In June of 1987, in a speech in Berlin, President Ronald Reagan issued a stern demand to Soviet President Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” Within two years, the wall came down amidst celebrations on both sides of the border. It was a triumph of human progress that heralded the end of the dangerous Cold War.
Thirty years later, President Trump has proposed building a much bigger and longer wall over the entire border with Mexico, despite the fact that the net immigration from our southern border is zero. (As many people return to Mexico as come to the United States). The truth is that immigration from Mexico is entirely determined by economic conditions both in the U.S. and Mexico. When the Great Recession hit, for example, many Mexicans returned home.
Almost everyone from immigration experts to Trump’s own nominee for Homeland Security Secretary agree that a big, expensive wall won’t solve the problem. And let’s face it, there really isn’t a problem. It’s mostly a symbolic argument. Do we need a $38 billion symbolic wall? None of this will help solve the problem of disappearing jobs and the dwindling middle class. How about spending $38 billion to help struggling workers?
Speaking of job losses, the real driver of that is automation, not illegal immigration or globalization. About 80% of layoffs are due to increased automation rather than shipping factories overseas. A steel factory or automobile plant can now operate largely with robots, and become more productive with fewer workers. Even middle-management and professional workers (including doctors and lawyers) will increasingly be replaced with advanced technology.
Worse even than a worthless wall is the attack on globalization and free trade. Protectionism won’t replace the 80% of jobs lost to automation, and tariffs will make life much more expensive and scary for average Americans. When we opt out of free trade agreements like the TPP, we are simply handing over control to China, which will now be able to dictate international trade on its own terms. And the other Asian countries, from Japan to Singapore, will bend to the influence of China – economically, politically and militarily.
None of the walls that Trump is proposing – whether the physical border wall with Mexico or the trade walls with the rest of the world – will help the American middle class. In fact, they will profoundly endanger not only the well-being of all Americans, but put our national security gravely at risk. That is why we must all echo the words of Ronald Reagan – “Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!!”