A Better Wall

During his improbable campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to “build a wall” and induce Mexico to pay for it. Those-who-know-better have roundly mocked the idea. As they often do, they overlook the kernel of truth buried in Trump’s rhetoric. Given the number of gang bangers who come north, and the potential for terrorist infiltration from a country with notoriously inefficient and corrupt law enforcement agencies, a barrier of some kind is in order. Depending on the terrain, it might be a fence, cameras, drones, tunnel detection or active river patrolling, but we should control the flow of people into our country. That won’t stop entry by sea or low flying aircraft and it doesn’t address the multitude who have overstayed their visas, but it is a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless.

I would argue that the wall is a minor piece of the security issue, and there are better ways to address the problem. We might even be able to eventually eliminate the need for a wall.

Most of the nation states in existence today spent a considerable amount of their history, at great cost in blood and treasure, establishing and defending their borders. We are a very lucky exception. We managed to push westward from one ocean to the next, running rough shod over those few human beings who stood in our way. Two and a half of our four borders are defended by large bodies of water. With the minor exception of a few incursions during the War of 1812 and some Mexican banditos in the late 19th and early 20th century, we have never been invaded. In addition to the three large bodies of water, we have a virtual ocean to the north. The vast majority of Canada’s population lives within a few score miles of the U.S. border. They have modern and efficient law enforcement. They are intertwined with our economy, and there is a congruence of values. North of the population centers is wilderness, tundra and ice, a huge barrier to invasion.

Of course, we are now vulnerable to long range aircraft and missiles. We should be on a crash program to do something about that. That is the subject of another post.

Our only unsecured border is in the southwest. Our best defense would be a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Mexico — Canada South. What might we do to achieve that goal?

Mexico’s biggest problem is that it is an oligarchy. A few hundred families run everything — government, business, the arts, higher education, the professions — all of it. Owners of monopoly businesses are not particularly interested in growth. They spend their time stocking the moat around their monopoly position with additional crocodiles. That is the reason we have 11–12,000,000 “undocumented” residents. A few decades ago, Mexico had a demographic bulge. One million young people were entering the work force every year. The Mexican economy was producing a half a million new jobs a year. Guess where the other half million ended up. No prize for the right answer. We should be doing everything we can to open up Mexico’s economy in order to encourage faster economic growth. NAFTA was a help. NAFTA 2.0 (or whatever Trump is calling it) is not much of a help. In this context, “America First” means help Mexico.

Second, American farmers need some seasonal help. Lots of folks to the South are happy to work for the wages on offer, which can significantly improve their standard of living. We should re-institute the guest worker program. We can police compensation levels and facilitate transfer of money to the workers’ families. We can police living conditions. We can even have a modest withholding program to help with old age support. Everybody in the system would win.

Mexico’s other major problem is the violence and corruption that are caused by the trade in illegal drugs. We are at fault. We buy the drugs and our laws create the massive profit margins in the trade. We declared a war on drugs and we lost. Drop me anywhere in this country and I will bet you dimes to donuts that I can score drugs within a few hours. We need to legalize drugs. We need to take the profit out of the trade. We can control and tax sales. We can do everything possible to discourage use. We can stop enabling those who are hooked on drugs, and subsidize rehab for those who want to get off. We can acknowledge that substance abuse is our biggest public health problem, and acknowledge that the most widely abused drug is alcohol. If we did all that, we could end the rationale for the existence of drug gangs in Mexico and Central America.

If we facilitated the evolution of a Mexican society that was as prosperous and peaceful as Canada, we could tear down the wall. Mexico might pay for that.

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