Question: “In today’s dollars, each slave in 1860 cost about $17,000. Wouldn’t whipping decrease work output and decrease resale value?”
You misunderstand how the system of slave based production on cotton and sugar cane plantations in the Deep South worked.
The work load for each slave laborer per day was set by the slave owner based upon the maximum output that could be achieved by the best hands with the most experience under the best conditions. Each slave was given an output quota that was a percentage of that…a quota that was the maximum that that hand could achieve based upon their experience.
Those maximum production figures were well known, being published in Planters’ Journals , Southern Slave Owners’ Newspapers subscribed to by the slave-owning classes. These journals described and promoted methods designed to get the greatest possible productivity out of the enslaved labor while spending as little as possible on their care and feeding. For some time those journals promoted the idea of feeding the enslaved workers on cotton seed waste. Cotton seed waste cost nothing. But it had NO nutritive value and as a sole source of nutrition would cause a man to starve to death.
The primary mechanism for increasing productivity on the slave plantations of the Deep South was the systematic application of violence and torture.
ANY slave who for any reason failed to meet their essentially arbitrarily assigned quota was whipped. These whippings were extremely painful. They were ordinarily administered by a sadist using a heavy braided stock whip intended to be used on animals. The whipping always resulted in torn and bleeding skin and were accompanied by loud uncontrollable involuntary screaming that could be heard hundreds of yards away. The diaries of the landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted who spent a year on Southern Plantations notes that one of his most vivid memories from those plantations was the screams of men and women being whipped. Those whippings often caused men used to brutal conditions to lose consciousness from the pain.
The whippings were a management technique. They were purposely administered sadistically and publicly. The other slaves, exhausted from their labors but still required to fetch their own water and gather their own cooking fuel and spend hours preparing their own food before sleeping and being woken before dawn, were required to watch them.
Systematic whippings were used to increase productivity. Once the hands were generally able to achieve the set quota, the quota for everyone would be increased. Those who could not achieve the new quota would be whipped.
The Southern Slave-Owning Classes were both sadists and perverts. There was an obvious sexual sadism involved in these whippings. Southern men, who bragged to each other in their letters and journals of the number of female slaves they had raped, would whip the females when they were staked to the ground on their backs naked with their legs spread and whipped across their bellies and thighs.
Southern brutality was so extreme that both male and female slaves died in agony while being whipped. But Southern law specifically allowed a slaver to kill his own slave. There were no penalties for doing so. The only restriction on killing a slave applied when the murderer was not the slave’s owner. In such a case the killer was NOT guilty of or tried for murder. Rather he was required to make a cash payment to the dead slave’s owner for depriving him of his property.
When all of the hands could achieve the new higher arbitrary production quotas, the Best Hands, who were the most experienced and therefore had the highest productivity, would themselves be whipped to encourage them to achieve a super-human output. Then the quota system would be adjusted upwards based upon the output of these Best Hands and the whippings would continue.
How effective was this system of obtaining productivity increases through violence and torture? We have three objective indicators that this systematic torture greatly increased the wealth of the Southern Slave-Owning Classes.
- Picking cotton is a skilled task that is difficult to learn, requires eye-hand coordination to do well and quickly, and under the best conditions will result in bloodied hands. Believe me, you can’t do it. Yet many Black slaves learned to quickly and simultaneously pick cotton on two rows using both their right and left hands ambidextrously. This takes an almost impossible level of concentration, skill, and dexterity. But it was done by tired nearly-starving beaten people working from before dawn to dusk in the hot southern sun. The slaves learned to do the impossible to avoid being whipped.
- Before the Civil War these Slave Labor Plantations increased their productivity 2% each year, for 17 consecutive years, without any increase in capital investment or any change in production methods. This continuous increase in productivity without investment over that long a period in time is, from the point of view of a capitalist-investor, astounding! This increase in productivity was achieved through the systematic use of torture and violence by Southern White Slave Owners.
