Must-Read: Tim Harford: The Real Benefits of Migration

Must-Read: Tim Harford: The Real Benefits of Migration: “UK Home Secretary Theresa May gave a speech… designed to polarise…. She succeeded…

…One statement… found the spotlight…. (Translation: immigration costs us nothing but we want to reduce it anyway.) Is May’s summary of the evidence correct? Probably not…. But there was a far bigger lacuna… [that] most commentators… missed it…. Migrants… prosper hugely… yet that prosperity hardly ever figures in debates about immigration. This is odd. I would not expect schools to fare well on a cost-benefit analysis if we ignored any gains to the under-18s. Nor would hospitals look like a good investment if we counted only the advantages to non-patients. Yet it seems that migration may still be mildly beneficial even after disqualifying any benefit to the people most likely to gain–the migrants. That is remarkable….

One might make the case that because migrants are foreign nationals, we are entitled to make their welfare a lower priority. My colleague Martin Wolf is one of the few commentators to bother asserting this openly; most simply seem to assume that foreigners count for nothing…. Being open to migration from poor countries is perhaps the best anti-poverty programme that rich countries can offer…. Whether foreigners should count as sentient beings in a British cost-benefit analysis is something I’ll leave to the philosophers….

How real a problem is… brain drain?…. Where developing countries do train large numbers of skilled workers–as with the Philippines, a world centre for nursing and midwifery–they also manage to keep a reasonable number of them at home. And… migrant remittances… [are] three times as much as is sent in official development assistance. Migrant networks can help make trade flow smoothly too. Then there is the simple matter of respecting individual liberties…. If we have gained anything from the harrowing images of desperate refugees, it is an appreciation that they are human. Economic migrants are human too… not pheasants to poach; nor brains to drain.

October 27, 2015


Brad DeLong
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