Friday, January 8, 2016

What Canada Can/Should Do About Saudi Weapons Sale

Ye olde Harper government has put the Liberals into a bind with its bonanza sale of armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia.  Heaps of jobs and regional relations are tied to the deal.  Yet the deal sells out Canadian values and Liberal values in a big, big way because Saudi Arabia is simply awful on human rights.  It does not just repress its own population, but helps to repress the populations of those nearby--helping Bahrain fight the Arab Spring mobilization, destroying Yemen in order to save it, and on and on.

So, what should PMJT and his team of Liberals do?  Well, having Stephane Dion defend it is unkind.  I think the best approach is to let the bag of stink reside where it belongs: take credit for the jobs but blame the Conservatives for leaving a mess that would be much harder to clean up than to just let continue. 

Not pretty, but how can the Conservatives blast the government for continuing a deal that the Conservatives made?  The NDP can, but this is the cost of winning the election.  The winning party cannot simply throw out everything the old government did.  Easier to try in Westminster systems than in the US, but still there is path dependence created by the bad choices of the old government that restricts the choices of the new.  If the deal was broached today, then the Liberals would face different choices.  But breaking an old deal means telling folks that they will lose their jobs and telling the Saudis that they are too awful to have our weapons.

The key social science concept here in play besides path dependence is loss aversion.  People get more upset at losing stuff than in not gaining stuff.  We are more willing to gamble to avoid losses than to try to get something.  Since the deal was made, any changes to it would be losses, not gains that simply were not pursued.

So, the Liberals have to keep the deal and figure out how to message it in a way that does not seem too hypocritical.  Um, good luck?

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