- After the Civil War and the Emancipation of the Slaves Southern White Planters resorted to using Paid White Labor for planting and picking cotton. That Paid White Labor was not able to achieve even ONE THIRD the average productivity of Black Slave Labor during the pre-war years.
As for the argument that the Slave Owners might not want to diminish the resale value of their enslaved brutalized human property and would, therefore, refrain from whipping them: NO. there are two reasons why that was not true.
- The most productive slaves, those who worked on the First Gang, were strong-bodied healthy males aged between 16 and 27. After that because of the onerous nature of their work and poor diet and lack of medical care their productivity decreased markedly. It was, therefore, determined by the Southern Planter Class that the most economically rational course was to work a man to death. The average life expectancy of a healthy male, who by our standards would have the body and stamina of a pro athlete (!), on the First Gang of a cotton or sugar cane slave farm was at best 17 years.
- The slaves were NOT actually owned. On the slave plantations in the Deep South all of the slaves were mortgaged. Fractional shares of each slave were owned by investors. The Southern Slavers were extremely poor businessmen who routinely lived beyond their means and were perpetually in debt…for their unpaid-for land, for their mortgaged slaves, to the merchants, and to factors to whom they had sold their crop before it had been harvested.
Southern Slave Agriculture was unspeakably evil and incompetently managed. Its main feature was obtaining productivity increases through violence and torture.
I truly hate to show this picture. It sickens me. But THIS is how Southerners treated slaves.
The Militant South 1800–1861, John Hope Franklin
Without Consent or Contract-The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, Robert William Fogel
Slave Nation, Alfred W. Blumrosen & Ruth G. Blumrosen
Spying on the South, Tony Horowitz
Confederate Reckoning, Stephanie McCurry
Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball
Lynching in the New South, Brundage
Fush Times & Fever Dreams-A History of Capitalism and Slavery, Joshua Rothman
Slave-based production was very profitable…as long as one was willing to accept systematic violence and torture. Towards the end of the Civil War slavery was being used by the South in industry and mining as well as agriculture. Slaves had already been colateralized and fractionally sold as bonds which were traded on the international market. In the pre-Civil war decade enslaved Blacks were the single biggest capital investment in the United States and cotton produced by slave labor was by far America’s most valuable export product.
In the decade prior to the Civil War a Black male slave between the age of 16 and 27 used for violence-based slave cotton or sugar production gave the greatest ROI (Return On Investment) of ANY investment.
Because of that I can see, lacking the American Civil War and Government Forced Slave Emancipation, violence-based slave production having continued into and through the 20th century not only in agriculture but in heavy industry and mining.
There is a problem with the $17,000 figure cited in the question. No economist or historian would use that. It is a grossly misleading figure based upon a conversion of a different currency in a different age with a different pricing structure and different commodities and a completely different distribution of income and effectively no taxation. The only useful comparative figure would involve the number of hours of labor needed by a person of a given social class to obtain a needed commodity that had equal utility/desirability in 1855 and 2019.
The planter class in the Deep South was generally composed of the dissolute spoiled sons of planter/slavers on the Chesapeake. They were speculators who competed with each other for a valuable commodity, e.g. slaves, and had by the mid-1850s bid the price of a young male slave up to absurd levels.
They were able to do this because slaves were collateralized and, like American home buyers in the decade prior to 2008, borrowed money wildly thinking that the value of slaves would continue to rise forever and they could always refinance their debt. They only needed easily obtained credit, not cash, to buy slaves.
Nevertheless, the market determined a price for slaves that was always far less than the money that could be made by owning slaves, especially if you were base enough to barely feed them (slaves had to grow for themselves or hunt and then cook almost all of the vegetables and protein they consumed), clothe them in hand-me-down rags, and work them to death.
Without getting into arcane detail, we can at best say that by the 1850s the price of young males slaves in the Deep South had been bid up to high levels but that the market still thought that the price still had the greatest ROI (Return On Investment) available in the United States.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, bruised by scandal and faced with an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, is refusing to change course. “We have a chance,” he bullishly proclaimed on Jan. 4, “to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.”
