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Migration and development, economic growth, aid effectiveness, economic history
Michael Clemens is 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, and has served as 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.
UN Member States are gathering today in New York at the United Nations Headquarters for the first round of negotiations on the Global Compact on Migration zero draft. It is a once-a-generation chance to shape migration cooperatively, for mutual benefit. Global migration governance is, in its current form, unprepared and insufficient to manage future flows.
The authors examine the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an experimental and intensive package intervention to spark sustained local economic development in rural Africa, to illustrate the benefits of rigorous impact evaluation. Estimates of the project’s effects depend heavily on the evaluation method.
Skilled workers have a rising tendency to emigrate from developing countries, raising fears that their departure harms the poor. In response, researchers have proposed a variety of policies designed to tax or restrict high-skill migration. Those policies have been justified on grounds of efficiency—making migrants or destination countries liable for harm—as well as on grounds of equity or ethics. This paper challenges regulations of this kind, arguing that they are generally inefficient, inequitable, and unethical. It concludes by discussing a different class of policy intervention that, in contrast, has the potential to raise welfare.
Large international differences in the price of labor can be sustained by differences between workers, or by natural and policy barriers to worker mobility. We use migrant selection theory and evidence to place lower bounds on the ad valorem equivalent of labor mobility barriers to the United States. Natural and policy barriers may each create annual global losses of trillions of dollars.
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.
Research on migration and development has recently changed, in two ways. First, it has grown sharply in volume, emerging as a proper subfield. Second, while it once embraced principally rural-urban migration and international remittances, migration and development research has broadened to consider a range of international development processes. These include human capital investment, global diaspora networks, circular or temporary migration, and the transfer of technology and cultural norms. We present a selection of frontier migrant-and-development research that instantiates these trends.
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.
This study uses a unique natural experiment to test a simple model of international differences in workers’ wages and productivity. Its findings have implications for open questions in labor, growth, international, and development economics.
This paper argues that every rich country should consider its immigration policy to be part of its international development policy, and vice versa. A development policy that includes migration will be more effective; an immigration policy that includes development will better serve rich countries’ ideals and interests.
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.
When countries select immigrants based on skill, what happens in the migrants' countries of origin? Departing skilled workers obviously tend to reduce stocks of skill there, but the prospect of skilled migration can induce more investment in skill. It is not clear which effect dominates. This paper studies one of the fastest and relatively largest exoduses of skilled workers on record, in the Pacific country of Fiji, which paradoxically produced a net increase in the stock of skill within Fiji. It offers evidence that skilled migration prospects caused that net increase, and evidence to rule out several competing explanations.
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