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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.
As world leaders gather to kick off the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, CGD’s experts weigh in to shed some light on the ongoing debates, with innovative evidence-based solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges, and also discuss what’s not on the agenda but should be.
Migration out of poor countries will continue throughout this century. By wishing otherwise, and devoting all their attention to walling themselves in, politicians will miss a vast opportunity to shape that migration in ways that benefit all parties involved. That window of opportunity is open now. But it will not remain open long.
The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) is an opportunity for all of us to make history. I join as an economist with the many other government, humanitarian, development, and international actors mobilized behind the GCM because I wish for the Compact to rise to that occasion. To do that, it must propose new mechanisms for substantial, additional, lawful, economic labor mobility.
The world urgently needs innovation to shape how international migration happens. Today people who are forcibly displaced are seen and treated largely as a burden, not as a resource that can bring shared benefits. A new type of private-public partnership can offer new opportunity for some of those who are forcibly displaced. It can be called a Global Skill Partnership, and this note illustrates how it might work for Syrians displaced into Turkey.
Within a decade, Europe will require hundreds of thousands more nurses than it is likely to train. To meet the growing need, nurses will move in large numbers to Western Europe from other countries, including those in Eastern Europe. But Eastern Europe currently lacks nurses already relative to Western Europe, while Eastern European youths crave opportunities in skilled employment. How can nurses trained in Eastern Europe move to Western Europe in a way that benefits both regions?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recent research offers differing assessments of the overall, worldwide effect of foreign aid on economic growth in the countries that receive aid. To understand these differences, we re-analyze the same data and same regressions used in the three most influential aid-growth studies. In all three, increases in aid have been followed on average by modest increases in investment and growth. The most plausible explanation is that aid causes some degree of growth in recipient countries, though the magnitude of this relationship is modest, varies greatly across recipients, and diminishes at high levels of aid.
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.
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