Public health experts may disagree. Yet Mr. Johnson is at least being consistent — not only with his conduct throughout the pandemic, where lockdowns were a last resort and restrictions were to be shelved as soon as possible, but also with the political platform that elevated him to the highest office. After all, this is the man who rose to power — bringing about Brexit in the process — on the promise to restore “freedom” and “take back control.”
Undeterred by the pandemic, Mr. Johnson has been quietly pursuing that agenda. But instead of reforming the country’s creaking democracy and shoring up Britons’ rights, he and his lieutenants are doing the opposite: seizing control for themselves and stripping away the freedoms of others. A raft of bills likely to pass this year will set Britain, self-professed beacon of democracy, on the road to autocracy. Once in place, the legislation will be very hard to shift. For Mr. Johnson, it amounts to a concerted power grab.
It’s also an answer. Mr. Johnson is a political chameleon, and his true ideological bent — liberal? one-nation Tory? English nationalist? — has long been a subject of speculation. Now he has, beyond any doubt, revealed who he really is: a brattish authoritarian who puts his personal whims above anything else. And whatever his future, Britain will be remade in his image.
Amid the chaos wrought by the pandemic, Brexit tumult and increasing questions about the stability of Mr. Johnson’s individual position, the full scale of the impending assault on civil liberties has — understandably — not yet come into focus for much of the British public. The list of legislation is long and deliberately overwhelming. But pieced together, the picture is bleakly repressive.
First, there’s the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, a draconian and broad piece of legislation that effectively bans protest in England and Wales. The police would be equipped to shut down demonstrations that create “serious disruption.” Those who break this condition, which could be done just by making noise, would face prison sentences or hefty fines. Combined with other measures, such as outlawing traditional direct-action tactics like “locking on,” the bill could eventually make it almost impossible to attend a demonstration without committing an offense.
Yet it goes beyond protest, putting minority groups in the cross hairs. New trespass provisions, which make “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle” a criminal offense, would essentially erase nomadic Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities from public life. And the expansion of police powers would not only allow officers widespread access to private education and health care records, but also pave the way for suspicionless stop and search. Ethnic minority communities, disproportionately singled out for police attention, are likely to bear the brunt of such overreach.
Similarly punitive is the Nationality and Borders Bill. Stiffening Britain’s already hawkish immigration policy, it seeks to criminalize asylum seekers who take unsanctioned routes: Refugees who arrive by boat, for example, could face up to four years in prison, regardless of the validity of their claim for safe haven. And if claimants escape traditional jail, they would be kept in concentration camp-style housing and offshore processing centers, sites long denounced by human rights activists.
Not even British citizens are safe from the dragnet. A provision slipped into the bill in November by its architect, the home secretary, Priti Patel, would endow the government with the power to remove British citizenship from dual nationals without notice. Those singled out might not even have recourse to the law: Proposed reform of the Human Rights Act would make it easier for the government to deport foreign nationals and deny them claims of mistreatment.
Such draconian measures, in time, are sure to be contested. But the government has a plan for that: draining the life blood from democracy. There’s the Elections Bill, which — alongside potentially disenfranchising millions through the introduction of mandatory voter ID — aims to furnish the government with new powers over the independent elections regulator, sealing up the political process. Unless substantially amended, the bill’s consequences could be constitutionally far-reaching.
The urge to centralize power also underlies the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which would enable Mr. Johnson and his ministers to overrule judicial review findings that challenge their agenda. The Online Safety Bill, ostensibly designed to regulate Big Tech, is yet to be introduced to Parliament. But many free-speech advocates fear that it could be used to silence critics on social media, censoring those reporting details Mr. Johnson’s government would rather keep from public view. No more pesky judges or overly inquisitive journalists interfering with government business.
It’s a truism that nations sleepwalk into tyranny, and England — the most politically powerful of the nations comprising Britain — is no exception. For decades it has possessed all the necessary ingredients: ever more spiteful nationalism, press fealty sold to the highest bidder and a fervent, misplaced belief that authoritarianism could never set up shop here, because we simply wouldn’t let it.
