July 6th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Why more migration makes sense

Editor's Note: Ian Goldin is a Director of the Oxford Martin School and Professorial Fellow at Balliol College, University of Oxford and Geoffrey Cameron a research associate.  Their book Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped our World and Will Define our Future is co-authored with Meera Balarajan and published by Princeton University Press.

By  and , Project Syndicate

In almost every rich country, anti-immigrant fervor is at fever pitch. But it is a malady that must be resisted if these societies are to continue to prosper and developing countries are to fight poverty and sustain economic growth.

A higher rate of global migration is desirable for four reasons: it is a source of innovation and dynamism; it responds to labor shortages; it meets the challenges posed by rapidly aging populations; and it provides an escape from poverty and persecution. By contrast, limiting migration slows economic growth and undermines societies’ long-term competitiveness. It also creates a less prosperous, more unequal, and partitioned world.

Of course, there are short-run, local costs to higher rates of migration that must be addressed if societies are to enjoy the much larger long-term benefits. And yet, despite domestic opposition in recipient countries, the number of international migrants has doubled over the past 25 years, and will double again by 2030. Rapid economic and political change – and, increasingly, environmental change – dislodges people and encourages them to seek opportunity and security in new homes.

Against the backdrop of rapid globalization, the individual risks and costs of moving internationally will continue to fall. The combination of the estimated increase in the world’s population by two billion people, lower transport costs, better connectivity, and growing transnational social and economic networks could and should lead to increased movement of people. If this process is allowed to take its course, it will stimulate global growth and serve to reduce poverty.

And yet, while the incremental reduction of barriers to cross-border flows of capital, goods, and services has been a major achievement of recent decades, international migration has never been more strictly controlled. The classical economists such as John Stuart Mill saw this as both economically illogical and ethically unacceptable. Adam Smith objected to anything that obstructed “the free circulation of labor from one employment to another.”

By the nineteenth century, the development of steam and other transport meant that one-third of the population of Scandinavia, Ireland, and parts of Italy emigrated. Mass migration gave millions of Europeans an escape route from poverty and persecution, and fed the dynamism and development of countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and various colonies.

The rise of nationalism prior to the outbreak of World War I led to the widespread introduction of passports and ushered in stricter controls on the international movement of people. A hundred years later, despite falling barriers to trade, finance, and information, the walls to free mobility have been built higher.

Approximately 200 million people, around 3% of the world’s population, now live in countries in which they were not born. These are the orphans of the international system. In our book Exceptional People, we demonstrate that, on balance, they bring great benefit to their host societies. In addition to providing a much-needed source of skilled and unskilled labor, they contribute disproportionately to innovation and wealth creation.

For example, immigrants to the U.S. contribute more than half of the patents and Silicon Valley start-ups. They also contribute more in tax than they claim through social-welfare benefits or other payments.

Medical and public health advances have increased longevity in developed countries, while persistently low fertility levels and the end of the post-WWII baby boom mean that the number of native-born workers will fall in the coming years. As countries’ populations age and their fertility rates collapse, more migration will be necessary to ensure economic competitiveness and finance pension and health-care systems.

The effects of a shrinking labor force will be compounded by rising educational attainment in developed countries, which will leave fewer people interested in taking on low-skilled service jobs or in working in the trades and construction. Between 2005 and 2025, OECD countries are expected to experience a 35% increase in the percentage of their workforces with tertiary education. As education levels rise, so do expectations about work.

For the countries they leave, migrants often represent a brain drain. Even so, they contribute significantly to their home countries. Taiwan and Israel are testimony to the role played by migrants abroad, with their diasporas playing a vital role in terms of political support, investment flows, and technology transfer.

Moreover, migration has historically been the most effective measure against poverty. Remittances sent home by migrants exceeded $440 billion in 2010, with over two-thirds of these flows going to developing countries. In a number of small developing countries, remittances contribute more than one-third of GDP, and in a number of larger countries, annual receipts exceed $50 billion. In Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 50 million people are supported by remittances, and the numbers are even greater in Africa and Asia.

Both rich and poor countries would benefit from increased migration, with developing countries benefiting the most. It is estimated that increasing migration by just 3% of the workforce in developed countries between 2005 and 2025 would generate global gains of $356 billion, more than two-thirds of which would accrue to developing countries. Opening borders completely could produce gains as high as $39 trillion for the world economy over 25 years.

