Thursday, May 04, 2006

What the World could learn in Sri Lanka

Last week, I heard the presentation of a research paper that studies the impact of migration on growth and spatial inequality in Sri Lanka, titled Can migration be an engine of pro-poor growth?, authored in 2006 by Nobuo Yoshida, K.G.Tilakaratna and Suranjana Vidyarathne. It was a very interesting presentation but; nonetheless, after just a couple of minutes, I could not stop my mind from wandering off into the following reflections. I beg your pardon, Nobuo Yoshida.

Would this study be different if instead of looking at a map of all the very different districts in Sri Lanka we were looking at a map of the world? Can we really research migration from one country to another with the same ease we observe when the analysis is of the internal migration? Do not all the institutional restrictions and emotional biases that arise while analyzing migration from one country to another hinder us one way or another from reaching the real conclusions?

Can we analyze migration from one country to another in a globalized world if we still have to carry the flags from the non globalized world? When we study the migration from El Salvador into the USA, should we instead of looking almost exclusively into their remittances, be looking much more at their gross earnings, salaries; and thereby perhaps conclude that El Salvador, as that nation that is no matter where their people are, might indeed be growing much faster than China. If in China migration might be from west to east, from 50 to 150 dollars of income per month, El Salvador is doing theirs from south to north, from 100 to 1200 dollars per month.

The state of Connecticut showed a per capita income in 2004 of 45,318 dollars while Mississippi had only 24,518, just about half. Does this imply that when deciding upon temporary visa programs the USA should consider more where the temporaries should go? Should they go to the poorer or to the richer states? Can or should the states compensate each other for differences in migration, one way or another? Certainly if we knew more about these issues then we all stand a better chance for rationality to prevail.

Back to the Sri Lanka study, one of its conclusions is that as their internal migration goes mainly to the already congested Colombo Metropolitan Area, this could reduce Sri Lanka’s annual growth rate by 1.5 percentage point, compared with if Colombo were not over-concentrated. Would this be indicating we should start to look at controlling migration flows in the world as London does with its traffic, by officially charging a fee for passing from one area into the other and have market forces decide how much these fees should be.

And we could go on and on this route of analysis, and fight world poverty so much better, if only we could ban the flags. It is clear now that we need many of these internal migration studies, like the one on Sri Lanka, if we are ever to get a chance to understand cross-border migration.