Today I’m reading the updated CRS report on Iran’s economy (PDF). If you are looking for a summary of English language press coverage and EIU and IMF reports, you’ve come to the right place. Analysis that makes informed judgments about the tough questions facing US policymakers, not so much. Allow me to play senator:
Senator Ward (D-MD): How is Iran’s economy doing? Give me the big picture.
CRS: While some analysts maintain that Iran’s economy is performing robustly, others suggest that the economy is underperforming, given the country’s vast resources.
Sen. Ward: Thank you. How big an impact are sanctions having?
CRS: Analysts debate the extent to which Iran’s economic policies are a result of poor decisions by the Iranian government and sub-optimal choices taken by the government in response to U.S. and international sanctions. Some economists believe that the sanctions augment the government’s tendency toward state-led rather than private sector-oriented market policies.
Sen. Ward: Could sanctions just be pushing finance onto the grey market?
CRS: While some assert that the use of hawala [informal money transfers] shows that Iran is able to successfully circumvent international sanctions, others suggest that the increased use of hawala is a sign of the sanctions’ effectiveness in making it more difficult for Iran to finance transactions.
Sen. Ward: That was fascinating. But what are the options facing me as a US policymaker?
CRS: Members of Congress appear to be divided about the United States’ course of action with respect to Iran.
Sen Ward: Remind me to double your budget next year.
I don’t envy the writers of these reports. They must feel political pressure to not make analytical judgments on the Iran sanctions question (Are they working?) that the US has been avoiding for decades. In terms of sourcing, I doubt complete answers to these questions will be found in IMF figures or the Washington Post. This type of research could be enriched by looking at economic / business coverage in the Iranian press. Doing this right would take a staff of several Persian speaking analysts, which I doubt is in the cards for CRS now. Maybe they should have their budget doubled.