Migration and Development: lead author of this year's Human Development Report responds to my review

Jeni Klugman responds to my fairly critical review of this year’s HDR: Jeni Klugman

‘It is good to see interest from Oxfam GB’s head of research in the migration and development debate — however, this blog about the 2009 Human Development Report (HDR) misses basic and important aspects of the report’s analysis and policy recommendations. In particular, this critique appears to have missed the discussion about political feasibility in chapters IV and V of the report (see e.g. pp 89-92; 108-112). Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development can be accessed here.

HDR_2009_coverOur proposals to liberalise unskilled migration, with pathways to permanence, are both essential and feasible. If adopted, our proposals would do much for the world’s poorest and bring benefits to both source and destination countries. We also have a series of very strong recommendations that would significantly benefit migrants with irregular status – who are about one in four of the total number of international migrants and likely number about 50 million worldwide at present.

As a counter-proposal, this blog endorses a kind of World Migration Organisation (WMO). Yet countries cannot even agree to have any ongoing discussion about migration under the auspices of the United Nations. Hence, for example, the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) remains explicitly outside the UN despite repeated calls by civil society to the contrary. So the suggestion that the HDR should have instead recommended that the primary route forward be via a new international / UN organization seems quite ironic in light of stated concerns about political feasibility.

Our core package aims to overcome the barriers to movement and improve local, national and regional policies in ways that would especially benefit the people with low formal skills and few assets – and takes account of the large political and institutional constraints which exist.

In contrast to the foregoing blog, I am happy to say that we have had an enormously positive reaction to the report’s analysis and recommendations, from the media, governments, civil society and leading migration scholars. And downloads of the HDR09 are up more than 50 percent relative to the 07/8 report, with relatively much larger interest from developing countries.

The HDR09’s broad reach and reception, both online and in the press, often highlighting the policy implications suggests that we are indeed making important and constructive contributions to this important debate.

Jeni Klugman
Director of the Human Development Report Office, UNDP’

I’ve been back over the pages Jeni cites and there’s some useful material, eg ‘attitudes to migration appear to be more positive in countries where the migrant population share in 1995 was large and where rates of increase over the past decade have been high’.

The HDR acknowledges the political minefield and has four suggestions: link migration to job vacancy levels in recipient countries; be more transparent about how migrants can gain permanent status; public information campaigns to correct misperceptions of the ‘they take our jobs and houses’ variety and multi-stakeholder debates in recipient countries.

Fine as far as it goes. The suggestion for multi-stakeholder debates is good, but restricted to national level, when international debate is also essential (and indeed the HDR itself is a good contribution to it). Jeni’s right that calling for big new international institutions can be a waste of time, but the paper I reviewed (and preferred on the institutions side) did not actually advocate some vast new World Migration Organization, but a more modest and voluntary arrangement like a scaled up version of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which has proved a rather good forum for learning and exchanging ideas on how to strengthen labour rights in international supply chains. That to me sounds realistic, rather than naive or utopian.

I know it’s customary for the blogger to get the last word, but I think on this occasion I’ll defer to the comments. Over to you.

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Comments

6 Responses to “Migration and Development: lead author of this year's Human Development Report responds to my review”
  1. Matt

    Weird – UNDP and Oxfam try to out liberal Martin Wolf

    And more weirdly Wolf questions the economic benefit of increased liberalisation in terms that are the default NGO framework of analysis (economic benefits oversold, notable examples of economically successful countries that are small and homogenous, less benefit from immigration of low skilled, mustn’t ignore the distributional consequences in host country, costs in terms of social and physical infrastructure must be considered): http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dcb25106-ca41-11de-a3a3-00144feabdc0.html

    Is Wolf showing only a skin deep affiliation with liberalisation, or are NGOs failing to ask rigorous questions about power, distribution and economic modelling because this is an ideological blindspot?

