Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
December 28, 1998
Embargoes most destructive at home
Reckless government tool simply does not work

Few government policies are as destructive to our economy as the "embargo."

While such action has the sound of strong, punitive action, it is in reality a failed principle that the experience of the last four decades has proven doesn't work. Conversely, economic engagement is perhaps the single most effective tool in tearing down dictatorships and spreading the message of liberty.

For this discussion, though, it is important to make sure all the terms are understood. An embargo is a policy by which the president decides that US producers cannot sell their goods to the people of another country, in an attempt to punish those people's leaders. Economic engagement, on the other hand, is allowing Americans to sell their products where they wish, to whom they wish.

It is important to note that economic engagement is not the same thing as foreign aid. Foreign aid, which should be abolished immediately, involves the US government taking Americans' tax dollars to prop-up other nations.

In the brief history of this reckless tool, not a single embargo has actually worked, though some will fruitlessly try to claim the case of South Africa as a victory. The embargoed nations still exist, with the hated leaders firmly in power. It is for several reasons that embargoes do not accomplish the tasks for which they are levied.

First, embargoes only hurt the innocent of a targeted country. While it may be difficult for the leader of an embargoed nation to get a box of American-grown rice, he will get it one way or the other. For the poor peasant in the remote section of his country, however, the food will be unavailable.

It is difficult to understand how denying access to food, medicine and other products to individuals actually benefit them. Embargo advocates will claim that denying people access to our products somehow creates opposition to the despised leader. The reality, though, is that the people's hostilities are more firmly directed at America.

Father Robert Sirico, a Paulist priest, has written in the Wall Street Journal that trade relations "strengthen people's loyalties to each other and weaken government power." To imagine that we can somehow spread the message of liberty to an oppressed nation by denying them access to our people and the bounty of our prosperity is contorted at best.

One need look no further than Cuba. For more than thirty years we have embargoed the country in an attempt to drive Fidel Castro from power. At last check, he was as powerful as ever. Or we can look at the Soviet Union, a nation we allowed our producers to engage economically. Of course, the Soviet Union has collapsed.

Second, embargoes greatly harm our people. As the American agricultural industry continues to develop new technology that reduces the cost of operation and increases the yield, it becomes more important for farmers and ranchers to find markets outside the United States to sell their goods so they can make ends meet. By preventing our farmers and ranchers from competing in the world market, we deny them very profitable opportunities.

Third, embargoes are more often levied for political points, rather than sound policy. In times of war, it is perhaps reasonable to expect government to prevent Americans from selling goods to our declared enemies. But in a time of peace, it is difficult to imagine the benefits to our people, or others, of an embargo. There was no consistency in having had economic relations with the Soviet Union, a nation that pointed nuclear missiles at our shores for decades, while refusing to allow American pharmaceutical companies to sell life-saving drugs to the people in Cuba, a poor island country with no weapons that could endanger us.

If the policy of embargoes is to continue, then Congress should have final oversight of implementation and duration. But that is a big "if."

Government meddling is always destructive to the free market; people will inevitably make wiser decisions about how to spend their money, with whom, and when, than politicians in Washington. Embargoes simply do not accomplish the ends advocates claim to desire, and are extremely harmful to the well being of Americans.

Like no other form of government meddling, embargoes are destructive and should be ended without delay.