The Border Fence: A Big-Government Program Conservatives Happen to Love

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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239 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    One thing the fence will never, was never going to, be is 1,954 miles long. Na ga ha.

    Other than that, very well said.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    I believe the argument goes that the primary purpose of the fence is not to be a barrier but that the purpose is to be a symbol. It, itself, is communication.

    The fact that it will be ignored is secondary to the consideration that what it communicated was not said in the first place.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

      Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. I am quite certain that I oppose whatever propositional content might be construed from a border fence. In fact, I am only slightly less certain that opposing that entire class of messages is my whole reason for existence as a politically active individual.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Dude, I’m with ya.

        With that said, I see something as simple as a four-foot-high chain link fence communicating the exact same thing as an 8-foot brick/mortar wall (and for so much cheaper!).

        Heck, maybe we could do something like an eruv.

        If nothing else, it will keep vampires out.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

        This assumes that “prevention” is the primary goal. If “communication” is the primary goal, the fact that it is ignored changes things from a dynamic where nothing (or very little) was being communicated in the first place.

        The theory, of course, is that the lack of a fence contributes significantly to there not being a border worth noticing. A fence, as I understand the argument, would cause prior restraint on the part of the number of pairs of people of reasonable physical ability attempting to jump the fence… the theory is that there would be fewer.

        I don’t know how measurable this is nor how many unshared cultural assumptions it makes.Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

          I suppose you’re right. I’m assuming that a person of reasonable physical ability who is desperate enough for economic opportunity to leave their homes and family behind, risk incarceration, deportation, and who knows what else, will not reach the border, see a fence that will take on average 16.6 seconds to scale, grow dejected at having to confront this obstacle, and turn around to go home. No, my assumption is that the act of having to scale, circumvent, smuggle or deceive past this obstacle, after all of the other obstacles and in anticipation of the further obstacles to come, will serve only to engender contempt for the laws of the nation that put this expensive but ultimately trivial obstacle in that person’s place.

          …And I’m totally pulling that assumption out of my ass. I need to check myself before I go any further on this thread.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

            You’re kinda preaching to the choir, Burt. I’m an open-borders guy.

            Indeed, I’m one of those who thinks that good people don’t need laws and bad people don’t follow them so what’s the freaking point. (And that’s without getting into questions of police abuse of authority, the injustice of prisons in the first place, and the capriciousness of how laws passed by people long dead for people long dead actually get enforced today in practice.)

            It just seems to me that to say that people are going to jump the fence anyway is analogous to an argument that “people are going to shoot each other anyway so why have laws/prisons?”

            While *I* might be sympathetic to such an argument (open carry for everybody!), I know that there are people out there for whom the kabuki of legislation is seen as something actually important… and, in that way, this dumb fence might be seen as important to other folks.

            Even if people will jump it anyway.Report

            • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

              Well, I think good people need laws and not just because of bad people, but that’s a very different sort of discussion than this one.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Perhaps we should just go back to mocking fences.

                Hey, from what I understand, a ladder can be used to circumvent them. Also, bolt cutters. And it costs sooooo much to build for so little benefit! And people who want to do it will just do it anyway.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                We could put a strip of masking tape along the border to show where the wall should go.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              Why are you inclined to voice those people’s reasons for wanting legislation (or not wanting legislation that lessens barriers already in place) in this one area, but so little inclined on almost every other issue if you disagree with them every bit as much as you disagree with all the other people whose desire for legislation in other areas you regard as nothing but a desire to see a performative dance?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                See it as a compulsion for balance.

                We’ve only a small handful of people capable of giving half-decent arguments in service of the conservative position on most subjects while a surplus of those capable of giving half-decent arguments in service of the liberal position.

                When I see a dynamic like that, my knee automatically jerks and I think of better arguments than the flabby ones being given. My head contains half-written essays “defending” traditional marriage, “defending” the culture, and, in this case, “protecting” the border.

                Despite being an open borders kinda guy.

                Doesn’t everybody do that?Report

              • James K in reply to Jaybird says:

                The best people do.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m left to wonder if this is more a comment on quantity or quality, but either way I think you’re pretty much mistaken in this conviction at this point, certainly on this topic, and most certainly as evidenced by this thread, and as evidenced by the fact that this post was written in response to a post written by a conservative very capable of giving excellent arguments for conservative positions, including on this issue.

                Perhaps my opinions of Art Deco and George Turner aren’t as low as those of the majority of our commentariat, and I’m not n love with either of their particular argumentative styles (nor, I imagine, they mine), but I think it stretches credulity to say that they don’t make half-decent arguments, including on this issue. And they’ve represented themselves pretty damn vigorously in this thread.

                I don’t think what you say occasions this on your part on this topic is really here to be seen in this thread. I’m wondering if you’ve fully inventoried your motivations.Report

              • Russell M in reply to Michael Drew says:

                george is worth it purely for the entertainment value. and the art performance pieces.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                …And again, the question was not why you would ever do it, but why you seem so interested in doing on this topic. I sense a lot more commitment to it here than even on marriage, where I do acknowledge seeing you make a few such gestures. But nothing like as sustained an approach as you take on this issue.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I kinda have written a handful of half-finished essays arguing for the preservation of “traditional” marriage. The problem is that the strongest arguments that I can think of defending tradition pretty much come out and say to Russell, Jason, and Boegiboe that they shouldn’t take this academic argument personally but…

                And then I argue positions that would directly harm people for whom I have a great deal of affection.

                When it comes to arguing for a fence and/or a stronger border, there’s no one on the site who is directly harmed by an academic argument and, as was pointed out the last time we argued about stronger borders, tighter immigration, there are people on this board who are harmed by large influxes of unskilled immigration.

                This makes it easier for me, personally, to argue the position of stronger border, tighter immigration even if I am, as I said, an open borders kinda guy.

                Maribou has been telling me to do more of that sympathy thing. Or is it the empathy thing? The one of those that I don’t do.

                This is a manifestation of that.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                …Either way, I’m too much up in your business pursuing it this way. It’s your prerogative. My apologies.

                (Sorry to just be getting back around to this.)Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Way too many people do that, so I try to preserve balance by piling on.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                If you see it as, primarily, a moral argument then it makes sense to pick the side of good and right and stick with it.

                If you see it as a muddle of tradeoffs without any obvious side of the angels, it’s easier to take a side academically.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                The border fence specifically I see as “Let’s throw lots of money at a problem so we’ll feel better even though there’s zero chance it will help.” I guess it’s not the worst use of the money. It’ll create some jobs (talk about shovel-ready) and won’t cause nearly as many problems as other feel-good proposals like military intervention in Iran or Syria.

                Bringing people who already live and work here into the legal system, so they get the same rights and protections that the rest of us have, on the other hand, is a moral issue. It’s not exactly the same as ending slavery, but they rhyme.Report

              • I can’t speak precisely for Jay, but there is something about the overly dismissive attitude taken towards a proposition that is considered absurd but is also supported by a large segment of the population. If I weren’t traveling across the country. I might have jumped in again, even though I am skeptical of the idea of a fence itself.

                I can’t put my finger on why this is one of those subjects that triggers the impulse and gay marriage, for instance, isn’t (though I did write a post articulating what I consider to be the best – if still unsatisfactory – argument against that).

                It’s not that Art and George are not able commenters. It’s that they’re outside the site’s mainstream and are dismissed by large segments of the commentariat. They also tend to use arguments that people like Jay and I would not use, if we were actually advocating their position, I think.Report

              • DRS in reply to Will Truman says:

                My issue with Art Deco and George – and a few others – is that they don’t really make arguments, they simply repeat talking points that everyone is just supposed to accept and yet are not really persuasive to anyone who doesn’t already agree. Which I feel is disrespectful because they’re not really engaging in discussion that way.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

                I have actually provided some back-of-the-envelope data on the rough dimensions of the task at hand. Sorry you feel you are not respected, but that is not my doing.Report

              • In what sense are Art Deco and George Turner outside the main stream of this site?Report

        • Badtux in reply to Jaybird says:

          Do note that there is a fence along most of the border. It’s generally a few strands of barbed wires on half-rotted posts intended mostly to keep cows from wandering across the border, but it does have rusty signs nailed to the posts from time to time to tell people, “this is the border”. But that kind of fence isn’t what’s being proposed.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

        C’mon Burt, it cost (in today’s currency) $13 million per mile to build the Interstate system. You do not believe it cost $4 million to build that rusty fence without some serious and avoidable padding of expenditures (or misreporting of them).

        That fence depicted is low, it is undefended, and this is a comedy set up.Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Art Deco says:

          I do believe it cost $4,000,000 to build a mile of that rusty fence. How much does a wrench cost, if you’re the government?

          I do believe there was some serious and avoidable padding of expenditures going on. Goes with the territory of public contracting.

          And I do believe that the fence is a comedy set up — the fence is a joke. Any fence would be a joke.Report

          • Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Burt, a high cement wall topped with razor wire and manned by armed guards is no joke. Getting your ass shot off after being told over a megaphone to take your ladder and get off U.S. territory would only be amusing in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

            If you want open borders, put your legal mind to work making a normative argument for it. An argument derived from assumed or learned helplessness and given ace support by 2d rate comedians is a waste of your time and everyone else’s.Report

            • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

              The humanitarian case for open borders is to my mind absolutely overwhelming:


              • There is a quantum of hurt in this world which could be ameliorated by immigration to the United States; there is also a quantum that might be ameliorated through foreign aid, charitable contributions, and diplomatic and military promotion of policy changes abroad. Immigration to the United States is not a necessary instrument and given the defects of life on this planet is contextually worth diddly/squat.Report

            • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

              …You want to build the equivalent of the Separation Wall along a 2,000-mile border. A border between two countries who are currently at peace, have long been at peace, and have reasonably good relations with each other. And then shoot people for the crime of wanting to work, live, and contribute to society in a different country than the one where they currently reside.

              …That’s madness, not policy. Utter impracticality and expense aside, it can’t even be conceived of without a fundamental contempt for the life of anyone who’s not an American.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Katherine, you have laws, you have to be, on occasion, very coercive with people who are willful in violating those laws. There is nothing mad about it.

