Why this big fuss about the border wall? Understanding that starts by asking a different question.
Why do conservatives want Americans to blame immigrants for our current hard times?
Regressive columnist Ann Coulter recently declaimed that border wall advocates are the only people who are actually concerned about the average American citizen. The elites of both the Right and the Left, she said, actually want easy immigration because it creates more profit by lowering wages. No immigrants means a rosy future for our citizens.
Coulter is a mouthpiece of the conservative elite; it’s downright weird when she pretends to attack them and suggests they are antagonistic to the wall. C’mon, they’re rabid against illegal immigrants.
Reasons against the wall abound. It’s an ecological disaster. The majority of immigrants now enter by overstaying visas or at legal points of entry, so a wall can do little to decrease the already attenuated flow of wretched brown people crossing the border hoping to work hard and achieve a better life for their family. Most economists conclude that immigration creates jobs and raises the nation’s standard of living.
So what’s really at the heart of the immigration issue?
The premise of Coulter’s view is that the amount of the nation’s income and wealth allocated to the working class is essentially unchangeable. Then, if you add immigrants, more people implies less for each, by simple arithmetic. This way immigration can be seen as unfair to struggling Americans.
But the real unfairness to average Americans is accepting our nation’s almost feudal (or plantation) income and wealth distribution.
Over 30 percent of American families have no wealth, zero. The top one in a thousand owns as many assets as the entire bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest decile (one in 10) own about three quarters of America’s assets. One family in a hundred owns 40 percent of stocks held by American households.
It’s much the same for income. Our wealthiest 10 percent earn more than half of the nation’s income, so 90 percent of our nation – all the working and middle-class – split the remaining half. The richest 1 percent earn 22 percent of total income, up from 8 percent in the 1970s.
This isn’t universal. The US ranks highest in income inequality among most developed nations. That’s bad, not great.
It’s been getting more unbalanced, which is why making a living is harder now. Our income and wealth inequality is at the highest levels since the robber-baron “Gilded Age” right before the 1930’s Great Depression.
The top decile’s income has risen 60 percent since 1973, while that of the bottom half of our nation went up only 10 percent. The poorest 10 percent saw no increase in income at all! Yet in recent years the top 1 percent’s cumulative increase in income since 1979 has hovered from doubling to tripling, in inflation adjusted after-tax income.
Our current hard times result because a few people are getting a rapacious lion’s share of our nation’s income, including virtually all of the past 40 years’ increase, and because only a small percentage of families hold most of our country’s enormous wealth.
“Damn those uninvited guests for making your piece of the American pie so small.” That’s what the conservatives suggest, with sham sympathy. Ah, but your portion of the pie was already too small to taste, because before offering you any, the wealthiest few ate all but the crumbs.
Coulter’s ilk’s deflection is to have Americans fight over how many families must split the small piece currently allocated to them (while they reduce even that through tax cuts for the rich!), rather than have citizens discuss how to use America’s unprecedented wealth more constructively.
While the nation’s attention is fixated on those horrible immigrants and whether we can keep them out with a wall — with dire prophecies if we don’t – the real cause of our pain escapes remedy.
Extending the benefits of our nation’s wealth to all is possible, through affordable college education, free breakfast and lunch in school, quality public education and preschool, universal health care, childcare for working families, housing stability, increases in Social Security benefits, a criminal justice system whose consequences don’t discriminate by wealth, and universal employment generating a livable income.
Achieving those goals would, beyond easing the hard times for average families, provide a more even playing field to allow talent and hard work to generate success.
Progressive taxes to pay for all this won’t impoverish the rich. It will only lessen the gap between them and us from a Grand Canyon to a Waimea Canyon.
We don’t need a wall. The billions are better used to alleviate the consequences of our economic hardship and remedy the causes.
We don’t need to demonize immigrants. Our country is better served by coming together to plan for a future which achieves our American ideal of equal opportunity.
Jed Somit is a resident of Kapaa.