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Migration and development, economic growth, aid effectiveness, economic history
Michael Clemens is co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he studies the economic effects and causes of migration around the world. He has published on migration, development, economic history, and impact evaluation, in peer-reviewed academic journals including the American Economic Review, and his research has been awarded the Royal Economic Society Prize. He also serves as a Research Fellow at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany, an Associate Editor of the Journal of Population Economics and World Development. He is the author of the book The Walls of Nations, forthcoming from Columbia University Press. Previously, Clemens has been an Affiliated Associate Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University, a visiting scholar at New York University, and a consultant for the World Bank, Bain & Co., the Environmental Defense Fund, and the United Nations Development Program. He has lived and worked in Colombia, Brazil, and Turkey. He received his PhD from the Department of Economics at Harvard University, specializing in economic development, public finance, and economic history.
Workers from poor countries can find enormous economic opportunity by working temporarily in a rich country. But agencies that fight global poverty do little to facilitate guest work. This may be because guest workers are perceived to typically suffer negative side effects that outweigh the benefits. This paper uses a natural experiment to test several perceptions of harmful side-effects on Indian guest workers in the Gulf. The research shows little evidence that the harmful side-effects often ascribed to guest work are typical and systematic, though this does not contradict the occurrence of many individual cases of harmful side-effects.
The arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants in Europe has brought widespread concern they will become an economic drain on the countries that welcome them. When economists have studied past influxes of refugees and migrants they have found the labor market effects, while varied, are very limited, and can in fact be positive.
From 2011 to 2016, about 179,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were apprehended entering the United States. While the crisis received ample media attention, limited data has meant little rigorous analysis of what made those children move. Using unprecedented data on each apprehension, we measure how violence in these children’s hometowns shaped their migration. In the average municipality the children came from, 10 additional homicides caused about six additional apprehensions.
In 2014, unprecedented numbers of children and families began crossing the southern border of the United States, sparking an ongoing debate on what was driving them and how the U.S. should respond. Using data provided by the Department of Homeland Security, new research by Michael Clemens finds the flow of unaccompanied child migrants to the United States has been driven by a complex mix of violence and economic forces. How do these elements interact, and how can foreign policy be a form of migration policy?
CGD experts Michael Clemens and Gaurav Khanna look at high- and low-skilled workers from three countries across several decades. Different studies, different perspectives—but all pointing at the same thing: immigrants have an overwhelmingly net positive effect on the US economy.
On August 2, the White House unveiled a plan to make drastic cuts to legal immigration. CGD experts have written and researched extensively on this hot topic, and have been quoted widely in recent media coverage. Spoiler alert: immigration has an overwhelmingly net positive effect on the US economy.
As waves of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and the US Southwest border, development agencies have received a de facto mandate: to deter migration from poor countries. Will it work? Here we review the evidence on whether foreign aid has been directed toward these “root causes” in the past, whether it has deterred migration from poor countries, and whether it can do so.
Our most common intuition about migration and development is just as clear: more development must cause less migration. Won’t economic growth in, say, Haiti mean that fewer Haitians want to leave? This seems as plain as the sun crossing the sky, but the data simply do not support it.
Barriers to emigration cost the world economy much more than all remaining barriers to the international movement of goods and capital combined, but they are given little attention by economists. Michael Clemens writes that they deserve a much higher research priority and sketches a four-point research agenda.
Zimbabwe has experienced a precipitous collapse in its economy over the past five years. The government blames its economic problems on external forces and drought. We assess these claims, but find that the economic crisis has cost the government far more in key budget resources than has the donor pullout. We show that low rainfall cannot account for the shock either. This leaves economic misrule as the only plausible cause of Zimbabwe’s economic regression, the decline in welfare, and unnecessary deaths of its children.
In response to the recent migrant and refugee crisis, rich countries have redoubled policy efforts to deter future immigration from poor countries by addressing the “root causes” of migration. We review existing evidence on the extent and effectiveness of such efforts.
The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President shows how modest changes in U.S. policies could greatly improve the lives of poor people in developing countries, thus fostering greater stability, security, and prosperity globally and at home. Center for Global Development experts offer fresh perspectives and practical advice on trade policy, migration, foreign aid, climate change and more. In an introductory essay, CGD President Nancy Birdsall explains why and how the next U.S. president must lead in the creation of a better, safer world.
The emigration of skilled workers from developing countries is often referred to as brain drain and considered something that should be limited. In this paper, resident fellow Michael Clemens takes the term to task and shows instead that a more open skill flow—a more accurate and neutral label—would both benefit home countries and guarantee workers the freedom that is the hallmark of development.
Economists often use instrumental variables to demonstrate a causal relationship between some trait of a country and economic growth. In this new analysis, Samuel Bazzi and Michael Clemens show that a variety of instrumental variables used in top economics journals have severe but hidden limitations. They present three guidelines to improve future empirical studies of growth determinants.
Does the emigration of highly educated people necessarily deplete skills in developing countries through a brain drain? Maybe not. In Fiji, according to a new CGD working paper by Satish Chand and CGD research fellow Michael Clemens, the sudden and massive departure of people with higher education not only raised investment in tertiary education but also increased the number of well-educated people inside Fiji, even after subtracting those who had left.
Are your wages determined by what you know, or where you are? This paper estimates how the wages of workers in 42 developing countries would change if the same people could work in the United States. It uses a rich new database on over two million workers around the world. A worker from the median country would earn about 2.7 times as much in the US as at home. This means that (1) for many countries, the wage gaps caused by barriers to movement across international borders are among the largest known forms of wage discrimination; (2) these gaps represent one of the largest remaining price distortions in any global market; and (3) simply allowing labor mobility can reduce a given household’s poverty to a much greater degree than most known antipoverty interventions inside developing countries.
Data on the average income of a resident of Ecuador is easy to find. But until now there has been no data on the average income of a person born in Ecuador, regardless of where she or he lives. In this paper, research fellow Michael Clemens and non-resident fellow Lant Pritchett introduce a new dataset, income per natural: the mean annual income of persons born in a given country regardless of residence. Turns out that defining things this way makes a big difference, and not just for tiny nations. Income per natural differs by more than 10% from income per resident for dozens of countries including Vietnam, Kenya and Morocco. In other words, one of the largest sources of increased income for people in many parts of the developing world is moving to another country.
Large numbers of African nurses and doctors are emigrating to the U.S., U.K., Australia and other rich countries. These movements strain local health systems and deprive sick people of urgently needed care. Right? Think again. What if wages and working conditions in city slums and rural villages are so dismal that trained health workers are unwilling to work there, regardless of migration options? What if the possibility of migration actually causes more people in developing countries to train as health care workers? Drawing on a new database of health worker emigration from Africa, CGD research fellow Michael Clemens finds that the conventional wisdom about the impact of doctors and nurses migration is entirely wrong. Visas, he concludes, do not kill. Learn more
The migration of doctors and nurses from Africa to rich countries has raised fears of an African medical brain drain. Research on the issue has been hampered by lack of data. How many doctors and nurses have left Africa? Which countries did they leave? Where have they settled? To answer these questions, CGD researchers compiled the first dataset of cumulative bilateral net flows of African-born physicians and nurses to the nine most important destination countries. Learn more
The international goal for rich countries to devote 0.7% of their national income to development assistance has become a cause célèbre for aid activists and has been accepted in many official quarters as the legitimate target for aid budgets. The origins of the target, however, raise serious questions about its relevance.