It’s too easily forgotten by the deep and not-so-deep in thought that production is all about the getting. Goods and services always flow. Everywhere. Without regard to embargoes and sanctions.
To be clear, if you’re producing you’re getting.
In the 19th century, England was at war with seemingly every European power of that time at varying times, but the British people still consumed European plenty as though it had all been produced in Manchester. Really, what serious non-British producer in Europe or elsewhere was going to let wars or political decrees of the sanction kind deter profitable engagement with well-heeled customers? The very notion….
Yet this very notion continues to permeate policy and economic commentary. It’s possible it’s something in the water at the New York Times, or just the people Bret Stephens is bumping into, but his commentary about Russia and Ukraine before the invasion indicated backsliding on the thought processes of this always excellent-to-read writer, and normally clear thinker.
Stephens was of the view that the U.S. could utilize banks to cut off the flow of dollars to Russia (yes, Russia is dollarized to some degree as most backwards countries are), but might be careful in doing so. Why? Because Russia could cut off flow of its energy supplies to Europe. And winter was coming….No, none of this was going to happen. The economy is global.
Let’s talk real stuff. For one, there was no way the Russians were going to sit on their energy. Not only would doing so be the same as giving up market share, but doing so would bankrupt Russia the country along with many businesses inside. The oil and gas were going to flow, period. And when market goods flow, there’s no accounting for their final destination. Put in an easily understandable way, while the U.S. has an embargo against Iran, iPhones and other U.S. plenty are still all over Iran. Get it?
It seems Stephens’s New York Times is now getting it. In a report last week, Victoria Kim, Clifford Krauss and Anton Troainovksi wrote that “When the United States and European Union moved to curtail purchases of Russian fossil fuels this year, they hoped it would help make the Russian invasion so painful for Moscow that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would be forced to abandon it.” From there they acknowledged that such a scenario was “remote at best,” and that other countries in the closed economy that is the world economy like China and India had “swooped in to buy roughly the same volume of Russian oil that would have gone to the West.” You think? Do you think some of what’s sold to “China” and “India” hasn’t already found its way to the Europe that Putin was allegedly going to starve of oil and gas? Figure that during WWI the U.S. embargoed Germany only for U.S. trade with Scandinavian countries to soar. Coincidence? Think again. Trade with Germany never stopped if you seek a clarity.
Seriously, how did serious people gloss over the economics of this so blithely? And it wasn’t just Stephens. His former colleagues at the Wall Street Journal claimed that European countries were now going to suffer their mindless pursuit of green energy with Russia’s invasion in full swing. Oh yes, that’s right. Market actors were just going to kiss off one of the world’s biggest zones of prosperity? More realistically, markets always work around the decrees of political types.