Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Deep and Lasting Damage

Individual 1's tantrum over his inane border wall has real consequences. It will cause substantial economic damage in the short run, and further damage the legitimacy and reputation of the federal government in the long run. The latter, I suppose, is a feature, not a bug, for many conservatives.

The political discourse about immigration is very much about cultural resentment vs. inclusiveness and compassion. It isn't very much about facts. The Balance is a web site that offers financial advise, but it covers issues of economic importance with accessible fact sheets. Their discussion of immigration seems to me pretty well balanced, in other words they earn their name here, although I do have a couple of quibbles.

The first important fact that seems to get lost is that immigration has a substantial net benefit to the U.S. economy. This is partly because immigrants tend to be entrepreneurial, and because we admit quite a few people with high level technical skills. It's also because we face a structural problem with our aging population, and the fertility rate is not high enough to replace retirees in the labor force and pay for future Social Security and Medicare benefits. In other words, we really need the workers. Undocumented workers are actually a bonus because many of them pay social security and income taxes but aren't eligible to receive Medicare or Social Security.

Many politicians claim, and many people believe, that people enter the U.S. illegally in order to collect "welfare." This is 100% false. Undocumented people, and even people with green cards who have held them for less than 5 years, are ineligible for public benefits of any kind. The only arguable exception is that children do receive a public education, although it's not clear that the marginal cost of a few extra children in a school is significant. (You'd need to have enough to require a whole new classroom.) And U.S. born children are citizens and so may be eligible for Medicaid. But remember, like all children, they will go on to become workers and contribute to the economy, which is why we educate U.S. born children (among other reasons), so long-term, again, this is all good.

Undocumented immigrants do disproportionately work in certain low-wage occupations -- farm labor and restaurant kitchens -- and also in construction where they may do relatively skilled jobs such as carpentry.  Kitchen and construction work may indeed displace some U.S. born workers or keep wages in those fields lower. On the other hand, that means lower prices for consumers. Housing and restaurant meals would be more expensive without immigrant labor, including undocumented immigrant labor. However, this is not true of farm labor. Even with rising wages, U.S. citizens won't do it, in some cases leaving crops to rot in the fields.

So, we need comprehensive reform in order to supply the immigrant workers who are absolutely necessary in agriculture, and the industrious and entrepreneurial immigrants who keep our economy vibrant and innovative, while at the same time providing farm workers with dignity and personal security. Right now they are exploited and vulnerable to wage theft and sexual assault.

I don't know that there are a lot of citizens who are hurting right now because they can't get that dishwashing or food prep job they desperately want, but construction workers, at least in times of slack demand, can be said to have a legitimate beef about illegal immigration. So that should be discussed rationally.

Now, as for the inane border wall. In the first place, the majority of people who are in the U.S.  illegally did not cross the border illegally, they overstayed visas. In the second place, much of the border wall already exists. There are 640 miles of physical barriers along the 1,933 mile U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the unfenced area is essentially impenetrable because of geography. Other areas are desert in which it is possible to cross but many migrants perish. According to Dinah Bear of the organization Humane Borders:

Whereas it was common in the 1990s to see large groups of 20, 30, or even 40 migrants at a time, Bear said, Humane Borders volunteers typically only see one or two people at a time these days.
"Most of the migrants now don't come from Mexico. They come from Central America, which is much further," Bear said. "So by the time they get to the border, they're already in pretty bad shape; they've just been traveling from much further away."
Bear said it's now far more common for the nonprofit to find human remains than to find living migrants.
"When we do see a migrant, on the very few occasions we do see migrants these days, inevitably they ask us to call the Border Patrol, because they are in really bad shape and they need help," she said.

In other places border fencing would cause catastrophic environmental damage. There are Arizona ranchers who support building physical barriers in their own area. The U.S. has been steadily adding border fencing for decades and one could certainly make an argument for more fencing in specific areas, and some is already underway.

However, most of the unfenced border consists of the Rio Grande in Texas.

A host of laws and regulations — from international treaties to flood-zone requirements — make wall-construction along the Texas-Mexico border a daunting task.
All those obstacles mean that when fencing does get constructed, it usually ends up being placed far inland, cutting across private property. And Texas landowners haven't taken too kindly in the past to government officials attempting to co-opt their land. . . .
Texas Border Volunteers, essentially a private militia group, says:

The group has observed a massive downturn in border-crossing traffic in recent years. They attribute the change less to Trump's tough-talk on border security, and more to the enhanced technology that Border Patrol agents and state authorities now use.
For TBV, which patrols private lands some 70 miles inland near Falfurrias, the heightened technology means that Border Patrol is "responding quicker" to migrant traffic, which "never gets a chance to make it [to] where we're at."
Gibson said the technology, combined with increased manpower of the Border Patrol and National Guard troops, will ultimately make more of a difference in securing the border than any physical wall could.
And this is the sensible action democrats want. More physical barriers in certain places where the locals want them and the environmental impact is acceptable; and high tech surveillance technology where the damage that would be caused by a physical barrier is unacceptable, or a barrier is technically not feasible.

There is no political disagreement about whether the border should be secure. There is only disagreement about the sensible, affordable, and non-destructive means of achieving this. The border wall is an idiotic campaign slogan, not a sensible or even possible solution.


Don Quixote said...

We really need to end what I've heard called the "cult of the presidency." Specifically, I want to have a minor apoplexy each time I hear NPR reporting about the activities of "the first lady" and "the president." We do not even have a president and first lady anymore. We have a con artist/mentally-ill criminal/narcistically-disturbed financial disaster who is an agent of Russia, and a probably-former call girl and, like everyone else involved with Individual 1, a prostitute by any moral yardstick.

We need to end the culture of the worship of the president. He's just one more fucking human being--and now, barely one at that. Let's do what Wisconsin and Michigan are trying to do: limit the powers of the incoming head of government to the point where s/he can't use insane executive orders to destroy healthcare, etc.

Let's get rid of the Republican party and then convince Congress to start using its Constitution-granted powers, for example, declaring war. And then, as icing on the cake, let's make Howard Zinn proud and stop declaring or having wars. There's no defensible reason why we should have soldiers fighting in countries whose names they can't even fucking prounounce, like "eye-RACK," a country that doesn't even exist.

In addition to war being immoral and outdated, ya don't belong in a fight with an adversary of whom you're totally ignorant.

Cervantes said...

I do have some reservations about this. One is, whatever you think of Melania, she didn't ask for this and I also don't think her former profession is really any of our business. I would prefer to stay away from her. Jared and Ivanka, on the other hand, since they have been given actual power in the government, are fair game.

I do think in general that congress has ceded too much power to the executive, and very definitely so in the case of the warmaking power, but this isn't really a partisan problem. I wouldn't selectively reduce presidential power depending on whether the occupant is of the same party as the president. But I would do so without regard to who the president is.

Don Quixote said...

Thanks for the response. You do know, of course, that "Melania"'s actions have been, at best, superficial, cryptic, and the opposite-of-inspiring. She was also admitted to the country on very sketchy terms (she does not appear to be a "genius").

The point is: Everyone who associates with the first idiot is, him/herself, a scuzzball as well. She did indeed ask for this ... by marrying a charlatan/con artist. His kids are shits, his wife apparently is, too, and they are all making the planet a worse place. There is no "first lady" and if this is our "president" we are in deep, deep shit.

I think we're agreeing here.

Finally, yes, I also would reduce presidential powers without regard to who the president is. We need a republic, not an oligarchy represented by whoever happens to be the current resident, usually someone installed by interest groups like the Kochs. Of course, we need election campaign finance reform, or all Republicans will be Kochsuckers.