    Things ain’t what they used to be…

  2. Gonzalo Fanjul

    I read this year´s HDR with the highest expectations, and I must say I was disappointed. It contains pieces of excellent material (including a good series of background research papers) and a general set of proposals it´d be difficult to disagree with. But its academic, equidistant tone weakens the ethical and political arguments, which is unfortunate.

    I believe the text fails to acknowledge that rich countries’ nationalist migration regime is not only immoral and exceptional, but also self-defeating. In trying to impose a unilateral interpretation of immigration policies, OECD governments are inviting migrants and origin countries to do the same. This feeds a restrictive system built on market rigidities and public micromanagement. As the Spanish case shows, this is bad for the high times (undocumented workers will take available jobs) as it is bad for the low ones (almost two million immigrants are trapped here, unable to work but unwilling to go back). Stating the fact that there is vicious circle between short-sighted leaders and voters is simply not enough. I wish the report had deepened into the political conundrums, helping progressive governments and societies to make the hard choices.

    As regards to the institutional model, we agree on the naivety of a World Migration Organization. This skepticism is the very basis of the paper L. Pritchett and I have drafted for the Journal of Global Policy. We argue in it for a very basic, trust-building mechanism that would allow bilateral and regional migration agreements to be registered and monitored. In my view, not only we are far from a WTO-like institution, but we are not even close to a 1948´s GATT. Again, I wish the HDR had provided some institutional insight based on the imagination and innovation that we have lacked so far.

    All that said, the hard fact is that the UNDP has taken the risk of producing a flagship report on global migration, and Oxfam has not. Actually, as far as I know any of the big international NGOs has ever campaigned globally on this issue. Considering the massive direct and opportunity development costs of the current system, we are losing a historic opportunity to fulfill our missions and do the right (uncomfortable) thing. Shame on us.

    Look forward to continuing this fascinating debate.

    Gonzalo Fanjul. Researcher, Oxfam Spain.

  3. Matt

    Gonzalo and others ask why Oxfam and other international NGOs aren’t more vocal on campaigning for more immigration.

    One possible answer is that international NGOs are stuck between a notional global positive (if you believe the maths and have such a global utilitarian bent) and a widely perceived rich country negative – particularly from a social justice centre left perspective, which is the core demographic base of NGO support.

    Having read the UNDP paper I can’t see many converts being won in the second category.

    For a social democrat in a potential host country the arguments from the UNDP look less than politically persuasive. And, more fundamentally, the evidence put forward on concerns about the negative economic or social impact is weak and unattractive. On both these counts there is a very large hole in effectively putting together a case that addresses concern around immigration’s negative distributional impact. It pays little attention to power and class and the question of ‘for whose benefit’.

    A couple of points here.

    Firstly, in her post above Jeni says that the UNDP proposals would “would do much for the world’s poorest”. But the report itself says “the poverty impacts are limited because those who move are mainly not the poorest”.

    As liberalisation debate veterans know, this is not surprising – those most able to exploit opportunities are not usually those with the least capabilities. Greater freedom of labour movement tends to benefit those who are most able to exploit legal or illegal opportunities – this usually requires contacts (through caste, class or tribe), mobility and money. The report also notes that the benefits tend to accrue to households – so doing little to build the capacity of the sending state.

    The political argument of helping well connected and relatively well resourced people from developing countries at a trade off for increased pressure on those with low wages and low skills in the host country is not exactly a ‘win-win’ for social justice.

    Secondly, the host country impact ignores a proper consideration of the distribution of costs and benefits.

    As the report notes “While there are overall [economic] gains, these are not evenly distributed.”

    Immigration tends to benefit those who have:

    • Higher levels of consumption as a percentage of their income, particularly on goods and services that are labour intensive in sectors that tend to attract immigrant labour.

    • Own assets whose cost increases as a result of further immigration (housing being the classic one).

    • Or have investments that benefit from overall lower labour costs and lower levels of inflation (owners of businesses in sectors which are able to reduce wages costs as a percentage of business turnover for example).

