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Home | Blog | Imposing Costs on Russia: How About a Food Embargo?

Imposing Costs on Russia: How About a Food Embargo?

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President Obama has threatened to impose costs on Russia for their intervention in Ukraine, but so far, his involvement has been high on rhetoric but low on action. Here’s a proposal that ought to hit Russia where it hurts: impose a food embargo on them. Americans and Europeans of a certain age can remember the costs they felt due to the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. People need food more than they need energy. Think of how much more we could pressure Russia with a food embargo. Of course, there would be objections to a food embargo, because it would impose costs and hunger on ordinary Russians, penalizing them for the actions of their political leader. It does sound potentially inhumane. But, in this case, Putin has beaten us to it, and imposed an embargo of food from the US and EU on his own people! Putin seems to be saying, if you keep up this pressure on us, we will deprive ourselves of food. Is this really a sensible tactic? Apparently, Putin thinks so, and is threatening not only to deprive Russians of food but also automobiles. Embargoes have been used against adversaries throughout history. The US has maintained an embargo on Cuba for more than half a century and is pressuring Iran the same way. But it makes little sense for a country to impose an embargo on itself. If the US and EU had imposed a food embargo on Russia, many would view it as a cruel and inhumane hostile act. For Putin to impose this embargo on his own people appears to be an act of stupidity. No wonder there has been barely any reaction to it in the West. Putin has heard our empty threats, and appears to be saying that if we won’t follow through and impose costs on Russia, Putin will do it for us.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, past President of the Public Choice Society, and past President of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Virginia Tech, and has taught at Texas A&M University and Auburn University. Dr. Holcombe is also Senior Fellow at the James Madison Institute and was a member of the Florida Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.
 

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