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Send Us Back

In my view, during the Trump administration, the U.S. has become too isolationist and this is hurting our long-term economy and military security. Our long-run economic prospects are harmed by increasing uncertainty in trade flows and supply chains, and reducing global economic growth. Our military security is harmed by dropping out of international agreements and disrupting ally relationships. A better-informed electorate and government can make better choices.

I do not share Trump's racist intent behind the words he chose to criticize the four freshmen minority congresswomen, known as The Squad. I admire and respect each member of The Squad. On July 14, Trump said, "Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done."

Telling minority legislators to leave the country is bigotry but asking them to visit their ancestral places of origin to bring back ideas to help the U.S. is a positive suggestion. The racist intent of a chunk of that Trump hyperbole can be removed and reinterpreted as useful public policy that should be implemented.

It is derogatory to assert that The Squad's places of ancestral origin are "totally" broken and crime-infested. No country is perfect and all countries can use good information to improve. Unfortunately, among developed countries, the U.S. ranks at the top of homicide rates, over seven times the average of the other advanced countries. So, indeed, the U.S. can use advice and examples from other countries to improve itself.

I would like to see foundations provide travel grants to politicians, educators, labor leaders, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people living in the U.S. to make it possible for them visit foreign countries to observe what's broken and what works and to report back the advantages and problems of living in those places; what good ideas can be brought home and translated to U.S. policy; and what aspects of U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid should be changed to improve the quality of lives and quality of government in that foreign country. This is similar to what businesses and organizations do to learn best practices and how to adopt them. This is benchmarking in the political and civic realm.

The place of the visit could be a place to which one has an ancestral tie or a place one has an affinity towards. My ancestry is from Ukraine and Lithuania. But through extended family, I also have ties to India, France and Israel. Through affinity, I have interests in Romania, the West Bank of Palestine and Syria where Domari (Gypsies) live, and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar where the Rohingya live. I would be pleased to visit any of those places, health permitting, to observe what they do that can be used to improve the U.S. and what the U.S., individually and collectively, can do to help them.

As a young college professor, I received a grant from the German Marshall Fund to travel to Europe to observe the ways that public policy and culture in Italy and France helped unemployed people start businesses. This became part of a book I wrote on policies to help U.S. disadvantaged people start businesses, Self-Employment for Low-Income People (Praeger, 1989).

While doing on-site visits is preferable, for those who have difficulty traveling, the research and reporting can be done over the Internet using apps such as Skype, Facebook video chat, e-mail, and WhatsApp. Foreign language fluency may be a problem for many. Immigrants and refugees in the U.S. can help with translation issues and receive compensation for it.

There is precedent for doing this through programs such as Fulbright grants administered by the U.S. State Department, the Peace Corps, the American Jewish World Service, the Zakat Foundation, American Friends Service, India Development Service, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church World Hunger Projects. This activity should be more readily available and promoted in high schools, churches, and colleges.

A "Send Us Back" policy can also include going to neighborhoods in the U.S. where one once lived or where our ancestors lived. I was born in Chicago and went back to the Old Maxwell Street neighborhood to fight for preservation of the people, buildings and large outdoor market that existed there for over 100 years. The City of Chicago designated the area for gentrifying real estate development and I, along with others, formed a coalition that fought for inclusion of the low-income people who lived, shopped, sold and worshiped there. Though there was bitter protest, the neighborhood was destroyed by the city and the University of Illinois. In organizing, we did a lot of listening and observing and good examples were found for increasing social and human capital that could be generalized throughout the city to reduce crime and violence.

Send Us Back grants should be available to ordinary people, not just those with college degrees. Few Americans know about the hardships faced by others in foreign lands or countries that do better than the U.S. at governance and providing essential services.

In Somalia, for example, they have a tort-based clan (tribal) justice system, called Xeer, based on customary law that operates alongside the formal justice system. It differs slightly from clan to clan. Since the law is compensatory rather than punitive, there is no punishment and fines are rare.

The libertarian Mises Institute praises the Xeer as it "provides an authentic rule of law to support trade and economic development" in the absence of a well-functioning central government. This could inform U.S. experiments in neighborhood community courts and restorative justice. Using a form of Xeer in the U.S., may help decrease crime and increase GDP, as the costs of legal proceedings are reduced and community involvement is expanded.

Sometimes good things come hidden in bad circumstances, seedlings in fertilizer muck blossoming into flowers. Trump's admonition of "Send Her Back" can be transformed from an exclamation of racial bias to promoting international travel for study to enhance the quality of life for all.


Previously by Steve Balkin:
* The Maxwell Street Muddle.

* Maxwell Street Malfeasance.

* City Needs New Policy For The Maxwell Street Market: An Open Letter To Mayor-Elect Emanuel.

* The Maxwell Street Market Vendors Association Wants You To Like Them.

* The Olympic Bid That Could Have Been.

* Lil Scotty: 'Give Him His Flowers While He Lives.'

* Remembering Lil Scotty: Bluesman, Buttonman.

* Remembering Lacy Gibson, Master Bluesman.

* Here's To Bobby Too Tuff.

* Continuing The Political Revolution.

* Reducing Chicago's Violence: A 10-Point Plan.

* New WPA Stamps Are a Good Reminder To Bring Emergency Public Employment Infrastructure Programs To Violent Neighborhoods.

* Item: Chicago Efforts To Stop Genocide Of Rohingya People In Myanmar.

* Saving The Rohingya: Stopping Genocide And Volunteering In Chicago.

* Blues Jam Memorial For Chicago Great Arthur "Sambo" Irby.

* An Assault Weapon Proposal.


Steve Balkin is a professor emeritus of economics at Roosevelt University. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on July 28, 2019

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