the right to determine their members and kicking Russian teams or performers out of competitions, etc. can usefully demonstrate disapproval of Russia’s behavior.

More problematic are the announcements by Boeing and Airbus that they have suspended support services to Russian airlines flying their planes. Airbus stated that “it has ‘suspended support services to Russian airlines, as well as the supply of spare parts to the country.’” These are problematic because they might be breaking provisions in contracts these companies have with Russian airlines.  However, such contracts often provide for suspension in the event of war or other unusual circumstances. Moreover, if Russia withdraws from Ukraine in the next few weeks and the more severe sanctions are withdrawn, these reservations may become mute.

While social media platforms and entertainment companies (Disney, DirectTV, and WarnerMedia) also have the right to cut off Russian users, I am not convinced that it is always wise to do so. In my view we should all be able to view the propaganda disseminated by, for example, RT.  While I am sure that WarnerMedia’s decision to “pause the release of ‘The Batman’ in Russia,” will be devastating for many Russians, they do have more challenging issues to worry about at the moment.

A rather different category of sanctions are those taken by and/or imposed on others by governments. For example, all Russian airline flights are now banned from EU, U.S., and Canadian airspace. As a result, or perhaps for other reasons, the Russian delegation to the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-20) of the International Telecommunications Union now underway in Geneva didn’t come. This important meeting is held every four years to allocate spectrum and set other global telecom standards. By its absence Russia has lost all opportunities to nominate and elect chairmanships of any study groups and task forces for the next four years.

Most payments in dollars, Euros and most other currencies have been forbidden by the issuers of those currencies with specific exception. Russia has been blocked from using S.W.I.F.T. for sending payment instructions. The most important economic exception is that Russia may continue to sell oil and gas to Europe and to receive payment for them. Another is that Russia may continue to make debt service payments on Russian debt securities held abroad. The assets of all Russian banks outside of Russia, including its central bank, have been frozen. I am not sure how these two are reconciled. “BBC News”  

The approach of blocking economic activity by blocking payments for them is a bit similar in spirit to Anti Money Laundering (AML/CFT) restrictions, which attempt to stop illegal activities by stopping the use of the proceeds of “crimes” that haven’t been proven, rather than stopping the illegal activities themselves. The effectiveness of blocking payments in key currencies depends on how widely they are supported. A UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was supported by 141 members. Only 5 countries voted against (Russia, Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria). China and India and 33 other members (including, surprisingly, Cuba) abstained. Germany completely reversed earlier policies and is sending serious weapons to Ukraine and is increasing its military expenditures above NATO recommended minimums. While the extent of support is impressive, the abstainers open sufficient holes to undermine the impact of financial sanctions. None the less, the dramatic shrinkage of trade and real economic interactions will be devastating. Russia will be flattened and isolated.

More recently some countries have seized the assets of private Russian citizens.

The Russian Oligarch Igor Sechin’s yacht was seized Thursday by French Authorities while docked for repairs in La Ciotat, near Marseille. On the same day “Germany seized the Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s 512-foot mega yacht Dilbar, which is valued at $600m, which was moored in Hamburg.” “Russia sanctions superyacht seizures”. To my knowledge, neither of these Russians committed any crimes in France or Germany or anywhere else outside of Russia. The legal basis for these seizures, unless they are being held temporarily pending a court determination of whether crimes have been committee, is very questionable.  

Imposing harm on Russia and Russians of the types discussed above, will have costs to us as well. This by no means suggests that we should not use them. Properties and businesses abandoned in Russia and goods and services no longer sold there or purchased from there will impose costs on the western companies involved.  Western owners of Russian securities are likely to incur losses. Some Russian debt will default. But Russia’s aggression must be stopped, and future aggression strongly discouraged. Watching the Soviet tanks crush Hungarian and Czech demonstrators in 1968 without our military intervention to help them was very painful but was the right thing to do, just as our nonmilitary approach now is the right approach, as long as we apply sanctions lawfully.

Putin’s reckless war in Ukraine is destroying Russia. Let’s hope that the good and long-suffering people of Russia will not allow him to also destroy the whole world.