Russia’s ban on Western imports exposes the myth that global trade could end global conflict

This week—as Russia bans most American, European, Canadian, Australian, and Japanese agricultural goods—globalization suddenly began to unravel a lot faster than anybody imagined. Vladimir Putin knew sanctions were coming and openly declared that he didn’t care. He also knows that a trade war will hurt a wide range of his countrymen, but he didn’t mind that either. Western sanctions on Russia were deliberately designed to target a small number of people in the financial and energy sectors. Russia’s food sanctions will hit a lot of large and small companies, mostly in Europe, but they will also affect almost everyone in Russia. Right now, Russia imports at least a quarter and possibly as much as half of its food, not only Camembert from France but frozen peas from Poland. Imports have both increased consumer choice and lowered prices for ordinary Russians. Now choice will shrink, and prices will rise.

In other words, a large country that contains internationally traded companies has just decided that it prefers a territorial war with one of its neighbors to full membership in the international economic system. A large country that contains plenty of people educated in global economics has also decided it can accept higher food prices the in name of national honor. It is not only possible to reject the “win-win” mantra of globalization in favor of different values and another sort of politics—it is happening right now. And if it can happen in Russia, it can happen elsewhere, too.