                Again, given the sunk cost of the Interstate system and continuing maintenance charges thereupon, a ballpark guess of the lump sum cost of a border wall would be around $25 billion and annual maintenance < $1 bn. That is feasible. The federal government pukes $20 bn into agribusiness subsidies every year.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Art Deco says:

                You really think we should shoot people attempting to cross the border? It ought to be a capital offense?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

                I do not know how to break this to you, but cops are armed. They do shoot people from time to time.Report

              • greginak in reply to Art Deco says:

                Since bullets are big it isn’t even big government to suggest we shoot people crossing the border. Its Republican certified good gov.Report

              • Dave in reply to Art Deco says:

                Art Deco,

                We get the fact that you’re a condenscending asshole. You don’t have to make it a point to flaunt your credentials as much as you do.Report

              • greginak in reply to Art Deco says:

                Damn…we should have an edit function “are” should be “aren’t”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Art Deco says:

                Cops, at least in theory, are only supposed to shoot people who post imminent harm to life and limb. Someone climbing a fence and refusing to stop doesn’t pose such a threat.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Art Deco says:

                We get the fact that you’re a condenscending asshole. You don’t have to make it a point to flaunt your credentials as much as you do.

                I just give as good as I get, Dave. Raise the tone and I’ll be more agreeable.Report

              • Dave in reply to Art Deco says:

                Raise the tone and I’ll be more agreeable.

                You didn’t say please.Report

            • Alan Scott in reply to Art Deco says:

              No, it’s still a joke. It’s just a different kind of joke.Report

            • Burt Likko in reply to Art Deco says:

              How about a high cement wall topped with razor wire and manned by armed guards with dogs?
              Berlin Wall
              IIRC, quite a few people got through that one, too. Although it’s true that quite a few more got shot trying and failing — and they were trying because they had the temerity to want to go on to the other side where they could be free and have economic opportunity. So my normative argument is: it isn’t going to work, and even if it did, the cost in blood of making it work would be far too high to make it a moral possibility.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

                1. The photo is a manipulative exercise.

                2. Law enforcement do not shoot that many people. They seldom have to.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

                You might just skip the intermediate steps and various and sundry feints and attempt to make an argument for open borders. The bilgewater about enforcement being impossible is real stale and foetid.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Art Deco says:

                Or, you might engage the argument I actually made instead of the one you wish I had made.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I did engage you, to the extent that you’ve earned.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Art Deco says:

                Then we’re done here.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Burt Likko says:

                A) Handfuls made it across the Berlin wall, not tens of millions. Fences actually work.

                B) If Mexicans are really that desperate to escape from Mexico, wouldn’t it make more sense for the US to send armored forces rolling south, topple their government, and free their people? Mexico isn’t being propped up by a Soviet nuclear arsenal, and our armed forces are filled with soldiers who know the terrain and the people first hand. Plus, unlike Afghanistan, Mexico has beer, beaches, and bikinis, so military families could visit our occupation troops in Cancun instead of having our soldiers spend eight month stretches on top of a mountain.Report

              • DRS in reply to George Turner says:

                The Berlin Wall was less than 100 miles long. I think that’s significantly shorter than a wall along the length of the American-Mexican border.Report

              • George Turner in reply to DRS says:

                Slightly less than a hundred miles long in Berlin. The rest of the heavily defended border between East and West Germany stretched close to a thousand miles if you include the length of walls around West Berlin.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to George Turner says:

                People were also shot and left to die in full view of the public since no one dared venture out to retrieve the body. It was appalling. Is that what you are advocating for? Do we want more Peter Fechters?Report

            • Badtux in reply to Art Deco says:

              I once estimated that the guards alone necessary to guard 1,900 miles of border would cost over $20 billion per year. Nevermind maintenance workers, repair contracts, food contracts (some of the places are so remote that food and water would need to be trucked in to the guards), etc.. The Iron Curtain in Germany had 50,000 guards for 866 miles of border, we’d need 150,000 guards for 1900 miles of border and figure around $150K/year in wages, benefits, equipment costs, training costs, administrative costs, etc. Who’s going to pay more taxes in order to pay for that? The same people who benefit from having cheap illegal labor to exploit? I don’t think so.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Badtux says:

                There are 1,900 miles of border. Place 1.5 guard stations per mile and require the equivalent of 4.6 shifts per week. That amounts to about 13,000 guards. The New York City police employs 35,000 men on patrol, 19,000 other employees, and has a budget of $4.87 billion. That would amount to 4.87*(13/35), or $1.8 bn.Report

              • Badtux in reply to Art Deco says:

                I wasn’t aware that the NYPD patrolled a 1,900 mile border. I was pointing out the nearest real-world example of what you are calling for — a border guarded so securely that highly-motivated people (mostly) can’t make it across. 1.5 guard stations per mile would not begin to stop the flow across the border. The US Border Patrol currently has 21,444 border patrol agents, of whom around 21,000 are on the Mexican border, and they haven’t even begun to make a dent. The only reason immigration is down is because the U.S. economy is down so they can’t get jobs in el norte’ so they don’t come, not because of those 21,000 agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

                But hey, continue to imagine that 13,000 border guards could stop illegal immigration across the border when 21,000 border guards can’t. Say, I have this bridge to sell ya, only slightly used…Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Badtux says:

                The Customs and Border Protection has a mixed mission and only about 30% of their budget is expended on control of the border between points of entry. You would still have some of these personnel. You would have the guards in addition, with the associated infrastructure.Report

              • Badtux in reply to Art Deco says:

                I gave you a real-world example of what it required to *mostly* seal a border that was only 1/3rd the length of our own border with Mexico. Furthermore, the border guards on *that* border were authorized to kill their own citizens, unarmed men, women, and children included, in order to seal that border — i.e., were far more brutal than anything allowable under U.S. law, where killing unarmed people who present no physical threat to you is Murder One in all 50 states of the Union plus in the Federal code. I fail to understand why you refuse to look at that real world example of what it takes to seal a border and instead engage in these bizarre back-of-envelope calculations based upon nothing but guesswork and hypothetical assumptions, but you know what the first three letters of the word “assumption” are, right?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Badtux says:

                The only imagining going on here is you replacing what I say with the voices inside your head. A border guard is meant to stop people from walking across the border. There are other means of entering illegally which require other means of address.

                Unless it be your contention that border sentries will require masses of pricy equipment (along the lines of a cavalry unit or bomber group), I am not sure why you consider the New York Police Department a bad analogy.Report

              • Badtux in reply to Art Deco says:

                Have you even been on the border? Have you driven along the Mojave Road in southern Arizona? Hiked the Sonoran Desert south of Tombstone Arizona? Driven through the high desert of southern New Mexico? I have. That’s some forbidding wilderness down there. Operating in that wilderness is expensive and requires a lot of equipment and supplies. To claim that patrolling Manhattan is *just like* patrolling that vast wilderness is… what’s that word? Oh yeah. STUPID.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Art Deco says:

                You need a vehicle, a water bottle, and a gun. You do not need a tank or a fighter bomber.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Art Deco says:

                No amount of border patrol agents work if you make what they do a silly game of catch and release. If you privatized it to civilian snipers, it would only take about 4,000 agents to seal the border, assuming each agent was adept at shots out to 440 yards to the left and right, for a half-mile of coverage per sniper. You could extend that to 880 yards in each direction, but that starts pushing into accuracy. So you need two snipers per mile, or about 4,000 per shift, so 12,000 snipers in all. By day three nobody would even try to cross.

                Yet you don’t have to shoot anyone, you can just put them in jail. If getting caught crossing the border turned years of high American wages into zero wages and rotting in jail for years, nobody would try it because the cost benefit calculations would say it’s a dumb thing to do, kind of like trying to sneak into Iran or North Korea. It doesn’t matter how many border guards and fences those countries have because when they catch you, you’re screwed. So nobody tries to sneak in.

                If you remember WKRP in Cincinnati, the news reporter, Les Nessman, didn’t have an office and instead marked where his office walls would be with tape on the carpet. Yet he enforced his imaginary boundaries rigorously, and even the station manager was scared of crossing the tape. If we enforced the border all we’d need is a white chalk line across the desert and everyone would be afraid to step across it, just like people on Air Force bases are terrified of stepping across particular yellow lines whose violation inevitably means you will be knocked flat on your back and stare upward at a bunch of M-16 muzzles.

                Without such penalties, it wouldn’t matter if you lined the border with agents locked arm to arm, because all you’re doing is playing Red Rover.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to George Turner says:

                Maybe we should hire helicopters and drop turkeys on their heads.Report

              • Badtux in reply to George Turner says:

                You do realize that killing unarmed people with firearms is Murder One in all 50 states of the Union *plus* in the Federal Code where it is a death penalty offense, right? And that three of the four states bordering Mexico have the death penalty for Murder One (though it’s observed more in the breech in California, which has a death row but hasn’t executed anybody in years). Good luck finding 14,000 snipers willing to go to death row for killing unarmed women and children.

                Or you could attempt to get the laws prohibiting cold-blooded killing of unarmed women and children repealed. Good luck with that one.

                Regarding catch and release, imprisoning 10,000,000 *additional* people would cost, hmm. Federal prisons are currently costing around $30K/year per inmate, so you’re talking about 300 billion dollars worth of prison costs there. Eeep! Good luck finding taxpayers willing to pay *that* much!

                Of course, reality is that we could have a work permit system like every other civilized nation wherein you had to show a photographic biometric work permit in order to work for pay (even as a contractor), and jail a few people who let undocumented workers work for them, but hey, that’d put *white* people in jail. Can’t have that! So it goes.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Badtux says:

                No, killing unarmed people with firearms is not first degree murder without reference to circumstances and defining those circumstances is a function of statutory law.

                And yet again, we have the chronic confusion between stock and flow. At any one time in this country, we have a population of around 16 or 17 million given to criminal behavior. Yet, admission to state prisons amount to around 670,000 each year. People seldom suggest that the containment and control of street crime would require the incapacitation of the entire criminal population (unless they are attempting an argument against the employment of police and prisons per se). Punishment is the means by which the deterrence induced by police patrols is made real.

