International Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization: Historical and Recent Experiences – By Andrés Solimano


International Migration in the Age of Crisis and Globalization: Historical and Recent Experiences by Andrés Solimano , New York , Cambridge University Press , 2010 , xv + 223 pp.

This book follows the recent surge of international excitement about free labor mobility across countries, an important developmental policy agenda.1 The book provides an excellent discussion of major policy issues in an era of globalization.

Chapter 2 concerns the question of why people migrate. In addition to traditional views, such as that income differentials across countries drive migration or that a family sends its members to other countries to mitigate the risk of their variable home income, the author covers a wide range of other factors such as the availability of social services, innovative opportunities offered by buoyant cities, economic and financial crises, and political and civil factors.

Viewed from a variety of perspectives, the author addresses what happens when people migrate in Chapter 3. In this chapter, for example, the author argues that international migrants often encounter compromises in recipient countries between economic incentives to employ irregular or illegal immigrants (who are less costly in terms of the bureaucracy of visas and work permits) and lawful actions to restrict the entry of low-skilled immigrants (pressures from interested parties at the destination such as labor unions). Income differentials across countries are one of the most important determinants of international migration. Whether or not there is convergence of wages among countries as well as how such convergence may emerge are also discussed in this chapter. The author contrasts the pattern of international convergence between recent globalization and the first wave of globalization prior to World War I. This historical difference, together with the question of whether labor and capital move in tandem or in an opposite direction, is further elaborated in Chapter 4. Another topic of interest is the impact of brain drain. Supposing that highly skilled professionals (scientists, innovators, IT experts, entrepreneurs, medical doctors, and nurses, for example) constitute a large proportion of migrants, the impact on sending and recipient countries will be multiple through several channels. On one hand, immigration of the skilled elite may retard economic development in the countries of origin; on the other hand, a positive impact may also arise from the flow of remittances, the production of technologically sophisticated products that benefit producers and consumers in the home country, and the transfer of new technologies (brain circulation).

International mobility of elites is also a main theme of Chapter 6. This chapter provides an overview of a great number of topics including: (i) types of elites (merited and talented elites with specialized skills and knowledge, or politically connected elites tied to political circumstances and social connections, for example); (ii) how international talents such as entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, and artists are rewarded in an international market; (iii) how these talents are distributed in the international community (concentration of elites in high-income countries); (iv) economic and political factors which attract or push those talents; (v) how those elites from low- and middle-income countries migrating to rich nations amplify or lessen income inequality across countries; and (vi) what role these elites play in circulating advanced knowledge or transferring technology from developed to developing economies.

Drawing upon discussions in Chapters 2 and 3, Chapters 4 and 5 provide a historical perspective on international migration. In Chapter 4, the author shows that world history has experienced four very distinct phases of international mobility of people and capital since the late nineteenth century: (i) the first wave of free-capital and free-trade globalization between 1870 and 1914; (ii) the inter–World War period during which global markets were disrupted by economic instability and political turbulence and, as a result, both capital and migratory flows were strictly restricted (1914–45); (iii) the post–World War II period based upon the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates with limited people and capital movement induced by rigorous regulations (1945–1971/73); and (iv) the post–Bretton Woods period (1971/73 to the present) during which the growing enthusiasm for free-market economies boosted capital flows. In the final period, labor migration has also been on the rise, but still falls behind capital mobility.

Likely motivated by the author's professional career, Chapter 5 recaps questions addressed in Chapters 2 and 3 by telling the story of Latin America. Focusing on the role of developmental gaps, macroeconomic cycles, political crises, and internal violence, the author attempts to identify the main forces that drive migratory flows to, from, and within the Latin American region. Socio-demographic characteristics (gender, age, and education) of Latin American migrants and the impact of remittances sent by those migrants are also examined in this chapter.

This book seeks to provide a conceptual framework for the study of recent globalization, including: (i) pushing and pulling factors in migratory flow (Chapters 2 and 6); (ii) developmental impact on both sending and recipient countries (Chapters 3 and 6); and (iii) historical records of international migration (Chapters 4 and 5). Throughout the book, the author appears to raise a hope that an international society should address “the core inequalities of the global economy” and steer “more dynamic and equitable growth and development in the south” (pp.3–4) and “reach a consensus about the desirability of a more orderly, fairer, legally sanctioned, and socially conscious system of international migration” (p.191; italics added). The extent to which these ambitions are successful will be a natural source of comments for this volume.

In contrast to the thoughtful, fluent, and elegant explanations in Chapters 1 through 6, the final chapter seems to obscure the author's hope. Two reasons may account for this: (i) the author emphasizes the concept of “fairness” without defining it explicitly; and (ii) why one should strive for this fairness is neither clearly discussed nor related to the materials in Chapters 1 through 6. To the extent that free labor mobility, the author's apparent hope, can raise the living standard of most people in developing countries without doing any economic and social harm to those who live in rich countries, no one would be hesitant to open up legal pathways for free immigration and would place it high on any agenda for development. However, the fact that traditional development agendas have so far failed to do so means that there is still more to be discussed. We cannot simply accept the idea that free labor mobility can enhance human welfare globally. The author does not clearly link materials in previous chapters to a satisfactory discussion of these points. With respect to this issue, Clements provides an interesting discussion of why a new development agenda needs free labor mobility.2

It is somewhat surprising that the author did not cover Borjas' study on self-selection into migration3 or variants of this.4 Taking into account that this book seeks to provide the conceptual underpinnings behind pushing and pulling factors of migration, this argument is something important but missing in this book. Fundamentally, who migrates and why they migrate are inextricably linked questions. While the author treats them as if they were separable (why in Chapter 2, and who[mainly the elite] in Chapter 6), linking them would make the contribution of this book even more significant.

Despite these reservations, this book is still magnificent in covering a number of important topics of international migration. Any person who is unfamiliar with but interested in debates related to international migration will benefit from reading the volume as it is an excellent introduction with a good survey of policy issues. Readers should have no difficulty, as the book requires no particular knowledge of economics and/or politics. In addition, the thorough and lucid text covering several important topics will be a rewarding read even for experienced policy makers and economists.


  • 1

    This surge can be seen in the World Bank's World Development Report, 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography (Washington, D.C., 2009). In addition, its Global Development Finance, 2009: Charting a Global Recovery (Washington, D.C., 2009) shows that following foreign direct investment, remittances sent by international migrants are currently the second most important source of external financing for developing countries.

  • 2

    Michael Clements, “A Labor Mobility Agenda for Development,” Working Paper no. 201 (Washington, D.C. Center for Global Development, 2010).

  • 3

    George J. Borjas, “Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants,”American Economic Review 77, no. 4 (1987): 531–53; Borjas, “The Economics of Immigration,”Journal of Economic Literature 32, no. 4 (1994): 1617–1717.

  • 4

    See, for example, Daniel Chiquiar and Gordon H. Hanson, “International Migration, Self-Selection, and the Distribution of Wages: Evidence from Mexico and the United States,”Journal of Political Economy 113, no. 2 (2005): 239–81.