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The Long Game

Sasha Kurmaz, Living With A Fear Of Being Harmed By Other Humans, 2021, courtesy of the Naked Room

BEYOND THE WAR/
essay

The Long Game

Rüdiger Bachmann on the Case for Harder Sanctions.

The work of Sasha Kurmaz (born 1986, Kyiv) is circled by an uncanny abstraction. Screen printed images in red, based on pictures from forensics books, which are used by doctors and criminalists for investigating the nature of an injury. The screen printing technique aestheticizes this depiction of brutality, just as any other image honed through acute angles. However, the series attempts to bluntly question: can art be a weapon itself? What legitimizes the usage of potential objects of violence, as seen in abstract experiments of modernity? Photography is the actual weapon of choice of Sasha Kurmaz, being his method to fix the constantly moving visual membrane of everyday life. It’s all about the feelings of fear and terror, which are evoked by information flow, full of the news about real and symbolic violence.



Rüdiger Bachmann on the Case for Harder Sanctions.

I want to commend German politicians, in particular the German government, on how fast they adjusted deeply held convictions, almost theorems, of German foreign and economic policy and acted. This proves that democracies are more resilient and adaptable than they are often given credit for. I also understand very much the different systemic logics between politics and academia. With upcoming state elections for the young and still somewhat fickle traffic light coalition, potential political poison pills such as an immediate and encompassing energy boycott against Russia are difficult to stomach for them. Personally, when I talk to politicians, they are usually very open minded and interested in the arguments.

My grievance is with the public debate in Germany, which has now been taken over by industry and labor lobbyists as well as their think tank economists. As for the costs to Germany, they paint a bleak picture of complete substitution pessimism, mass poverty and unemployment without, essentially, a shred of evidence. Instead, they claim the usual insider gut feeling economics of the practical men against which academic inquiry is asserted to be an empty and invalid ivory-tower exercise. As for the effects on the war in Ukraine, the bold claim is that they are zero. The naysayers predict maximum damage to Germany and minimum benefits to Ukraine. Nervous politicians are all too eager to listen to such warnings.

Even if Ukraine cannot be helped in the short-run, economically weakening the Putin regime now to the maximum extent might prevent other aggressions in Eastern and Northern Europe.

Political economy considerations suggest that neither capital nor labor wants to adjust, who ever does? Labor might also be afraid of damaging the center-left traffic light coalition in the upcoming state elections, after so many years of working hard to get them elected. I am certain that labor’s concerns are not chiefly about their members in the affected industries, among others the important chemical industry, because Germany has the fiscal capacity to make them whole, for example through a very well organized short-time work program, as it did during the Corona recession. Of course, the debt break would need to be suspended yet again, which could be a political poison pill for the Liberal Democrats, the yellow in the traffic light. More government resources and poison pills like partial and temporary government takeovers of some chemical firms, just as Germany did with its national ariline Lufthansa during the Corona crisis, and local bank bailouts might become necessary. In any event, mass unemployment and mass poverty can be prevented through good economic policy.

Sasha Kurmaz, Living With A Fear Of Being Harmed By Other Humans, 2021, courtesy of the Naked Room

The naysayers act with a pretense of complete and certain knowledge: economic and social disaster would ensue in Germany and Ukraine cannot thus be helped. There is little sense that the sudden energy stop might be coming from Putin himself, as his latest move with energy payments having to be carried out in rubles demonstrates, and that Germany needs an insurance against this event. There appears to be little strategic awareness that harsher sanctions now will improve Ukraine’s and the West’s bargainig position after the war. Even if Ukraine cannot be helped in the short-run, weakening the Putin regime now economically to the maximum extent might very well prevent other aggressions in Eastern and Northern Europe. There is, finally, no serious discussion about the fact that Germany, indeed all of Europe, just got considerably poorer, persistently, through Putin’s war, and that this requires painful adjustments. Political leadership is now vital. Prudent social policy would buffer any detrimental distributional effects but not impede the important price signals from doing the brutal but necessary work of weaning Germany of Russian energy forever. There is little understanding of the incentive problems with households and firms when they are not told that a serious transformation needs to happen.

The German public debate has, once again, been taken over by irrationality, fear, a tendency to look inward, and by gut feelings.

II do not pretend to know what is right. I still think that the economic costs of an embargo would be high, although how much higher beyond those of Putin's war is not so clear; but manageable in the same way Germany handled the Corona recession. As for the costs for Germany, I together with other economists have tried to rationalize the debate by putting some numbers and arguments together, which should be scrutinized and criticized. As for the benefits to Ukraine, things are a bit less clear but it defies basic economic logic that the constant flow of Euros and Dollars into Russia are not beneficial to the regime. Those that claim the contrary have the burden of the argument. That Putin now hires international mercenaries, that he, apparently, asked China for support indeed suggests that these foreign exchange flows are valuable to him – his foreign partners will not accept rubles in meaningful quantities.

In the end, whether to impose an energy boycott against Russia and in which steps – there are less drastic alternatives to an immediate and encompassing energy boycott, such as boycotting oil and coal first, or starting to cut Nordstream One to give the Ukrainians more agency with the remaining gas pipelines, or others, is, of course, a political decision with probably dire consequences either way. Unacceptable is the attack on academic and scientific inquiry itself. We have seen this happen many times during the Corona crisis where scientific studies – with all their stated and unavoidable uncertainties – have been attacked by schlock and fake science. The German public debate has, once again, been taken over by irrationality, fear, inwardlookingness, and gut feelings. It also lacks a sense of history in light of the atrocities committed by the Waffen-SS in the Ukraine. Does Germany really want to be asked about "Never again“, when the history of this war is written?

Rüdiger Bachmann is a professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame.

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