                That aside, you have an annual inflow of illegal immigrants with tourists visas and whatnot arriving at ports of entry. (This is getting repetitive). The annual inflow is about 300,000, of whom about a third subsequently depart of their own volition. Again, constructing a police force, magistrate’s court system, and prison system to handle this sort of case load has been done (in New York City, for example). Misdemeanor sentences which would cover a growing season could be implemented with a dedicated prison census of about 50,000. The state Department of Corrections in New York currently has a census of about 60,000 inmates and a budget of $2.5 bn. This is feasible.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Badtux says:

                Of course, reality is that we could have a work permit system like every other civilized nation

                I don’t give a rip what they do in Sweden. You bring in guest workers and you are asking for trouble.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Art Deco says:

                Yeah, the murder one thing is a potential snag, and I sometimes exploit it myself when I raid Fort Knox for gold bullion and various nuclear weapon’s depots for W-87 or W-88 nuclear warheads, which I trade on the black market every now and again. I do so love living in your imaginary world because it’s so darn lucrative.Report

              • Badtux in reply to George Turner says:

                You do know that nobody will shoot you for attempting to raid Fort Knox while unarmed, right? They’ll slam you to the ground and handcuff you and haul you off to prison but they won’t shoot you. What kind of delusional world do you live in where guards at Federal facilities shoot unarmed people who pose no threat to them on a regular basis? Even at our most critical nuclear facilities like the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at Oak Ridge, TN, when three anti-nuclear protesters breached the plant they were arrested, tried, and imprisoned — *not* shot.

                In other words, I live in *this* world, not your world of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees. Just sayin’.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Badtux says:

                I seem to recall during Gerald Ford’s last days in office a man was shot dead after climbing the White House fence and running toward the building. Escaping prisoners get shot. People resisting arrest occasionally get shot.

                In the hypothetical in question, it would be superlatively easy to not get shot. Do not bring 48 foot ladders over the border, do not place them against the border wall, and climb down when you are told.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Badtux says:

                Okay, these six paragraphs didn’t look too bad.


                One of my chat buddies, when he was in med school, reflected on the days he spent as a Marine, prior to 9/11 and Gitmo. At the time we were holding boat people there, and he was on watch when a massive riot, protest, and break out occurred. Just angry civilians, men, women, and children, and his platoon. In med school he was still sometimes hitting the bottle to try and cope with all the killing he did that day, and how his blood was pumping and he became just a machine.

                I think what brought it to a head was that his best friend in med school just had his head ripped from his body during a freak elevator accident in a Houston hospital. The doors had been worked on earlier in the day and the sensors had somehow been disabled, so when his best friend when diving through, blocking the doors with his chest so they’d bounce back, they didn’t. They squeezed him tight and then the elevator proceeded. A nurse who was already in the elevator freaked out and didn’t hit the stop button until the intern’s head was rolling around on the floor of the compartment. As soon as they got her out the doctors pumped her up with drugs. It made the Drudge Report.

                A few days after that he tried to express what happened to his brain in Cuba. It wasn’t pretty, and was focused on how such a sweet guy devoted to medicine could just start killing people like a switch was turned on (or off), but he did his duty and the rioters stopped rioting. I chatted him through it, and it helped that a lot of the people in my church are haunted by people they’ve killed. One had to spend the night huddled with the bodies of his five teenage victims, which he killed one by one as they jumped in his hole, and he said he still sees their faces every time he goes to sleep.

                One of my other close friends was an instructor for Blackwater Security, and worked with the people featured in the infamous Youtube video of sniping from the rooftops on the opening day of the uprising in Fallujah. You might think the talk of shooting people is all a joke. It’s not. You give a man an order, a position to defend, and clear approval, you have a free fire zone and what appear to be men with no conscience whatsoever.

                I’m pretty sure I’m one of them, probably through some genetic character defect because my whole extended family is that way. Except for my brother (who is possibly a borderline psychopath), they’re all extremely nice and sweet yet have done horribly violent things as a matter of course. One cousin was executed at Nuremberg for war crimes and my mom still defends him as an as a sweet honorable man who was doing his duty. My dad’s side of the family remains unimpressed, but then they were so out there that their own officers were afraid of them. One brother missed deployment to Europe because he tried to kill his sergeant for not giving him a three day pass, and yet he was one of the most easy going people I’ve ever met.

                At one point my brother concluded that we were just cold blooded killers, comparing us to his wife’s quite emotional Greek family. I know my uncle had killed a whole lot of Germans, based on his stories that involved capturing lots of SS with missing details other than having quad .50’s on his half track (He was in the 5th Army). When he finally shot himself in the head with the beautiful nickel plated pearl handled revolver he kept (which I used to clean when I took care of him after hip surgery to fix a wound from the 40’s), he took are to lay down a tarp so as not to hurt the value of his carpet. Violent, but polite. That particular gun was left to my dad. My mom was aghast, for some reason I can’t fathom, but my dad said, “It’s a nice gun! Of course I’m keeping it.” I heartily agreed. It’s not like saving the bullet, although that would be cool too.

                Like probably many people here, (I know Blaise and few others have some pretty rough histories), we try to write drawing wise lessons from our experiences rather than dumping them all on the floor like uncoiling intestines. There are times, as a writer or as a person, when you can draw persuasive power and insight from your direct or very close experiences with violence (as a victim or perpetrator), or worse, with your nonchalant role in being an efficient part of an efficient machine, or even worse, [let’s not go there] treating problems like a clear headed engineer from hell who really enjoys the challenge of his job, and is either the nicest person you ever met or one who doesn’t possess a human soul.

                Probably more than one writer here fits that category, if they were to reflect upon it. Perhaps all of use are. The difference is between saying things people want to hear or staring into the abyss that defines who you really are and what you do in situations A, B, and C.. The genius of Shakespeare is that he looked there, long and hard, and pulled from it beautiful mirrors to the human soul, because we all know what we are, we just aren’t comfortable with someone as so familiar as ourselves. (The deletes were because if we were honest, we’d think our families, even the best ones, are crazy given our histories. F. Scott Fitzgerald penned a few words in that direction).Report

              • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

                One of my friends back home came from Fort Knox, where his neighbor accidentally hit a golf ball across one of the marked fences and went to retrieve it. I’m not sure how close his body was to the ball when they loaded him up, though, but it really rattled my friend.

                The signs saying they’ll shoot you? They actually mean it, or did before they decided that dead bodies don’t make for a stellar performance review in front of Congress, and they won’t even have to give you a warning because the sign was warning enough.

                [20 paragraphs deleted because they might be too personal or inflammatory about my history, upon reflection]Report

      • wardsmith in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Why do they climb fences? Mexican government = corruption in any dictionary. Mordida is the way of life there along with other countries not adjacent to this one. We could try to make them more like us but the very real fear conservatives have is they will make us more like them. You live in Kalifornia, noticed anything yet?Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith says:

          You’re asking me if I’ve noticed corruption in government?California has never needed to import corruption from anywhere. Got plenty of the native stuff right here. It’s kind of like ragweed — native species seem to proliferate in damn near any geographic region.

          I have not, however, noticed the state or sub-state level governments using murder as a tool of enforcement.Report

  3. Tim Kowal says:

    A few points in response.

    First, both conservatives and libertarians worship at the church of small government, but as Jason knows, libertarians are the true believers. The jab about a fence being a “big government program” is less an argument than an accusation that my faith is not pure. To which I’d briefly counter in this internecine dispute that matters of sovereignty fall outside the faith’s strict doctrine. But I suspect the schism will go on.

    Second, the argument from trash and graffiti is unpersuasive. No one insists a fence must cover all 1,900 miles (minimums proposed start at around 700, such as in the 2006 law, I understand). No one proposes a fence alone. And the Senate bill already proposes massive new spending on non-fence security. The question is not fence vs. every-other-kind-of-security. It is, why is a fence is not even a serious part of the equation? Jason, on the other hand, seems to ask an altogether different question: why security at all? I’d suggest the answer to this lies at the heart of our internecine dispute.

    Once we concede we need border security, we engage in a discussion in which I suspect Jason will no longer be interested. In that discussion, Rep. Tom Cotton’s recent op-ed is illustrative of the question I ask in my post:

    the bill throws billions of dollars at the border for new border-patrol agents (though not until 2017) and sensor technologies. These solutions are complements, not substitutes, for a fence. When I was a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, my units relied on guards and technology to secure our bases, but the first line of defense was always a physical perimeter.

    That’s because fences work. The fence built in the San Diego border sector dramatically reduced border crossings there from 100,000 per year to just 5,000 per year when it was completed in 2006, a 95% drop. Earlier this year, Israel reduced illegal crossings at its Sinai border to two per month from 2,000 per month by completing a fence. Why doesn’t the Senate bill mandate an effective fence? The answer, plainly, is that the intention is not to build one.

    Third, even if you’re not one of Jason’s strict-limited-government faithful, and even if you’re still unpersuaded that a fence would be worth it, that’s still not my point. My point is, if a fence is such an obviously and demonstrably silly idea, why not just say so? That question is surely worth asking, which is all I’ve done.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      I don’t intend the argument from trash and graffiti to be persuasive — as a reason for you. I do intend it to bear weight for the Republican leadership. They know quite well what the Berlin Wall looked like, and they know that this wall will look increasingly like it, the more desperate that people get to cross it.

      That’s a giant political loser, and that’s also why they don’t really want the border fence completed.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        How would a border fence covered in Mexican graffiti look any different from the average LA strip mall? It’d be in Spanish, so for all we’d know it would say “Cervesa! Tamarindo y horchata!”Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Jason, the trash and graffiti argument was valid.

        The other valid argument here is the fence’s role in clogging bio-corridors. While this may not stop people, it may stop some animals who probably should not be stopped. (This is also a problem of highways, to which this fence has been compared on this thread.)

        I am not familiar enough with the habitat to speak on its populations, but they also bear consideration.Report

    • I’d probably be counted as one of Jason’t (fairly) strict-limited-government faithful (health care, aside), but I agree with Tim’s final paragraph. His frustration with Republican pols who want the support of people who want a fence, while never coming close to suggesting they’d support a fence is quite justified.

      Though I’m a little put-off by Rep. Cotton’s op-ed. Does he really want to treat the U.S. like a war-time military base? How many Americans want that? Actually, wait, I don’t know if I want an answer.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Lot’s of people on the left side of the aisle have said it’s patently silly, yet they get laughed off the national stage for not being “serious” about dealing with the existential threat that is undocumented immigration. Am as liberal as they come, and from my perspective if you want to slow the flow of people overstaying visas, and paying thousands of dollars to risk their lives being smuggled across the border (which will continue because you can’t fence everything), then you have to shut down the DEMAND for those workers.