In this event, though, concerted opposition to Mr. Johnson’s plans has not materialized. Establishment politics have been no match for the determination of Mr. Johnson and his allies: A hefty and largely supportive Conservative majority means that even when the Labour Party has decided to oppose legislation, its votes have barely counted. And despite valiant efforts by a coalition of grass-roots groups and the initial groundswell of the “Kill the Bill” protests, a mass movement opposing these bills has failed to come together. Instead, a miasma of grim inevitability has settled in.
That’s dangerous, not least because this authoritarian assault is so comprehensive that once settled as law, it will prove very tricky to unpick. Like many leaders who seek to transcend the constraints of democracy, Mr. Johnson may not foresee a future where he isn’t the one calling the shots. But the miserable shadow his power grab will cast over Britain is likely to last far longer than the tenure of the would-be “world king” himself.
His place in the history books, however, is secured. He will forever be the libertine whose pursuit of personal freedom and “control” saw his countrymen robbed of theirs.
Carey Wedler’s YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs84…
The new 14-day temporary restraining order, which the Trump administration opposed, represents the first court order placing limits on the federal law enforcement action in Portland.
The Yale historian warns about the risk of totalitarianism under Trump. That’s great for selling books — but scholars are alarmed.
He is in New York to promote The Road to Unfreedom (Tim Duggan Books, 2018), his chronicle of the rise of authoritarianism, and juggling a labyrinthine schedule compiled by his two assistants and publicist. He’s doing two to three events a day, and, when I share a cab with him after one of his talks, he frets about the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil and what it portends for the state of democracy worldwide. Mostly, though, he stares out the window, desperate for a nap. Promoting a book is usually a sprint, but Snyder has been running a marathon for close to 10 years now, and it doesn’t look like he’ll get to rest any time soon.
Not yet 50, Snyder has already ascended to a level of cultural influence and political currency rarely reached by academics. He is perhaps the most visible living interpreter of the Holocaust, Stalinism, and totalitarian violence writ large. He’s been on The Daily Show, Real Time With Bill Maher, Amanpour, and countless C-Span panels. He’s received orders of merit from three countries and published multiple bestsellers. His previous book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books, 2017), spent over a year on the New York Times best-seller list and has sold nearly 500,000 copies in the U.S. Last February, he presented a copy to the pope.
In short, Snyder has captured a mood. If you’re a liberal freaked out by Trump, Snyder is the dark prophet you’ve been waiting for. If you tend to believe that the worst might happen, Snyder is here to confirm your fears.
there are very different ideas there are
still very different ideas the hypnosis
of the end of history is something that
we have to break ourselves out of the
fist thing that I think I’ve understood
is that the catalyst or if you want the
lubricant of regime change is mistrust
right the sense of uncertainty the sense
that nothing is real or nothing is true
if you are having that feeling now as
many Americans are you are right we’re
Russians were about a decade ago okay
they’re much further along now right
there they’re in a different place now
as people say but if you have that sense
that you don’t know who to trust as
journalism real as history real you know
should I listen to white men wearing
ties actually the answer is generally no
right and make it but but make an
exception right make an exception oh no
no I think I feel I feel like Sean
Spicer has totally ruined this look for
me but but i but i don’t know where else
to go so like maybe you know maybe you
can help you out afterwards anyway that
that mistrust is the rubric mistrust
makes it happen right because if you
don’t think anything’s true and you
don’t trust anyone then the rule of law
can’t work and if the rule of law can’t
work then democracy is going to fall
right democracy depends on the rule of
law rule of law has depends on a certain
basic level of trust that basic level of
trust it’s not that we agree about
everything but that we agree there’s a
world in there facts in it if you lose
that then you lose rule of law then you
lose democracy right and the people who
are going after trusts the people who
are tweeting random things at 5:30 in
the morning right they are consciously
ripping out the heart of democracy it’s
not the skin right it’s not the muscle
