Thursday, October 13, 2011

More on Migrant Workers and Future Migrations

I was thrilled to have Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism use my post, "Migrant Farm Workers in the PIGS, America, and Elsewhere: Noting a Balance Sheet Correlation" as her lede news link on Thursday. Unfortunately, I thought the post might have the potential to generate many comments for a variety of reasons but so far has generated none. Imagine well over 1,000 page views by a quality reader base and not a single comment!???! I find that amazing. Perhaps the subject is too complex, involved, and overwhelming, one that has no answers, that it defies commenting. Or perhaps people are too afraid of being politically incorrect.

I had difficulty forming a conclusion to the article in regards to my observation about the strong correlation between debt levels of nations and states who utilized immigrant workers, myself. Since it was a gross simplification in observation was it only a mere coincidence? Or is it purely the inadequate politics of the "have/have not" societies of the Mediterranean climate regions in this world which somehow have a way of ending up this way? I was hoping someone would enlighten us with some insightful explanations. My own best conclusion is that this is no different from other problems we face, that it is primarily political.

So I'll continue with this one-sided conversation.

I noticed three related articles over at Project Syndicate after I wrote the piece and want to point interested readers to them. Again, you'll see that all of the writers of these articles are encouraging the migrant/immigrant worker advancement to be a positive happening. If, indeed, my insolvency observation has any merit, then they are all underestimating their statements about the short term costs to these nations and overestimating their long term gains. I don't wish to reduce this subject to economics only, but, if one did do that, one might assume this is just another example of privatizing gains and publicizing losses? The future will be filled with millions of underprivileged desiring to migrate to other areas of the world as climate change progresses, so this subject requires some thinking and planning, not just the sweeping of it under the rug.
——Kay McDonald

1. Why More Migration Makes Sense by Ian Goldin and Geoffrey Cameron
Of course, there are short-run, local costs to higher rates of migration that must be addressed if societies are to enjoy the much larger long-term benefits. And yet, despite domestic opposition in recipient countries, the number of international migrants has doubled over the past 25 years, and will double again by 2030. Rapid economic and political change – and, increasingly, environmental change – dislodges people and encourages them to seek opportunity and security in new homes.

Against the backdrop of rapid globalization, the individual risks and costs of moving internationally will continue to fall. The combination of the estimated increase in the world’s population by two billion people, lower transport costs, better connectivity, and growing transnational social and economic networks could and should lead to increased movement of people. If this process is allowed to take its course, it will stimulate global growth and serve to reduce poverty.

2. A European Opening for the Arab World by Volker Perthes
Europe, while afraid of illegal migration, needs foreign labor for its own demographic reasons – not least young engineers, technical staff, doctors, and health-care workers. Tunisia, Egypt, and the other Southern Mediterranean countries have an abundance of young people with degrees and no jobs, who often also need to acquire practical skills. This is most urgent for the Arab world’s baby boomers – those between 20 and 35. The next generation is already smaller.

3. Needed But Not Wanted by Ian Buruma
Apart from EU citizens, who in theory are allowed to seek work anywhere in the Union (Romanian gypsies in France might argue otherwise), three other categories of people have been allowed to settle in Europe: former colonial subjects, such as Algerians in France, Indians and Pakistanis in Britain, or Surinamese in The Netherlands; “guest laborers” who arrived in the 1960’s and 1970’s; and political refugees, the so-called asylum-seekers. Unlike in Canada or the United States, economic immigrants are not allowed to become citizens in exchange for their necessary labor.

Immigrants – not “guest workers” – who come for work are more likely to want to integrate to some degree, and to be treated as fellow citizens, than people who come with the baggage of empire, or simply as refugees, or, worse, people pretending to be refugees because they have no other way to gain access to wealthy countries’ job markets. But European welfare states are better equipped to deal with asylum-seekers and other newcomers as needy dependents than as people in need of a job.


  1. As to comments - my experience as a blogger is that there's no predicting which posts will draw comments and which won't, and it often doesn't correlate well with readership spikes from inbound links.

    As to your underlying thesis - I would speculate that the underlying dynamics in both Europe and North America are that the temperate regions industrialized first and the sunbelts much later, and thus you find the regions that are climatically ideal for fruit/vegetable growing (thus needing migrant labor) also being the places with recent property booms. So I'd see the two as common effects, rather than cause and effect.

  2. Thanks, Stuart. By no means did I mean to ignore the housing bubble as it was huge in Spain and 2nd homes in the regions of Spain and Italy (and the American SW, too) were all a part of the credit bubble, which is the underlying reason for the debt bust in Calif. and the PIGS. However, some of the building that went on was also subprime lending to accommodate the populations by number, not by affordability. And in developed societies with stronger safety nets trying to integrate new upward moving populations and their extended families comes at no small cost.

  3. Kay:

    I see your point that immigrant population growth might have been one factor contributing to the housing bubbles getting started.

    Texas is a counterexample suggesting it's by no means sufficient, however.

  4. Texas is an example of the role "politics" plays, but also many of the Hispanics living in Texas are natives, like in New Mexico, which makes the economic situation different.

    I also think that the availability of cheap immigrant labor to build the houses fueled the bubble fires in these sunbelt climate areas.

  5. Kay,

    As a native of Texas, from the part of the state where cotton was the crop in my early years...1950-1965...I know that, as Molly Ivins so succinctly put it, "The border is porous. When you want cheap labor, you open it up, when you don't, you shut it down. It works to our (Texas) benefit--it always has."

    Not only are there a lot of native Hispanics, many of them have been residents of the state since before the whites came and they hold Spanish Land Grant titles to their properties. When you get to know these grandee types well enough, they will let you know that they tend to view white Americans in much the same way the whites view interlopers. And they look down on mixed marriages between their children and the whites. And they are not overly keen about the current crop of migrants either. For the long timers it is a class thing to some extent.

    Good to meet you at the Prairie Festival...

  6. Thanks Luane, good to have met you, too! I perhaps know less about Texas natives, but I have great admiration for the tough souls living in New Mexico. I've wanted to do more posts about that area, but am always behind...