In light of Patrick’s recent enumeration of American barriers to immigration, here is a new and noteworthy economics paper. In it, they discuss the literature on trade barriers in general, which estimate that the benefits from removing all other non-labor trade barriers in the world–tariffs and capital controls and everything else–would bring net benefits on the order of a couple percentage points of GDP. Granted, that could be a trillion dollars or more, which would be excellent–but not completely mindblowing. Removing barriers to emigration, however, they estimate could bring benefits on the order of “50%-150% of world GDP”. An implicit doubling of world GDP? While consider my mind blown.
Here’s another eye-opening statistic:
The Gallup World Poll finds that more than 40 percent of adults in the poorest quartile of countries “would like to move permanently to another country” if they had the opportunity, including 60 percent or more of adults in Guyana and Sierra Leone.”
And why would they want to do something like that? Consider that if you live in Mexico and have a roughly average income, you can expect to make around $15,000 a year (at PPP: it’s actually $9,000, but many things tend to be much cheaper in Mexico than here; PPP attempts to adjust for that). Consider also that if you were to emigrate legally to America and settle in Los Angeles, you would be able to find a large population of Mexicans and other Spanish-speakers, making the adjust easier. If you did that, and took a job washing dishes, you would be in line for a pay increase of 20% or more–and that’s merely as a dishwasher, let alone any of the millions of other jobs in the LA area.
Of course, economic choices aren’t the only ones that weigh in: Sierra Leone is likely so high due to the decade-long Civil War, a burgeoning drug trade, and other political factors (although at less than a dollar a day on average, economic factors are likely still vital). Many of these forces push in the opposite direction: it can be hard to emigrate to a foreign country with few other expatriates, or one where few others speak your language. And certainly going from being an esteemed member of your country’s civil society to being a dishwasher would bear an additional toll.
There are doubtless countless reasons why people wouldn’t want to emigrate, even if they could. But I’m arguing for broadened emigration not forced. The inability to choose where one resides is one of the highest barriers to improved welfare. If I was to be Rawlsianly dropped into the world, this is one gamble I would have a lot of trouble taking, and if there is one policy reform that’s benefits should be extolled more frequently and more vociferously, well: this one has my vote.