that’s going to resigned it’s not the
bones it’s going right for the heart
it’s skipping the step of democracy
right it’s going right for the heart
it’s ripping out the thing which makes
democracy possible the final thing the
number 19is the one about patriotism in generalthe ones towards the end of the book aremeant to come later but you knowsometimes events outpace you or catch orcatch you up as Vic and I like to saycatch you up be a patriot set a good thegenerations to come they will need itwhat is patriotism let us begin withwhat patriotism is not it is notpatriotic to dodge the draft and to mockwar heroes and their familiesit is not patriotic to discriminateagainst active duty members of the ArmedForces and one’s companies or a campaignto keep disabled veterans away fromone’s property it is not patriotic tocompare one search for sexual partnersin New York with the military service inVietnam that one has dodged it is notpatriotic to avoid paying taxesespecially when American workingfamilies do pay it is not patriotic toask those working taxpaying Americanfamilies to finance one’s ownpresidential campaign and then to spendtheir contributions in one’s own inone’s own companies it is not patrioticto admire foreign dictators it is notpatriotic to cultivate a relationshipwith Muammar Gaddafi or to say thatBashar al-assad and Vladimir Putin aresuperior leaders it is not patriotic tocall upon Russia to intervene in anAmerican presidential electionit is not patriotic to cite Russianpropaganda at rallies it is notpatriotic to share an advisor withRussian oligarchs and is not patrioticto solicit foreign policy advice fromsomeone who owns shares in a Russianenergy company it is not patriotic toread a foreign policy speech written bysomeone on the payroll of a Russianenergy company it is not patriotic toappoint a national security advisor whois taking money from a Russianpropaganda organ it is not patriotic toappointed Secretary of State an oil manwith Russian financial interests who isthe director of a Russian Americanenergy company and has received theorder of friendship from Putin the pointis not that Russia and America must beenemies the point is that patriotisminvolves serving your own country thepresident is a nationalist which is notat all the same things a patriot anationalist encourages us to be ourworst and then tells us that we are thebest a nationalist quote althoughendlessly brooding on power victorydefeat revenge wrote Orwell tends to bequote uninterested in what happens inthe real worldunquote nationalism is relativist sincethe only truth is the resentment we feelwhen we contemplate others as thenovelist bunnyville keys put itnationalism quote has no universalvalues aesthetic or ethical a patriot bycontrast wants the nation to live up toits ideals which means asking us to beour best selves a patriot must beconcerned with the real world which isthe only place where his country can beloved and sustained a patriot hasuniversal values standards by which hejudges his nation always wishing it welland wishing that it would do betterdemocracy failed in Europe in the 1920s1930s and 1940s and it is failingnot only in much of Europe but in manyparts of the world today it is thathistory and experience that reveals tous the dark range of our possiblefutures a nationalist will say that itcan’t happen here which is the firststep towards disaster a patriot saysthat it could happen here look that wewill stop it thank41:03I don’t I don’t have a silver bullet forthat but I do have some ways of tryingto get one’s mind around it the first isthat is is technological I mean it justit just turns out that the Internet doesnot open the broad you know the broadsweep towards the positive globalizationthat Al Gore was dreaming of right inthe 1990s that just isn’t true just likeit wasn’t true with a book which broughtus the Wars of Religion right just likeit wasn’t true a radio which brought usfascism all of these new I mean notalone right but all of these newtechnologies are extremely unpredictablefor some like transition period that maylast a hundred years right there they’revery unpredictable so art like our kindof and this is something this is abubble that I think Hillary Clintonherself was caught in her campaign wascaught in people on these coats werethought and people did not realize whatthe internet actually was right what itwas actually doing and this is I meanthere’s an empirical thing here there’sa technical thing here the empiricalthing is people just did not realize howhow siloed off we had become I didn’trealize it until I actually startedtalking to real took when I wascanvassing and talking to Trump votersin the Midwest and then I realized likethis is so dumb but it was at thatmoment that I realized just howdifferent my facebook feed was fromother people’s because if you hear fromwhat seemed