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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.
Last week I blogged about a research discovery. An influential study had found that a 1980 wave of Cuban refugees into Miami, known as the Mariel Boatlift, had caused the wages of workers there to fall dramatically. In a new paper co-released by CGD and the National Bureau of Economic Research, my co-author and I revealed that large shifts in the racial composition of the underlying survey data could explain most or all of the same fall in wages. The author of the previous study, George Borjas, raised two substantive questions about our research, which I answer briefly in this post.
Do immigrants from poor countries hurt native workers? A study by an influential immigration economist at Harvard University recently found that a famous flood of Cuban immigrants into Miami dramatically reduced the wages of native workers. But there’s a problem. The Borjas study had a critical flaw that makes the finding spurious.
An influential strand of research has tested for the effects of immigration on natives’ wages and employment using exogenous refugee supply shocks as natural experiments. Several studies have reached conflicting conclusions about the effects of noted refugee waves such as the Mariel Boatlift in Miami and post-Soviet refugees to Israel. As a whole, the evidence from refugee waves reinforces the existing consensus that the impact of immigration on average native-born workers is small, and fails to substantiate claims of large detrimental impacts on workers with less than high school.
We study a natural experiment that excluded almost half a million Mexican ‘bracero’ seasonal agricultural workers from the United States, with the stated goal of raising wages and employment for domestic farm workers. We reject the wage effect of bracero exclusion required by the model in the absence of induced technical change, and fail to reject the hypothesis that exclusion had no effect on US agricultural wages or employment. Important mechanisms for this result include both adoption of less labor-intensive technologies and shifts in crop mix.
A small pilot project between the US and Haiti showed that the US could directly and effectively assist Haitian families to earn dignified livelihoods—at negative cost to US taxpayers. That is, the two countries could cooperate for development in a way that actually adds value to the US economy. It did this with short-term work visas.
Many poor countries, especially in Africa, will miss the MDGs by a large margin. But neither African inaction nor a lack of aid will necessarily be the reason. Instead, responsibility for near-certain ‘failure’ lies with the overly-ambitious goals themselves and unrealistic expectations placed on aid. While the MDGs may have galvanized activists and encouraged bigger aid budgets, over-reaching brings risks as well. Promising too much leads to disillusionment and can erode the constituency for long-term engagement with the developing world.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are unlikely to be met by 2015, even if huge increases in development assistance materialize. The rates of progress required by many of the goals are at the edges of or beyond historical precedent. Many countries making extraordinarily rapid progress on MDG indicators, due in large part to aid, will nonetheless not reach the MDGs. Unrealistic targets thus may turn successes into perceptions of failure, serving to undermine future constituencies for aid (in donors) and reform (in recipients). This would be unfortunate given the vital role of aid and reform in the development process and the need for long-term, sustained aid commitments.
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 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.
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.