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This sentence from an Economist article reads strange and puzzling.

Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and levy metals tariffs on Canada and the Europeans has already raised the cost of mistreating allies. It has forced them to take retaliatory action and probably made them less willing to provide support for future Trump dealmaking, especially with Iran, which his advisers would like to turn to next.

Shouldn't it be come at the cost of? By using raise the cost of, the author appears to be saying Trump's policy is turning America's allies away. What does raised the cost mean in this context? And is it a correct usage?

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By using raise the cost of, the author appears to be saying Trump's policy is turning America's allies away.

That appears to be exactly what the author is trying to say. First we see the policy that is causing this to happen:

Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and levy metals tariffs on Canada and the Europeans...

The author specifically cites these examples of policy that have caused America's allies to feel mistreated. The article then goes on to state:

It has forced them to take retaliatory action.

This choice of words makes it clear that America's allies were compelled to react to being mistreated. By putting the whole paragraph together, the author appears to be construing that while it is possible to mistreat your allies in non-confrontational manner, the specific choices that Trump is making in foreign policy are obligating America's allies to respond. Those policy choices also

probably made them less willing to provide support for future Trump dealmaking.

So we see that the "cost" being raised is not only monetary, as in tariffs, but also in terms of political capital. Which brings us back to confirm your original deduction - that raising the cost in this case is another way of saying that Trump's policy is turning away America's allies, and that the harm being done by that mistreatment is resulting in both literal monetary costs and figurative relationship costs.

  • Thank you for the answer. I see it now. I was stuck with the (possibly misguided) thought that to say raise the cost of something necessarily suggests the something is desirable. For example, I would have understood better such a sentence as "... has already raised the cost of keeping America's allies." I thought mistreating allies has to be something every sensible politician does everything to avoid and has to be the cost itself. But as you've explained, "it is possible to mistreat your allies in non-confrontational manner." "America First" in the article title means just that. – Eddie Kal Aug 22 '18 at 14:41
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I agree with you that "raised the cost of" definitely sounds wrong. I'd argue it's not correct usage from a logical perspective and not a grammatical one. "Raised the cost of mistreating allies" could definitely make sense in another context.

Consider a fictional country where the leader has a policy of mistreating allies and has a budget for doing so. If one of their policies included sending passive aggressive letters to leaders of their allies and the price of paper went up, this would "raise the cost of mistreating allies." Of course, this is kind of nonsense, but hopefully it illustrates the point that this phrase could be used correctly in another context.

As for your suggested replacement, I'd say it still doesn't quite fit. "Come at the cost of" is usually followed by a negative side effect incurred by someone. Consider:

Automation in the auto industry has led to drastic reduction in manufacturing costs but has come at the cost of manual labor jobs.

Here, it is implied that the (negative) side effect of automation is the loss of manual labor jobs (people get fired). In your source quote, it seems like the author is arguing that "mistreating allies" is the main effect of "Mr. Trump's decision," not a side effect of it.

If I were to rewrite the above quote to make a similar logical argument to your source quote, I might (nonsensically) say:

Laying off manual workers in the auto industry has already come at the cost of firing workers.

This is perhaps a bit strange, but hopefully illustrates that this incorrect usage is trying to equate two things (and in doing so, saying the same thing twice). The correct usage should show a side effect. And importantly, the side effect should be suffered by someone (ex. "people getting fired") and not an action being equated with the subject of the sentence (ex. equating "Mr. Trump's decision" to "mistreating allies").

So, extrapolating from the opinion of the author, what would be a better replacement? Any of the following would work (whether or not they are true, however, is something I won't breach!):

Mr. Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and levy metal tariffs on Canada and the Europeans has already come at the cost of strained relations with close allies.

Or retaining the original usage:

Mr. Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and levy metal tariffs on Canada and the Europeans has already raised the cost of goods and services for American consumers.

Also as a minor note: I changed "metals tariffs" to "metal tariffs," because the singular is preferred in US English. UK English may differ, though, like they do with math/maths.

  • Sorry, but I don’t agree that raised the cost of "definitely sounds wrong,” or that it’s “not correct usage from a logical perspective,” or that it’s ungrammatical. – J.R. Aug 22 '18 at 8:54

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