to be 25 independent sourcesthat Hillary Clinton is a murderer andyou’ve been hearing it for six monthsyou might well believe itall right I mean that’s not surprisingwhich is the technical thing not enoughpeople again really a Clinton campaignwhatever realized thatDonald Trump actually had a campaignadvantage right we talked incessantlyabout being a ground game ground game Isaw the ground game you know it’s likeit’s twice all agree I what the groundgame in the AK in the ground game whichis below the ground game right and whatthe Russians called a psycho sphereTrump had a tremendous advantage howmuch of that was actually is campaigninghow much there was actually the RussiansI don’t know but in terms of the bots interms of the technical distribution ofthe false news at the generation andtechnical distribution he had a hugeadvantage and what turned out almostcertainly be a decisive advantage theseare things that we have to understandand get our mind around now in terms ofwhat we can do I mean obviously like youknow Zuckerberg can do a lot and peoplewho are in charge of news distributioncan can do a lot there are two littlethings I mean one is kind of just adeclaration I think 2017 is already andis going to be a heroic year forjournalism I mean and I be absolutelymean heroic like if this is going toturn around it’s going to be because ofpeople pursuing old fashioned storiesand old-fashioned ways and printing andpublishing very often in print journalswho can afford or at least try to try toafford to be able to do such things andand I mean it’s also generationally likethere are a lot of really interestingyoung people who now see journalism asedgy and they’re right right like thewhole threat like that the phrasemainstream media that’s not like what’smainstream is the derision of the mediathat’s the mainstream right being ajournalist is now edgy and dangerous andinteresting right and I think maybehistorically meaningful and you know thelittle thing I say in the book which isobvious I’m sure you all do it is thatwe need to pay for a bunch ofsubscriptions because if everybody paysfor subscriptions that will actually beenough to subsidize investigations rightand that I mean even we know that peoplelike us often don’t do that right and ifwe all did it that would make a hugedifference and then finally there’s likethere’s the internet self policing whichis it we have to think we have toremember that we are all now publishersright and so therefore we all everyevery individual makes a difference interms of what is actually beingdistributed right if we think about itthat way then each of us can make usfeel better to write like if you pickedreporters from the real world followtheir workget to know them as it were and thendistribute their work online then you’rebeing a publisher who’s doing a littlebit of good so let the day-to-day levelthat’s something that we can do thankthat the cleat and actually the questionwe just had the cleavages are going tochange they’re already changing and inEurope they’re it’s further along thanthan here because certain things arefurther along in Europe and here but Ithink the real dividing lines are factand post fact and andanti-authoritarianism authoritarianismand I think the anti I think I agreewith your premise the anti-authoritariancase is unfortunately a case that has tobe made right it can lose but I thinkthat’s the case that has to be made andit goes back to how one wins also theanti-authoritarian z– have to include agood deal of my view conservativespeople who vote Republican right peoplewho people who think there should be aConstitution although they would havethey would disagree about policy youknow perhaps with me right theanti-authoritarian camp is gonna have toinclude a lot of folks like that as wellso so so my answer is that of courseyou’re right I mean the Bill of Rightsis there for the reason you give that’swhy the Bill of Rights is there it’s notthere because it’s popular it’s therebecause it would be unpopular right whowants to separate church and state it’dbe so much more fun to have my you knowmy church right I mean who’s not temptedby that right few people okay so likeokay I was going to list all I want afavor anyway there are a fewdenominations who have maybe not beatsbut in general like we you belong forrare tradition if you belong to atradition which has never try to takeover the state at some point or found astate right so how is dividing churchand state popular it’s not meant to bepopular it’s meant to be sensible thesethings are not meant to be popular andso that means they have to be defendedprecisely but I think I think there isenough of a consensus aroundConstitution that one can at least startthere as a way of shaming people orgathering people but I mean my basic mybasic notion is that you get yeah itgoes on very deep it’s whether you’regoing