Michael Clemens is kicking ass and taking names over at Vice.
His best guess is population would rise 10% and this would have more benefits than costs, even to lower-income EU residents. But there are far more interesting parts of the interview.
VICE: Mr. Clemens, apart from political reasons—why do people try to migrate to wealthy countries?
Michael Clemens: People from poor countries migrate mainly to get safety for themselves and their families, and to get proper compensation for their hard work and study. Safety and opportunity depend mostly on what country you live in, and 97 percent of humanity lives in the country they were born in. For those of us born in safe, prosperous countries, such a random lottery seems quite satisfactory. Most migrants are people who have simply decided that they will not let lottery results enforced by others determine the course of their lives.
Within our own countries, we know why people leave neighborhoods that are dangerous, poor, or both. These are the same reasons that people leave countries that are dangerous, poor, or both. But there are two differences. Many people in dangerous, poor countries live with risk and destitution that even the poorest people in rich countries will never face and cannot imagine. And, of course, no one stands at the exit to poor neighborhoods, coercing people to stay inside with a gun.
…VICE: Alright then. But would easier emigration not hurt the development of those poorer countries that the people come from?
Michael Clemens: We are talking about immigration policy here. That is, we are not talking about whether people should or shouldn’t stay in poor countries. We’re talking about the extent to which rich countries should or shouldn’t forcibly obstruct migration. That is what “migration policy” does. A visa doesn’t oblige a person to move; a visa is a decision not to actively stop that person from moving.
So if we’re talking about immigration policy, the question “Does migration substantially harm low-income countries?” is the same as the question, “Does forcibly stopping people from leaving low income countries substantially help those countries?” To put it mildly, social science has absolutely no evidence of such a effect.
Would it be different in poor countries? How about in poor areas of Africa? We do not need to wonder that either. Parts of Africa that are as prosperous as parts of Europe—Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town—have spent several generations actively blocking most black Africans from living and working there. Many people in those enclaves claimed that this was somehow beneficial to black Africans, encouraging them to “develop” their own lands. There is no evidence at all of such a positive effect.
I think bringing the debate back to basic notions of liberty is important, especially the reminders about men with guns enforcing the status quo.
Even so, I would have thought it’s also true that emigration is not just the best development intervention in the world for the person to gets to migrate, but it’s good for poor countries too.
For instance, when people migrate out of a place, labor supply decreases, increasing wages and incentives to mechanize and improve productivity. Plus remittances from the huge increase in migrant incomes reduce poverty and increase demand, again putting upward pressure on wages. Surely this study exists?
Yes, I am too lazy to open the development textbooks on myself to the undergraduate chapters on “Migration” that no doubt supply this answer. Besides, the random responses from readers are probably far more interesting.