There has been much discussion of the need to complete the Doha Round of global trade negotiations and increase development assistance to poor countries. While these actions are vital, putting migration reform on the agenda is as important – a small increase in migration would yield a much greater boon to the global economy and developing countries than the combined benefits of aid and trade reform.

Today, powerful countries argue against migration reform and the development of a rules-based global migration organization. But more migration is in everyone’s interest, and the public debate about it is too important to be left to politicians. Deep thinking needs to be followed by bold action.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of  and Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011. www.project-syndicate.org.


soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Migration waves are as ancient as mankind. I suppose nomads and tribes in ancient times were the first migrants. After World War Two many European countries saw an influx of immigrants from their former colonies. Germany rose to economic power and had to import workers from Southern Europe to cope with their boom. Migrant workers from mainly Turkey and Italy flocked into Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia, alone or with their families. For decades they were loathed, as they never bothered to assimilate. Many Turks and Italians still don't speak another language other than their mother-tongue after having been in their country of domicile for 40 years.
    After the fall of the Iron Curtain Europe saw an another sort of immigrants – from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. They replaced the Turks and Italians, whose social status was then upgraded. With the arrival of these new immigrants, there were some, who broke the law and Europe saw unfortunately an upsurge of crime rates as well.
    The last 10 years we see more and more immigrants from North Africa. It explains why the European Union is keeping a hawkish eye on the development of the Arab Spring. Basically migration is a human right and the sense of welcome should be mutual. Yet it is a homework for bothe the host and the guest.

    July 6, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  2. Dick Hertz

    Deport the illegals and close the Border. America for Americans. Three hundred million people is enough. Why should we cut our own throats? Where do they find the idiots to write the sh it?

    July 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
    • Conrad

      Dick Hertz, judging by your name, your ancestors immigrated to the US. And, by the way, your German immigrant ancestors were looked down on by the Americans of English ancestry. And, what do "Native Americans" think of all this?

      July 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
      • Wasabiwahabi

        Wait a minute. Whose Dick hurts?

        July 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
      • jeff john

        Well said!

        July 7, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Educated

      Hey dick, they find them in places of higher education. Don't worry, you didn't make it obvious you never made it through high school.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  3. Onesmallvoice

    There's one good thing about the immigration from south of the border and that is that the people bring their language here with them. Compared with English, Spanish is a very pretty language and should be spoken here as well as English. My only regret is that my German ancestors didn't continue to speak German as it is one of the most beautiful languages of the world!!!

    July 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  4. someone

    I see that the Plague, smallpox, and AIDS are not taken into account here. They have killed 1/4 of Europe, half of Africa, and almost all of the native population of North America. All thanks to migration.

    July 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Reply
    • Wasabiwahabi

      What are you babbling about, someone? Bubonic plague was spread via the vector of rats, not people. It did not come to North America. AIDS has killed 1/4 of Europe? Really? AIDS has wiped out almost all Native Americans? AIDS was spread first by monkeys, not people. Smallpox killed off the Native Americans, more than Manifest Destiny? What twisted cartoon are you watching?

      July 7, 2011 at 12:58 am | Reply
      • someone

        Wrong. The Plague came with the Mongols of the Golden Horde and was carried on ships throughout Europe. Smallpox came with the Europeans and killed off most of the indigenous populations of the Americas.

        It is no coincidence that major migrations have led to societal collapses and the dark ages for civilizations. I think this is far worse than problems with the pension system.

        July 7, 2011 at 10:39 am |
      • someone

        And I'd like for you to find one of these monkeys that gives you AIDS.

        July 7, 2011 at 10:41 am |
      • Wasabiwahabi

        Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), also known as African Green Monkey virus and also as Monkey AIDS is a retrovirus able to infect at least 33 species of African primates.[1][2] Based on analysis of strains found in four species of monkeys from Bioko Island, which was isolated from the mainland by rising sea levels about 11,000 years ago, it has been concluded that SIV has been present in monkeys and apes for at least 32,000 years, and probably much longer.[3][4]
        someone, you're a onkey. No, more of a donkey, a real ass.

        Virus strains from two of these primate species, SIVsmm in sooty mangabeys and SIVcpz in chimpanzees, are believed to have crossed the species barrier into humans, resulting in HIV-2 and HIV-1, respectively. The most likely route of transmission of HIV-1 to humans involves contact with the blood of chimps that are often hunted for bushmeat in Africa.[3]

        July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
      • someone

        You are by far the dumbest person to post here. Are your replies supposed to disprove something? People did not spread disease (incl. AIDS) by travel (aka migration)? That seems to be the position you are taking.

        July 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
      • Wasabiwahabi

        some, I see you were born ignorant and have been rolling down hill ever since. Please, for the benefit of all, do a cut and paste of your citations and sources to show that humans are or were the sole vector (look it up if you can read) of these diseases. Mine are taken from the CDC and the AMA. Now, then, with the sum of your painfully embarrassing microscopic acumen. I see that the Internet contains much information (that would be you) and very little fact (that's not you.) Show us a source other than one formulated by paranoid crackpots such as yourself. If you are already a member, log on to the AMA, or even Taber's, for a good place to start. Bon tiemps roullettes.

        July 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
      • someone

        Wow you are so dense. Who ever was asking how the diseases formed? The point has been totally lost on you. Monkeys did not carry AIDS to Europe, North America, or Asia you dolt.

        July 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
      • Wasabiwahabi

        Once again, some has shown that there is no arguing with idiots. The truth is stranger than fiction, and someone is stranger than both. An ignoramus who, in the absence of substance or education, freely conjures them from the void between his plugged ears. He does not see reality; rather, he farts it.

        Fatua numquam persona altercare!

        July 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • jeff john

      and East thinks AIDS migrated from West

      July 7, 2011 at 7:53 am | Reply
      • Wasabiwahabi

        someone, try reading a book, a real book:
        Black Death

        It is generally held[vague] that the most infamous and devastating outbreak of bubonic plague was the Black Death, which killed a third of the population of Europe in the 14th century. In affected cities, proper burial rituals were abandoned and bodies were buried in mass graves, or abandoned in the street. The Black Death originated in or near China and spread by way of the Silk Road or by ship. Carried by the fleas on rats, it spread along trade routes and reached the Crimea in 1346. (It also spread eastward to the Yangtse river valley, and the resulting epidemic, ignored by the government, brought down the Yuan dynasty.) In 1347 it spread to Constantinople and then Alexandria, killing thousands every day, and soon arrived in Western Europe[citation needed].

        Nothing about your fantasy world.

        July 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  5. Olu

    at what point does it stop? when one country is emptied into the other? caution is certainly needed on this issue.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:01 am | Reply
    • jeff john

      Why it has to stop? it will stop naturally. Now reverse brain drain has started! we should think more broader.. we are the world.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:57 am | Reply
  6. John Schavone

    A world without borders, amen.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • Les

      It is funny how there are so many people for open borders, yet I am sure they lock their doors at night! Borders are created so individual countries can regulate and enforce the laws of their country. Open borders are for the anarchist, who probably don't make any contribution to society anyways.

      July 7, 2011 at 11:54 am | Reply
      • Hoop

        The open border loons don't mention the effect of waves of immigrants that are hostile to the current culture. Just ask the American Indians. Did you ever notice how these same people cry about wage disparity for females in the West but are silent when a muslim sets his daughter on fire? They are hypocrites and probably dumb enough to listen to analysis from the man who single-handedly destroyed Newsweak: Fareed Zakaria.

        July 7, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  7. Gary Janezic

    I can think of real examples why migration is not good for a country. It dilutes the currrent brain pool, the migrants bring no wealth to the country, they have no skills or education and have an entitlement mentality! Think not? See Arizona for example. before you can comment on Arizona, you must live there first! Unlewss you live ther, have kids i school and pay taxes there, keep your mouth shut! Then you'll see the benefit of migrants!!

    4USA

    July 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  8. Ayala

    300 million americans are enough. Look at the benefit the illegals from Mexico have brought. Keep wages low, take jobs from citizens, stupid and poor. all they want is to drain our taxes from legitimate Americans. You can import all the migrants you want to England where you live, but send no more here! In fact, you can take our 20 MM to see how much they will enrich your country. Man, yo are living in a dream world professor!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
    • Wasabiwahabi

      It's is the element of immigrants who are hostile to the existence of American culture, and, in the existence of the United States, that is more troublesome than that of those who simply demand free access to taxpayer provided services.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Reply
      • Ayala

        Right on! Europeans are afraid that immigrants will lower societal civil standards. They, like us do not need immigrants who are refugees and looking to take what they can from a successful culture. Unless educated, they drain society and show no nationalism or sense of our unique history. Wen our country was growing and we had abundant jobs, we needed immigrants to fill common laborer skills. Now, US companies have drained our country of jobs gone overseas to make things that are sold here. No, no more immigrants here! Send those illegals back from whence they came!.

        July 7, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  9. offshore letter

    Cool Post, Man

    May 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply

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