By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
The Biden administration’s decision to build 20 more miles of Donald Trump’s border wall has both sides of the political aisle howling. Try as he might to deny it, Mr. Biden has surrendered to Trump tactics out of desperation ahead of the 2024 election.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says Texas’ Rio Grande Valley is so vulnerable to “unlawful entry” that it presents “an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers.” Mr. Biden told reporters he doesn’t think more wall will control the border. But his government will do it anyway.
I am reminded of the observation attributed to Winston Churchill that “Americans will always do the right thing, after having exhausted all the alternatives.” The right thing to do about the migration crisis is to return to a U.S.-led pro-growth agenda for the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately all other alternatives aren’t yet exhausted.
Open markets, sound money, light tax and regulatory policies and the rule of law were once standard U.S. advice for the neighbors. Today both Democrats and Republicans are protectionist. That’s bad enough. But the priorities of America’s far left have become top foreign-policy priorities for the Biden State Department and White House: LGBT initiatives, income equality, labor activism and the end of fossil fuels. Profit is a dirty word.
When the National Security Council’s adviser for Latin America, Juan Gonzalez, called the Guatemalan business community a “predatory elite” in 2021, he captured bidenista hostility toward capitalism everywhere. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai spends her days harassing Mexican businesses on behalf of the AFL-CIO while refusing to defend American oil, gas and renewable investors suffering discrimination by the Mexican government (which, by the way, is her job).
Because it has abdicated free-market leadership, Washington has had to go on the defensive in a destabilized hemisphere. It doesn’t have to be this way if the U.S. would return to a foreign policy that aims at fast growth. The idea may appear quixotic in the Biden-Trump era. But every paradigm shift starts with vision.
Each migrant who turns up at the Mexico-U.S. border has a story about why he or she wants to cross. Because those wishing to enter the U.S. using the asylum process must assert a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries, that’s the most popular claim.
The reality suggests something different: Risk-takers are fleeing economic disarray. It’s “for a better future,” as one young man accompanied by his pregnant wife told a reporter in the dangerous Darién jungle. Even democracies that are growing don’t offer opportunities as appealing as the U.S.
Short of digging a moat and pulling up the drawbridge, which would be costly for American economic dynamism, it will be tough to hold back the human tsunami crashing on U.S. shores. Economic freedom and development are the only humane solutions to the poverty driving these huddled masses.
It’s been done before. In the aftermath of the 1982 Latin debt crisis and the stagnation that lingered, it became obvious that without significant economic liberalization, the region wouldn’t grow fast enough to satisfy its expanding populations. In 1990 the George H.W. Bush administration launched the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, a soft-power approach to promoting wealth creation south of the border.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement was one achievement. Nafta was so successful at boosting continental commerce and raising living standards in northern Mexico that President Trump failed to strangle it 25 years later. He had to settle for burdensome new labor regulations drafted by Democrats in Congress and a new name for the pact. But its substance largely survived.
The Washington Consensus was another product of the 1990s. It was a blueprint for fiscal discipline, privatization, tax reform, deregulation and trade and investment liberalization. Contrary to conventional wisdom, as former World Bank economist William Easterly showed in a 2019 paper, its remedies bore fruit over time and growth was “good after reform in Africa and Latin America, in contrast to the ‘lost decades’ of the 80s and 90s.”
Unfortunately many governments also committed policy errors that undermined the reforms and, inevitably, political support for them. Regaining the momentum for modernization is now the challenge.
Trade is the best U.S. tool to advance development, but nearshoring in Mexico isn’t enough. Creating wealth and opportunity throughout the hemisphere requires regional trade integration that allows free-trade partners to add value, duty free, all along the chain of production.
The first step to restoring immigration order is to recognize that neither protectionism nor the antidevelopment ideology of socialism is cost-free. The hardship hitting all sides in the migrant crisis is the high price of getting the economics of development wrong.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally on the WSJ, October 8, 2023, print edition. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.
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EnergiesNet.com 10 13 2023