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I spoke this week at the Global Forum on Migration and Development here in Manila, at both the government meetings and the civil society days. I came here to highlight the many policy questions about migration and development that can't even be asked until we have better data on human movement.
Doing research on migration and development is tough. Some of the most basic questions can't even get off the whiteboard because data on migration are so limited. If the government of Kenya wants to know how many doctors went last year from Nairobi to London, or vice versa, no one can tell. If a hard-working economist wants to know how many Pakistanis have temporary labor contracts in the Gulf countries, good luck.
Migration is shaping global development, but much of it is inscrutable. Even legal movements occur in the shadows.
If you're not a black person, suppose you were. Suppose you were also born in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which was already in poverty before it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. So you sought to better your life by getting a job in Chicago. But then US government officials forced you not to take the job, because DNA tests proved that you are not closely related to any white person.
Most economists who saw it no doubt reacted with skepticism to the recent assertion (by an organization pushing for stricter enforcement of migration restrictions) that undocumented workers are leaving the United States in record numbers because of increased Citizenship and Immigration Services enforcement. A far more likely cause is the housing market debacle and the resulting decline of jobs in construction and other housing-related sectors, where immigrant jobs are concentrated.
A subcommittee of the U.S. Congress has just approved a bill that would let modestly more foreign nurses work in the United States. New York Times reporters are concerned that measures like this, by encouraging movement of nurses out of developing countries that need them, could literally kill children.
What is the biggest distortion in the world economy? A forty-percent price gap for identical widgets traded in two different markets is considered large these days. In capital markets, investors would be shocked by a price difference of one percent for the same security in two different exchanges. But in the global labor market, wage gaps for equivalent workers differ between countries by one thousand percent or more in some cases.
Harvard professor and CGD colleague Lant Pritchett has given a stunning interview to Reason magazine that will be a revelation if you haven't yet been exposed to Pritchett's incandescent ideas on migration and development. Below are selected quotations from Pritchett in the interview.
This week I watched with a queasy stomach as my own research was widely reported in support of a belief that is the exact opposite of my findings. Citing a new journal article of mine, yesterday the BBC trumpeted that Africa is "being drained of doctors", and a separate story on BBC's French-language service implied that health professional emigration is directly responsible for deaths of Africans. (Radio France did a better job.)