About a decade ago I lived in the West African nation of Ghana. It is a wonderful place with delightful people. For those who may be unfamiliar, Ghana isn’t exactly third-world but is most certainly nowhere near on par with economic industrial powerhouses from western Europe or the United States. Ghana would best be described in economic terms as an emerging mixed economy. Regardless of that official designation, if you dropped off the average American in nearly any part of Ghana, that person’s description would likely include the words “third world country.”
Ghana is a presidential constitutional democracy with a parliamentary system. Like the United States, it regularly holds scheduled elections and is dominated by two major political parties. For the past thirty years, Ghana has maintained one of the freest and stable governments on the African continent. As good as that may sound, saying it is one of the most stable governments in Africa is a bit like offering a back-handed compliment to a 50-year-old woman by telling her she is attractive “for her age.” In both cases the context is important.
Their two-party system emphasizes a major political divide. The methods employed by the major parties in their efforts to undermine the other are often at the expense of the people of Ghana. It is for that reason that despite all of its relative stability, Ghana will remain firmly entrenched in the lower second tier of the world economy.
I lived in Koforidua in the Eastern region. When traveling from the U.S. I would typically arrive in Ghana’s capital city of Accra and then ride about an hour and a half via taxi or bus to my village. As you left Accra the road that led to the Eastern region was four lanes wide, fairly new, well maintained, and properly engineered for safe automobile passage. About 60% of the way to Koforidua however, the road improvements completely stopped. With little warning it became a narrow, poorly designed, and abysmally maintained road. I held my breath in some portions if we passed an oncoming vehicle, wondering if we would clear each other without collision. It was little more than a car path cut out through the jungle. Some of it was paved. Some of it was not.
I inquired locally as to why the civilized safe road simply stopped at an arbitrary location. The answer? Elections. It seems the opposition party had won the last election and simply abandoned projects that the prior party in power had begun. The road was one of them. Construction has been scheduled, engineered, planned, and paid for all the way to Koforidua, but after the election, it literally stopped on the spot. It wasn’t a matter of serving the people of Ghana, it was a matter of reversing whatever the previous administration was doing, regardless of the impact. The incoming party oddly felt it was punishing the outgoing party.
I remember thinking (and saying to many of my friends) that despite the fact that the U.S. had a myriad of problems, at least we didn’t simply abandon projects halfway through, out of some twisted sense of political spite. I repeatedly pointed out that it was no wonder countries like Ghana struggled to make big strides in infrastructure and in the care of their people when they put petty politics ahead of the needs of those same people. I commented at the time that it was a surefire path to third-world status.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Biden administration.
Despite the fact that U.S. budget law requires the government to spend appropriated funds, within hours of being newly sworn-in President Biden announced he was freezing and intended to terminate any and all construction on a border wall. Less than six months later, a U.S. Senate Homeland Security subcommittee issued a report finding that Biden’s decision to halt construction on existing and already funded contracts for the border wall had cost roughly $3 million of taxpayer money every day. The U.S. government was literally paying contractors not to finish the job.
The security wall for America’s border had been researched, put out for bid, designed, approved, funded, and partially constructed. Materials had already been produced and paid for to complete the work. Contracts were in place to do the remainder of the job. American federal law requires allocated funds to be spent. Joe Biden however, decided he didn’t want what he perceived as Trump’s border wall. He and his team ordered all work be halted. Funds were still spent, but no wall was completed.
Like the parties in Ghana, the Biden administration somehow felt this action was punishing his opposition, Donald Trump.
During Trump’s tenure in the White House, 450 miles of border wall were constructed and/or replaced. Funding had been allocated for another 350 miles, a significant portion of which was already under construction. The July U.S. Senate report indicated Biden’s stoppage wasted $2 billion dollars. The money was gone, but the wall wasn’t completed.
Steel panels were designed and constructed specifically for the U.S. border security wall. Somewhere between $100 million and $120 million worth of those steel panels, already paid for by American taxpayers, are lying on the ground near the border, unused and abandoned. This past week the Biden administration terminated the last of the remaining border wall contracts along the southern border in Texas, meaning those steel panels will never be used.
The result is fencing and border walls that run for a couple of miles, only to end or have a tremendous gap where the job was left incomplete. In short, because it wasn’t finished, virtually all of the project has become useless. Picture a fence around your yard with sporadic openings and at least one full side with no fence at all. You wouldn’t expect that fence to keep your dog in or to keep strangers out.
Much like the incomplete road in Ghana, the incomplete American border barrier means billions of dollars were spent but the job never finished. The reason? Also like Ghana, pure and simple, politics.
This is dangerous on multiple levels. First, the Biden administration intentionally ignored the federal law that requires allocated funding be spent for its intended purpose. Realizing this could lead to a legal and political loss and forced completion of the wall, the administration took a second more shameful action. They went ahead and spent the money, paying contractors not to do the work. The poor American taxpayers were fleeced twice. Their money was taken by the government and spent, but they got literally nothing in return. No border wall. No protection. No refund.
Quitting projects that were started by your predecessor simply for reasons of petty politics sinks the United States down to banana-republic status. It ignores the intent of Congress. It ignores what became law the minute the previous President signed the passed bill. It ignores, or at the very least, dishonestly evades existing federal law requiring projects to be completed. It wastes taxpayer funds, ironically while this administration is demanding more taxes from that same public.
The reason Ghana cannot seem to build on what stability it does have, combined with the amazing abundance of natural resources like oil and gold, is because it cannot rise above the petty politics fueled by ego and one political party trying to harm the other. A road project halted with nearly half of the construction remaining defies logic. That prevailing attitude keeps Ghana stuck in the lower level of second-tier economies.
Halting a security wall that has all approvals, funding, materials, and contracts in place, particularly at a time when migrant crossings have reached a 20-year high on the American/Mexican border, defies logic too. A wall may not have been Biden’s preference, but one would hope he would respect the process and the American taxpayer more than he felt spite for former President Trump.
Sadly, Biden’s desire to undo any Trump actions took precedent over a respect for the law and common sense. This attitude runs the very real risk of sending Americans spiraling down to a place similar to Ghana.
Combine these irresponsible petty actions with shortages of everything from red meat to household appliances, a warning from the White House that toys and other Christmas gifts are likely to be in short supply this year, a federal government spending spree, and monetary policy that threatens to diminish the value of the American dollar (we’ll just print a $1 trillion coin!) and skyrocketing fuel prices and it is suddenly not that far fetched that we, the United States of America, the greatest economic success in the history of the world, could become nothing more than a third world country with crumbling infrastructure, a worthless dollar and a stunned look on our collective faces.
Thanks Joe Biden.
• Tim Constantine is a columnist for The Washington Times and hosts “The Capitol Hill Show” podcast every week from Washington, D.C.