Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thoughts on Migration Innovation

Migration is a major issue. Yet is seems to always take a back seat to other issues, such as climate change, trade, aid, and so on. Ok, migration does recieve attention from the media and some political elites, but innovation of the concepts and practices of migration and migration law is scarcely heard of.

Lant Pritchett is one of my favourite authors on the subject of migration and a true innovator. Here and elsewhere argues that the world ought to adopt a system that is more like the UAE (without the widespread abuse).

 I agree with him, there ought to be more international migration in the world. I don't know exactly how this ought to happen, but Dr. Pritchett has some good answers. I understand that tensions can arise when immigrant populations threaten the livelihood of domestic citizens, but in most cases the benefits to migration far outweigh the costs.

Here in the UAE, foreigners (migrant workers) make up around 70% of the population. It is uniquely the highest per capita population of expatriates in any country on earth. The legal system that governs foreigners and their rights, is just as unique.

Basically, we have no rights. No right to a fair trial, no right to free speech, no right to freely associate, nothing. As such, human rights are frequently violated. But what are the benefits to this system? Over the next few days I will ponder this question and post when I come up with any insightful ideas.


The bottom line is that the restriction of international migration has a critical, depressive effect on the wages of the poorest people in the world. 

A story I heard once will help to illustrate my point. In California during the 1950's, many Mexican migrants worked the tomato fields. In the late 50's a new international migration law was passed which restricted the flow of workers across the border. As a result the owners of the fields could not afford to produce tomatoes any more and the Mexicans were out of work. 

For a short while the fields fell fallow. Quickly, though, a machine was invented that mechanized the process that once relied on the hands of labourers. Tomato production went through the roof, profits to California land owners soared and the wages of the poor in Mexico fell accordingly.

One could argue that this was in fact good for the world because the migration law forced innovation and led to higher returns. However, this labour saving technology, which is akin to restricting labour movements across boarders, depresses the wages of the poor. Which is more concerning, the returns to land in California or the wages of the worlds poorest people?

Until we can all move freely to wherever best suits our tastes and abilities, labour saving technology is bad for the world. Restrictions on migration not only keep poor people poor, but in light of modern innovation, also hurt the prospects of wages rising, ever.

Its also unfair! Just ask people:

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