Walls Versus Walls

The President of the United States tweets that his proposed border wall is essentially “the same thing” as a wall built around the Obamas’ house (or presumably anyone else’s house) to keep away intruders.

No, you idiot. There is absolutely no relevant similarity between a wall somebody builds around his own house and a wall that you build between other people’s houses. The effect of a wall around my house, if I had one (and if I controlled the gates), would be to increase my control over who enters my living room. The effect of a border wall would be to decrease my control over who enters my living room.

That doesn’t prove that the border wall is a bad idea. But if the President believes there are good arguments for his pet project, why does he resort to ridiculous analogies that have absolutely zero chance of being taken seriously by anybody on either side of the issue? I’m pretty sure Rex Tillerson had this right.

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21 Responses to “Walls Versus Walls”


  1. 1 1 Alexander Kruel

    What if the border region was privately owned and the landowners decided to build a wall?

    I have a hard time to see the relevant difference between being constrained by governmental versus non-governmental forces. At least the former is often bound to certain predictable rules and can sometimes be held accountable.

    The argument that there is no relevant similarity between governmental and non-governmental actions also regularly comes up in debates about free speech. One side claims that since those Silicon Valley information cartels are privately owned, it’s not censorship if they wield arbitrary power over the majority of all public speech.

  2. 2 2 Steve Landsburg

    Alexander Kruel: Well, of course if the border were privately owned and if I wanted to invite my friend from Mexico City to join me for lunch, I could negotiate with the owners to let him through — and if they were unresponsive, I could negotiate with the owners of another wall a few miles to the east or west. Even if large swaths of wall belonged to a single monopolist, I suspect that monopolist would be a lot easier to negotiate with than the immigration service.

  3. 3 3 Henri Hein

    “I suspect that monopolist would be a lot easier to negotiate with than the immigration service”

    As someone who has wrangled with the immigration service for 25 years, I can personally attest to this.

  4. 4 4 Roger Schlafly

    The wall around the Obama house does not just protect one person. It protects the Obama family and their guests.

    The American people elected Pres. Trump, and indirectly decided for a wall to protect Americans. A wall does protect Americans, as most Americans do not want illegals crossing from Mexico.

    It seems like an excellent analogy to me. Families protect their homes from invaders. Companies protect their factories from invaders. Nations protect their land from invaders at the borders.

    How is it even possible for a nation to be a nation if it does not protect its borders?

    You could make your same complaint about any other govt policy. If the govt does not do what you personally want, then you don’t like it, and see it as some sort of infringement of your rights.

  5. 5 5 Zazooba

    Political arguments are so depressing.

    Roger is obviously correct. A wall lets one group of people control who can come into their territory. Its true for the Obama’s, true for the proposed border wall, and true for the 400+ mile Israeli wall. The situations are obviously comparable although perhaps not perfectly comparable. To pretend that they are completely dissimilar is silly wordplay. (The post could have said they are dissimilar in important ways, but the post instead made the ludicrous statement that ([t]here is absolutely no relevant similarity …”)

    Hence the depressing nature of this discussion. People say the most ridiculous things in political debates. For years, I couldn’t decide if they were being dishonest or delusional. After many years, I have come to think that they are neither; they just don’t care. Political debate switches off the logic centers in the human brain and anything goes to beat the other side.

    Depressing.

    (To uselessly get into the weeds, saying that Trump is building a wall between other people’s houses is obvious sophistry. Trump is obviously not acting unilaterally as an individual. Trump is acting through the political process to get THE US TO BUILD THE WALL. The honest way to state what is happening is that the US is considering building a wall between Mexico (foreign territory) and the US (domestic territory), just as the Obama family built a wall between the outside world and its territory, and just as Israel build a wall between its neighbors’ territories and Israeli territory. Absolutely nobody says Benjamin Netanyahu built a wall between other peoples houses because that would be silly.)

  6. 6 6 Doctor Memory

    “Absolutely nobody says Benjamin Netanyahu built a wall between other peoples houses because that would be silly.”

    First of all: the “separation wall” was conceived and largely built during the Sharon administration.