      Of course, Republicans seem to like Supply side solutions to everything these days, so why should this one surprise us?

      Oh, and once we close the southern border with our really big swiss cheese fence, will we do one up north? You can fly to Canada from Mexico afterall.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to Philip H says:

        You can fly to Canada from Mexico afterall.

        Rather than putting themselves in the hands of coyotes, they could apply for papers and cross the border lawfully. There are reasons they do not.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

          There are reasons they do not.

          There are! Like, say, the fact that the legal process has a wait time longer than any human being’s lifespan.Report

          • The wait time for a tourist visa is not longer than any human being’s lifespan. There is also (if I understand correctly) something akin to a day pass that can be used in some border towns.

            Twenty five years ago, the wait time for legal immigrants was about twelve years. Most people live longer than that. Not sure what it is today.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Tim, I think it’s not obviously silly, it’s just demonstrably silly, after a fair degree of reflection. But political attitudes are often formed based on what seems obvious, and to the constituency for tough border control, a fence seems reasonable. And to the constiuency for reform, a fence is pretty much a side issue – a fence would be backsliding for them, but they’d take it if they could get the regularization. If the fence were happening, they would actually see that as a positive sign that reform would be happening, too. So, whether a politician wants reform, or a fence, or not, it makes sense not to frontally assault the concept, but to just let it linger while not really doing anything to get it built.

      After all, as I mentioned for those who don’t want immigration reform, a fence like this actually getting built would be a bad sign, as it’s likely only going to happen in the context of broader reform, which they don’t want. And fence of any kind of imposing scale is also pretty unlikely generally to happen, because in the midst of implementing it, people will realize that it’s an inefficacious waste. So what it really is is a useful firewall against immigration reform. You hear about it less because reform’s prospects have dimmed greatly. If it were looking like reform were on track to pass, you’d be getting conservatives coming out strong for the need for a(n impracticable) 1,900 or 700 mile-long, ten-foot-high border fence as a red-line price for a deal.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Tim, I think it’s not obviously silly, it’s just demonstrably silly, after a fair degree of reflection.

        You all are not doing much ‘demonstrating’.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Art Deco says:

          True, enough, not in that comment. I said “I think” it’s demonstrably silly, but I didn’t and didn’t claim to demonstrate it, because my purpose was to address Tim’s reasonable question about the political status of a fence. On your point, we just think different things about whether it’s silly and demonstrably so, and I’m content to leave it at that.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      What frustrates me about the “enforcement first” position is that increased enforcement has been happening already, and yet the political representatives of the anti-illegal-immigration folks don’t seem to notice. This suggests to me that, somewhere along the chain between grassroots anger over immigration and the behavior of R’s in congress, there’s some bad faith going on.

  4. LeeEsq says:

    Jason, wouldn’t the border fence fall under one of the legitimate tasks of government according to “small government” theories? Mainly that of national defense/police powers.

    I think that we need to get rid of the false dichtomy of small government and big government. A more accurate description might be narrow government and broad government. People who believe in narrow government might give government few responsibilities but they could give government a lot of leeway in those areas. A person who believes in broad government would allow the government to act in more areas of life with varying degrees of leeway.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to LeeEsq says:

      It would, given two further conditions.

      First, we’d have to face more of a genuine security threat from Mexico. We face basically no such threat right now — all we face is people who want to trade with us and make everyone better off.

      Second, given the first condition of a genuine security threat, a fence would have to be an effective countermeasure. It is not, for all the reasons I just stated.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        So… let’s take a quick hypothetical.
        1) Mexican drug gangs (on motorized vehicles) begin crossing the border with alarming frequency, and actually pose a genuine security threat (lotta people dead).
        2) A reasonable countermeasure might be to use caltrops, or half a dozen other anti-wheeled vehicle measures, and some surveillance (with the goal being to first understand where they are crossing, second make it difficult, and third intervene with armed troops).

        Am I being unreasonable?Report

  5. Art Deco says:

    Again, again, again. You might think up some new rhetorical games.

    Law enforcement, unlike patronage of sculpture, is an inherently public function. As this concerns policing the international frontier, it is in our system and inherently federal function. This is what government is for in all but an anarchist reading.

    Current expenditure on border patrol ‘twixt points of entry is around about $3.6 bn, or around 0.1% of federal expenditure (per the Appendix to the Budget of the United States Government. We are not exactly breaking the bank on this sort of thing.Report

    • Art, did Jason say building a fence wasn’t an inherently federal function? I think he just said it was a big government project and a bad idea. There are a lot of bad ideas that are legitimate federal actions.Report

      • Which ‘bad ideas’ are ‘legitimate federal functions’?

        Look, law enforcement is not a substitute for philanthropic or commercial activity (though in extreme situations like Lebanon after 1975 mutual aid societies do form). If the scope of your pubic activity does not encompass hiring a constabulary, it pretty much does not encompass anything. Is the Cato Institute now promoting anarchism?

        Now, you could argue that you have over-invested in your constabulary or that your program is festooned with trumpery (like excess deferred compensation). The latter sort of complaint would not be specific to expenditures on law enforcement except insofar as police have early retirement ages. As for the former, that depends on the marginal value you place on each additional increment of public order. Kuznicki’s actual complaint is that someone seeks to impose any sort of order at all. He might attempt to argue that point, but he appears to want to play games with common Republican tropes.

        Just to recall, the usual complaints about ‘big government’, when they ever get down to brass tacks, concern either regulatory regimes or welfare expenditures. When Robert Taft was alive and well, they concerned the military as well. The thing is, there actually was a regime change in political economy over the period running from 1929 to 1946 that implicated the baselines of military and welfare expenditure and qualitative aspects of the latter. Legislation enhancing immigration control dates back at least to 1798.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

          I am not advocating anarchy. My message is actually very simple, and I’d thought I was merely answering Tim Kowal’s original question. Why are Republican leaders shy about the border fence? This right here is why. Reality would make a total joke of any border fence, and the people who have spent any significant time on the issue already know this. They advocate it anyway because it wins votes, not because it would be practical.

          So… I’m not playing games with common Republican tropes. I am simply pointing out that in Republican Party, common tropes play games with you.Report

        • “Which ‘bad ideas’ are ‘legitimate federal functions’?”

          Perhaps we’re getting bogged down on the definition of ‘legitimate’. Surely you agree there are things that the federal government is allowed to do that it probably shouldn’t do.Report

          • Allowed to do under black letter constitutional provisions or allowed to do under hinky conventions incorporated into post 1936 case law?

            I really did not think you were thinking in terms of constitutional delegations when you said ‘legitimate federal functions’. I thought you were thinking more generically in terms you would allocate to the center and tasks you would allocate to the periphery (or, at least, that is what I was thinking of). I was not understanding why you would in your mind allocate a task to the central government and then say it was a bad idea by definition (as opposed to a bad idea in certain forms or to a certain degree).

            And, no, I am not seeing why the federal government should not have an immigration policy (and if you do not enforce border controls, you do not have one).Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Art Deco says:

      Depends on the sculpture. Views of the Statue of Liberty are for all intents and purposes non-excludable.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Art Deco says:

      Patronage of sculpture isn’t a public functions. States of all sorts have been patronizing the arts in order to project their image since states were formed thousands of years ago. The Athenian city-state hosted drama festivals to present their image as a seat of culture and art to the rest of the Greek world and later to the rest of the world. The Roman Republic certainly believed in art as a projection of power.

      The Founders also believed in art and architecture as a projection of power. Why else build an entirely new capital city and and fill it with monuments designed to impress and mimic the Roman Republic? I’d say that patronage of sculpture and art is a public function because it falls in within something that states always did.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to LeeEsq says:

        There are public buildings (which need not be constructed in the most utilitarian way) and there are crown jewels like the Smithsonian (which, by the way, gets quite a mass of its budget from private donations). There are decorations for public amenities. I still think you have a way’s to go to justify a permanent dole for the world’s purveyors of non-representational art, courtesy the ghost of Sen. Claiborne Pell. Keep in mind, this is a federal agency we are discussing. It is difficult to see how central co-ordination and control is necessary in the art world. Maybe just maybe in the future members of Congress will hand the art lobbyists the address of their respective state legislatures and send them on their way (and maybe the state legislatures will suggest that the gallery directors dun Kitty Carlisle’s buds).Report

  6. George Turner says:

    A long border fence does have some shortcomings. It will be unsightly and expensive, though not more so than any of the thousands of concrete ribbons we’ve stretched across the country. It is, after all, little different than a two-lane concrete highway flipped up on its side. But a patchwork fence is hardly a fence, and since no one will actually “use” it (unlike a road), but everyone will benefit (especially the working class whose wages are depressed by cheap imported labor), it makes sense to assign its construction to the government.

    However, there is a cheaper, less unsightly, lower impact solution that could be done on an individual basis, with people free to contribute materials and labor piecemeal: A border mine field. A volunteer can plant several hundred anti-personnel mines a day. If even only 20 million Americans each contributed one modern plastic AP mine, it would provide 10,000 mines per mile of border, which is two per linear foot. That would be enough for approximately a 100 foot field width with the mines spaced about 10 feet apart. But anyone who would contribute one land mine would surely be committed enough to donate five or ten (land mines are pretty darn cheap), so a field 500 to 1000 feet deep would be easy to construct with private donations and volunteer labor (nobody likes working on a road crew or setting fence, but everybody loves gardening).

    Democrats haven’t suggested a mine field because they’re hung up on big government solutions that rely on unionized labor, and when pushed would prefer to have millions of illegals voting Democrat. Republicans haven’t suggested a mine field because they’re in bed with fence contractors and want a visible symbol of their commitment to protecting America. A mine field provides no opportunities for fat payoffs to favored croanies or sops to union feeding troughs, so of course our elected leaders would ignore the idea. But a minefield is the ideal libertarian solution, individual solution, the low-cost solution, and the right solution. It would sit as an invisible barrier, as pretty as the desert itself.

