Sunday, April 22, 2007

Migration Nation

The title, A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, should open more policy space than the Border Guard Bob advocates currently allow. The crux of this Sunday's article in the New York Times Magazine is that international migration is a powerful economic engine:

About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state — migration nation — it would rank as the world’s third-largest. While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.’s, most travel as Emmet did, with modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure for their families have just recently come into view. Migrants worldwide sent home an estimated $300 billion last year — nearly three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums — “remittances” — bring Morocco more money than tourism does. They bring Sri Lanka more money than tea does.

I doubt that the Burgh Diaspora is wiring (or will wire) millions of dollars back to Pittsburgh, but the fact that leaving one's home is good for personal and family prosperity is lost on those trying to solve the region's demographic "problem." Harold Miller writes in his most recent blog post, "Places like Silicon Valley, San Diego, and Boston had higher rates of domestic outmigration than Pittsburgh did (the outmigration rate in Silicon Valley was 6 times as high as in Pittsburgh)."

Leaving your home is a risky venture, but potentially one with a huge payoff. The people who leave any region are often the most successful. Why would Pittsburgh stand in the way of such ambition? If the city and region purport to provide their citizens with a boost, they should be facilitating migration instead of impeding it.

There's no such thing as an outmigration crisis. Pittsburgh is suffering from a lack of policy imagination and an unhealthy attachment to its natives. And when Mayor Luke played up the regional anxiety, he did so because he doesn't have a plan to improve Pittsburgh. He's merely pandering to his political base, telling his constituency what they want to hear. Like the fracas in Hazleton, hot button migration issues are the province of politicians who feel powerless to solve real problems. The Propel Pittsburgh Commission is a fresh dish of red herring.

Pittsburgh should try to figure out how to benefit from migration, instead of futilely and foolishly heading upstream. I recommend three initiatives:

1) Smooth the way for international migration to Pittsburgh
2) Help regional youth strategically relocate
3) Build Network Pittsburgh

If Pittsburgh is to have a migration policy, it should be one that works with the flows, not against them. However, if there are young people who would prefer to stay, we should do what we can to help them. But that's a matter of job creation, not more nightlife hotspots.

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