International shield

With the ‘siege of Calais’ continuing, albeit less intensely, governments are looking for answers. These aren’t always as obvious as they might seem.

Indeed, as ‘Rick’ argues in a post on his Flip Chart Fairy Tales blog, reality has a habit of confounding the conventional wisdom. Consider the following, for instance:

“Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May and France’s Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve say that the only long-term solution to Europe’s migration problem is to stop so many Africans wanting to come here in the first place.”

That sounds entirely reasonable. Indeed a key justification for overseas aid and other western interventions is that without development the world’s poor will have no choice but to seek a better life elsewhere.

What this overlooks is that the very poorest people have no choices of any kind. When you literally have nothing, the idea of migrating to somewhere thousands of miles is not just impractical but inconceivable. However, some – but not enough – economic development has the effect of making migration a realistic option:

“The increase in per capita incomes in African countries, while not doing much much to close the gap with Europe, gives people the extra resources they need to emigrate. As Paul Collier said, the relationship between income and propensity to migrate is like an inverted U. The poorest would like to migrate but can’t afford it, the richest can afford it but wouldn’t gain much. It is those in the middle that have both the incentive and the means.”

This isn’t, of course, to argue that development is bad thing or that we should hope that Africans stay poor. Were we psychopathically so-minded, we couldn’t stop African economic growth anyway – not even by continuing with our discriminatory trade policies or by failing to root out the connivance of western governments and corporations in corruption.

If developing countries are to ever reach the stage at which their people are less likely to migrate, they need to go through the stage at which they’re more likely to:

“Research by UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration found that the probability of migration increases in line with household wealth in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa but decreases in Latin America, reflecting that region’s greater per capita incomes.

“For most of the world, the richer people are, the less likely they are to migrate. In Africa and Asia, though, a certain level of wealth makes people more likely to migrate because they have the means…”

Then there’s the crucial interaction between economic and political development:

“Security and good government makes people less likely to migrate and the lack of it makes them more likely to do so. But cheaper travel and instantly available information about the world outside means that people are able to flee oppressive regimes in greater numbers.”

Attempting to ‘fix’ the politics of an entire continent is a foolish ambition, but it is possible to support enclaves of good governance where migrants have a chance to make a better life for themselves.

As I’ve argued before, the solution to the global migration crisis isn’t an open-door migration policy to the West or the failed development policies of the past – but the founding of new Singapores for the 21st century.

Certainly, we need new solutions because the existing crisis is only going to get bigger. Africa’s population is set to more than triple by the end of century, and with continuing economic growth, that will mean a huge number of potential migrants.

As was true for the European migrants of earlier centuries, these people need places to go – start-up cities that they can make their own.

14 comments for: Heresy of the week: A richer Africa will mean more migration not less

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