This is the End of the West as We Know It?

I don’t feel fine.

The Independent reported yesterday that Marine Le Pen has taken a sizable lead over former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the run up to the French general election next year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ms. Le Pen, she is the leader of France’s Front National, a far-right political party founded in part by former Nazi collaborator Roland Gaucher. Among other things, Ms Le Pen promises to end immigration, strengthen French prestige and international influence, and pursue a slew of “France First” economic and social policies. If the margin of victory is strong enough, Le Pen is poised to deal another serious blow to European and global integration schemes such as the EU, the WTO, and others.

She is not currently projected to win the election, but those are the same sources which predicted that the Brits wouldn’t Brexit and that the Donald hadn’t a prayer of seizing the Oval Office. However, the French are far more liberal than the Brits or the Yanks, and polling data has Le Pen losing the race in the second round by more than 10 points. Still. The polls have been wrong about these things before. The rising tide of European nationalism and American populism has made many people (myself included) worried about the future of Western Liberal Democracy. Some have even gone so far as to lament that this is the beginning of the end for the West.

In the post WWII era, quality of life for most people around the globe has gone up. This is due primarily to the benefits of international free trade, and the democratic institutions which encourage entrepreneurship, creativity, and efficiency. But, despite the easily observable growth in living standards, many in the west favor globalization much less so than their former colonies and protectorates (see graph). It’s difficult to pin down exactly why this is, but some have opined that the growth of so-called 3rd world economies has left the working class in the West feeling like they’re being left behind. This is demonstrably false. Larger and larger slices of pie are going to the developing world, but the pie as a whole is also getting much larger. Everyone’s slice is bigger. That doesn’t seem to matter though. For the former great Empires, seeing a Cambodian prosper must mean that that has come at the expense of their own prosperity because, for hundreds of years, it was true the other way around.

During the age of the great European Empires, the economic principle of Mercantilism (that world wealth is fixed, and in order to have more wealth, one must take it from someone else), guided the policies of the British, French, Germans, Austrians etc. But Mercantilism was never the guiding economic policy of the United States. Instead, America pursued a system of (mostly/usually) free enterprise- the Smithian system. Freedom and liberalization is what leads to broad-based economic prosperity. The West can be saved if we keep that in mind.

A Line in the Sand

On December 12, 2012, a 54 year old woman (identified only as Jane Doe) received additional screening when crossing the U.S./Mexico border at El Paso after a drug dog alerted on her person. After the strip search yielded nothing, she was forcibly taken to University Medical Center where she was shackled to a examination table and subjected to hours of vaginal and anal probing, as well as CT scans and other intrusive examinations. She was then asked to sign a consent form, and, when she refused, she was charged $5,000 for the expense of the examinations. This was all done without her consent and without a warrant. What’s worse? She is an American citizen.

Ms. Doe’s experience is not unique, nor is it limited to American citizens. In 2014, settlement was reached in Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson, a case involving the intentional coercion and intimidation of Mexican immigrants. The court found that Customs and Border Patrol Agents were brutalizing immigrants in order to get them to waive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and to plead their case before an immigration judge.

Border Patrol is plagued by corruption and excessive use of force, according to a report from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. 170 agency employees have faced corruption charges since 2005- more than any other law enforcement agency. Just last month, former CBP Agent Juan Pimentel pled guilty to smuggling 110 pounds of what he thought was cocaine from Mexico to Chicago. Pimentel also pled guilty to bribery for being paid $50,000 to commit the act.

As well as identifying many of the systemic problems facing the CBP, the report recommends ways in which to curb corruption and excessive force within the agency. Drone patrols replacing car patrols, new thresholds for acceptable use of force, and mandatory body cameras (which have been shown to reduce excessive force in other law enforcement agencies) are among things mentioned by the report as being potential fixes. Despite these relatively benign suggestions, Border Patrol Union Vice President Shawn Moran would rather not see them implemented. Commenting on a recent LA Times story he said,

 Are agents supposed to hesitate and not defend themselves because someone set up an arbitrary threshold above which someone will be scrutinized? All this is going to do is further demoralize agents and create a disincentive to agents to go out there and do their job.

Ms. Jane Doe was awarded over $1.5 million in her lawsuit against the CBP and Texas Tech (who operates University Medical Center where her examination took place), but no amount of money can compensate for the denial of her constitutional rights or the humiliation she must have felt. I’m glad that she won her case. Too often the government refuses to acknowledge its own unlawfulness, so it makes me optimistic to see the she was awarded compensation. In the words of Ms. Doe’s attorney (ACLU senior staff attorney Edgar Saldivar), “We have to fight for everything we can get to make sure people [at] the border are protected constitutionally.”