Sanctions and Boycotts in an Interconnected World
By David Henderson
Hawking’s decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his own intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communication system runs on a chip designed by Israel’s Intel team. I suggest that if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet. He calls it an independent decision based on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts here. I propose he first seek the advice of Intel engineers working here. He seems to have no understanding of this world.
This is a statement by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder and director of the Israel Center, in response to physicist Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott a conference in Israel.
I could have done without the last line: I think Ms. Darshan-Leitner would have to grant that Hawking has at least a working knowledge of physics, for example. But the rest of her paragraph is on target. The simple fact is that we live in an interconnected world, one in which a good made in country X is rarely made from items produced solely in country X. This is not a new phenomenon. Think back to “I, Pencil,” which Leonard Read wrote back in 1958. He identified 6 countries that supplied the raw materials that went into a simple pencil. That interconnectedness, by the way, is, on net, good, not bad. Commerce between countries makes the world more peaceful than otherwise.
I learned about this quote from an excellent article that appeared this morning on antiwar.com. It’s by Justin Raimondo. Justin is not known, to put it mildly, for his sympathy for Israel. He argues that it is unjust to punish innocent people for the sins of their governments. He makes a good case. I won’t repeat it here: the article is short enough for you to read it yourself. I will highlight one powerful excerpt and point out one disagreement.
We live in an interconnected world: to actually boycott all Israeli products, or those with significant Israeli components, is well nigh impossible – not to mention unjust. A blanket boycott of all things Israeli fails to make an elementary and crucial distinction between the Israeli government – which is pursuing policies decent people must condemn – and Israelis as individuals, who may or may not agree with the policies of their government.
My disagreement is about some of the following paragraph:
The same argument against slapping sanctions on Iran also applies to Israel: sanctions only hurt the innocent. The political class – the people responsible for making policy – suffers not at all, nor do sanctions give the Iranian rulers any incentive to change their behavior in the direction we would like to see. Indeed, punitive measures only serve to reinforce a bunker mentality that strengthens the regime’s hold on the populace, providing hard-liners with a convenient rationale for their policies: they tell their people “The whole world’s against us.”
The difference between boycotts and sanctions is huge. Boycotts are voluntarily undertaken by people who organize others who also voluntarily comply. Sanctions are imposed by governments and they take away our choice. That is a big distinction and it is one that I especially would have expected a libertarian to make. I agree with Justin that both are wrong, but they’re wrong in different ways. A boycott can be a mistake and I think this one is. One can even argue that it is immoral because it hurts innocent people. But it is not immoral in the same way that sanctions are immoral because sanctions involve the use of force.
That’s my big disagreement. My nit-pick is that it’s not true to say that sanctions hurt only the innocent. They hurt the innocent and the guilty. The political class suffers, but not nearly as much as the innocents. I have written on sanctions and embargoes here and here.
HT to Anthony Gregory.