    Second, one of the primary complaints about the wall was that in fact it did cut between other people’s houses. (And between their houses and their fields, and their places of employment, and their sources of fresh water.) Even if you believe the separation wall was a great idea and a total success as policy, it was built on annexed land on the far side of the green line, so it literally could not do anything but cut between other people’s houses.

    I do not, god forbid, want to turn Steven’s blog into yet another morass of argument about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but your statement is ludicrously, laughably false and predicated on a level of ignorance that could be remedied with 60 seconds of googling.

    But as you say, people say the most ridiculous things during political debates, and it is depressing.

  7. 7 7 Neil

    The Obama wall is a private matter. The Trump wall is a collective matter. There is absolutely no evidence that a majority of voters want it, in fact the polls say otherwise. Trump and his supporters, who are a minority (40% at best), want it and are using extortion to try and get it. Steve’s characterization is quite correct.

  8. 8 8 Harold

    It is similar to Obama s wall preventing CHelsea having her friends round. The wall should keep out everyone except those invited in by anyone inside the wall.

  9. 9 9 Henri Hein

    Obama’s wall and Trump’s wall are similar objects designed to control the flow of people, but that does not make them the same. The accelerator and brake pedal in your car are both levers designed to control the speed of your vehicle, but you are advised not to confuse them.

  10. 10 10 Zazooba

    Doctor Memory:

    It sounds like I made a mistake characterizing criticism of the Israeli wall, so I retract that statement.

    My argument then contracts to characterizing the way in which the wall separates Israel from Palestine in the larger sense. I do not have enough knowledge of the details to know if the exact place it was built should have been better.

    I also have no desire to debate the Israel/Palestine question. I only use the wall as a very recent example of an ambitious and effective wall.

  11. 11 11 Zazooba

    Henri Hein:

    “Obama’s wall and Trump’s wall are similar objects designed to control the flow of people”

    Agree. That is why Trump’s analogy is not ridiculous and why the post is wildly overstated.

    “but that does not make them the same. The accelerator and brake pedal in your car are both levers designed to control the speed of your vehicle, but you are advised not to confuse them.”

    Agree. The analogy is not perfect, so you have to be careful.

  12. 12 12 Ben Kennedy

    The point of a wall is to control who gets in – that’s it, full stop. It’s orthogonal to the question of who *should* get in. In other words, an impregnable border wall is 100% compatible with “open borders”, due to the existence of doors

  13. 13 13 Alan Wexelblat
  14. 14 14 Steve Landsburg

    Alan Wexelblat: Hrm. It opens right up for me, on multiple devices, and I am not signed in. Maybe a temporary glitch?

  15. 15 15 Henri Hein

    I had no problem with the link. Just successfully tried it again.

  16. 16 16 Josh H

    #4: “The American people elected Pres. Trump, and indirectly decided for a wall to protect Americans. A wall does protect Americans, as most Americans do not want illegals crossing from Mexico.”

    Um. Hold on just a second. We just held record-setting-turnout (for BOTH the GOP and Democrats) midterms. The Dems blew the GOP away in a blue wave, despite gerrysalamandering. Yes we had an election and Trump was rejected soundly. Note again this was with record turnout from BOTH SIDES.

  17. 17 17 Harold

    If we are going with election promises it was made very clear that Mexico would pay for the wall. Asking for us to fund it breaks this promise.

  18. 18 18 Harold

    US should be caps.

  19. 19 19 Harold

    There was a post when the govt. shut down in obamas reign. This was applying a class approach that it was wrong to blame republican house as there is a symmetry to the situation. Not being totally familiar with US politics how does this situation compare? My recollection is that the house was accused of being deliberately intransigent just to Block obama.

  20. 20 20 iceman

    Neil #7 et al:

    But most people do (at least) say they want effective border security.
    [Whether a wall is the most effective form is quibbling, for the purpose of this post anyway.]
    Both the Obama family and the American polity have to make that decision as a unit (whether or not every individual member agrees).
    So not seeing the analogy as very strong.

  21. 21 21 iceman

    I meant not seeing the criticism of the analogy as very strong :(

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