Sure, America could “win” a trade war with Mexico. We could tax the millions of dollars poor Mexicans are sending to their many poor families, as President Trump has suggested. We could kick out millions of immigrants. We could create in Mexico a hatred for ourselves, even a failed state on our border. Is that what Trump’s supporters really want?
We have now spent trillions of dollars in the Middle East, ostensibly to protect our access to its oil, but also to try to maintain secure borders. For a questioned cost of some lost jobs and possibly a few billion in trade concessions, we have a prosperous neighbor. America’s real security is in having friendly, cooperative neighbors. Do we want to become like those Europeans with hundreds of years of mistrust and warring on their borders? America’s security comes from the mixing together of different religions and races, living in safety and with economic opportunity. The easy travel, the tourism, the family connections—they all unite our hemisphere.
Trump’s Trade representative Robert Lighthizer claims that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association) killed 700,000 American jobs but then makes no mention of new jobs created by NAFTA trade. His claim, based upon adjustment assistance petition accepted by the Labor Department of job displacement from trade agreements from 1994 to 2000, has been debunked by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler. His number also includes other non-NAFTA job losses. For example, workers at a sawmill in Washington State closed because of the prohibition of cutting timber to save the spotted owl, were certified by the Labor Department for assistance as victims of NAFTA.
Kessler also notes that, according to the Commerce Department, every $1 billion in exports in goods supports 5,300 jobs here, “even before calculating the impact from trade in services.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that six million U.S. jobs depend upon trade with Mexico, while 40 percent of goods imported from Mexico have major U.S.-built contents.
Lighthizer did acknowledge that “many Americans have benefited from NAFTA,” including in the agriculture and service sectors. Actually, U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico have increased nearly five-fold since the agreement was signed to $18 billion in 2016. In a similar vein, natural gas exports have quadrupled in recent years and are expected to nearly double again by 2019 to from today’s seven billion cubic feet per day as new pipelines come on stream.
Other studies report that most manufacturing job losses in America come from automation and robots, not from foreign competition. The same trend happened years ago with agriculture, which now represents only a little above one percent of U.S. jobs.
The greatest cost and a major reason for job losses is that of health insurance, which can cost some $15,000 per worker in the U.S. compared to just a couple of thousand in Canada. Reforming our dysfunctional, monopoly-driven health care system would do a lot to make our manufacturing more competitive. If living standards in America are stagnant, it is because salary gains have been devoured by rising health care costs.
Other factors include our bloated military budget, which takes so many talented people out of the economy’s productive sectors. Also our manufacturing exports, i.e, jet planes, computer software, and even natural gas, reflect the high value of our exports compared to the more simplistic products of decades ago.
Our factories’ main problem today is the lack of available workers. Unemployment in our industrial states is very low. For example: Ohio is 5.2 percent, Indiana 3.1 percent, Michigan 3.7 percent, Pennsylvania 5 percent, Illinois 4.8 percent. Labor shortages and government regulations lead in polls of manufacturers’ problems, not foreign competition.
In another vein, Fox News repeatedly argues that immigrants take jobs away from work from Americans. Prime time host Tucker Carlson even went so far as to say that American workers subscribed to Social Security’s early retirement program and others addicted to drugs would take on the hard work of agricultural and construction jobs filled by many illegal immigrants. In fact, crops are already rotting in the fields in California because of a shortage of labor. In Houston, there are reports of fears that without illegal immigrants they won’t find the construction labor to rebuild.
The real truth is that most illegal immigrants create jobs, they don’t take them away. Most perform jobs most Americans don’t want. In the simplest terms, it is the poorest immigrants who pick crops, do unskilled construction labor, man dairy farms which provide jobs for American truck drivers, Safeway sales clerks, skilled labor, and so on. Add to that probably millions of Americans who get help with with parent or child care from illegal immigrant women.
Immigration reform is blocked by congressional stalemate. Republicans would allow work permits for long established illegals, but don’t want to grant them citizenship. Democrats want them to have a route to citizenship. It was they who blocked the old bracero program, which for years allowed temporary workers a legal status. Both parties think that, given a vote, most would vote Democratic. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans favor granting them some form of legal status and many states grant them driver’s licenses. Most illegals don’t care about voting; they just want to be legally allowed to work. Also, some half of them are from those who overstayed their visas, not those who crossed our Mexican border. A solution for Congress, now that it must vote on the issue of nearly a million immigrants brought here when they were children, the DACA program, is to allow temporary work permits, subject to renewal, not citizenship for existing illegals, and for future labor needs. Such a program is called the Red Card Solution (see the link describing the program; it includes a short video explaining it by conservative scholars at the Heritage Foundation).
What we should spend money on is Americanization: teaching immigrants our historic values and the reasons why our nation is prosperous, our constitutional system, and so on. In time, they will assimilate as immigrants historically always have. Already some 30 percent of Latinos marry non-Latinos. Ready solutions exist without devastating our economy or creating massive poverty in Mexico.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.