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April 22, 2007

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Dan Hirschman

I think your conclusion is basically spot on. The debate over remittances, migration and development has raged for more then 20 years (since at least an article entitled "The Migrant Syndrome" by Reichert in 1981) with no real conclusion as far as I can tell. In part, the problem stems from a question about what development means - does it simply mean better living standards, more education, refrigerators and color TVs? Or does it somehow mean progress in the global and/or local economy with a declining need to migrate? International labor mobility unquestionably contributes to the first - better standards of living (excepting, of course, the immense social and emotional costs faced by migrants and their families). The second is much more up in the air, but the picture is much more pessimistic. I think academics don't really have a clear idea of what they think these sending communities should be developing towards - perhaps this ignorance reflects my limited focus on Mexico and Central America, but there, few communities (if any) have 'escaped' a 'dependency' on migration for rising standards of living. There's a lot of excitement right now about hometown associations as vehicles for development via collective remittances, but at the moment the talk is mostly hopeful not practical.

For a great summary of the debate, I very much recommend Hein De Haas (2005) International Migration, Remittances and Development, from the Third World Quarterly available here: http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/index/G5356793XN13L098.pdf .

Also, great blog! I'm a graduate student in Sociology at UC San Diego, and I look forward to seeing more discussion about development, migration, etc.

Mariana Medina

Great comment. I agree that more research is necessary in the social sciences on the economic effects of labor mobility in development in the sending communities, or whether or not we should even care about that. As the previous comment says we don't even know what type of development we want.

I am looking forard to read more of your comments as well. I am a Ph.D. student in Political Science at WashU who is interested in similar topics, so I am sure I will learn a lot from the posts here.

dave

Shouldn't we be thinking of migrants as rational actors who aren't going to plunge their loved ones into the misery of separation without good reason?

What it means for development is a different matter: exporting prime workers to produce someplace else can't be good news unless remittances are a large enough slice of the old country's economy to fully compensate for lost labor and initiative.

There's a real debate to be had here over the distinction between mere income growth and development as structural transformation, one the profession's neatly ducked over the past few decades by focusing so zealously on undescriptive macro indicators.

Is the answer that we really just don't want them developed, we just want them to stop dying in such embarrassing numbers, regardless of the ongoing trauma of dead-end livelihoods, fragile societies and broken families?

Torben

Yes the issue of immigration hasn't been given the importance in policy discussions. Given the concern for global efficiency, it is paradoxical why policy makers( and some economists) shun away from open borders and waste their time on trade reform. Given the rebound effect of immigration on wages and prices, it surprises me why most economists and policy makers alike are trapped in the immediate impact of immigration. I think there is a lot to be gained from immigration, even from the unskilled labor!

Regards,
TKM

Helly

I have such admiration for Filipino families like the ones profiled in the NY Times story, that make personal sacrifices to secure a brighter future for loved ones left behind. Yet so many Filipino women I meet in Hong Kong cannot reap the benefits of migration, despite the personal sacrifices they are making. The commercialization and privatization of international labor migration needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that workers, not employment agents, are the primary beneficiaries of labor migration.

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