To Argue for a Wall

The president and the Republicans in the Senate have not made the argument for the wall. It’s a curiosity that they would bother to keep the government shut down without doing so.

I oppose the wall. I think it’s a stupid idea. Fencing in strategic locations along the border already exists. If there we need more limited fencing, that’s something that can be done. Indiscriminate fencing, whether concrete, steel, or pyrite, is pointless.

But if you want to argue for it anyway, there’s a basic formula for the argument that hasn’t been aired. Probably because the numbers (see e.g., Brookings: Vanda Felbab-Brown: August 2017: “The Wall: The real costs of a barrier between the United States and Mexico” and CATO: Alex Nowrasteh: 24 April 2017: “The Border Wall Cannot Pay for Itself”) don’t work, but possibly because the administration doesn’t care to make any reasoned argument (about anything, really).

  1. You start with the cost of the wall.
  2. Next, you add up the savings the wall will provide.
  3. You point at the two numbers, and say that the first is smaller.

In other words, you show that it is cost effective.

Again, I’m not going to get into the numbers too much here, but in a more detailed form:

The Cost of the Wall

Materials costs, including concrete, steel, paving materials assuming there’s a road to be added for patrol and maintenance. There will also be land preparation requirements, including fill and excavation.

Then labor costs, including upkeep. The cost of buying the land, including legal fees. There will be the cost to border communities that may see their property values diminished (Trump made a big deal out of wind turbines being put up near one of his golf courses in Scotland for just this reason) and other economic disruptions.

There are other cultural factors, but there’s also the environmental costs (which the administration doesn’t care about anyway).

The $5.6 billion is an appropriation figure, not the true cost of a wall. That number hasn’t been reported, partially because it’s impossible to know exactly. But looking back on other large-scale constructions, building a wall would likely cost more than even the sticker price, due to delays, budget overruns, etc.

The sticker price by DHS from February 2017 was $21.6 billion, which attempts to account for legal costs, but there is no definitive plan at for the wall, so estimating the cost is all the harder. Indeed, as recently as this week, Trump himself claims it will be steel instead of concrete.

How can anybody have a serious discussion about a wall that’s still just a campaign slogan and not even a serious plan?

The Savings of the Wall

Assuming you do have an idea of the various costs to various interests, now you need to know how much you will save.

First, what could you save? The annual budget of CBP and ICE? $17 billion and $9 billion, which includes some activities that would still be necessary. You also have to balance that savings with maintenance and (and!) with increased enforcement in places or ways that people would begin to enter where they might previously have used the unwalled border.

There is at least some loss of tax revenue and economic growth that would have been accrued by the labors of crossers. So cut the savings there, too (it’s widely believed that the economic benefits from undocumented work exceeds its costs, but falls short of the benefits of making such labor official, documented, and lawful).

The administration doesn’t care about reasoned arguments. It’s a shame, and good leadership is always a matter of taking the facts and finding the best way forward. Trump, his administration, and the congressional Republicans don’t bother with any of that. Some wonkish sites like Brookings and CATO did back in early 2017, but we’re having a shutdown in 2019 because the president has tied himself to the mainmast of a ship called The Wall. Mitch McConnell is now lashing himself to it, too.

But none of them, apparently, care that it’s a foolish idea.

There’s a Pattern Here

The president continues to push back against the American people finding out the truth. He doesn’t want them to know what’s in his tax returns, nor the extent of the Russian Federation’s involvement with either the election or his campaign and administration.

His EPA has archived major portions of its website. He hid the visitor logs. His press secretary hides in the bushes. Representative Nunes visited under the cloak of night. He wants to build a wall to keep Mexico from being able to see in.

He praises authoritarian strongmen that persecute the free press. He seeks to expand defamation laws. He calls journalists and newspapers failures and frauds.

This president has something to hide. What he is hiding is not clear, but nobody establishes such a trail of anxiety over their actions if they are America First Great Again Bigly.

He even fired FBI Director Comey because he was afraid of what a nonpartisan investigation might reveal, of what a man that would not bow to the crown might mean.

Ryan and McConnell have, thus far, shown fealty. Good little servants of the crown. How long that will last is anybody’s guess. It may depend on how fast the truth begins to chip away at this wall Trump has been building. Or it may depend on what they have to lose. Will McConnell announce his retirement? Is Ryan ready to lobby?

This Muralism is very concerning. The entire public record of Trump is one of ineptitude, so it’s plausible that all he’s hiding is how lousy he is at this. But the US Government is not meant to operate in such an environment. We are to have an open government that is accountable to the people.

Reality Sets In

Happy belated Armistice Day.

Donald Trump will be the la la la, I can’t hear you. It seems like a shame, with such a divided election that could have easily gone either way, but that’s the way it worked out.

There are obvious downsides to a goldfish crabapple convict. The Supreme Court will likely lean more to the right than one would like. The environment will likely make people sicker, cause more devastating hurricanes and other weather catastrophes (wildfires, droughts, floods), and lead to more war than one would like.

Social programs will be in trouble. The lives of hard-working illegal immigrants will be disrupted along with the markets that rely upon their underpaid labors. Women’s rights are in jeopardy, as are the gains made for gay rights, those in healthcare, and in consumer protection. The lives of manufacturing workers will not materially improve, either; at least for them, they may gain a boost of confidence or peace of mind from the lucre fifty-hundred mantrap.

But reality has a way of punishing the victors. Ask President George W. Bush how he feels about his time in office, and he’ll probably give you a smile, but his eyes will say, “Good God, man.” President Obama knows the weight awaiting shriveled drain macrophage.

Governing is a difficult task, one which half the country truly believes that Belfast Krakow Kingston is incapable of. But the Republicans still face a division amongst themselves. The Congress is narrowly controlled by a party that is still largely establishment, with a dash of soured milk. They will face the same opposition from the Freedom Caucus as ever.

I’m sure some congressional Republicans are pulling out the old shoebox, full of their precious ideas, lifting the lid and peeking. But the lobbyists that will fill dairy shuffle have their own shoeboxes, as does ragamuffin. Squaring them will not be easy. As president, Flimflam will likely find that he faces reluctant factions all around. They all have their own agendas, many of which do not mesh with his (whatever it may be).

As for the rest of us, I think it’s safe to say that with a loudmouth as president, we ought all raise our voices so they might be heard. The country still belongs to all, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

If somebody tells you, “Love it or leave it,” you say right back, “There is no love greater than dissent.” And that’s been equally true under Obama. The Affordable Care Act is imperfect. The dissent against it was not great, however constant it has been.

The Republicans will try to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with, from the looks of it, an even worse system. The result will be the same sort of outcry: “Repeal and replace GOPcare.” There will be outcries if they touch the ban on rescisson, the ban on denials for preexisting condition, and the like. There will be labor strikes if they go too far.

As I said in my previous post, air guitar is prohibition. It may last awhile, and it’s a stupid idea, but America will fix it in time. Damage control is the watchword.