September 18, 2006


Migrating To Modernity (Sebastian Mallaby, September 18, 2006, Washington Post)

In " Let Their People Come ," a new book published by the Center for Global Development, Lant Pritchett reports that if rich countries permitted extra immigration equivalent to 3 percent of their labor force, the citizens of poor countries would gain about $300 billion a year. That's three times more than the direct gains from abolishing all remaining trade barriers, four times more than the foreign aid given by governments and 100 times more than the value of debt relief.

It's true that there's a downside to immigration from poor countries. This isn't that it depresses wages in the United States; researchers find that this effect is small or nonexistent . Rather, it's that when doctors, nurses and other skilled people leave Africa, they hit the development process in its weak spot . A lack of trained workers is a more serious obstacle to poverty reduction than any lack of money.

Still, Pritchett's numbers show that the development gains from migration swamp the brain-drain problem. For the migrants themselves, a ticket to the rich world is the fast track out of poverty: A laborer who moves from San Salvador to Phoenix can multiply his income without altering the type of work he does or how good he is at it. And this process benefits developing countries, too. Migrants send home remittances, which exceed aid flows and are probably more effective, since the migrants ensure that their hard-earned cash is used productively by relatives. After a few years the migrants may return home armed with savings and ideas. The brain drain becomes a brain gain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2006 7:48 AM
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