    Coyotes would be out of business because they’d be afraid to lead a group across the border (if anything, they would insist on going last and stepping in everyone else’s footprints). Drug smugglers would give up because the product would be blown all over kingdom come (potentially created a new problem of coke addicted fire ants, but that should be localized). And even more importantly, unlike making a hole in a fence, which is always obvious and exploitable, the illegals can never know if a bunch of libertarian patriots spent the night carefully reseeding new mines in a newly created breach. They can’t know if a bunch of American volunteers are sitting way back on our side, giggling in anticipation and ready to record the sweet explosions when the next batch of law breakers finds out their secret route has been compromised.

    If a cheap border minefield and a little barbed wire can reduce crossings between North and South Korea to zero, why not use it here?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to George Turner says:

      If a cheap border minefield and a little barbed wire can reduce crossings between North and South Korea to zero, why not use it here?

      Because Mexico is our friend, not our mortal enemy.Report

    • Aaron W in reply to George Turner says:

      Hahaha, this is excellent satire. Or, at least, I hope it is.Report

    • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

      And how many times were you given free nachos and salsa to make you think that? Fifty, one hundred? Here’s a little secret. They’re not actually bringing the free chips and salsa with them when they come across the border. They get those here, and then turn around and give them to you when you sit down to con you into thinking you’re receiving a huge benefit from illegal border crossings. Thank about that next time you’re nomming on a basket of “illegal” tortillas.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to George Turner says:

      Which contractors have suborned the Republican caucus? I tend to suspect the lethal and military character of mines induces some inhibitions. It also may never have occurred to some people (or at least it never occurred to me). For one thing, it would make it rather dangerous for border police to attempt to retrieve an injured party.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Art Deco says:

        Retrieve an injured party? Perhaps you should ask yourself WWJWD? John Wayne would say, “Well pilgrim, how ’bout shooting them till they stop moaning so g****** much?” And then he’d take the shot, and tell you that the West ain’t no place for faint-hearted girly men. ‘sides, the more skeletons dottin’ the landscape, the more effective the deterrent.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to George Turner says:

      I’m estimating a minimum 90% chance that this is satire. And it is almost Swiftian in its quality.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to KatherineMW says:

        The best does leaving you guessing, just a littleReport

      • George Turner in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I’d up that estimate to 100%. ^_^

        A border fence would drastically reduce some of the worst forms of illegal immigration (coyotes, armed smuggling, etc), as fences have done everywhere when they were enforced with penalties. As is, we have neither an impediment nor a deterrent. I just heard Mark Steyn complaining that in John McCain’s new border security bill, a person can be caught with a forged passport three times before penalties kick in. *eye roll*

        However, a fence is a patch to a border problem, and a border problem is a symptom of an artificial imbalance or inequity. The real problem is that Latin American countries have rather dysfunctional economies and political systems that don’t create jobs and don’t provide opportunities. Our porous border allows the leadership of those countries to export their most productive workers (by age group and inclination) instead of delivering the benefits of an open, functioning economy or getting called to account for their failures. Meanwhile Democrats get voters and an issue and Republicans get cheap labor and an issue. The only people benefiting from the status quo are the political class and economic elites on both sides of the border, while the people who are voting with their feet, or who enjoy the fruits of their labors, try to stay under the radar.

        So if a border fence is the fix instead of solving the problem (the Canadian border is frighteningly quiet, in contrast), why not a minefield?

        As an aside, for a bit of non-political fun this week I wrote a review of a coffee maker at Amazon. Unfortunately it’s not actually funny, just somewhat amusing because I based it on a tragedy instead of a comedy, but for a line-by-line spoof the plot does hold together surprisingly well. I only broke the meter in a couple of places.Report

        • Glyph in reply to George Turner says:

          Holy crap, they allow reviews of that length? That’s probably a mistake on their part.Report

          • George Turner in reply to Glyph says:

            If it was a common drip percolator I’m sure Shakespeare would’ve penned no more than a sonnet about it, but we’re talking about a Keurig and how it saved an entire Internet firm. That’s going to take some explaining.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to George Turner says:

      “(nobody likes working on a road crew or setting fence, but everybody loves gardening).”

      Speak for yourself, Martha Stewart.Report

    • Glyph in reply to George Turner says:

      Maybe we should just put Carl Spackler on the job.Report

    • Shazbot37 in reply to George Turner says:

      I really do wonder if George is a performance artist who is subtly mocking conservatives.

      A minefield? How about a moat with sharks with lasers on their heads?


      On a side note, it is also unclear if a mine field there would be legal under Protocol II of the CCCW, which the U.S. has signed. And it would make it harder for the U.S. to sign the Ottawa Treaty against landmines (which the U.S. is in favor of and wants enforced around the world, with a grandfathered exception for Korea) or soemthing like it.Report

    • Badtux in reply to George Turner says:

      Err, no, liberals haven’t suggested a minefield because a) it requires maintenance otherwise it becomes inoperative, b) it’s easily defeated by just driving a herd of cattle into the minefield then walking across after they’ve blown up all the mines (free steak too!), c) has a bad tendency to blow up random shepherds and cattlemen who are tending their livestock along the border (many of whom are young teens), as well as their livestock, and thus would need fences around it anyhow to keep livestock and their shepherds out, and d) to keep the fences from being torn down and cattle driven across to defuse it would require just as many guards as a wall. Given how dangerous a minefield is to innocents, and the fact that it’d cost much more than building a wall (or tall fence like the one depicted in the video) especially after paying out all the lawsuit settlements for livestock and shepherds that wandered into the minefield and got steak-erized, a fence makes much more sense. Though targeting *demand* would work even better…Report

  7. Mike Schilling says:

    A normal concrete or wooden fence would indeed be useless, and would engender the same sort of contempt as any other unenforced law. What’s needed is a fence 700 feet tall and made of ice.Report

  8. DRS says:

    Back before he got boring, P.J. O’Rourke, in one of his books, quoted approvingly a friend who said something like these people swim across shark-infested waters on home-made rafts made of plastic jugs [referring to Cubans]. As far as I’m concerned that’s a damn good definition of an American. Go down to the beach and swear ’em in as soon as they hit land.

    I would suggest that one of the reasons current Americans have problems with people who they imagine will be stopped by the fence (or should it be: The Fence?) is that they conveniently forget how dirty, grubby, illiterate and in general physically icky their own ancestors were. Every place I’ve ever read comments on this issue, everyone claims their ancestors arrived legally and did everything officially, no sneaking over the ocean, no sirree bob, not my folks. They came over second-class at the very worst and showered every day. And they waited in line quietly with official papers. No bribing customs guards or sea captains or anything like that.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

      As far as I’m concerned that’s a damn good definition of an American.

      No, it is not.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

      I would suggest that one of the reasons current Americans have problems with people who they imagine will be stopped by the fence (or should it be: The Fence?) is that they conveniently forget how dirty, grubby, illiterate and in general physically icky their own ancestors were.

      Actually, I think literacy was fairly generalized among 17th and 18th century colonists.

      That aside, it might occur to you that people are resistant to immigration because they cannot see a social defect that would be ameliorated by mass immigration, because they do not experience any particular charge from having masses of foreigners settling here (the ‘diversity’ blatherskite is a haut bourgeois signature), because they intuit (correctly) that mass immigration causes problems in slack domestic labor markets, and because they intuit (correctly) that the entry of masses of people from poor countries are a challenge to the construction and maintenance of institutions of common provision (and the social disaster of Puerto Rican migration to the mainland is sadly relevant here).Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

        I appear to have had ancestors who were literate… in Yiddish. And probably Hebrew too. But not in English.

        On the other side? German. Some Polish. But again, no English.Report

      • DRS in reply to Art Deco says:

        You know, Art Deco, it’s really rather pretentious to affect that world-weary tone when your syntax could use some work. Just sayin’, m’kay?

        Also: according to Wikipedia article on Immigration to America:

        “Historians estimate that fewer than one million immigrants—perhaps as few as 400,000—crossed the Atlantic during the 17th and 18th centuries.[13] The 1790 Act limited naturalization to “free white persons”; it was expanded to include blacks in the 1860s and Asians in the 1950s.[14] In the early years of the United States, immigration was fewer than 8,000 people a year,[15] including French refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti. After 1820, immigration gradually increased. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States.[16] The death rate on these transatlantic voyages was high, during which one in seven travelers died.[17] In 1875, the nation passed its first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875.[18]

        The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 persons entered the country.[19]”

        So it’s quite likely that many Americans are descended from those post-18th century immigrants. And many of those immigrants were peasants from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe and Russia. And since they were peasants, they ignored the dirt.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Art Deco says:

        Other then being really bothered by your switching tenses on us, this:

        That aside, it might occur to you that people are resistant to immigration because they cannot see a social defect that would be ameliorated by mass immigration, because they do not experience any particular charge from having masses of foreigners settling here (the ‘diversity’ blatherskite is a haut bourgeois signature), because they intuit (correctly) that mass immigration causes problems in slack domestic labor markets, and because they intuit (correctly) that the entry of masses of people from poor countries are a challenge to the construction and maintenance of institutions of common provision (and the social disaster of Puerto Rican migration to the mainland is sadly relevant here).

        is total BS. Institutions of common provision are . . . well . . governmental, and there’s no real change in them due to immigration legal or otherwise. Immigrants pay plenty of taxes (including federal income and payroll taxes in many places, as well as sales and property taxes), they send their kids to American schools, and they participate in and contribute to local religious, charitable and other institutions and functions. There’s no empirical evidence I’m aware of to show them to be any sort of added burden to the communities they choose to settle in.

        And as to the down labor market – there are literally hundreds of news stories, and dozens of formal social science studies that show two things – first, native born Americans do not generally compete with immigrants for most jobs, especially in the agricultural, construction, and other service sectors. The wages paid are simply too low to entice Americans. Second, Immigrants are also more mobile then native born Americans tend to be (at least initially), thus immigrant communities don’t tend to suffer from the “job skills mismatch” that so many industries cite because the immigrant communities are willing to relocate for work opportunities where as native born Americans are not without assistance.

