The migrant’s dilemma

Where would people end up if there were no barriers to movement?

The folks at Gallup, who recently produced some interesting figures on the large number of people from developing countries who  would like to permanently emigrate, have followed up with new data on where people would like to move to.

Using their survey data to predict the proportion of the population who would move if all barriers were dropped, they constructed net migration indices, basically showing the increase/decrease in adult population which would result if everyone got their wish. For example, below we have the top gainers (in percentage terms):

The US and UK aren’t far behind with 62% and 60% predicted increases, respectively. The biggest losers aren’t terribly surprising:

The biggest weakness in these indices has to do with the assumptions about movement: each person responding to the survey is conditioning their choice on current conditions in the country they move to. So if I am one of the Haitians that has ‘voted’ to move to the US, my response is conditioned on the current US population, before anyone else moves there. My answer (or, in the aggregate, the probability of choosing the US) may change after a 60% foreign-born increase in the adult population .

While other research has shown that people are quite keen to move to countries with a larger co-national diaspora, it’s not clear that increased net migration from a third country will increase the chances I’ll choose to move somewhere (it’s more likely that my preferences would shift elsewhere).

Similarly, my decision to move at all might be affected, either positively or negatively, by the number of people who have left before me. Neither of these conditions is taken into account when Gallup constructs these estimates.

It would be very difficult to actually get at the equilibrium result – one would have to constantly condition the survey questions, and make some assumptions about strategic behaviour (i.e. where would I move if I thought X number of people from another country are moving there, and vice versa).

I’ve already written about how I think migration is a key part of improving welfare in developing countries. Ranil has rightly pointed out that it isn’t always analogous with development, as it isn’t clear that there are any direct benefits to the sender nation as a whole (although some work has shown that remittances can have some beneficial aggregate effects).

However, from an individual-welfare perspective it’s a possible win. The question we desperately need to be asking ourselves is what happens to welfare in the long run under our two scenarios: do we have a greater change at improving welfare by importing poverty, or exporting assistance? I’m not sure.

3 thoughts on “The migrant’s dilemma

  1. Roving Bandit

    August 23, 2010 at 4:53pm

    What what what?! A *possible* win?! Come on dude.

    You’re clearly right about the gallup-general-equilibrium problem, but comparing importing poverty to exporting assistance? No-brainer.

  2. Matt

    August 24, 2010 at 12:28pm

    D. Watson – I linked that study in the post…. I don’t find it that convincing, as there’s little being done to control for the huge self-selection problem with looking at gains to people who have emmigrated. These are people who tend to be richer and more educated anyway (and the study points this out).

    Lee – I don’t believe in ‘no brainers,’ and you shouldn’t either. There are no simple stories in this world.

    The problem is that we’re generally *not* importing poverty, we’re cream-skimming.

    That doesn’t mean I think very much about “exporting assistance,” but consider this hypothetical situation. China has had the most success in reducing poverty. Do you think China would have had the same, or greater success if the entrepreneurial class had the chance to pack up and leave?

Comments are closed.