A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that there’s been a substantial decrease in illegal southern border crossings, despite the absence of the wall that Trump has been trying to get built for most of his Presidency. This should be welcome news to wall advocates. Fact is, a wall would be incredibly expensive, take many years to build, and involve a massive eminent domain initiative that will also take many years to resolve. A wall would divert resources from other measures, measures that could be just as effective. A wall is also merely an impediment, and creative humans have proven throughout history that impediments are inconvenient rather than impenetrable.

This result is also validation of what many have argued: that the flow of illegals can be addressed via policy rather than physical barrier. I’ve also offered my own remedies for the immigration system on these pages, and continue to believe that they’d resolve the problem far more effectively than a wall would.

I expect, however, that wall advocates will be unswayed by any of this, and comments on social media affirm my expectation.

Why would this be? Why, if a problem can be resolved via a “third way” remedy that proves more viable than what’s been originally proposed or demanded, don’t more people line up behind that third way? After all, much of human history is about embracing “better mousetraps.”

It boils down to a tribalistic or selfish ownership of remedies:

I don’t want a solution. I want my solution.

People would rather win the fight than get it right. Somewhere in the process of debate over correction of a problem, the arguments shift from the problem itself to the advocated solutions. We witness that here, in this immigration debate, and we witness it in the debate over remedies to global warming. Very few of the loudest advocates for remediating anthropogenic global warming support nuclear power, which is a far more obvious, implementable, and sure remedy than wind and solar. Why? Because they want their way to win the day more than they want to actually solve the problem.

Winning “your way” may not resolve the problem as fully as the third way will, or it may not resolve the problem at all. But, it provides a personal satisfaction, one of seeing your opponents lose. A third-way solution doesn’t do that. Nor does it support the perpetual fight between “us” and “them,” a fight that’s grown ever more bitter and intractable in the last couple decades. A third-way solution would allow reconciliation with those on the other side of an argument, rather than an “I win you lose” victory, and many people refuse to stomach that.

A third-way solution also fails to provide the symbolic victory. A wall would be a “moral victory” for Trump supporters, no matter whether the goal could be achieved better, more cheaply, more easily, and more quickly. The goal has shifted from slowing illegal border crossings to the building of the wall itself. And, by precluding the third way, a wall’s relative expense and effectiveness could not be judged critically with as much ease, allowing wall-supporters to say “See! It works!! I was right and you were wrong!!!”

Opportunity cost is too often ignored, by pundits and advocates, by politicians, and by voters, much to our society’s loss. This is one of the biggest problems in political discourse and policy making today, and were I an education czar, I’d make teaching it (and a few other fundamentals of economics) part of the core curriculum.

Oftentimes, the third way is easier. A dog that pulls against his leash is far more easily corrected by pulling perpendicularly, rather than in opposition. Swimming out of a rip tide is far easier if you parallel the beach, rather than swimming inward. If you are faced with opposition that has made it a mission to preclude your method, you can work toward your goal by implementing different methods – methods they’re less opposed to, haven’t thought to stand against, or might actually be OK with.

It behooves all of us not to cling to our remedies too tightly, not if that clinging gets in the way of achieving their goal.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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