Growth is a driver of migration. Get used to it.

A seriously important blog post. Migration is a problem of success, not failure.

As sub-Saharan Africa increasingly rises out of deep poverty, more people can afford to emigrate and are aware that life might be better somewhere else. The propensity to migrate is positively correlated with real per-capita GDP. In Latin America, however, the correlation is negative. Potential migrants are likely to be better off at home, except the poorest of the poor.

The conclusions we can draw from this are salutary. First of all, they’re not going away. The development train has left the station, and one of its effects is that migration has become an option. Perhaps the pressure will reduce as more countries reach the middle-income level, but it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of migrants from Latin America to the US.

Second, neither calling for more development aid (that you have no intention of delivering) or giving lectures on corruption and good governance will help at all, because migrants, as opposed to refugees, are not motivated by desperation but rather by hope. Nor will yelling about “benefits”, because they’re not beggars but economic migrants in the truest sense of the word.

It’s also worth pointing out that the distinction between a refugee and a migrant is a spectrum rather than a bright line – if you can’t think of a way to persecute people by economic means you’re not trying, and as Rick points out above, development encourages movement for refugees, too.

Third, very visibly, they are following the same routes trade follows, carrying their smartphones and wearing their FC Barca shirts. You can’t have 44-tonne trucks driving in two or three days from Dover to eastern Turkey and not have people moving along the same roads.

The overwhelming conclusion is that we’ll just have to live with them. Punkt, ende. However I expect a lot of squirming on the hook before this sinks in. Like the War on Drugs or the rules of the eurozone, immigration is one of those issues where nobody believes in the system, nobody would design anything like it again, but it stumbles forward by the sheer inertia of incumbency.

3 thoughts on “Growth is a driver of migration. Get used to it.

  1. Exactly. It’s worth noting that Europe is far from being the only destination for African emigrants: North America, China, the Middle East, Latin America, all are destinations of note.

  2. It’s worth pointing out that the relationship between GDP per head and migration is nonlinear. The profile of illegal Mexican migration to the US has shifted significantly over the years: the main sending states used to be those along the northern border but are now mainly in the south. And most recently, total illegal migration from Mexico has dropped rather significantly, while migration from the much poorer states of Central America has continued. (Marco Rubio pointed this out at last night’s debate, although I’m not sure what point he intended to make by it.)

    It may be, in other words, that illegal migrant outflows will be low when living standards are extremely low (sub-Saharan Africa until recently), higher when they increase modestly (SSA and Central America now, China and Mexico until recently) and low again when a country reaches middle-income status (China and Mexico now).

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