Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Wall and Other Issues

It's time to talk about the famous wall.  The big, pointless wall.  But first, a few little items I didn't want to overlook:

Yesterday I went out on a limb to suggest that Trump's protectionism might actually work out and be a good thing.  I'm not walking that back, but I will say: curb your enthusiasm.  Doug Henwood shared this Brad DeLong article essentially throwing cold water on the premise that "free trade" has been responsible for the decline of most manufacturing employment in the USA.  When Brad DeLong and especially Doug Henwood talk, I listen.  The article's quite long, but it's worth your time.  If I have time, I'll do a run-down of it in a future post.

Secondly, here's a fantastic rundown in cartoon form of Republican plans for healthcare under Trump.  It's not pretty.  There's a lot of verbal chicanery involved.  This is well worth your time.  I fully expect all the tired lies depicted in this cartoon to be trotted out at length in coming days.

Thirdly, here's some advice for liberals looking to oppose Donald Trump.  It's a great read.  I won't say I agree with every single point raised, but I very strongly agree with the final point made, if nothing else.  Not too long; do at least skim.

Ok!  Let's talk THE WALL.

There are some things Trump is bringing to the plate which may be worth everyone's time.  The wall is not one of those things.  Let's review the facts:

By most verifiable accounts, illegal immigration to the United States has notably declined in recent years.  More illegal immigrants left the United States than entered during most of the Obama Presidency.  (As a side note, let's not forget that Barack Obama has deported more immigrants than any other President in American history.  Over the course of his Presidency, Obama had 2.5 million illegal immigrants deported.  So if Donald Trump wants to outstrip him, he'll have to really step up the level of deportations.)

What is the good of building a wall when more illegal immigrants are leaving the country than entering it?  That's right: a grand five seconds of reasoning makes clear that there is no purpose to building a border fortification under these circumstances.  It is flatly a waste of money.

There's some indication, however, that there was a surge in illegal immigration in 2016 (in response to the improving economy).  

So let's assume illegal immigration is for sure a big problem and we want to nip it in the bud.  The question now becomes: what good does a wall really do?

Did Hadrian's Wall protect Roman Britain from invasions from the North?  Did the Great Wall of China save China from invasions by the Hsung-nu and Mongols?  The answer is a very decisive "No".  Given that Trump's wall is mostly going to be a fence, that's even less "protection" than one of these more famous walls.

If you're a smuggler of illegal immigrants, how do you deal with a wall?  You deal with a wall by building tunnels. America has experience with tunneling, and should know better.  Drug cartels in Mexico currently build tunnels with highly impressive engineering.  A wall or big fence is not going to stop anyone determined to enter this country illegally.

The wall is estimated to cost $6.5 million per mile for a single-layer fence, with an additional $4.2 per mile for roads to service the wall and extra fencing.  The US-Mexico border is 1,989 miles long.  So, assuming we're building a nice fence-with-extras here, the cost is: ($6.5 + $4.2 million) * 1,989 = $21.282 billion and change.  If you skip the niceties and just build a long fence, the cost is a simple $12 billion and change.

$12-21 billion is not, by federal budget standards, a lot of money.  However, it's a lot of money for a project that won't accomplish its intended goal.  The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that actually performs meaningful work (like it or not), was only $8.1 billion in 2016.  President Trump plans cuts in arts funding that amounts to less than one billion total dollars.  These cultural programs actually employ people!  Oh well - the illegal immigrants who were clamoring for those arts jobs won't be able to get them even if they build a tunnel!  That'll show 'em!

If Donald Trump Makes America Great Again and the economy is on fire, illegal immigrants are going to come to this country to work, and no wall or fence is going to stop them. In the meantime, however, we will have pissed away $12-21 billion dollars trying to stop them.  Why?  Is that money not better spent elsewhere?  Forget the EPA and the arts - surely we could spend this money protecting our troops?  Or building some infrastructure?  Or something, anything really, worthwhile?

Here's a proposal: rather than building some stupid, money-wasting wall, why don't we just guarantee everyone who wants one a job?  That'll both cost money and put more money into circulation in the economy!  We can leave the lousiest jobs to illegal immigrants and save the more gratifying jobs for naturalized citizens.  They'd sign up for that deal.  After all, they don't expect their lives to be gravy.  They're coming to America for their families, in the hopes their children will be better off than they are - just as every immigrant wave to the United States ever has.  (Speaking as an Irish-American, when I see my fellow Irish-Americans, or Italian-Americans, or Polish-Americans, etc., trashing the illegal immigrant, I grow pretty hot under the collar.  No Irish Need Apply, after all.  And yeah yeah yeah, "but that was legal immigration!" Yes, and that's because we had a more rational immigration policy in the 19th century. Don't blame the immigrants of today for our current lousy immigration policies.)

I'll have more on guaranteed employment in a future post.  For now, let me simply say that if Donald Trump wants his presidency to be regarded with respect rather than ridicule, he will not build some big dumb fence.

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