WALL: ACTUALLY BAD,...

WALL: ACTUALLY BAD, ACTUALLY EXPENSIVE. Jonah Goldberg thinks the arguments against walling off the southern border are all bad. Except, of course, for the symbolism argument which he concedes is good. The other main argument is that it's too expensive. He doesn't actually think that's a bad argument either, but he says of folks who make it "one gets the sense that even if it were cheaper, they wouldn't favor a wall."

Well, no. If you could build a decent wall of that length for a million bucks, I'd be all for it. One imagines that under those circumstances, walled borders would be common all around the world and there'd be no problem of symbolism either. The issue really is that if you look at the severity of the problem the wall is supposed to address (too many illegal immigrants), its likely efficacy in addressing that issue (pretty low), and its cost (quite high), this is actually a bad idea. If you had a workable, enforced system of employer sanctions for hiring people illegally, a wall would be unnecessary. If you don't have such a system, a wall is going to be largely pointless. I think the bad mojo symbolism of a walled border is entirely parasitic on the proposal's lack of substantive merits. Walls feel symbolically bad because we associate them with dictators keeping people shut in or with tense military standoffs. We associate them with those things because those are the circumstances in which they�re primarily found. They're primarily found in those circumstances because that's what they're useful for. As an immigration-control measure, super-long walls don't have what it takes.

On one level, though, I don't have a big problem with the idea of a giant, wasteful construction project since it would have WPA-esque benefits. On the other hand, I think one of the primary benefits of a better system of employer sanctions is that it might let us reduce border security, which would be good for commerce on both sides of the border without throwing the labor market into total chaos. The very loose border with Canada -- child's play to sneak across -- brings substantial benefits to both countries.

--Matthew Yglesias

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