Wednesday’s Book Review: “Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World”

9780199913107_p0_v1_s260x420Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World. By Paul Collier. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

FDR once famously said that the Daughters of the American Revolution: “Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” It was the tritest of all comments, reminding everyone that Americans of every background are all descended from immigrants. This book takes as its focus FDR’s dictum and explores episodes in the immigrant experience in both the United States and beyond. It offers case studies on the specific interactions of those from other places on the globe with those already in America.

The author, famous for his book The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (2007), a professor of economics at Oxford University and he seeks here to first describe what drives migration—his answer is economics, surprise—and the desire to better oneself. He focuses on migration patterns from both the perspective of the individuals migrating and from the nations and cultures that they migrate to. His emphasis on the social, economic, and political costs for both the country of origin and the receiving country is certainly useful.

Four major parts—the questions and the process, host societies and their response to migration, the migrants themselves, and the fate of those left behind—lead naturally into a final section that deals with policy considerations and what might societies do in the future to deal with this issue. Collier’s conclusions suggest that the issues are much more complex than those who support or those that oppose immigration.

Interesting, Collier does not talk at length about an historical and policy question that most interests me, the challenge of highly-skilled immigrants, especially those with scientific and technological capabilities. Because of this situation, in the U.S. and also elsewhere immigration policy has special categories for highly-skilled migrants. How might we seek to understand how high-skilled immigration began, its evolutionary process over time, and how it has affected modern American society? For the U.S., the 1952 McCarran-Walter and the 1965 Hart-Celler immigration acts have been critical to this historical trend. I would like to see how this history has affected policy debates, the language of the federal immigration laws, and demographic data for immigrants arriving before and after the implementation of these laws.

What he does emphasize, however, is related to the question of highly-skilled immigrants. Those who emigrate from the poorest countries tend to be better educated than those left behind. They also tend to be highly industrious and ambitious. Accordingly, their departure from their home nations leaves that nation that much worse off since they are no longer contributing to a successful future.

Collier questions whether those people should be permitted to leave, but even there Collier is unwilling to set up legal proscriptions on an individual’s liberty. He wants to strike a balance on how best to benefit both losing and gaining countries in the immigration issue. The real question here, obviously, is how do we know where that balance might be and how to achieve it? There is no good answer to this question offered here; nor as far as I can see does one exist anywhere.

Despite this, Collier offers an easy to understand primer on the issues of immigration in the modern world. Effectively, he presents case studies of rationales for immigration, worldwide policy considerations, and questions of national identity and ideals.

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