to authoritarian oranti-authoritarian and the people whoare trying to change things already knowthey’re authoritarians right so here wejust one of the comments when HillaryClinton stated at the time that Russiawas taking over Crimea and invading ruleand she compared it to sedating landtakeover and everybody scoffs better shehad to pull it back but I don’t knowwhether you thought that was more aptthan some B’s well I mean on andElizabeth who was a very gifted andconservative Russian historian made thesame comparison and lost his lost hisjob for it no of course it’s apt rightso here’s like here’s how Americans joinyou with history the Americans deal withhistory as though history were an mp3and if it doesn’t sound exactly the samewhen you punch the button as it did theprevious time then you think something’swrong right that’s what American says ifit does if it doesn’t repeat perfectlyso if Americans will say oh well thereno there no swastikas so no jackbootsI’m changing the channel I’m afraid likethat’s our Nats our national response tothe history this whole taboo thing aboutthe 1930s is a way of saying well in thein the naive view and the naive viewit’s a way of saying okay we don’t knowanything about history that’s fine rightbecause no analogies can be perfectI mean Crimean sedate land is actuallyan extremely good analogy it’s a veryclose analogy right but none is going tobe perfect right and so saying oh that’sjust an analogy or that’s a way of justnot thinking about history and once youdon’t think about history you’re doneyou’re finished because history is theonly thing which teaches you how peoplehave successfully resisted it’s also theonly thing we teaches you howinstitutions are constructed right sothe moment you say oh no comparisonsyou’re done forget it right it’s over soit’s a very it’s a very dangerous verydangerous move and in the dark versionthe non naive version in the darkversion it’s quite deliberate you knowyou say well I you know I am NOT exactlylike Hitler and therefore it’s okayright and we’re getting to that pointright you know they’re nothing is wrongI’m overstating this slightly but notmuchnothing is wrong because they’re onconcentration camps yet no no no no youknow and there weren’t you know thewrong concentration camps in in January1933 either right okay
With the flourish of his pen on Monday, President Trump imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as everyone in Khamenei’s office or appointed by him. It was a point of high drama in the escalating brinksmanship between the United States and the Islamic Republic. It was the closest that Trump has come to formally calling for a regime change. “The Supreme Leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime,” the President told reporters. “These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions.” Usually, the United States will sanction a head of state—such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro—as a signal that the leader is no longer deemed legitimate. In other words, Washington believes that a leader has to go.
Trump was opaque, even puzzling, about his intentions, however. “America is a peace-loving nation,” he said. “We do not seek conflict with Iran or any other country. I look forward to the day when sanctions can be finally lifted and Iran can become a peaceful, prosperous, and productive nation. That can go very quickly; it can be tomorrow. It can also be in years from now. So, I look forward to discussing whatever I have to discuss with anybody that wants to speak. In the meantime, who knows what’s going to happen.”
The new executive order also targeted the Revolutionary Guard commanders involved in shooting down a sophisticated U.S. drone last week. The Trump Administration intends later this week to impose sanctions on the U.S.-educated Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was the chief interlocutor during the two years of negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal, in 2015. Zarif once quipped that he and the former Secretary of State John Kerry spent more time with each other during that period than they spent with their wives. As Iran’s top diplomat, Zarif regularly travels to New York to attend U.N. sessions. He was here in April and had been expected to return next month.
At a White House press conference, the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, vowed that the new sanctions will “lock up literally billions of dollars more of assets.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was visiting Saudi Arabia on Monday, charged that Khamenei’s office “has enriched itself at the expense of the Iranian people. It sits atop a vast network of tyranny and corruption.” The new sanctions, Pompeo said, will deprive the Iranian leadership of the resources it uses to “spread terror and oppress the Iranian people.”
