Sanction Trump not Bourbon

This post “America’s allies should respond to steel tariffs with targeted sanctions on the Trump Organization” by Matthew Yglesias is brilliant (even though he is mainly agreeing with the prior brilliant article by Scott Gilmore “Trade sanctions against America won’t work. Sanctioning Trump himself might.”

The proposal is so brilliant and the case for it so clear, that, I think, each title is enough to convey the idea.

Yglesias elaborates while quoting another Canadian

In light of the unusual combination of geopolitical absurdity and delicacy that the situation poses, at a press conference last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached into the bag of rhetorical clichés we normally see American officials deploy against authoritarian regimes abroad:

I want to be clear on one point: Americans remain our partners, our allies, and our friends. The American people [are] not the target of today’s announcement. [skip]

While it’s a good speech, the reality is that Trudeau’s policy countermeasures are aimed at the American people, [skip]

A better path would be to take Trudeau’s analysis seriously — America’s allies should come together and retaliate against Trump rather than retaliating against the American people.

So why are they missing trump and hitting Harley’s and Bourbon ?

The argument of Gilmore and Yglesias is obviously correct. Not only would sanctions directed at Trump be effective, they would also be fair. Bourbon distillers and motorcycle workers bear no guilt, so it is unfair to punish them (also standard practice in trade wars but still unfair).

I’m afraid that what this really shows is that in the struggles among the powerful, the little people are pawns. Sanctions on Trump personally would cause pain to fewer people (I think a (modest) majority of US citizens woud actually be pleased). They would be vastly more effective, because Trump is totally egocentric. But they would be, and are perceived to be, a dangerous escalation.

Directing the punishment at innocent peons is a way of showing it is nothing personal (while saying it is personal). Just a normal policy debate.

Sanctions on Trump personally would be less extreme in that they would directly hurt fewer people, but they would be perceived as very extreme, because the person hurt is present at the G-7 meeting.

Sanctions on individuals are not part of normal trade conficts. There are sanctioned individuals, but they are not members of the club (many are Iranian some are Russian).

after the jump, I move on to a 2 tweet long philosophical digression (which focuses on what I imagine to be the topic of Yglesias’s senior thesis).

@robertwaldmann
55m55 minutes ago

Robert Waldmann Retweeted Matthew Yglesias
1/2 This is brilliant. Undergraduate Matt might have moved on to philosophical digressions. 1) it is fair to punish Trump not innocent guys who work in a bourbon distillery.2) it is effective to punish Trump who is in charge and selfish 3) generally equity and efficiency align.

2/2 This is, in fact, the usual case. Generally consequentialist and deontoligical reasoning lead to the same conclusion. The reason may be that our moral prinicples are historically contingent and have evolved to be those that were later found to serve.

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