Alexander Slocum: Build the wall and save steel

For the Monitor
Published: 12/30/2018 12:25:07 AM

As we are faced with many crises, from the economy, trade, and now the U.S. government shutdown, one wonders: Are the so-called adults in the rooms of government really using all the best resources available to help our nation?

Perhaps the doors of their minds might open to consider help from our most valuable resource: our youth.

Young people often have a way of expressing themselves, asking questions and helping to solve problems that is truly inspiring. Specifically, what to do about the pending government shutdown over the wall, which ultimately stems from immigration issues?

I was discussing this topic with a senior from Bishop Brady High School’s FIRST robotics team, whose family had immigrated to the United States. We believe we have a viable idea worth sharing.

We started by considering just pure economics: The U.S. 2017 gross domestic product was $19.4 trillion. The government budget was $4 trillion. A shutdown affects about 38 percent of government workers, about 50 percent of whom might be furloughed without pay. If we assume half of these workers’ jobs are made up by others who care more about keeping things running then letting it go, about 10 percent of the U.S. government output is shut down completely. That amounts to about 2 percent of the U.S. GDP, or about $1 billion a day in real cost to the economy for the government shutdown. That means that five days of shutdown pays for the president’s requested wall.

It makes no sense to just give in to threats because one day the shoe will be on the other foot, and we will be without a leg to stand on. So let’s look back in history for some creative ideas.

Years ago, Chrysler was going bankrupt at the same time the United States feared the Soviets would invade Europe and overrun NATO forces. Art Buchwald, the American humorist best known for his column in the Washington Post, proposed a symbiotic solution: Instead of the United States simply bailing out Chrysler with a gift check, he proposed we should buy every U.S. soldier in Europe a Chrysler LeBaron convertible.

If the Soviets invaded, the soldiers would all drive their LeBarons to the front line and park them so the millions of cars would block the roads and stop the tanks. We could give soldiers happiness in new LeBaron convertibles, save Chrysler and stop the Soviets all for less money than a massive defense buildup would cost.

Inching forward to our current state of affairs, the Mexican standoff we seemingly find ourselves in seems to be that the far right laughs at climate change and is scared of a border without a wall to save the United States from hordes of pesky immigrants (who do the work many citizens will not) while imposing tariffs to save the steel industry, which is causing mayhem in many of our U.S. manufacturing industries. On the other hand, the far left is scared of climate change and laughs at the idea of a physical border wall, and says we are a nation of mostly immigrants on whose backs and brains we have built the greatest nation on earth.

In most people, the right is connected to the left by the middle, and in this standoff, there might be a simple effective solution: a modular, easy-to-install steel sheet piling wall where the left side of one sheet has a shape that interlocks with the right side of the other.

Each pile works with its neighbor to form a stable continuous structure. Sheet piles are fast to install using a pile driver and require no trenching or concrete foundation. They are typically used as retaining wall structures on bridge approaches and in all sorts of construction projects. Furthermore, since the proposed border wall is a national security issue, only Made in USA sheet piles could be specified. What are sheet piles and do we still make them in the United States? Yes! For an example, visit, or

Can this really be done? And how? Assume we use PZ22 sheet piling made from corten steel, which forms a stable iron oxide red surface so it does not need to be painted. In fact, to hide the potential ugliness of the wall, invite artists from both sides to paint murals, where part of the art is how to paint on the wavy surface. Can painting on the wavy surface yield different images when viewed from different perspectives? Can the murals express ideas on how to better get along and save ourselves and the planet?

Although there are many on both sides who say “never give up, never surrender,” sheet piling might just be the catalyst we need to turn a huge problem into an opportunity.

If 80 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border were made of a PZ22 sheet pile wall (21 feet tall and 9 feet driven into ground), it would take 4.5 million sheets that in total weigh 2.7 million tons. The annual U.S. steel output, by the way, is 86 million tons. So, yes, we can do this!

The total cost (assuming $4 per pound of steel installed) would be about $22 billion. Now, assuming this has to be built in the next 400 days, that’s about 300 tractor-trailer loads a day. This would be good for U.S. equipment makers, too. Why 400 days? Because the president needs this wall to fulfill his promise to the many who think we need it.

Democrats, stand your ground. There is no way y’all should authorize $5 billion for a piece of a useless wall as is currently being contemplated. Instead, demand $22 billion to support U.S. workers and have on hand a lot of reusable sheet piling stacked neatly edge to edge in the form of a wall until it is needed to reinforce coastal cities to hold back the rising waters of climate change.

With the wall acting as a full metal jacket to cover the border, never again will waves of illegals threaten the United States. Hence, Republicans can get back to focusing on things they are best at, and give Democrats responsibility for immigration reform legislation. However, the Democrats will have to work fast because with unemployment at record low levels, it will be very difficult to get people to build the wall fast enough to keep out the hordes that threaten us.

Thus to help move things along, the immigration bill should be co-written with the wall funding bill. These two towers of legislation can thus come to life with one signature to empower us all. Everybody can be happy and the nation (and world) can prosper.

(Alexander Slocum lives in Bow.)

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