One of the great questions of the 2016 election—apart from, where's Adm. Stockdale when you need him?—has involved exactly how GOP frontrunner Donald Trump would get Mexico to pay for a "beautiful wall" on our southern border that would keep Mexicans out of the United States.
Now we know. In a two-page memo sent to Wash Post Bobs Woodward and Costa, Trump says he would threaten to disallow remittances to Mexico, start of trade war with Mexico, yank visas and/or raise the cost of same.
We have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage. It is time we use it to Make America Great Again.
Trump says that if Mexico makes one easy payment of "$5-10 billion" to pay for the wall, our long-term NAFTA trading partner will continue to receive the $24 billion in remittances that get sent south of the border annually. How can we lose? (The Government Accountability Office estimates about $54 billion worth of remittances are sent out of the country every year, with more than half that total going to Mexico.)
There's a lot to take in regarding all of this, and none of it is good or sound or humane.
For starters, there's the simple fact that Trump (and his Republican and conservative amigos such as Ted Cruz and National Review, who criticize him for being as soft and fluffy on Mexicans as freshly made tortillas) is fighting a phantom menace by his own definitions. Forget for a moment that Mexican immigrants are NOT a drain on America's welfare state (forget, too, why conservatives are suddenly so concerned about protecting America's welfare state rather dismantling it). The number of illegal Mexicans in the United States peaked nearly a decade ago, in 2007. Build a wall now and you're only trapping folks here who are moving en masse back to a country that's offering them a better life than the sluggish U.S. economy.
Of course, start a trade war with Mexico and help kill its economy, increase joblessness, and…Mexicans will start heading north again….That sounds about right for government, doesn't it, whether it's directed by conservatives or liberals? Address a problem that is declining, implement policy that reverse that decline, and then declare your stupid, pointless intervention is exactly what was needed!
On a more fundamental level, though, Trump's proposal reveals a mind-set that is hardly limited to Republicans and alt-right conservatives terrified of the Reconquista. It's the same consciousness that all protectionists and statists instinctively hold. Everything Trump and the "fair trade" Republicans and Democrats propose is built on the assumption that the government has the right to unilaterally stop people from spending the money they earn and possess; that the feds have a right to tell you where you can and cannot go or even send checks.
As Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told Reason during our trip to Cuba, "It is a very, very disturbing trend that we're seeing in the Republican Party against free trade. It's always been there but usually confined to a few isolated members, the Jeff Sessions of the world and others, but now it seems to be spreading. Obviously, it's being given voice by people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who has come out saying that he would not favor TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership." Indeed, free trade is not simply about goods, but a larger worldview that promotes literal and figurative commerce and peaceful engagement with the world. "When goods don't cross borders, soldiers will," as Frederic Bastiat once put it. Or, same thing, soldiers will need to patrol not just the border but all other aspects of life.
In his memo, Trump openly relies on various "Know Your Customer" Patriot Act provisions governing banking and commerce that were abusive and invasive (and ineffectual) even in their original conception. In doing so, Trump violates not just long-held (if casually disregarded) beliefs about people owning the fruits of their labor, he threatens the greatest anti-poverty engine ever devised: freer and more open trade.
It's precisely the sort of increase in economic freedom, globalizaton, and trans-border activity he seeks to regulate and control that has the main driver in reducing extreme poverty. Trump and those who sign on to plans such as his—including less-obviously coercive trade agreements that seek to protect American manufacturers and markets—won't simply fail to "Make America Great Again." They betray a lack of confidence and stunted as the delicate snowflakes who populate our college campuses and call for safer and safer spaces from actual engagement with anything (even chalkings about Trump!) that disturbs their ultra-fragile egos.
Last September, Reason TV caught up with Trump at an anti-Iran Deal rally. Before he pushed us out of his way, he said this about libertarianism: "I like it, lotta good things." I'm starting to think he wasn't being fully honest. Watch below (20 seconds):