New trends involving global migration?

In the period to 2030, I expect the powerful motivations that induced people to migrate in last 20 years are expected to persist.  The motivations of migrants will be shaped by both push and pull factors—pressure to exit and attraction of destination countries—resulting in increasing numbers of  migrants going to emerging economies with growing middle classes in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Massive cities with informal economies and technology centers will likely have magnetic-like attraction for both internal migrants and people from poorer countries.

  • Migrants will continue to be pushed from their origin countries by environmental stress, including climate change, by war, civil conflict and crime, and by ethnic rivalries and discrimination.  Survival will motivate many to move, despite marginalization of refugees in destination countries.
  • Migrant motivations also will be powerfully shaped by pull factors, such as the attractions of greater wages, improved life chances, opportunity to better use their skills and education, and chances to influence their origin countries as part of cohesive Diasporas.  People affected by pull factors will range from low-skilled agricultural and service workers to top flight scientists and engineers.  Successful migration experiences of earlier migrants will feed motivations of others to take their chances, especially among women with constrained life chances in their home countries.

It is worth considering seven potential trends involving global migration:

  1. Proliferation of border control and immigrant identification technologies, to track not only flows across borders, but also activities of resident immigrants. Increased use, maintenance of data bases for residents, citizens for access to services.  There will likely be a related increase in opportunities for corruption, cyber intrusions, and false documentation.  Technologies could give governments capabilities they really don’t want to implement, especially for large informal economies.  Workarounds will abound.
  2. Sharp increase in emerging economies as immigrant destinations.  Labor migrants will take advantage of vibrant economic growth and large, urban informal economies, even if the environments portend social stresses.  Governments grapple with how to accommodate immigration as both a source of economic growth and of social tension. Efforts to introduce gradations in immigrant citizenship status (as in Roman imperial efforts to give legal status to peoples from the periphery). Where will middle class interests come down? 
  3. Aging societies will find ways to make labor migration work. Aging populations and mismatches between education and labor demand will make labor migration more important to economic performance. In these aging societies, private sectors will likely sustain and increase demand for migrant labor—for both low-skill and high-skill or professional workers, even if politically and culturally sensitive.  Despite episodic efforts to rein in migration, governments will generally be both unable to withstand private sector influences favoring migration and unable to systematically track and regulate individuals migrants.  Are backlashes inevitable?
  4. Intensified debate over status of labor immigrants and refugees in advanced social welfare states. We should expect increased social mobilization, legal maneuvering and NGO activities over rights and obligations of immigrants.  How immigrants relate to preexisting social contracts will become an increasingly important issue.  Will private sectors that need labor mount campaigns to support immigration and even immigrant rights?
  5. Tensions, frictions between government jurisdictions over migration. We should expect to see divergent goals and incentives of national and provincial or local governments, with increased efforts of urban jurisdictions to extract revenue from informal economies with extensive immigrant participation. Different jurisdictions will bear different kinds of costs for migration. We are likely to see increased attention to the obligations of residency, as opposed to citizenship, with lots of contention over which part of society can articulate such obligations.  Educational standards for new migrants will likely be contested.  Could inconsistencies between jurisdictions persist for years?
  6. Increased recognition by national and sub-national governments of reputational advantages of having immigrant rights and “the right to have rights” (Arendt), at least for the highly skilled.  National reputations will be a determinant of flows and, recruitment of talent and could increasingly seen as a factor in economic performance.  Can we expect a global market for highly skilled, mobile people?
  7. Increased government-to-government cooperation over labor migration. We could see some nascent global governance mechanisms, and increased incentives for governments to bind themselves in bilateral or multilateral institutions, conventions or protocols, in order to (1) gain leverage with domestic constituencies over migration issues, and (2) gain reciprocity from signatory nations. Implementing and monitoring such agreements will be difficult, contentious, and touch sensitivities regarding sovereignty.  Would brain drain or brain gain be among the first issues to be addressed?

