30 September 2009

Why Migration Matters for Development

Damn you Matt, you scooped my "Migration and Development" post, and even got some climate change in. I love it though. Compensate poor countries for Western carbon emissions by letting their citizens move there.

Anyway, my post was going to be that Lant Pritchett is (was) in Juba today (yesterday) to give a talk about Growth Strategies. Which was good and will probably help shape the Growth Strategy for Southern Sudan. But it was also a grim reminder of the limits of growth. Ten years of insane Chinese-style growth will probably take Southern Sudan to Kenya's level of income. Ten years of ridiculously optimistic growth.

How about a development intervention which can take a Sudanese citizen's income to US levels overnight?

The potential gains to poor people of being allowed the opportunity to work in a rich country for even a few weeks blow every other conceivable anti-poverty measure completely out of the water.


The picture up top comes from this presentation.


Omair said...

I can see how this reduces poverty, which is of course what development is all about, but would it help development itself? It seems like an academic distinction and I'm no expert, but vague thoughts of sustainability are floating around my head. I'm all for opening borders, but I'd imagine opening for trade would do more than opening for migration. What am I missing?

Jesse said...

Let me get this straight:

Put Sudanese poor in the US and it raises their Income? Of course it does.

But it doesn't solve the issue:

These Sudanese don't bring back the benefits to the greater society. This is the same lame duck idea that Jeffrey Sachs has proposed at times. Money might come in, but it won't dramatically change the lives of the majority of the Sudanese population.

The key is investment in infrastructure ( Dambisa Moyo discusses this often)and the Grameen model is a very basic form of that.. give small loans to spur small enterprise, then let small enterprise expand. Lant has this much right. but his idea of shipping workers over here to work, even short term, is a mediocre solution at best.

Lee said...

Thanks for the comments, I have to disagree with both of you though. It is a slight paradigm shift, but what if we care about people and not countries? Just as there are "ghost towns" in the US, why not have "ghost countries." If a place isn't working, let people move to where it is working, just like they do already within national boundaries.

@omair - Trade is already incredibly liberalised, there are very few barriers left, especially when compared with the enormous barriers to movement of labour. The gains from the liberalisation of labour therefore VASTLY VASTLY outweigh any gains from trade liberalisation.

@ThinkingMansUhuru - As I said, even with phenomenal rates of growth and all the infrastructure they could possibly wish for it will still take decades for the poorest countries to catch up.

What if we massively scale up migration opportunities so more people are reached. And start guest worker schemes so migration is temporary and circular so more people benefit.

Migration can make poor people much richer overnight, and can also have big gains for those left behind. Cash sent home by migrants is already larger than official aid flows from rich governments. Many migrants return home with new capital, skills and contacts (look at Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf!).

Nothing else competes. And the beauty of migration is that it is completely controlled by "donor" countries. It is within our hands.

Philip said...

Off the top of my head, you're absolutely right that this measure would knock people's incomes up significantly. If added to the free movement of goods and capital it would be even better. (Given that we can't agree on those yet, I won't hold out much hope.)

So far, so classically liberally good.

Development is wider than just income, though. To issues cometo mind. One is 'identity' - open migration could cause greater conflict within countries that send and recieve migrants. Not that I'm justifying racism, but we haveto be aware of consequences...

Second, information - people already travel from say, the Middle East, to Europe, hoping for better lives, and are often disappointed, but unable or unwilling (possibly because of shame) to get back. There's a fair chance that this would happen to a greater extent.

In general, though, I think population and migration are huge issues, which I personally have neglected for too long. I must start to read up!

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