        So object if you must to people from other places being here without following every procedure, but understand that they fill important segments at the bottom of our economy, they contribute to the communities in which they live, and persuading us with facts will get you much farther then tired, well-deconstructed tropes.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Philip H says:

          Sorry, Philip, but domestic service, food service, janitorial work, assembly line food processing, and picking cotton are not and have never been jobs Americans won’t do. It is just a question of wage scales and the degree to which the tasks might be automated or foregone.Report

    • Jonathan McLeod in reply to DRS says:

      “these people swim across shark-infested waters on home-made rafts made of plastic jugs [referring to Cubans]. As far as I’m concerned that’s a damn good definition of an American. Go down to the beach and swear ‘em in as soon as they hit land.”

      So instead of a fence I’m envisioning some sort of American Gladiators-style gauntlet. You’ve got to earn entry!Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        One of the best things Ayn Rand ever said, when a heckler mocked her Russian accent. Roughly: “All you had to do was be born here. I had to escape the Soviet Union.”Report

        • You did notice that she asserts herself as a vessel of achievement and claims and advantage over the slouchy native. (Mr. McKellar, do not try the equivalent of this at home unless you are not bothered when someone calls you raaaacist (or “nativist”).Report

  9. KatherineMW says:

    There’s no consistency to a policy programme that simultaneously advocates free trade and closed borders. Yes, with open borders more people will immigrate (on the upside, they’ll be able to be documented and thus covered by minimum-wage laws, so they’ll be less likely to be exploited in ways that undercut other low-wage workers). But with no restrictions on trade or capital movement, all the non-agricultural jobs can already move to different countries, so immigration isn’t the core issue in that area anyway.

    Free movement of people is the logical corollary to free trade and capital movement; to support the latter and not the former is no more than a deliberate attempt to stack the deck in favour of corporations and capital, and against the working class. Businesses can move to places where people are lower-paid, but people aren’t permitted to move to places where there are better-paying jobs.

    So if economic conservatives wish to be consistent on “economic freedom” as they define it, rather than simply being corporatists, they should be opposed to strict border controls of any type – fence, wall, massive increases in border guards, restrictions on immigration, et cetera.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

      There’s no consistency to a policy programme that simultaneously advocates free trade and closed borders.

      There is no sense in saying that allowing grain or refrigerators to cross the border with a 4% tariff rather than a 30% tariff is the equivalent to saying that anyone can settle here at their discretion or that one who advocates the former is being illogical in refusing to advocate the latter.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

        There is plenty of sense in it.

        Goods move for economic reasons — a perceived benefit to the owner, who hopes to sell them in a different location.

        People also move for economic reasons. They move because they hope to sell their labor in a different location. If the buyer and seller agree, the presumption in my book is that the deal should go forward, with only some relatively small exceptions.

        To the extent that the fence is a symbol, it symbolizes the opposite — the state in principle says no to all things, then, when it gets around to reviewing, it will try to say yes to a few of them. Maybe.Report

        • 1. People are not reducible to their economic functions.

          2. There actually is such a thing as society. My neighbor’s history, his language, his loyalties influence the quality of the whole. The locus where his refrigerator was manufactured, not so much.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

        The purpose of allowing trade in fridges across borders without tariffs is that the fridges can be built wherever production costs are lowest. If companies are able to move their companies wherever they like to take advantage of the lowest wages and environmental regulations, then people must likewise be permitted to move to places with better job opportunities and safer environments, or else “free trade” amounts to no more a way of condemning the world’s poor to live in low-wage and polluted environments so that those in western countries can have cheaper refrigerators. That is not economic liberty; that is manipulation of economic conditions to serve the wealthy and corporations.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

          A liberal trade regime is a way for partners to reap benefits from comparative advantage. Labor costs in a given locus would be one element of comparative advantage. It would be open to a domestic start-up as well as a foreign investor, so I am not sure why you frame it in terms of production moving abroad.

          Foreign investment generates its own policy challenges. That aside, factors of production other than labor do not have an identity. Again, people are not reducible to their economic function.Report

          • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

            Again, people are not reducible to their economic function.

            Indeed they are not! However, I regard the immigration of people with different and varied cultures as an asset, not a detriment. It has the potential to provide new strengths and perspectives, it introduces us to people whose lives and experiences and ideas are different from our own, and it makes life more interesting and community stronger.

            I just returned yesterday from a short trip to Toronto, a city where nearly half the population was born outside Canada. I find it to be an incredibly vibrant and diverse city.Report

            • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

              Take it up with Robert Putnam. “Makes communities stronger” is one thing mass immigration does not do.Report

              • DRS in reply to Art Deco says:

                And your source for this sweeping statement is – what?

                And I notice you haven’t gone near the entry from Wikipedia I quoted (with citations) about immigration. Still thinking up a suitably abrupt response?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

                Suitably abrupt response to what? You quoted some commonplaces about demographic history.Report

              • DRS in reply to Art Deco says:

                No, I quoted some facts about immigration history. It’s no wonder you’re not doing very well in this discussion if you can’t grasp the difference between them.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

                You quoted some statistics about population inflows at various times. Why is that of significance in this particular discussion?Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

                Take it up with Canada, if you don’t like your own country for an example. I find our communities plenty strong enough, and we’re built on immigration and continue to build on it.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

                National Review is a racist rag. Steyn should have the right to say what he wants, but nobody of good sense or common decency should pay any heed to him.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                National Review is a racist rag.

                That word does not mean what you think it means.

                You are offering yourself as an exemplar of ‘good sense’ and ‘common decency’??Report

              • George Turner in reply to KatherineMW says:

                But that’s just a type of colonialism.

                Here’s the nasty nut to swallow.

                What is modern immigration? It’s taking poor people from around the world and letting them work under Anglo/American bosses, under governments set up and staffed by by Anglo/American politicians, and living under an Anglo/American legal system. This makes both the Anglo/Americans and immigrants thrive and everyone is strengthened as a result.

                What is colonialism? It’s saving the poor people from travel expenses by letting them stay at home to work under Anglo/American bosses, under governments set up and staffed by by Anglo/American politicians, and living under an Anglo/American legal system. That should make both the Anglo/Americans and natives thrive and everyone is strengthened as a result, because it’s the same as immigration, blending the same two peoples under a Western government system and Western control, but the mixing is done by moving a border on the map instead of leaving the border where it is and making the people move.

                Somehow one is an absolute good and the other is an absolute evil, yet an objective observer would have trouble telling them apart. That’s a sign that the benefits of one and the evils of the other are probably being overstated, while the converse evils and benefits are being overlooked.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to George Turner says:

                The difference is clear. Colonies aren’t – are never – managed for the benefit of the people in them. They’re managed for the benefit of the colonizing country. Their economic systems are designed to benefit the colonizer, not the population; the governing and security systems are designed to control the population, not to include them in governance. Colonialism almost invariably poses as benevolent. It never is. It is self-serving; if it was not self-serving, there would be no reason for governments to engage in such a costly endeavour.

                When people immigrate to Canada and become citizens, they vote for the government, they function in the same economy as everyone else, and they are full equals within the nation of Canada. To the degree that discrimination exists, it’s absolutely a problem we need to tackle, but it’s not deliberately built-in like it is in a colony.

                There are plenty of reasons why the current developed countries are successful, but I wouldn’t rate their being “Anglo-American” – or even “European” – as a measurably significant one.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                I think the history of Kenya and India over the last century or so has been more benign than that of Ethiopia and China.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                There are plenty of reasons why the current developed countries are successful, but I wouldn’t rate their being “Anglo-American” – or even “European” – as a measurably significant one.

                Waal, it just might have had something to do with refinements in the division of labor and technological innovation and adaptation, which might just have been midwifed by social relations and political practice. Just sayin….Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Colonialism is evil but I’m not really sure that the world would be a better place if there wasn’t any colonialism. Its through interactions with Europeans that some of the best Western ideas like democracy, equality before the law, and feminism spread along with the material advances of Western medicine, science, and technology. I’m not sure if these would be widespread without colonialism. It all depends on the choices made by non-European nations. Lots of countries attempted reform a la Meiji Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, China, and Ethiopia but none of them really were as successful as Meiji Japan. In many countries, the reactionaries were very powerful and were able to stymie most attempts at reform or even just technological innovation. Korea and China had trouble modernizing partly because of entrenched reactionary elements.

                Its really difficult to predict what a world without colonialism would look like. My guess is that would be very different, some in ways that are very good but others in ways that are very bad.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Lee, that’s nonsensical. Plenty of places in the world had more rights for women than Europe did; Europe didn’t invent the idea. African cultures had numerous ways in which leaders were held to account prior to colonialism; the colonizers reframed and hijacked them in order to remove restraints on leaders’ power and use them to maintain control. Equality before the law didn’t remotely exist in the colonies.

                Western-style democracy might not have been as widespread without colonialism, but on the other hand a diversity of other kinds of democratic systems might have had the chance to exist.

                Plus if you’re counting up everything colonialism did as an aggregate, you can’t really leave out the Belgian Congo, where King Leopold’s regime wiped out some 10 million Africans and hacked limbs off countless others out of a combination of sadism and greed for rubber. A higher death toll than the Holocaust isn’t something that can reasonably be ignored, although it too often is.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Colonialism is evil but I’m not really sure that the world would be a better place if there wasn’t any colonialism.

                Can we all resist Mexican colonization of Texas, Arizona, and California, or is that the colonialism that is supposed to make the world a better place?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                King Leopold’s regime wiped out some 10 million Africans and hacked limbs off countless others out of a combination of sadism and greed for rubber. A higher death toll than the Holocaust isn’t something that can reasonably be ignored, although it too often is.

                You need to take these sort of numbers with a grain of salt.

                Sometime this sort of thing seems to go from writer to writer and take on the character of that party game of rumors.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                The following source:

                A hundred year (1890-1990) database for integrated environmental assessments /
                C.G.M. Klein Goldewijk and J.J. Battjes (1997)

                places the population of the Congo at between 3.3 million and 5.1 million during the period running from 1890 and 1910. Do not know how reliable that is.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Read King Leopold’s Ghost. It’s the definitive work on the subject, and the product of extensive research.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                A census was conducted in the Belgian Congo in 1924 and put the population at about 7 million. Two territories in Africa were more populous: South Africa had just north of that and Nigeria had a population of about 18 million and change at that time. There are large blocs of tropical rainforest in the Congo, which I do not think is conducive to much agricultural settlement.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                It’s the definitive work on the subject, and the product of extensive research.

                The author is a journalist, writing for outlets like Mother Jones. Not likely the definitive work.

