Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Poor People, Go Home

Donald Trump and the Republicans have a plan to counter immigration. Namely, ban Muslims and Hispanics from entering the country, deport the ones here, and then quit trading with them. Or something like that. It keeps changing.

It reminds me of the 12th century story of King Canute commanding the incoming tide to stop. Contrary to popular belief (i.e., what I believed until I looked it up), Canute in fact understood the futility of this. (I recommend more people try fact-checking before posting on social media.) I imagine Trump understands the futility of trying to stop the tide, too, but is cynically trying to get elected by appealing to voters who don't.

A news story today suggests why Trump's followers are bound to be disappointed even if they succeed in electing Trump in November.

Each year, Jakarta's population swells after the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Some 70,000 Indonesians from rural areas came to the city for the festivities last year, and a good number of them stayed in the hopes of finding jobs in the capital. The same exodus from the countryside is again occurring in this year's post-Ramadan period.

Such flows of people into the city make Indonesian leaders nervous. Though the Jakarta government has tried to stem population growth by only granting residency to those who have a place to live and a job, the rules aren't always followed.
Source: CityLab.
In Jakarta's case, the unwelcome arrivals are all of the same nationality and all of the same religion as the residents in Jakarta, but the Jakartans who arrived first have the same message as Trump's supporters do: "Poor people, go home." And the poor Indonesians listen about as much as poor people anywhere listen when they are told they are unwelcome. They try to come anyway, for a better life.

The only real solution to this problem is to improve living conditions where the refugees are fleeing from. But Trump and his supporters not only want to stop the tide with a wall, they want to cut back on trade with people outside the wall. There used to be bipartisan agreement that free trade benefits both parties. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation thought so in this 2004 article "Why America Needs to Support Free Trade". Revoking NAFTA and other trade agreements would be to forget this lesson. A poorer world would only increase the number of people seeking to come to America for jobs. And that's why the GOP's new position is self-defeating, about as futile as Canute standing on the shores and shouting "Stop" to the waves.

Indonesians understand this, which is why they are not seeking to build a wall around Jakarta but instead are distributing "village funds" to help rural villages develop. "The thinking is that with more opportunities in villages, fewer people will be tempted to leave." More jobs, more access to markets. That's how you stop this tide. Not with a wall.

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