Much of the focus on President Trump’s southern wall with our Mexican border has focused on several issues. The first, of course, is will it really be built – or was this just some campaign hype? The second is, how will we get Mexico to pay for it? The third and most recent entrant into this discussion is, how much will it really cost? As to the third of those questions, the most recent estimate I’ve seen is $21 Billion. That’s a whole lot of moolah. Or is it?
If we reflect back to the presidential campaign, Donald Trump put forward two reasons for building the southern wall. By far the most controversial was his intent to control the never ending flow of people from coming into the country in contravention of the nation’s immigration laws. Why that should be controversial is a bit beyond me – but those on the left seem to have an issue with it. The second reason for building the wall was to stem the flow of illegal narcotics which also flood into the country through that same porous border. There has been very little protest to building the wall to accomplish this. And it is to that issue that I would like to focus in this post.
As a libertarian, I have absolutely no objection to anyone using a substance – even though that substance whether it be liquor or heroin be detrimental to their well-being. That’s based on the theory that the individual, not the government, should dictate personal behavior. But there is, of course, a caveat to that high-minded ideal. While I might exhort you to behave as you please, the limit to your behavior occurs when it impacts me negatively. That is why libertarians endorse laws which provide penalties for the commission of any of a variety of crimes which affect society as a whole.
It would be foolish to believe that simply building a wall will completely eliminate the flow of drugs into the country. As we learned with Prohibition, when there is a demand for a product it will find its way into the marketplace. But that is not to say that building a wall and stiff penalties for convicted drug traffickers might do much to curb the supply and thus the usage. If you doubt the efficacy of harsh penalties for drug vendors check out Singapore which has virtually no drug addiction problem. It executes drug pushers who are convicted.
The number of drug deaths in the United States now exceeds those Americans who die in automobile accidents. Consider all the steps that we have taken to minimize traffic fatalities. If you’re old enough, you might remember the introduction of automatic turn signals. Then there were seat belts and then lap belts and then air bags. This list is hardly extensive in discussing the number of safety features which are required of auto manufacturers on today’s new vehicles. It’s a far cry from the first cars that rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line. So if we see the efficacy of installing safety features on cars, reducing the toll of deaths, why would we not apply the same reasoning to the illegal drug question?
What does the drug epidemic really cost the country – or more correctly, you and me the average citizen? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I imagine that if we could quantify it, the result would be mind-blowing.
How many purse snatchings, burglaries or armed robberies are committed annually so that the junkie can get the money for a fix? The number of drug deaths I mentioned earlier relates strictly to those who die of overdose or drug related health issues. It does not include the number of fatalities between rival drug gangs – which are plentiful. And as to those who become ill from drug abuse, who pays for the cost of their medical treatment? And who pays for the salaries of the police, the judiciary, the prison guards who arrest, try and maintain them in our penal institutions? Who pays for the higher price of products in our stores because some of the merchandise has been stolen? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is that you and I pay (involuntarily) for all of these – and many more.
Speaking personally, if I had my choice whether I would rather spend tax money in remediation or have that money spent in a positive way – say to help children achieve higher educational standards, I would opt for the latter. I think most people would agree with that sentiment. But while I can’t quantify specifically how much we spend on all drug related matters, I can give you some insight into one example of how the taxpayers paid additional, unnecessary costs because of drug usage.
When I ran my temporary employment agency, I received a call one day from an individual who held a management position with the University of Illinois Circle campus. He was with the university’s School of Public Health. In the call, he explained that the school had received a grant from the Federal government to conduct a five year study. The goal of the study was to determine how much. if any benefit would inure among members of the drug using community if they were supplied with free bottles of alcohol and an unlimited supply of clean, disposable syringes so that they could get their heroin fixes.
In order to implement this program, the school had identified twenty people who were former drug users themselves whom the school felt would be accepted by ongoing users – their “client” base. Of this group, fourteen were Hispanics and six were black. There were twelve in this group who were male and eight female. As you might expect, there were few who had high school diplomas – only two.
The problem for UIC to get this program up and running was that in order for the school to hire these individuals directly, they needed to pass the civil service exam as UIC is a state school. And, quite wisely, my contact had zero confidence that any of them would be able to do so. Cleverly, he realized that under the grant he was allowed to hire a private independent contractor who could employ these people and thus circumvent the requirements of state law. So his call was to find a firm that would add these people to their payroll and find out how much they would charge for this service.
After some negotiation, I came up with a markup number that would cover my cost of having to pay FICA and Medicare Tax as well as unemployment insurance – and some extra to cover our cost of payroll processing and a small profit. We agreed on the number and by subverting the normal civil service process, it cost the school about fifteen percent more to add these “employees” to their project than they otherwise would have spent. This relationship began in 1992. By the way, you might find it interesting that the university offered all these employees a salary of $14 per hour – a far higher salary than a starting employee at a fast food restaurant would have earned then – or today. When it’s not your money, I guess a person can afford to be quite generous with it.
But the sad fact is that all the waste that gets swept up into newer and higher debt ceilings; all the costs to society not only in terms of lives that are lost, property that is damaged and the general decline of morality and decency; all of these costs, and there are so many more, seem to me to make building the wall not an option but a necessity.