Friday, January 20, 2012

Migration Versus Population Growth

Better to boom with migrants than babies. Conventional wisdom associates population growth with economic growth. This perspective is unsustainable. I also think it is wrong. The simple act of moving to a new place is economic development. The United States is in trouble:

For the last 20 years — from the end of the cold war through two burst bubbles in a single decade — the U.S. has been casting about for its next economic narrative. And now it is experiencing another period of panic, which is bad news for much of the work force but particularly for its youngest members. The U.S. has always been a remarkably itinerant country, but new data from the Census Bureau indicate that mobility has reached its lowest level in recorded history. Sure, some people are stuck in homes valued at less than their mortgages, but many young people — who don’t own homes and don’t yet have families — are staying put, too. This suggests, among other things, that people aren’t packing up for new economic opportunities the way they used to. Rather than dividing the country into the 1 percenters versus everyone else, the split in our economy is really between two other classes: the mobile and immobile.

Having lots of babies won't do an inert and isolated community much good. The growing numbers of people is more burden than boon. There is no density dividend for such a place. Welcome to North Korea:

Because North Korea shuts out people, it shuts out ideas. That's one big reason why it is a starving backwater. Its more open cousin, South Korea, which welcomes foreigners and sends hordes of students and businesspeople abroad each year, is 17 times richer.

South Koreans worry whether their children will make it to the right university; North Koreans worry whether their children will make it to the age of five.

The central message of my book, Borderless Economics, is that when people move around, they spread new ideas, mostly for the better.

I'm still in the middle of reading Robert Guest's book, "Borderless Economics". Guest is arguing that when you squash migration, you kill innovation. You get North Korea. The United States isn't transforming into North Korea. Immigration to this country is a tremendous economic asset. Guest makes this point in his book. He's advocating for more liberal immigration policies throughout the world. Migration fuels economic growth.

My point is that the same is true on the domestic front. Exporting talent like China does (again, read Guest's book and see this article that he recently wrote) is a great way to catalyze economic development. Rick Steves makes a similar case about more Americans studying abroad:

Educators are particularly concerned that the lack of opportunity for students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds will cause a "global divide" between students who've benefited from a global education … and those who haven't. And students for whom foreign travel is not easily affordable are the ones who benefit most from the experience. As a society, we can help enrich the education of our younger generation, and brighten their futures, by making this experience more accessible. The Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, currently being considered in Congress, would dedicate $80 million annually to incentivize study abroad, with the goal of encouraging a million American students from a wide range of backgrounds to study abroad each year.

I'd go further. I think we should  incentivize Americans to live and work abroad. Allow college students to spend their last year abroad and graduate while in a foreign country. Help those students find work once they do finish school. Let them spend a year or two developing a network. Our country doesn't have enough emigration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

'I think we should incentivize Americans to live and work abroad.' It would certainly make American voters less provincial.