Conversations on Money, Politics and Science

Conversations on Money, Politics and Science is a weekly segment with KGNU’s Maeve Conran and Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

The Age of Enlightenment and the scientific and technological revolutions promised a world of reason, democracy, and prosperity. The fog of superstition would be lifted by the light of understanding. Yet, in the 21st century United States, science is so besieged even in the face of the existential threat of climate disruption. Beleaguered scientists are taking to the streets in protest. Economics remains a “dismal science.”  Facts are no longer an unquestioned currency in politics and public life.  Nuclear weapons have remained in launch-on-warming posture, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Our goal with these conversations is to shed light on that evolution of the last 250 years by engaging in thoughtful fact- and science-based conversations on the state of the world and our place in it.


This week we examine Donald Trump’s proclamations about building a wall along the US/Mexico border as well as the recent travel ban.  Arjun Makhijani says that he wasn’t surprised by the travel ban itself, but rather he was surprised at the list of countries.

“The list of countries was a surprise, because as has often been noted, there have been no terrorist attacks in the United States from immigrants from those 7 countries. And then the court of appeals in denying to reinstate the ban and overrule the temporary restraining order noted in response to the government that the situation before, there had been no new information the government had presented, that suddenly in the last few weeks the risk had gone up from these 7 countries, so something new needed to be done.”

Makhijani also examines the recent proclamations about constructing a wall along the US southern border and then making Mexico pay for it. He says that we need to look back in history to see the origins of this.

“So the history of this ball dates back to Ronald Regan’s time when a large number of undocumented immigrants, especially from Mexico at the time, in 1986 – were allowed a path to citizenship. And then in return for that there was also a decision to make the border much harder…as you know there is already a physical barrier for much of the length of the US/Mexico border, there is of course extremely intense patrolling on land and by air and so that border was made much harder in the mid 1980’s and I think steadily more since then.  But what happened to the number of undocumented immigrants since that time is most interesting. It did not go down, it went up.”

Before the mid-80’s the border was relatively open where people could come and go with relative ease. Many workers came from Mexico to work in the US in agriculture and construction. “Mostly the people who wanted work came and it was easy for them to go back, the cost was not high. So the number of undocumented immigrants around 1980 was about 2 million. It started to grow in the early 1980s and partly I think the idea that we’re going to build a wall was because the number of undocumented immigrants began to increase. It began to increase because the United States increased interest rates, Mexico went into a debt crisis in significant measure because the United States tried to save the dollar at the end of the 1970s after the oil crisis.”

The fortification of the US/Mexico border restricted travel across the border and so instead of going back and forth, migrants started moving further away from the border and as they were staying here longer, they sent from their families. “And the undocumented population grew to about 11 or 12 million at the beginning of this decade. So hardening the border actually increased the number of undocumented people in the United States.

Makhijani also says that the wall also has a secondary economic function – it keeps a pool of low wage labor in Mexico.  “Now when the mobility of capital…easy for larger corporations to set up factories across the border…when they do that, there’s cheap labor available.