I listen to NPR’s Planet Money podcast to understand basic news about the economy because it puts things simply. And because I don’t know my head from my ass when it comes to economics.
But sometimes they take hard economics and deploy it as a way of looking at something in the news in a different light, deploying some economist or the other in an offbeat way. Their “Do Sanctions Work?” podcast from earlier this week is one of those. In it, sanctions expert Gary Hufbauer tells the Planet Money’s Adam Davidson that sanctions only work about 30 percent of the time, usually only on very small economies — and that we should continue using them on Iran anyway.
Generally, we (the Jewish press, the press, the Jews, people in general — take your pick) take it for granted that the way stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon without actually going to war is to use economic sanctions. But noting Israeli skepticism on that front, The Forward wrote today:
As the United States moves toward the final stage of imposing sanctions against Iran’s central bank and oil industry, American officials are trying to erase Israeli suspicion about the effectiveness of economic pressure and to ensure that Jerusalem and Washington are fully coordinated in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat.
Meanwhile, Tablet‘s Marc Tracy, always such a ray of sunshine on these issues, has nothing but optimism in a blog post today titled, “On Iran, Most Roads Lead to Bad Places: A look at what could happen in the coming months.”
Hufbauer basically agrees, at least when it comes to the efficacy of sanctions. After saying that economic sanctions only work about 30 percent of the time, he says that they’re actually quite effective. Upon hearing that, Davidson basically does a double-take, saying that every example of economic sanctions he can think of was a total failure. Hufbauer says, yeah, those are the ones you’ve heard of, and then rattles of a couple of examples of how sanctions can be tremendously effective on small, poor economies. Then he says that as far as tools for applying international pressure without starting a war go, a proven success rate of 30 percent is pretty damn good.
But in the end, Hufbauer doesn’t think economic sanctions will work on Iran; their economy is just too big. Yet, he thinks we should keep using them anyway. In fact, he says, we should use sanctions to squeeze Iran as hard as we possible can. Why? Because then it will be easier to make the case that we tried every possible thing if we have to convince the world it’s time to go to war with Iran.
But what do I know? Listen to the podcast for the full story.