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The Logic of Government Action

The Russian government wants to punish America for sanctions the U.S. government imposed on Russia over the Russian government’s involvement in the hostilities in Ukraine.  So what does the Russian government do?  Its chosen means for punishing America is to prevent the Russian people from buying food from America.

“We’ll show you, Comrade Uncle Sammy!  We’ll not consume the valuable products that citizens of your country offer to us at attractive prices!  Take that!!!”

The Russian government is upset with Uncle Sam because the latter government had earlier restricted Americans’ abilities to purchase at attractive prices valuable products offered to them by Russian producers.

It’s crazy: governments routinely attempt to punish each other by each harming its own people.

Even crazier: many pundits and professors continue to find government to be a sensible, even magnificent, institution worthy of our loyalty, admiration, and obedience.


I’ll reduce my consumption to punish you,” says U to R.

“Yeah?!  Well I’ll reduce my consumption, too.  That’ll show you,” responds R in fearsome retaliation to U‘s frightening threat.

But I can reduce my consumption more than you can reduce yours!” boasts U.

“Just you wait, U!  I’ll outdo you at reducing consumption!” R barks in reply.


Of course, the reason such trade sanctions have any hope of working is because producers in each country are special-interest groups.  They get heard; they are politically powerful.  The general public as such, and consumers as such, are largely ignored by politicians.  So because a policy by government U that harms producers in country R might create pressure on politicians in R to adopt policies more to the liking of government U, government U pursues that policy despite the fact that the very nature of the policy is to harm large numbers of citizens of country U.