Monday, October 13, 2014

Moving Right Along. The massive and still accelerating cross-border movement of people across the globe might be the most portentous development of our times. ROGER WALDINGER

On July 4, 1984, the Wall Street Journal called for a laissez faireimmigration policy, allowing labor to flow as freely as goods. The editors asked, would anyone “want to ‘control the borders’ at the moral expense of a 2,000-mile Berlin Wall with minefields, dogs and machine-gun towers?” Answering no, the editors proposed a constitutional amendment: “There shall be open borders.”
The Journal has kept beating that drum over the past three decades, reflecting the views of American business, which generally believes that the more immigrants, the better. Most Americans, however, see things differently, as do the two major political parties. Republicans have been striving to heighten the already high barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border, while pushing to reduce rights and entitlements for immigrants living on U.S. soil. Not wanting to appear soft on lawbreakers, Democrats have generally played along, with deportations reaching an all-time high even under a President eager for Latino votes.
Similar challenges appear elsewhere. After 1945, Western Europe looked for workers abroad, only later to learn it had instead received actual people. Struggling to integrate the guestworkers’ children and grandchildren, the Europeans are now striving to tap into global flows of high-skilled labor while simultaneously keeping unwanted newcomers off the old continent.
While most Europeans and Americans are convinced that their borders are out of control, from the developing world the migration controls imposed by the U.S. government and the other rich democracies appear all too effective. Few Americans appreciate the fact, but one reason for increased illegal immigration from Mexico in recent decades was the tightening of U.S. border controls; there was less incentive to stay illegally in the United States when it was so much easier to just come and go more or less as one pleased and as the seasons and job opportunities rolled along. Doors to international trade in goods and services have massively widened, leading differences in international prices for goods to drop, but differences in international wages have grown immensely, making the economic incentive to migrate even greater than before. Although migration entails social and psychological costs that deter many potential movers, evidence indicates the ample readiness to migrate. One Gallup poll estimates that 700 million people wish to migrate permanently: among them, 6.2 million Mexicans and fully half of the population of El Salvador, Haiti, and Ethiopia. Of course, far fewer ever do leave.
Put in historical perspective, it is safe to say that more people, and people from a greater variety of nations, are crossing national borders today than at any time since the modern state system came into being, and that still more would do so if they could. The cumulative implications for global economy and comity are as enormous as they are generally underappreciated.
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