Vice President Pence, look to Hamilton, not to Jefferson

Do not waste U.S. tax dollars in quaint but useless rural projects.

In your recent visit to Guatemala, you stressed that it is a goal of your administration to diminish illegal immigration from Central America. Your administration has recognized that fostering prosperity in the region is key to solving this concern. However, the proposed means may hamper rather than aid the completion of this goal.

At the heart of this puzzle is an old conflict of economic visions that dates back to the American Founding Fathers. Consider the following quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as [the people] are chiefly agricultural […]. When they get piled upon one another in larger cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

However, it should be obvious that what Jefferson desired for the United States almost 250 years ago is not what happened in the U.S., and one might easily infer that this vision is not what is desirable for Central American countries today. After all, history has shown us the political, economic, and cultural development that American cities offer the world. Furthermore, we do not want to maintain an agricultural system on the shoulders of slaves, indentured servants, or low-income peasants, the usual consequence of favoring the agricultural sector in tropical and subtropical regions. And, more importantly, Jefferson’s suggestion is not desirable because it does not generate the economic opportunities that will allow Central Americans to prosper in their own homeland (and mine, too).

The reason is simple. When have you seen millions of small-plot peasants in a developing tropical country making enough money to send their kids to university? When have you seen millions of educated young people flooding rural areas with the conviction that their economic future resides there, particularly in agriculture? When have you seen an aid program promoting these alternatives and successfully achieving the latter for millions? I am sure the answer is never. However, some of the policies currently proposed by the U.S. for this region seem to be inspired by these types of distorted ideas, which will only waste U.S. tax dollars. Instead of decreasing illegal immigration to the U.S., the opposite will occur: the reasons to migrate will persist because no massive creation of good jobs will result from such policies.

What then? I would suggest that, instead of listening to Jefferson, the U.S. public and private sectors should pay close attention to a different American Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton. He had a clear understanding that a strong nation can only prosper with a diverse economy fueled by a strong manufacturing sector. He engineered a financial system that allowed the public and the private sectors to invest in the necessary infrastructure, technology and new businesses that the young American Republic required, just like Central American nations need today. After all, development will not take place in these countries as long as low-skilled Central Americans continue migrating to the U.S. because their alternatives back home, in small towns or in agriculture, are sorely inadequate ones.

(Read it in Spanish here)