Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Exodus by Paul Collier

The word "exodus" has two common meanings that can be distingushed by whether or not the first letter is capitalized.  Exodus with an upper-case-E refers to the second book of the Pentateuch, the first five books of Jewish and Christian scripture.  The same word with a lower-case-e is used for any mass migration  or departure of people.  It's a Latin word that comes from the Greek "exodos" which literally means  "road out." (ex - hodos = way/road)

It is a word I would use very carefully in the context of contemporary international migration since it has picked up a lot of baggage ever since it was added to Old English in the 17th century.  I do concede that it does make a very catchy title for a book (or a movie) and is certain to invite curiosity whether the potential reader is thinking Exodus or exodus.

Paul Collier is a professor of Economics and Public Policy and the author of a number of popular books:  The Plundered Planet, The Bottom Billion, and now Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World.

Exodus is well-written, well-argued and accessible to the general reader who is neither an economist nor a political scientist.  However, Collier's background does drive his approach to the topic.  Both the political and economic consequences (the "winners" and "losers") figure prominently in his argument, though he does talk about the social consequences as well.  His concern for the impact of emigration on developing countries shines through and he summarizes well the pros and cons of free outbound migration from the world's smallest struggling countries.  Steering a careful course between the Open Border advocates and the ani-migrant forces, his conclusions are interesting but there are statements in his book that I question or outright disagree with:

The Diaspora Function:  Collier says that we should not be looking at the net migration rate (flows in and flows out) in formulating migration policy but rather the size and the behavour of diasporas.  Diaspora is another word that is used promiscuously these days and it's a hard one to define precisely.  Collier argues that the most important characteristic of a disapora in any country is not where they were born but how they act in the host country.  "What matters for the rate of migration," he says, "is the number of people who are related to new migrants and who are prepared to help them."

I think that this is very often true, but is it really dependent on the diaspora in the host country retaining some sense of connection and responsibility toward migrants from the home country?  Not all diasporas are prepared to help new arrivals, even kin.  I learned very young from one of my grandfathers in the U.S. that we should never help new immigrants from the home country even if they were related to us.

Perhaps the kin relationship and the willingness to aid new arrivals is not as important as he thinks.  It may be that the simple existence of a distinct community of nationals in another country is sufficient to encourage further migration.  Having cleared the way, the older migrants have already served their purpose as role models and no further action on their part is needed.  And are there any cases where older arrivals actually discouraged new arrivals from the same country?  Did their behaviour have any impact at all on the inbound migration flow?

Migration Controls:  "Migration thus affects many different groups, but only one has the practical power to control it:  the indigenous population of host societies."  This I reject utterly.  The home country has enormous power here as well.  True, it is very rare to see a country that openly prohibits emigration but there are many indirect ways they can actively discourage it.  For example, home countries retain a monopoly on the travel documents necessary to leave the country in the first place and they control migrants' access to the "breeder documents" so necessary to establish legal residency elsewhere.  They also use indirect threats like a refusal to renew home country passports while abroad,  loss of property or assets that are still within their borders, limiting the "right to return" to live or visit family, unfavorable taxation regimes, controlling representation and voice in the political system,  changing citizenship requirements, refusing or limiting access to home country national social welfare networks,  confiscation of remittances, pressure on relatives, or even asserting a right to kill them outside home country due process laws under certain circumstances. The home country even controls how a migrant can permanently leave a nation-state and join another by putting into place onerous procedures and high costs for renouncing citizenship.

Nothing impractical about the exercise of one or more of these options by the home country.

The "Best" Migration:  "The most beneficial migration is not permanent exodus but temporary migration for higher education."  I think he is saying this in the context of mass departure from developing countries.   One of the rationales behind the infamous Circulaire Guéant (2011) which limited opportunities for foreign students to stay on and work after their studies was to encourage graduates to take their talents and skills directly back to their home countries.  Collier claims that through the host country higher education system, "students absorb the functional political and social norms of their host country."  My answer to that is "maybe."  Students are in many respects shielded from the larger society and exist in a world that can be quite separate.  It is through work (for the most part) that migrants meet the host country people and culture and learn their values (which, it must be said, are not always positive ones).

Collier is placing quite a lot of faith in universities to impart  (and make attractive) a purely theoretical vision of the home country social model in a mere 3 or 4 years.  Furthermore, one of the reasons these students chose foreign universities over local ones is the possibility of working in that country for a time after graduation in order to get work experience and apply their skills to the  "real world".  When France announced that it would limit the number of work permits for graduating students the students didn't go meekly home, they looked for opportunities in third countries.

I think a better way  to look at it is that education is just one step on the long journey of accumulating useful human capital.  However long a migrant chooses to stay outside the home country, as long as he or she retains a connection to the homeland (and the homeland reciprocates) there is always the possibility that he or she will return one day.   It may even be at the end of his working years when he can not only bring back not only his skills, talents and experience, but often his investments and pensions earned in other countries (payable and spendable anywhere) as well.  This is an important reservoir of human and financial capital that can be nurtured (the impetus behind many government diaspora recognition programs) or it can be cast away.

What I would have liked to have seen in Collier's analysis is an overview of these home country efforts and some idea of their efficacity.  Assuming that Collier thinks that return migration is essential for the future of the developing world, then let's ask this question:  Do some countries do a better job than others of getting their desperately needed citizens back?

There is much much more in this book (including a proposal that developed countries compensate developing countries for their loss of human capital which I personally think sounds like just another form of human trafficking) but I will stop here and let you explore Collier's ideas for yourselves.  Nathan Smith over at the Open Borders site has published a chapter by chapter analysis of Collier's book that is well worth the read.

Bon weekend!

4 comments:

Tim said...

To your point about home or origin country control this depends a lot on to what extent the new hosts country wishes to recognize the laws and legal judgements of the origin country. For example Canada allows US citizens and citizens of the certain Carribean nations to enter Canada without a passport just a state or local government photo ID. Yes, US state and local governments still control the issuance of these documents but not in the same way as passport issuance is controlled. Additionally Canada will issue travel documents to permanent residents and other Canadian resident individuals unable to obtain them from their home/origin countries(In some cases Canadian permanent resident cards can themselves be a travel document). There is also the whole Canada/Eritrea fight as you are probably well aware of.

On the otherhand the US and Europe tend to give much more deference to the legal and political decisions of home/origin countries. In the US for example it is very difficult if not impossible as an immigrant non US citizen to obtain a passport like travel document from the State Dept if unable to get one from your home country.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Very interesting, Tim. I remember when I was a kid we could hop from Washington to B.C. with just our driver's licenses. Is that still true?

Concerning the legal decisions is that just confined to family law or are there other areas where the other country's law can prevail?

I know that the EU has worked to provide some sort of framework in the area of family law with new rules on marriage regimes and cross-border inheritance. Pretty interesting stuff.

Old Windbreaker said...

Exodus' (exodi?) are not only to developed nations but sometimes from failed states to developing countries. Somalis to Kenya, for example. And the results are catastrophic. For example the Westgate terrorists were assisted by host country Somalis. The largest refugee camp in the world is in Kenya for Somalis who fled the series of warlords and now Al Shabaab marauding around that benighted place. Conclusion? In many cases the economic benefits to the host nation are positive, especially when the host nation's demography is heading north. But in others the results are clearly negative.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

That is a damn good point and one Collier does not address. He's talking about migrant from poor to rich countries but as you point out a great deal of migration is regional - from one troubled area to one that is relatively better. This is a serious strain on the resources of the receiving developing country.