Ironically, the punitive new measure may not have major economic impact—at least not to the degree that the Administration advertised. “It’s a lot of hype, but it doesn’t mean much economically. It’s unlikely to have a damaging effect” on Iran beyond the sanctions that have already been imposed, Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former Treasury sanctions specialist who is now at the Center for a New American Security, told me. “It’s in the realm of the symbolic.” The sanctions are “a sideshow to a threat of military escalation and all-out conflict,” she said. They fuel a narrative focussed on Iran rather than the United States—and the fact that Trump blinked when he called off a retaliatory military strike last Thursday.
Former Treasury officials also claim that Trump did not need to sign a new executive order—beyond the hype and media attention it produced. The authority to sanction either entities or officials affiliated with the Iranian government has existed since 2012, when the Obama Administration issued an executive order, Kate Bauer, a former Treasury official who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. “It’s clear that this Administration wants to send a message,” Bauer said. “This is a response to the recent escalation and the shooting down of the drone.”
The main impact of the new sanctions may be political—diminishing rather than encouraging diplomacy or deëscalation. Pompeo said that Tehran “knows how to reach us,” if it decides to “meet our diplomacy with diplomacy.” But Tehran immediately rejected talks. At the United Nations, the Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi told reporters that Tehran would not succumb to pressure. “Nobody in a clear mind can accept to have a dialogue with somebody that is threatening you with more sanctions. So, as long as this threat is there, there is no way that Iran and the U.S. can start a dialogue,” he told reporters, before a closed-door session on tensions in the energy-rich Gulf. In a tweet, Zarif said that Trump’s advisers and allies “despise diplomacy and thirst for war.” Other Iranian officials condemned the new sanctions as “economic terrorism.”
Trump’s decision, a year ago, to unilaterally reimpose other sanctions—splitting with the five major powers who also brokered the nuclear deal—has battered Iran’s economy. In April, Washington vowed to sanction five nations that remain major importers of Iranian oil if they didn’t cease all purchases; the move cut off Tehran’s main source of revenue. Iran’s oil sales today are about a sixth of what they were in 2016. Inflation has exceeded fifty per cent in some months, with the price of basic necessities skyrocketing. The I.M.F. projects a six-per-cent economic contraction for Iran in 2019. Yet the Iranian economy is still far from crippled. The Islamic Republic has not witnessed the kind of economic protests that erupted nationwide in late 2017 and early 2018, Western diplomats in Tehran have told me
Sanctioning Iran’s supreme leader and his entourage could even backfire, some experts suggest. The Trump Administration’s goal is to get Tehran to make concessions on its missile development, regional interventions, and human-rights record, as well as its nuclear program. But “these sanctions will make discussions toward a new treaty very, very difficult,” Adnan Mazarei, a former deputy director of the I.M.F.’s Middle East program who is now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me. “They send a bad political signal. The recent events—especially shooting down a U.S. drone—make Iran feel more comfortable and self-confident from a domestic perspective. It could say, ‘We won the last round and maybe we can talk now.’ ” No longer, Mazarei said. Tehran has boasted that it shot down the Global Hawk drone, one of the most sophisticated surveillance aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, with a homemade rocket. On Monday, the chief of Iran’s navy, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, warned that his forces could shoot down more U.S. aircraft flying in the Gulf, “and the enemy knows it.”
Over all, sanctions are an imperfect tool, former Treasury specialists told me. They can work—but they may take years, even decades. North Korea has been sanctioned to the hilt, but Trump’s negotiations with Kim Jong Un have yet to reduce his nuclear program, which is far more sophisticated than Iran’s. Iran is still more than a year from the ability to produce a bomb, whereas Pyongyang is estimated to have between twenty and sixty bombs. Sanctions to get Rhodesia’s white minority government to the negotiating table to end the country’s civil war took almost fifteen years. Sanctions are also most effective when the world unites behind punitive economic measures, as the U.N. did in invoking sanctions on Iran four times between 2006 and 2010. Today, the deepest split in U.S. relations with its transatlantic allies is over Iran policy.
As prospects of diplomacy dimmed on Monday, Trump signaled his willingness to deploy military force. “I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “A lot of restraint. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future.”