While President Donald Trump has a reputation for glossing over inconvenient truths, when it comes to building a wall with Mexico, he appears to have overlooked the blindingly obvious. He says it will be simple bookkeeping to make Mexico pay for the wall.
Although the President has come out with wildly different estimates for the exact price of the wall, it will almost certainly turn out to be greater than his present claim of $10 billion. Since a mere 650 miles of fence has already cost $7bn the calculations from the current experts who have oversight of barrier as a mere fence, more than 1000 miles of a much more costly wall is hardly going to cost $10bn at today’s prices regardless of whatever way it is calculated.
Ali F Rhuzkan, a structural engineer based in New York, is quoted saying that a 1,900-mile wall – seemingly Trump’s original plan – would require about 339 million cubic feet (12.5 million cubic yards) of concrete – which turns out to be three times that involved in building the Hoover Dam, a single localized site. Other estimates say less than this will be required but since the description of the wall has changed many times over the last month it is had to be sure. But thus far the calculations appear to have been assuming the costs are in construction. Since the proposed wall criss-crosses many privately owned properties the legal costs in gaining the necessary permissions and for that matter the prospect of years of litigation would give experienced contractors pause for thought.
In practice some sections of the wall would be much more expensive particularly where the ground is unstable or in the case of the Rio Grande where the wall has to cope with periods of serious flooding. The BBC has reported that virtually all the engineers they have been able to locate for an opinion seem to quote considerably more than twice Trump’s claimed estimate. If they are correct Trump will face considerable embarrassment further down the track when the figure negotiated with the Senate and Congress turns out to be based on a serious misjudgement.
One further complication is that despite past calculations for large concrete structures in that part of the world ( unofficially) they have included factoring in illegal migrant labour. In this instance it is hardly likely that even a Trump led government could sanction building a wall built with illegal labour when a key purpose of the wall is to keep illegal labour out. According to Trump all the US may need to do is deduct this ever shifting price of the wall from the substantial annual aid package the US presently makes available to Mexico as an annual grant.
Another of his suggestions is that the US could put a substantial tariff on the goods coming to the US from factories in Mexico. Some British economists have predicted that the logical Mexican answer would be to start removing the substantial tax benefits currently being earned by US investments in Mexico which even in 2013 were over $100bn.
A further irony there is that the more expensive cross border goods from Mexico would be ultimately paid for by US consumers who thereby indirectly pay for the wall. And what of the poor who already have the legal right to live in the US. Relocating the factories to US soil where there is not ability to attract cheap labour must surely increase the price of the goods.
The consumer is expected to pay this increase…so who does that hurt?
Since the US depends on at least minimum goodwill of its immediate neighbours for assistance with its border controls it is not immediately obvious why the Mexicans (who desperately need the aid to keep their minimal social services going) would increase goodwill as a consequence of a depleted aid package. If the other alternative is favoured, the return of US factories to the US will cause a spike in Mexican unemployment. Understandably the Mexican President seems more than a little miffed at the current talk of the wall.
There is also the widespread view that poverty increases the incentive for individuals to seek alternative sources of money eg crime and drugs. Give the Mexicans less money, bring the US owned companies currently providing employment for Mexican citizens back home….. and voila ….the dodgy Mexicans will become model citizens???? Yeah right!
And what of the poor who already have the legal right to live in the US. Relocating the factories to US soil where there is not the same ability to attract cheap labour must surely increase the price of the goods. The consumer is expected to pay this increase…so who does that hurt?
In any event we already know the crime syndicates have shown they can burrow beneath walls to release their drug crime bosses. Maybe ordinary poor Mexicans (eg illegal migrant labour on US building projects) don’t have that advantage, but I thought the new US President campaigned on the premise that the bad guys (ie the guys with the proven tunnelling record) should be preventing from entering the US.
According to the Department of Homeland Security a large sum is already being spent on detecting the myriad of tunnels under sections of the present fence with Mexico and it is common knowledge that when the drug runners are not using the tunnels for their immediate needs, they offer paid passage to the many illegal workers going back and forwards to Mexico.
Since the now increasingly problematic unity of the United States depends on the people in individual States perceiving the Federal Government acting in their interests it is not clear why some of the States in America and individual cities who have a high percentage of Mexicans amongst their population will be favourably inclined to a President who now is wanting to penalize those cities and states for a situation they did not initiate or did not have the means to control.
Because President Trump had previously boasted of using cheap and illegal labour for some of his hotel and casino building projects it is also particularly difficult to understand why Mr Trump now expects to be respected for his current enthusiasm for the wall.
And finally, since President Trump claims to be an environmentalist, what is with this obsession to put a wall in the part of Mexico bordering the National Park area of the Rio Grande? The wall would clearly affect the substantial animal migration patterns across the border and interfere with an already delicate balance. Threatened species such as some of the bears and wolves depend on the ability to find mates in closely related species across the border. Creating a situation where some of the more famous of the threatened species are wiped out would further infuriate the environmental lobby. A further complication for those concerned about the impact on the environment will be the carbon footprint of the wall in that conventional concrete structures are known to put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
DISCLAIMER: The above comments are made on the basis of incomplete information. If any of the readers notice flaws in the argument, their corrections or contributions to the discussion would be welcome.