U.S. presidential campaign in the Humanosphere, #1

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Randy Bayne/flickr)

This is the first in what will be a series of stories providing analysis on issues that come up in the U.S. presidential primaries and election that are relevant to the Humanosphere. Global poverty and inequality will get scant attention from the campaigns, but issues raised and ideas tabled during the process will have an impact on the world’s poorest people.

Trump wants to block remittances to Mexico

Donald Trump announced that he will stop the sending of money from Mexicans living in the U.S. back home in order to force the Mexican government to pay for the construction of a wall along the border. It would cut off the nearly $25 billion that is sent to the country each year – money that helps families pay for food, their homes, education, health care and more. In short, it would cut off an important economic lifeline for people in Mexico.

First off, it is not likely to work or even happen. Trump would have to take major steps to shut down the flow of money and if he manages to do that, people will still find ways to get money to their families – kind of like the futility of building a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants. It probably will not help build the wall, either. In the end, it will create more problems than it will solve.

“The bottom line: The more U.S. dollars are sent to Mexico, the more the U.S. economy benefits,” blogged Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development when Trump first proposed the idea last year. “Strictly in terms of the U.S. national self-interest, remittances are an economic benefit.”

Trump finally outlined his plan in a memo he sent to the Washington Post earlier this week. He argues that by using emergency powers, saying that illegal immigration poses a threat to the U.S., he could stop wire transfers and travel visas entirely. He also mentions tactics such as increasing trade tariffs and raising border-crossing fees to get revenues and pressure the Mexican government.

“We have the moral high ground here and all the leverage,” he boasts.

Remittances are one of the best anti-poverty programs available. The U.S. benefits from paid labor where money is spent both here and sent back home to be spent in local economies. That is why advocates have sharply warned that this is a bad idea and campaigned actively against the elimination of avenues for remittances to reach Somalia. While the issues at hand differ, the basics remain the same – cutting remittances severs a lifeline.

Bernie does not like free trade deals

An interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News got Sen. Bernie Sanders some negative press when it was reported that he did not know how to deal with the banking sector. The conversation, published, April 1, touched on a wide range of issues. Sanders continued to focus on domestic issues and brought up a subject that affects both the U.S. and the rest of the world – trade deals.

He has been vocal over the campaign regarding his distaste for major deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership, since he believes they are harmful to the U.S. workforce. But his response to a question on the movement of jobs overseas gave a deeper glimpse into why he does not like many of the major global trade deals.

I do understand you can make more profits by paying people in Mexico, or China, or Vietnam pennies an hour, I do understand that. But I believe that people have … and, by the way, I’m not anti-trade. We live in a global economy, we need trade. But the trade policies that we have allowed to occur, that were written by corporate America have been disastrous for American workers.

So I think we need trade. But I think it should be based on fair trade policies. No, I don’t think it is appropriate for trade policies to say that you can move to a country where wages are abysmal, where there are no environmental regulations, where workers can’t form unions. That’s not the kind of trade agreement that I will support.

He goes on to call the country’s trade policies “disastrous” and says that they “have cost millions of jobs.” Vox’s Zack Beauchamp and others have pointed out that Sanders gets a lot of things wrong in his comments to the Daily News. Primarily the fact that he is talking about developing countries where the cheap labor Sanders speaks of is what provides a living for millions of people.  At the same time, it is true that changing global trade and some free trade deals have likely contributed to the losses of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

What is missing from the conversation with Sanders is how he plans to balance changes in trade policies that can benefit people around the world.

Panama Papers should be a bigger campaign issue

Speaking of Sanders and trade, he is pretty much the only candidate to make a meaningful statement about the release of 2.6 terabytes of leaked information from a law firm in Panama that helps people avoid paying taxes. He pledged to end the free trade deal with Panama, signed five years ago, within the first six months of being in office.

“I was opposed to the Panama Free Trade Agreement from day one,” he said in a statement. “I wish I had been proven wrong about this, but it has now come to light that the extent of Panama’s tax avoidance scams is even worse than I had feared.”

He criticized his opponent Hilary Clinton for supporting the trade deal when she was serving as secretary of state. Her campaign has essentially said nothing about the leaks, nor have the three remaining candidates in the Republican primary race. It might have to do with the fact that virtually no Americans were named in the initial reports, but it is a major global issue that warrants more attention during the campaign.

For all the division between political parties, the leak brings to the forefront an issue that may find bipartisan support – stopping tax avoidance. While some criminal activities were uncovered by the leak, it mostly consists of powerful people using legal means to shuffle off money so that it is not taxed. With the issue of taxes ever-present in American politics, this is a relatively low-hanging fruit when it comes to bolstering federal revenues.

Conservatives could support closing loopholes and rules that allow people to avoid taxes and couple the revenue gains with lowering taxes. Liberals could also argue for getting the revenue and it may be enough to fund programs without raising taxes on the average American. Or the issue could be used to discuss how powerful people, like elites in Russia, exploit rules to their advantage and to retain power. There are plenty of other directions to go with the issue, but it is one that at least deserves some more airtime from the 5 people still running for the President of the United States.

Zika needs funding

As I reported on Wednesday, the White House diverted money left over from responding to West Africa’s Ebola crisis to the emerging Zika crisis. At the heart of the issue is a divided Congress unwilling to commit additional funds to respond to Zika. The money allocated is mostly a stopgap that may be just enough to get to the next person to take the White House. And when that happens s/he will have to come up with a way to deal with a virus that likely got worse in the summer leading up to the election. It is not a major issue on the campaign trail right now, but it will be in the coming months.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • wigglwagon

    There is nothing moral or compassionate about allowing the illegal workers to force law abiding workers and their families into unemployment and poverty when the illegals under bid the legal workers for jobs.

    If people were really concerned about the welfare of immigrants, they would be teaching other countries how to build prosperous societies instead of over inflating the supply of labor in America. The law of supply and demand knows no morality. When you inflate the supply of labor, you drive down the price for that labor. It really is that simple and that is why prosperity is a thing of the past for hard working, law abiding Americans.