Thursday, March 21, 2024

Narges Bajoghli, Vali Nasr, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, and Ali Vaez's "How Sanctions Work"

Narges Bajoghli is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins SAIS. Vali Nasr is Professor of International Affairs and Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins SAIS. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani is Professor of Economics at Virginia Tech. Ali Vaez is the Director of the International Crisis Group Iran Project.

Salehi-Isfahani applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, How Sanctions Work: Iran and the Impact of Economic Warfare, and reported the following:
Page 99 of our book begins a section entitled, “Impact on the Middle Class.” It uses household survey data to show that US comprehensive sanctions have hurt Iran’s middle class. The section uses familiar criteria to define middle class status using per capita household expenditures from survey data, which considers as middle class all individuals with expenditures between twice and five times the World Bank poverty line of about $6.60 per person per day (in 2017 Purchasing Power Parity dollars). According to this definition, since 2011 (before sanctions) about 8 million Iranians (or 10% of the population) have fallen into lower income groups. Compared to where the middle class share would have been had the country continued to grow normally the loss is at least twice as large.

In the case of Iran, the middle class plays a particularly important role in the country’s social and political development. This is because much of the tensions in the Islamic Republic result from the wide gap between the government’s strict interpretation of the pious lifestyle and its anti-western ideology and the aspirations of a rising middle class. So, if I had to pick a page that best communicates the message of the book, page 99 would be as good as any.

To be sure, the heaviest cost of the punitive US sanctions has been borne by the poor, who cannot afford to lose more income, not the middle class. Poverty rates are now twice their 2011 level. Western proponents of sanctions had hoped that an immiserizing population would force its government to accede to US demands. The book argues that in this sense sanctions have failed. At no point in the past decade has the Islamic regime seemed in danger of losing control, and it has not changed its behavior in a manner the US had hoped for. Indeed, as recent events demonstrate, years of harsh sanctions have strengthened – not weakened -- Iran’s position as a regional power, posing an even bigger challenge to US hegemony in the Middle East than in the past.

Our book suggests an explanation for this adverse outcome: Having crushed the main source of political moderation in Iran—the middle class – US sanctions have empowered an adversary.
Learn more about How Sanctions Work at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue