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Views from the Center


Jon GibsonJohn Gibson, CGD visiting fellow, has been given the prestigious Economics Award of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

In my circles John is best known for his pioneering work on the New Zealand visa lottery with David McKenzie and Steven Stillman -- arguably the best natural experiment in economic research on migration and development. This paper is now forthcoming in the Journal of the European Economic Association. It is the first successful attempt in economics to measure the true, pure effect on the wages of someone from a poor country from working in a rich country, purged of all migrant "selection" by a brilliant research design.

(Bottom line: Low-income Tongans multiply their earning power by a factor of five just by stepping onto New Zealand soil and for no other reason. Let's list the other development interventions we know of that can immediately raise a poor person’s income by that amount… Okay, the list is over.)

John's work has been very influential, and I find myself citing him in most things I write. For example, when Lant Pritchett and I wanted to make a rough cut at estimating income per capita by country of birth rather than country of residence, readers wanted to know how much of the apparent gains to international migration spuriously arise from unobserved differences between migrants and non-migrants. There are many ways to estimate that in general, but only the work of John and his co-authors provides a head-on scientific approach in a specific case.

Right now, among other things, John is working on an uncommonly rigorous evaluation of the development impacts of New Zealand's new Recognized Seasonal Employer scheme. This program brings seasonal workers from several low-income countries to work in New Zealand, mostly in the fruit and wine industries, giving them opportunities to legally earn enormously larger salaries than they could at home, and giving New Zealand the labor it needs. It is seen as a possible model for several other countries. He and his co-authors are studying how the program affects the lives of workers and their families from Vanuatu, Tonga, and elsewhere.

John and David are also working on a CGD-supported survey of the long-run international migration of highly skilled workers from poor countries across the Pacific. This sort of careful, difficult empirical work is just what the migration and development field needs.

All fascinating and innovative, and there's clearly a lot more great stuff to come from John. We look forward to it and congratulate him.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.