Migration is a skills mobility problem

02/23/13 23:05:00    

By Michael Mealling

I've been using stitcher.com while driving for my own personal version of NPR. On the drive back from south Georgia yesterday I listened to this one:

Development Drums: Episode 35: Migration and Development - In this episode Owen talks to fellow CGD Senior Fellow Michael Clemens about the relationship between migration and development.

Most of the podcast is spent dispelling the myths that immigrants cause unemployment. The easiest example is that if additional people entering a country caused unemployment then simple increases in population would do the same thing. In nearly all conceivable cases there is a 1:1 ratio of jobs created for each new immigrant. One of the more interesting points was research that showed that, worldwide, 59% of a persons income was determined by what country they lived in. In other words, no matter how educated, well-off, etc you were, all of that combined had less effect on your earning potential than the simple fact of which country you lived in.

The guest spends much of the interview beating his “stop all immigration at the origin country” strawman. It is a generally accepted economic principle that free movement of labor always helps and that when it occurs it is in response to bad policies in the origin country.

But the host is determined to get the guest out of the generalized economic discussion and into the effects of migration on individual workers in the destination country. Even then the economics says that the ONLY individuals affected by immigration are those that refuse to switch employment sectors.

One of the effects of a globalized economy is the mobility of labor. Since economies with diverse workforces grow the fastest and are the most durable, immigration is an extremely good way of keeping your economy running. But every worker needs to be taught from the first day of school that there is no permanent job and there is no permanent job sector. The best way to deal with instability due to migratory work forces is to learn early to deal with instability. Those that do will thrive. Those that don't will be the countries people leave.

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