                Most of his sources are French-language and he makes extensive use of documentary collections. However, I am not seeing any demographic literature in his bibliography. He makes a passing reference to a report of a Belgian government commission from the 1920s.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to KatherineMW says:

                So Katherine, the “Colony” formerly known as the Commonwealth of Canada was strictly for the benefit of the British crown and not the citizens therein no? And you Canadians hated it so much you still put pictures of the Queen of England on your money?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to George Turner says:


                A major difference is that most immigrants come here of their own free will and subject only themselves and maybe their families to Anglo-American rule et al, whereas colonialism risk subjecting countless people against their will to Anglo-American rule at al.

                Should an entire nation of people decide that they want to fall under American rule et al. and America decides to take them on their offer, it wouldn’t be objectionable in the same way that traditional forms of colonialism were/are.Report

              • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

                Colonies aren’t – are never – managed for the benefit of the people in them. They’re managed for the benefit of the colonizing country. Their economic systems are designed to benefit the colonizer, not the population; the governing and security systems are designed to control the population, not to include them in governance.

                And we manage our immigration system for the benefit of the illegals? I must’ve missed that aspect, along with how we include the illegals in governance.

                The difference is simply one of numeric ratios, and in many cases not even then, since in many cases Western colonizers swamped the native population, especially on Pacific islands. Canada and the entire US, including Alaska and Hawaii, were colonized. They were even called “colonies”.

                The difference in outcomes is that the Europeans didn’t actually colonize their claimed possessions when they went on their second spate of colonialism. They just invaded, set up puppet governments, and tried to run the places like fiefdoms. They didn’t bring in the full panoply of Western legal systems and protections, or design governments that would be controlled by the people, because the people weren’t Europeans flooding in, they were natives to be ruled over. Thus they set up governments and institutions that nobody except government ministers would actually want to live under, as opposed to bringing the joys of representative and democratic institutions, the rule of laws instead of men, and protections for private property – to natives used to living either in tribal societies or under strings of warlords.

                The West itself is in part the result of Pax Romana.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to George Turner says:

                Just to point out that experimentation with electoral forms was an early 20tn century innovation in India and Ceylon and Britain made a point in the post-war period of allowing between 10 and 30-odd years of practice time with parliamentary institutions before cutting their insular dependencies loose during the period running from 1962 to 1984.

                France began to make use of electoral forms in Africa under the Fourth Republic. I am not sure the mass exodus of African territories from the French Community was anticipated even two years earlier. As for Belgium, as late as 1956 the talk was of a thirty year transition plan for the Congo.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to George Turner says:

                Just to point out how limited were the options Britain and France had in Africa. After decades of colonial schooling, the literacy rate in many places was still only about 10% in 1960.

                (At the time the bulk of tropical Africa was placed under European rule (1870-1906), general suffrage in Europe itself was still a novelty and constitutional government in Central and Eastern Europe only about a generation old. General suffrage in Latin America was atypical until the 1920s).Report

              • greginak in reply to George Turner says:

                “was placed under European rule”
                Todays winner for passive voice explanation of the day. Congrats.

                Apparently it just happened. There wasn’t a huge rush by Euro countries to grab as many colonies as they could. Africa was just “placed” under their rule by, i don’t know who….maybe the UN did it.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Yes. This. I’d upvote you if I could.Report

    • George Turner in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Well, the larger situation is that developed countries can’t allow unrestricted immigration because then everyone from Africa, central Asia, the Middle East, India, Bangladesh, China, Latin America, Indonesia, and everywhere else would flood in, apply for welfare, and get in line for free stuff. Then they’d institute the same failed economic and social systems they’d just fled, elect leaders who would give those systems the force of law, and strip the West down to the bones. Why shouldn’t we all just move to central Africa or Tajikistan and build our own stone hut instead?

      At present, Mexico is our border fence, because they harshly enforce their southern border and are paranoid about letting immigrants come in and take their stuff (especially yankees). They know that if they relaxed their controls, Americans would fly south, buy up all the prime real-estate, and take over. Then we’d be in the same situation but bitching about Central American immigrants and either build a new fence or keeping expanding till the Panama Canal was our new border.

      Strangely, there is some logical sense to that proposition, and a more unified North America might be better for everyone, from the stoop laborers to the corporate CEO’s.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to George Turner says:

        Don’t like migration? Move to Somalia.Report

      • DRS in reply to George Turner says:

        …everyone from Africa, central Asia, the Middle East, India, Bangladesh, China, Latin America, Indonesia, and everywhere else would flood in, apply for welfare, and get in line for free stuff. Then they’d institute the same failed economic and social systems they’d just fled, elect leaders who would give those systems the force of law, and strip the West down to the bones.

        Which is so close to what the nativists claimed about immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe and Russia in the late 19th century, that it’s actually kind of eerie. It would be interesting to know what countries will be complaining in the same way about which immigrants 100 years from now.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to DRS says:

          For better or worse, the political economy of the United States is quite a bit different than it was in 1928, though the manner of and degree to which social democratic practice was adopted has never satisfied the left. One bit of counter-factual speculation one might attempt is to posit what political economy might look like had we had a low immigration regime throughout the post-Reconstruction period.

          Cannot help notice the way in which the collective sense of self and the bits and pieces of popular culture and mass entertainment have changed even in my lifetime.Report

        • wardsmith in reply to DRS says:

          DRS there was NO SUCH THING as welfare provided by the gov’t during the 19th century. Churches yes, but government not. The closest thing to welfare was the contractually obligated “management” of the tribes, and we all know how well THAT went!Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to George Turner says:

        In the first place, immigrants who come to Western countries generally because they want to work and have opportunity – and because it’s often safer here than in their home countries – not because they simply want to live off of welfare.

        In the second place, it’s preposterous to attribute all the challenges of the Third World to “failed economic and social systems” implemented by their people. The depredations of colonialism, and the economic and governance systems it left in place, have a major impact; in many developing countries the economies were constructed precisely to provide one or two crops to the colonizing power, and the governing system was designed to control – and often, to divide – the local populace. This leaves an extremely poor base for economic development, which is the fault of the colonial powers and not of the residents of those countries.

        Beyond this, the economic policies now being implemented by the greater part of developing nations are precisely those prescribed by the west – free trade, deregulation, removal of any social supports, selling off of most government assets, and de-industrialization. These were prescribed, and enforced by Western governments, the IMF, and the World Bank, throughout the 1980s and 1990s and virtually up until now. They were justified with the claim that previous policies had “failed”, despite the fact that those policies had been more successful in raising living standards than the aforementioned neoliberal policies were. Now the World Bank and other organizations are attributing poverty in developing countries to “corruption”, ignoring the fact that – while problematic – corruption is not a barrier to development, given that Britain had industrialized and become a dominant power before it even moved from a patronage-based to a merit-based civil service. The primary reasons why developing countries are poor are the aftereffects of colonial structures, and the current economic system imposed on them by the developed world, in which they are forced to allow unrestricted imports from the developed world, but their exports to developed countries remain blocked and restricted. They are told that industrialization is a bad idea because it’s not their “comparative advantage”.

        In contrast, the countries that have moved from third-world to first-world status are the ones where government has played a proactive role in promoting economic and industrial development and fostered domestic industries – including through use of trade barriers. Back in the 1950s all the economists were saying that South Korea’s “comparative advantage” was in rice and it had better stick to growing that. Now it’s a member of the OECD. The problem is that developing countries have been receiving terrible and self-serving advice from developed nations for decades, and that since the 1980s developed countries have had the economic muscle to effectively force developing countries to comply with that advice.

        The long-term solution is absolutely changes to the world economic system that cease to tilt the balance sharply in favour of the already-developed countries and give developing countries a chance to pursue their own, diverse strategies for development rather than prescribing and enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach as has been done. But there’s no reason not to combine that with open borders.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

          People come here for all kinds of reasons, Katherine. The problem you encounter is that when someone is habituated to a given standard of living and that standard of living can be had with contextually chintzy welfare payments, what is the effect of that element of context on the trajectory of that person’s skill development and work history? Milton Friedman supposedly once said you could have open borders or the welfare state, but not both. Of course, we could tailor eligibility requirements to take account of these effects (with the appellate judiciary’s permission, of course).

          The long-term solution is absolutely changes to the world economic system that cease to tilt the balance sharply in favour of the already-developed countries and give developing countries a chance to pursue their own, diverse strategies for development rather than prescribing and enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach as has been done. But there’s no reason not to combine that with open borders.

          There is not a word in the paragraph that is not nonsense.Report

          • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

            If a poor person has the grit and determination to scrape together enough money to get a plane ticket to Canada – which alone costs more than much of the world’s population makes in a year – then it’s generally because they want a better life than the one they had in their home country, not so that they can have the same miserable standard of living, but without work. In general, immigrants are incredibly industrious; this, not stereotypes about welfare burdens, is the fact. It’s proven by the fact that the immigrants who come here don’t rest on their laurels, but send massive amounts of money back to their families and loved ones in their home countries – the total amount of money going into developing countries in remittances from immigrants dwarfs the amount of foreign aid given by all the countries in the world. That’s what immigration really looks like.

            What you’re peddling is no more than a fallacious stereotype based on the idea that anybody who doesn’t look like “us” is a lazy bum.Report

            • DRS in reply to KatherineMW says:

              Katherine for the win.Report

            • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

              Remittances abroad from households in this country (not just immigrants) amount to about $77 bn per year.

              Overall participation rates for immigrant workers are about 20% higher because there are fewer people over fifty in that population. Age graded participation rates are higher among natives under 45, higher among immigrants between 45 and 65, and about the same for those over 65.


              Could not find any numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on mean working hours of immigrant labor, but they do have a breakdown of mean working hours for those in various racial categories. There was very little variation and hispanic and asian workers put in about the same schedule as white and black workers within an hour or two per week either way.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

                So if immigrants work as much or more as native-born citizens, why are you complaining about them being lazy welfare cheats?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Once you have completed Introduction to Reading Comprehension, you will understand that

                1. I said that mass immigration is incompatible with the presence of a welfare state not structured in a particular way and a challenge to an ethic of common provision generally; and

                2. You said that immigrants are ‘incredibly industrious’.Report

              • Badtux in reply to Art Deco says:

                On that note, I’ll point out that Americans on the whole are incredibly industrious, with the average worker working more hours and producing more output per worker than virtually every other nation on the planet, so if the average immigrant is as industrious as the average American, that makes him among the most industrious in the world.

