McLean column: Simple, but wrong solutions to big problems |

McLean column: Simple, but wrong solutions to big problems

Roland McLean

To paraphrase HL Mencken, for every complex problem there is a simple solution that is wrong. Humans intuitively seek the simplest solutions for problems. Probably that is why most of us disliked algebra, calculus and physics.

There always seem to be a plethora of complex problems, ranging from potential nuclear war with North Korea to water policies in the valley.

The simple solution that is wrong for dealing with North Korea would be to bomb them back into the Stone Age. However, that would result in death of millions, as well as the absolute destruction of South Korea.

The simple solution for water policy would be that water falling on the Western Slope belongs to the residents of the Western Slope. Judges bathing in Denver would take exception to that simple solution.

In general I believe in free trade. The simple solution for international trade would be no tariffs and free trade among all nations, applying the Ricardo Law of Comparative Advantage as modified by Hecksher-Ohlin. Nations would export goods where they have a comparative advantage and import those goods where others have the advantage.

Working in Latin America I saw the results of protective tariffs in Brazil and Argentina. Industries protected by tariffs were not competitive. Goods were more expensive as a result. In Chile, free trade forced local businesses to find niches where they were competitive in the world market. As a result, Chile now has the highest GDP in Latin America.

However, when traveling in the French countryside I saw the result of the French Meline protective tariff on agriculture. Passed in 1892, it has protected French farmers for more than a century from foreign competition. It has also protected a culture and a way of life in the small French, agricultural towns.

Currently there are two simple solutions to the immigration problem. On the extreme left the solution is to have no borders and no nations. On the right the solution is to send back all those here illegally and build an impenetrable border.

Neither solution is right. Trump is correct that, without borders, we would not have a country. Hundreds of millions from the Third World would flock here, overwhelming the infrastructure.

Sending those already here back is equally impractical. First, in fairness, we allowed them in by not enforcing our laws for over 30 years. Our country has been an attractive nuisance to those living in poverty. Second, most of us, if we are honest, have benefitted from the illegal or undocumented aliens here.

Most Americans agree that we should have an immigration law that would provide legal status to those here under DACA. President Trump offered a generous plan to legalize them as well as about 1 million more. However, that plan was contingent on the end of the visa lottery system, funding of the border wall, and the end of chain migration. This is a complex solution with which most Americans seem to agree.

Personally, I would advocate for creating a solution that would allow all those who are currently here to obtain a legal status providing they have not committed any crimes other than illegal entry. That status would be contingent on their proving they have paid income tax. If they have not paid, then estimated taxes for the years they have been here would be calculated. They would be provided with an installment plan to pay those back taxes.

Additionally, they would be required to perform community service for each year they have been here illegally. If they decline to pay the taxes or perform community service, they would be deported. Legal status would be given but without a pathway to citizenship. This would also be contingent on building a strong border and ending both the visa lottery and chain migration. This would be one complex solution to a complex problem.

Homelessness is a complex problem also lacking a simple solution. Recently, on leaving the Glenwood McDonald’s, I saw a young woman begging with a dog at her side. She appeared to be healthy. I wondered why she did not apply for one of the jobs McDonald’s was advertising. It would seem to be a simple solution.

However, just observing her I did not know what her problems were. Perhaps she is just lazy and has learned to make an easy living begging. On the other hand, perhaps she is mentally ill, on drugs, or an alcoholic. She could also possibly be a combat veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTSD. With homelessness rampant in the U.S., there are no simple solutions.

No matter what the complex problem is, solutions are not made easy by name-calling. President Trump would do better if he did not personally attack his opponents.

By the same token, the name calling by the radical left is not helpful. Recently, I attended a meeting to build a bipartisan coalition to oppose the large quarry being considered near the Glenwood Caverns. I am totally opposed to it, but one of the leaders asking for bipartisan support called me an old white bigot when I wrote about liberal intolerance.

While I will vigorously oppose the quarry, I probably will be reluctant to do it with that politician.

Words do matter.

Roland McLean is a Carbondale-area resident, University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column normally appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at

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