Monday, November 10, 2014

Population Economics and Migration Economics

There is an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by economist Tyler Cowen. I quote:
Consider that perhaps the biggest economic news of the year has gone largely unanalyzed. In an article published recently by the journal Science, Patrick Gerland, a United Nations researcher, along with co-authors, developed a radical revision of global population projections. They argued that, contrary to previous estimates, global population was unlikely to peak anytime soon. 
To the contrary, they see an 80 percent probability that the world’s population, now 7.2 billion, will rise to as much as 12.3 billion by 2100. One reason, they say, is that a decline of Africa’s fertility rate is proceeding at a slower pace than had been expected.
Relatively underpopulated and highly developed countries could profitably take in young Africans and South Asians — and both sides would gain.
I hope the new projections of world population growth are too high. 12.3 billion people by the end of the century would be bad news for the environment (especially with the global warming that can be expected).

People move from one country to another (and from one continent to another) to increase their earnings and thus their quality of life. So the migration is probably good for the world economy -- and as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Cowen's point is that developed countries have aging populations -- more old people and fewer children. More accurately, the ratio of the workforce to the retired population is getting smaller, implying that a greater portion of production will go to meeting the needs of the old, and that there will be a smaller savings rate. He believes that importing workers will help keep the economies of those countries healthy.

It seems to me that we need a more nuanced migration economics. In the United States, for example, there are an estimated million jobs going empty for lack of qualified applicants; immigration of people to fill these jobs would I assume be good for the economy. On the other hand, we have a lot of unemployed people and part time employees who would like full time jobs, but who are not qualified for the million jobs going begging. Bringing in workers who would compete with these unemployed and underemployed workers would not help the economy. There is still a third group -- the immigrants who build new companies, invent new technologies, and create jobs. These folk need an economic environment where they can be fully productive, such as that provided in Silicon Valley; such environments are most common in developed nations. So the United States needs an immigration policy informed by migration economics. Other "destination countries" will have similar needs for policy relevant immigration policy.

Developing countries sometimes have education policies that produce not only the highly qualified scientists, engineers and other professional that they need, but more in excess of their needs and absorptive capacity. Professionals in these fields will tend to emigrate to find jobs, sometimes (often) so many of them that the home country will have shortages in key personnel. Developing countries also benefit considerably from the remissions of their people living abroad. Thus these countries too need migration policy based on migration economics -- and indeed education policies based on migration economics.

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