                Non-citizens, even legal immigrant ones, aren’t eligible for welfare benefits so let’s get that out of the way right now. The bigger argument against unlimited immigration is what it does to the wages of the lower tiers of American society. Unlimited immigration is basically a way to transfer wealth from the lower tiers to the upper tiers. If you don’t have government forcing a transfer of that wealth *back* to the upper tiers, you end up with a banana republic — a vast number of desperately poor people, and a small core of very wealthy people at the top. Given that redistribution has become politically unpalatable, I’m not sure how you can maintain something resembling a modern economy if you allow unlimited immigration. Desperately poor people simply aren’t capable of participating in modern economic life well enough to keep a modern economy going. Just look at other banana republics for examples of that.Report

        • George Turner in reply to KatherineMW says:

          But the US isn’t responsible for the legacies of colonialism because we were one of the colonies. Further, after colonialism was abandoned everyone was perfectly free to dispose of the unworkable institutions and political structures, and did so to some degree, yet many such countries are still failed kleptocracies.

          There is a host of reasons for the situation, from cultural mores (which afflict African development to a large degree – such as ordinary people not wanting to become more successful because all their relatives will move in with them), the curse of resources, to top-down hierarchical systems patterned on old royal governments or the Catholic church, and primarily the lack of a clear private property system that recognizes the economic rights of the lower classes so they can use their houses and cars as collateral, open bank accounts, and start businesses legally without worrying that the government will shut them down. The brilliant economist Hernando De Soto has written extensively on the third world’s real underlying problem, which is that its not really capitalist but 17th century mercantilist. That has created a world with rather large disparities in wealth, but also very large disparities in the cost of living. Saddling billions of people with Western living expenses without commensurate gains in their productivity would only create disaster.

          A further problem, as Europe as seen, is that immigrants don’t all leave their old culture behind, and don’t necessarily distill it so only the best parts remain. And unlike most immigration into the US, the old culture of immigrants to Europe is not already European.Report

          • KatherineMW in reply to George Turner says:

            I didn’t and don’t claim that the US is responsible for colonialism (except in the Philippines); I simply observed that it was a factor. And it has more lasting effects than can be immediately done away with.

            The problem with cultural explanations for lack of development in the third world (and especially in Africa) is that for the first 20 years after independence much of Africa was making exceptional progress – per capita GDP was higher and growth was faster in sub-Saharan Africa than it was in either India or China at the time. Latin America’s growth was also very strong up until 1980. Despite the aftereffects of colonialism, they were succeeding.

            What changed was not the culture, but the fact that the US raised its interest rates to deal with stagflation, causing the previously very sustainable national debts of developing countries to spiral out of control. This gave the IMF, World Bank, and Western governments the chance to come in and dictate economic policy. Since then, Africa’s never regained its post-independence growth rates, either in GDP or living standards. If it had kept on the rate it was going in the 1970s, its average GDP per capita would be approximately TWICE what it is now.

            The case is similar with life expectancy; that’s complicated by the emergence of HIV/AIDS, but it’s also true that HIV/AIDS would likely not have been as devastating had it not occurred when the IMF et al. were pressing African countries to disassemble their governments, including their health care systems and social safety nets that would have helped them identify and deal with the epidemic. In addition, the trend of less increases in life expectancy after the early ’80s is also observed in countries where HIV/AIDS is not very prevalent.Report

            • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

              The problem with cultural explanations for lack of development in the third world (and especially in Africa) is that for the first 20 years after independence much of Africa was making exceptional progress – per capita GDP was higher and growth was faster in sub-Saharan Africa than it was in either India or China at the time.

              Not true.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

                True. The stats (in US dollars [constant 2005]) are on the website for World Development Indicators. Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP per capita was around 3 times that of either China or India for 1960-1980. It fell after 1980 and didn’t regain its 1980 level until 2007. That’s almost three lost decades.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Much of Africa was more affluent than China or India ca 1960. However, if I credit World Bank data, Tropical Africa was not abnormally economically dynamic during those 20 years. If you look at their statistics for nominal domestic product per capita, you find the following changes between 1960 and 1980:

                World: 5.6x
                OECD: 6.5x
                Latin America: 5.8x
                Sub-Saharan Africa: 5.3x
                East Asia & Pacific: 7.75x
                Europe & Central Asia: 6.3x
                North America: 4.26xReport

              • KatherineMW in reply to Art Deco says:

                It was growing faster than China and India, it was wealthier than China and India, and it was growing at a much faster rate than it did in later decades. It was growing at a similar rate to much of the rest of the world. This is a stark contrast to the negative economic growth followed by complete stagnation it experienced in the ’80s and ’90s. This utterly contradicts the idea that Africa’s underdevelopment is caused by some cultural factor, or anything inherent in African countries. It was not inevitable; it was done to Africa, and the economic policies forced on Africa (and many other developing regions) from the 1980s onwards are a clear candidate for what went wrong.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Katherine, your argument is very ill-constructed.

                Non-development and underdevelopment is a normal state. You can attempt to attribute Africa’s development lags to a mess of factors, but the notion that a continent which was (prior to 1870) largely pre-literate and saw only fragmentary development of urban settlement and territorial states and which has been losing ground to peninsular Europe for 3,000 years or so does not harbor within its social relations and geography and array of worldviews some fairly abiding impediments to a certain sort of material progress is nothing short of just plain strange.

                Now we have a new set of scapegoats: Paul Volcker and the International Monetary Fund. Is it really your intention to push the idea that monetary policies followed in Washington and New York in 1979-82 have hobbled Africa for 30 years, or that recidivist mendicants like Julius Nyerere were ace economic planners (when they were not burning down villages en masse), or that public agencies which have a very narrow stratum of educated people on which to draw should be making a mess of capital investment decisions, or that white elephant industrial projects are jim dandy for countries like Niger, or that African governments should all defend overvalued currencies and set up agricultural marketing monopsonies and screw their peasant populations?Report

              • George Turner in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Or it could be that Africans who escaped the clutches of Robert Mugabe and didn’t get sucked into massive tribal wars, civil wars, regional wars, and genocides, are really fixated on the exchange rates and are sitting on piles of money waiting for the international banking situation to shift two percent more in their favor.

                I happen to know this is in fact the case because a lot of my contacts in Nigeria keep trying to send massive amounts of domestic funds to my bank account where the interest rates are slightly higher.

                My name is big over there ever since I saved over three million square kilometers of rain forest from logging when I had a chance conversation while doing a factory upgrade at a Nigerian paper mill. I’d asked the plant manager why he was upgrading the plant to become one of the largest paper mills in the world, and he said it was because his government had decided to send letters to everyone in the West so they could find contacts who would help them move cash offshore.

                I pointed to the square footage on his blueprints and said he couldn’t possible need to send that much mail. He said, “OH, WE SURELY CAN. TWO OR THREE LETTERS A DAY TO EVERYONE IN THE WEST” (Nigerians talk in all caps, an odd affectation that you just get used to.) I pointed out that he’d never get enough wood pulp, and he said they were going to bulldoze most of the African jungle and feed it through wood chippers and then into the pulping vats, then load all the letters on tanker ships bound for Europe and America.

                So I explained to him the new Western invention called e-mail, and the continent’s forests were saved. Believe it or not, I now have more carbon offsets than the rest of the world combined. All Gore has a statue of me in his bathroom.Report

            • Kim in reply to KatherineMW says:

              I’m not sure how much I can credit GDP. Can you post corruption statistics from the 70’s?
              China has taught me skepticism.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Kim says:

                Corruption, being illicit, doesn’t have statistics. The closest thing that exists is the Corruption Perceptions Index, which didn’t exist during the period I’m discussing and is highly flawed anyway, being based on a poll of selected members of the upper classes in developing nations.

                But these statistics are from international statistics-keeping organizations (World Bank and OECD, in this case), not from the national governments. And other development statistics, such as life expectancy, also show strong progress over those two decades.Report

  10. Shazbot37 says:

    Here is the simplest argument that the fence will not stop or seriously restrict immigration.

    1. People are as easy to smuggle as drugs. Put them in a container in a truck or boat, just like drugs. In some sense people are easier to get over the border. And there is a high demand to cross people and drugs over the border which is not weakened by threats of death or punishment.

    2. A wall would not stop or significantly alter the flow of illegal drugs across the border

    So therefore:

    3. A wall will not stop or significantly alter the flow of illegal drugs across the border.

    The drug war taught us a lesson. Sometimes law enforcement is so difficult and costly in terms of lives and resources and damage done, that enforcing the law is worse than the problem the law was meant to solve. This isn’t always the case (even with drugs, e.g. I think a war on meth has benefits, but that is for another day), but given the total failure to stop immigration and drug flow across the border, it is the case of enforcing strict border laws.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Shazbot37 says:

      Dunno. People need air and water and stuff, and make noise, and come in irriducibly obtrusive packages of organic matter.Report

      • Shazbot11 in reply to Art Deco says:

        Yeah, it is impossible to give a person enough air and water to smuggle them in a truck across a border.


        Art, you really don’t belong as a commenter here. This is a place for thoughtful conversations, where others are interpreted charitably. We don’t always live up to that standard here, but you aren’t even trying. There’s a difference. (Or if you’re trying, you’re failing so badly that I can’t imagine that you would ever succeed.)

        You aren’t persuading anyone. You aren’t creating food for thought for those that agree or those that disagree. You’re just trolling.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Shazbot11 says:

          I am fascinated to discover ‘others are interpreted charitably’ here. I will remember that the next time an elementary school teacher tells me that the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Rockefeller Institute are trafficking in racist drivel that I must never allude to, or when an attorney informs me that I am advocating the return of the Berlin Wall, or when some other garbanzo informs me that no respectable person could ever take exception to Charles Schumer’s latest apercu.


          If you want a discussion site, you attract some opposition. You can answer the opposition (which has not, ahem, advocated much outside of ordinary policy disputes in this country) with some sort of argument or you can pretend the opposition has violated some obscure set of p’s and q’s that are repeatedly invoked but never defined. Choice is yours.Report