Wed, Jul 26, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Migration laws may be the end of globalization

Limiting migration from poor countries to richer ones threatens to put a stop to the present free movement of capital and goods

By Branko Milanovic

Income differences were not always so huge. In 1980, average income in the US was a little more than three times that of Mexico, the gap between Singapore and Indonesia was 5.3 to one, and the difference between Spain and Morocco 3.5 to one. Even the gap between Greece and Albania, at three to one, was narrower than it is now. So income gaps between all these contiguous countries have increased significantly during the last quarter-century.

So it is little wonder that it is in these places that most illegal immigration and human trafficking occurs -- pirates in the Straits of Malacca, fast boats between Albania and Italy, and desperate human cargoes from Africa and Latin America.

If today's globalization continues to widen income gaps, the waves of migration will grow. So the rich world will, in a knee-jerk response, erect ever-higher barriers to stem the human tide.

If globalization, which has so enriched the world's wealthiest countries, is to continue, governments must find ways to increase incomes more evenly. Otherwise, today's "fencing in" of the rich world will increase the risk of a backlash against free circulation of goods and capital, as well as of political instability punctuated by terrorism. Global income redistribution by the rich countries should be viewed as a matter not of charity, but of enlightened self-interest.

Branko Milanovic is an economist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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