David R. Henderson  

Robert Frost and Michele Bachmann on Walls

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Frost:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'
From Robert Frost, "Mending Wall."

Bachmann:

"How do you solve it? You build a barrier, a fence, a wall -- whatever you want to call it. You build it," Bachmann said. "As president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border."
From "Michele Bachmann Plays Up Immigration, Hits Warren Buffett," August 17, 2011.

Most of us opponents of a wall have focused on the idea that the wall is meant to "wall out" immigrants. But we just observed the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, a wall that was meant to, and did, "wall in" residents. I think I remember co-blogger Bryan worrying that a wall on the border with Mexico might wall us in. I think this is a serious worry. If, 20 years ago, you had asked me if a U.S. president would try to persuade the head of a totalitarian country to reinstitute restrictions on residents leaving that country, I would have said "No way." Yet three years later that's exactly what President Clinton persuaded Fidel Castro to do.

HT to Steve Horwitz.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Eric Falkenstein writes:

There's a significant difference between rules and tactics for keeping people out versus keeping them in. Walls work pretty well in the West Bank of Israel.

tim writes:

Walls simply don't work. Especially on a vast expanse of land such as our southern border. Not to mention the land that has be taken from landowners to build it.

Martin Brock writes:

Actually, that Berlin Wall worked pretty well too.

stephen writes:

"I remember co-blogger Bryan worrying that a wall on the border with Mexico might wall us in. I think this is a serious worry. "


What, were you guys planning on wet-backing it to guadalajara when you retire? I suggest taking a plane. :)

BTW, aren't you guys in the "walls don't work!" crowd?

OneEyedMan writes:

@Tim:
I'm not so sure walls don't work. I don't particularly want a wall on the border with Mexico, but if I recall correctly Israel has larger borders per person than America they manage to mostly keep people out with a combination of fences, walls, guards, and intelligence.

I agree as a practical matter, we can't make it work here. We are not interested in spending what is required to make an adequate system for keeping people out with a physical barrier. Shifting the supply is difficult because you have to defend many points. It is analogous to the war on drugs in that way. It probably would be equally effective and much cheaper to have mandatory e-verify of work authorization. That restricts the demand and the sources of demand are less mobile.

John Jenkins writes:

I wonder whether she has any idea what that would cost to engineer, build and maintain (ignoring the damage to the economy if it worked, which it wouldn't).

PrometheeFeu writes:

Quite honestly, I no longer give any thoughts to the problem of whether a wall would work or not. Regardless, the motives of those who want a wall are ignorant at best, racist at worst. Don't build a wall and we won't have to find out how bad an idea it is.

"There's a significant difference between rules and tactics for keeping people out versus keeping them in. Walls work pretty well in the West Bank of Israel."

Yeah I know... Israel is a safe-haven where one can take the bus without any fear of getting blown up.

guthrie writes:

Whether a wall is intended to be ‘walling in or walling out’, if it’s intent is to prevent the freedom of movement of innocent people between one state and another, that wall is immoral, unethical, and economically questionable at best. Any time a State institutes a policy or program that seeks to control the non-violent, non-coercive activity of everyday people, it’s wrong. Flat. Wrong.

@Eric, I would challenge you to define what is meant by ‘works pretty well’ in reference to the walls Israel has built. My guess is if you asked an Israeli Arab or Palestinian who might live on one side of the wall and work or have family on the other side, the phrase ‘it works well’ when describing the wall might not be the first that comes to mind. It may stop a few (not all) terror bombings, but it certainly places unnecessary controls a lot of innocent people who would otherwise simply be living their lives.

The phrase that comes to my mind is, ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’.

Howard Larson writes:

The long-term solution to the illegal immigration problem is to remove its causes. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has been hammering on this for decades.

Bryan Caplan writes:

I'm pretty sure I never said that, David. I think the probability the U.S. gov't tries to wall anyone *in* during my lifetime is extremely small.

Thumbs up on everything else. :-)

Evan writes:

What I like about the Frost poem is that he questions whether or not it would be a good thing to build a wall, even though he likely has a legal right to do so. It's good to know there are some people who don't think "good thing to do" and "thing I have a legal right to do" are the same thing.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bryan Caplan,
Thanks, Bryan. I wasn't sure you said it and I couldn't find it with a search, but I wanted to make sure I didn't take credit for it. I guess I get "credit" for what you regard as a low-probability idea. :-) I think it's low-probability too, but on the order of 1 in 10,000, not 1 in a million.

Jamie_NYC writes:

@guthrie
"Whether a wall is intended to be ‘walling in or walling out’, if it’s intent is to prevent the freedom of movement of innocent people between one state and another, that wall is immoral, unethical, and economically questionable at best."

Then why is it different with private property? Should you and members of your family have the right to restrain the movement of 'innocent people' through your house?

I think that letting more people from, say, Mexico, into the US is a good way to make the US more like Mexico. Do you think that the quality of social organization and institutions that US enjoys is somehow ordained by God? And that poor social environment in Haiti is due to some curse that people of Haiti are trying to escape?

They say that charity begins at home.

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