17 January 2007

Migration: get rid of barriers to goods and services first

I haven't yet read Philippe Legrain's book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, but I have read this article (amongst others) on the subject: Don't believe this claptrap. Migrants are no threat to us, in which Legrain says:

Just as EU trade barriers that prevent African farmers selling the fruits of their labour in Britain are unfair, so are immigration controls that stop Africans selling their labour here.
I agree 100 per cent with this comment. But I'd rather see the trade barriers come down first. Then let migrants decide to come to the west because they want to, not because they have no chance of prospering in their own country. We need and want willing migrants, not those compelled to come here because we stifle their country's development by corrupt, insane trade barriers like the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

A related point, and one that I have not seen mentioned in other reviews, is the effects that emigrants from the third world have on the country from which they depart. Much of the discussion that there is centres on the financial remittances that flow back from the rich countries. But there are incalculable social costs that arise when a country's most ambitious, energetic and talented people would rather work in a foreign country than try to improve their country from within.


Mike Linksvayer said...

Regarding removing trade barriers first, I replied to a similar comment you left long ago at http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/2006/09/18/open-border-gains/

Gains from migration appear to be larger than those from liberalizing trade. Even if that weren't the case, I'd take either, or both. I don't control what becomes politically possible and when.

Regarding costs to those remaining in a source jurisdiction, most recent research shows that migration of the most skilled is positive for source and destination. See the paper I cited in http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/2007/01/19/brain-drain-ip/ for some references.

Ronnie Horesh said...

Thanks Mike. You say "Gains from migration appear to be larger than those from liberalizing trade. Even if that weren't the case, I'd take either, or both. I don't control what becomes politically possible and when." Fine, but we are talking about what we'd ideally like to see.

I'm also not sure I agree with the narrow definition of "gains" that I suspect is being used by the research. It's quite likely, for instance, that migration undermines the willingness of a host country to maintain a welfare state.

On your second point. I can't argue with the research, though I suspect (again) that emigration of a country's best and brightest, positive for that country at first, turns negative when the proportion leaving becomes very large. And again, there may be a conflict between narrow and broad definitions of gains. Pacific Island countries who lose virtually all their ambitious people to Australia and New Zealand might be financially better off. But the gap in terms of governance between these island states and the west grows wider over time.

Mike Linksvayer said...

The "undermines" link to is mostly speculation. According to the Economist's review Legrain's book has some evidence that immigration does not reduce support for the welfare state. But that would not be a bad thing in my book.

I don't think individuals should be held back for the good of those who remain even if the result of emigration is that the old country goes to hell in a handbasket. But the evidence says otherwise anyway.

Ronnie Horesh said...

Thanks again Mike. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this. I'd still like to see totally free trade first, then let people move if they still feel they need to. I also should like more people to be consulted as to what their country's immigration policy should be. We are more than economic units, and even if the (financial) gains of free immigration are greater than the losses, that doesn't mean a majority of people (in the immigration-prone countries) would support it. The distribution of those gains is one thing; the other is that intangible; what we call 'society', or a feeling of community, of wanting to share values with (and pay taxes to support) people with whom you can identify.