28 September 2011

Brain Drain and Remittances – Yer Missing the Point!

Michael Clemens made a really great analogy on the CGD wonkcast between research on migration and research on the entry of women into the labor force:
Suppose that I was a labor economist studying the entry of women into the labor force, and most of the papers I wrote were trying to document is this a good thing.
Well, first of all, are they giving enough money to their husbands? What are their husbands really doing with it? Are they buying alcohol or not?
And second, what about the loss to their kids, and the terrible effects that fewer of them are being teachers and nurses any more. What’s happening to the kids in the schoolroom?
All concerns that are not crazy, that could be thought of as legitimate. But if there is very little research on the gains to women, the fact that women are now investment bankers and presidents, things that weren’t thinkable before they entered the labor force. If we really weren’t studying those things at all, or if they were thought to be uninteresting, what would that say about our underlying conception of the world?
The analogy to development is that I really think people in development are much too focused on developing countries rather than developing people.


Matt said...

I thought it was a good analogy as well - at first. But here's the problem - you can't really compare intrahousehold relationships and that of migrants and non-migrants from different households. Yes, it's great that these people benefit, and I think we'd all agree that the benefits to migrants (AND their families) is huge. But most people don't/can't migrate and don't have household members who migrate. These people are much, much more likely to be in poverty, especially when migration boils down to cream-skimming (which is the most politically acceptable type of migration, to host countries).

Development economists are primarily concerned with getting people out of poverty. Remittances haven't been shown to do much for those who don't have a migrating household member. Yes, let's focus on the gains to migrants - but these people weren't the poorest anyway. We're increasing welfare, but not decreasing poverty.

Lee Crawfurd said...

Maybe just maybe if migration was considered to be a development-relevant thing, there might be more interest in allowing some of the poorest (at least temporary) migration? Probably a long shot. 

And actually, you're right - intra-household spillovers should be LARGER than intra-country spillovers, and yet with female labour force participation we STILL focus on the woman and not the spillover, right?

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