    Immigration tends to cost those who have:

    • Lower skills and wage earning power

    • Few assets or have to pay for higher costs in certain forms of asset that tend to rise with greater levels of immigration (those who have to outlay a significant part of their income in rent for example)

    The benefits of more immigration tend to go to individuals with high consumption levels, high levels of assets and investments. The costs tend to be borne by people with lower incomes and less assets.

    Without wishing to be to too overtly Marxist, you could paraphrase the first group as being “the rich” and the latter group as being “the poor”. If you want to better understand the politics of immigration you need to effectively address this.

    If the net economic benefits were large enough this of course would have less relevance – the generation of much higher levels of economic growth would enable redistribution to occur, compensating both losers and newcomers.

    But, from a UK context, the net economic benefit appears fairly small, this is a view not just of Martin Wolf, but of Lord Turner, Richard Layard, Robert Skidelsky and several other figures whose views are taken seriously on this blog (on an aside it is worthwhile reading a recent House of Lords select committee report on the economic impacts of immigration for a companion piece to many of the arguments put forward by UNDP From the UNDP we have “estimates using a general equilibrium model of the world economy” – a model not usually given much credence in NGO circles.

    Are the UNDP’s proposals sufficient to deal with these distributional impacts and persuade the losers to support more immigration? In short, no.

    In fact there have an eerie echo of some of the lines coming from the Bank and Fund circa 1999– not people from whom to take lessons in the art of persuasion. To take the following two:

    • The costs of liberalisation in the host country are short run, temporary and can be effectively countered through proper investment of government resources

    • Opposition to greater liberalisation is in large part driven by a lack of information and understanding of the benefits and the way to address their opposition should be to give them the right information “to correct misperceptions”

    Again, NGOs should be used to pointing out the flaws in these propositions.

    There are of course a whole host of misinformation related to immigration – and these need to be corrected, but it is not the case that the case for more immigration is overwhelming and persuasive to those who are negatively impacted.

    The impact of liberalisation does negatively affect poorer host country groups – their concerns are real ones. Poorer groups often do face lower incomes than they would otherwise have, poorer groups often do face higher housing costs and these lower incomes and higher housing costs tend to be structural – i.e. the price pressures either downwards or upwards are reinforced with continued immigration flows.

    The UNDP calls for short term impacts to be “effectively countered through proper investment of government resources” but it doesn’t give a convincing argument of where these additional resources or investment infrastructure will come from.

    Most OECD countries face substantial government deficits that will require spending cuts in real terms over more than the next decade – this will be politically difficult and fraught with tension. It is not the most promising background to request additional resource transfers.

    Equally investment in infrastructure requires not just additional resources but a political battle against very entrenched interest groups. In the UK context it is politically extremely difficult to build new housing – because it is against the economic interests of a substantial and powerful political block. Housing build is already running substantially behind need and this will get much worse as budgets run dry.

    To exhort for more “political leadership” here is naive. It also risks leaving both new immigrants and poorer groups within host countries with that classic unjust settlement – liberalisation in fact, but ‘help with adjustment costs’ only in theory.

    Yet without this investment economic and social tensions are likely to rise and the case for more progressive social policies in OECD countries and for internationalism in foreign policy choices becomes further eroded.

    Clearly, blog comments are not the best place to reflect the nuances and difficulties around such an emotive subject as immigration. But there does need to be a critical awareness of the social justice implications of policy choices here, without it we risk cutting ourselves off from the broader political alliances needed to fight against global inequality and injustice.

  4. Will Hayes

    Milton Friedman argued that we will always have immigration issues as long as we provide a socialist infrastructure to bribe people to risk their lives to illegally immigrate to the US. A similar argument could be made about our war on drugs. Let’s try less government. Unilateral removal of US and British trade barriers, tariffs and subsidies would be a nice start. Removal of minimum wage laws would help too. Productivity gains are best driven by lowering cost of capital. Lower taxes and tariffs would be a nice start. A world wide government caters to the weakest link, helps nobody, and has historically been so corrupt as to hinder growth of trade.

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