Robert O. is one of the Research Directors in the National Intelligence Council’s Strategic Futures Group, with a portfolio covering governance, democratization, and migration.

Is America’s Decline Really Inevitable?

One of the two “unlikely but possible” scenarios suggested by Peter Feaver in his post below is that of a resurgent United States combined with an implosion of Europe and/or the BRICs. Such an option is not discussed in GT2030, but I would argue that a scenario that challenges the quasi-conventional wisdom in some circles that “the United States’ (and the West’s) relative decline vis-à-vis the rising states is inevitable” (p.82) is well worth discussing in more detail. In this post, I will address some of the factors that might make such a scenario more more probable than the many would expect, and I’ll particularly focus on the US decline side of the equation rather than the possible implosion of the EU or the BRICs.

Several contributors to this blog already highlighted some of the key advantages that the US will continue to have in 2030 relative to China and other emerging powers, and called into serious question the narrative of “decline.”

Among the strategic trends favoring the US, the most often-quoted ones are:

 

1. Demographic trends, where a combination of higher fertility relative to other potential world powers and immigration continues to give the US an advantage over its potential global competitors

 

2. Technological trends, where US advantages in nanotechnology and what The Economist recently called a “Third Industrial Revolution” brought about by digital manufacturing is likely to bring the high-tech manufacturing jobs of the future back to developed countries from developing ones

 

3. Innovation trends, where the uniquely safe and opportunity-rich entrepreneurial environment of the United States continues to remain the breeding ground for the next Apple, Google, or Facebook. Even though China for example invests large amounts of money in R&D, their return on this investment in terms of innovation is questionable. As the consulting firm Booz&Co documented in a series of reportsexamining the world’s top 1000 biggest R&D spenders,

“Money doesn’t buy results: There is no relationship between R&D spending and the primary measures of economic or corporate success, such as growth, enterprise profitability, and shareholder return.

The comparison of R&D investment with economic performance provides a lens through which we can judge the innovation effectiveness of the Global Innovation 1000. Despite significant variation in innovation investment levels, the sheer magnitude of these companies’ spending leaves little doubt that they are committed to innovation. But the disconnect between R&D investment and performance levels demonstrates that commitment is no guarantee of success”

On the other side of the ledger, how about the worrisome trends referenced by the experts who predict a relative decline? First and foremost, there is the economic argument that China’s overall GDP will surpass the US GDP at some point in the next few decades, perhaps even before 2030, at least at PPP values.  There is a large literature dedicated to speculation about whether the Chinese government will be able to maintain healthy levels of growth while addressing the many political, social and environmental problems it faces, and serious skepticism is in order. Moreover, the PPP (purchasing power parity) measure is only one way to look at GDP, and from a geopolitical vantage point it’s very unclear it is the best one. When measured at market values, the Chinese economy even in the best of circumstances will not catch up for a longer period of time. The same is true for the GDP/capita measure, which could be a proxy for how much Beijing could divert money to foreign affairs as opposed to the domestic concerns of providing for their very large population. After all, as Robert Kagan argues, the relationship between economic growth and geopolitical influence is not nearly as straightforward as we sometimes assume: for example, “It is not clear that a richer India today wields greater influence on the global stage than a poorer India did in the 1950s under Nehru, when it was the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, or that Turkey, for all the independence and flash of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, really wields more influence than it did a decade ago.”

Another worrisome trend mentioned by GT 2030 is the state of the US education system: the report echoes a common theme of the national dialogue on this topic: “without large-scale improvements in primary and secondary education, future US workers – which have benefited from the world’s highest wages – will increasingly bring only mediocre skills to the workplace.” From business leaders to the Gates Foundation to countless task force reports, there is overwhelming concern about the poor performance of US K-12 students on standardized scores compared to their foreign peers, particularly in math and sciences. While I share some of this concern, I do so to a much lesser extent than the GT2030 authors. First of all, this is not a new concern: as even some advocates of the importance of improving K-12 education admit, the US has always been an outlier of sorts in this area: “The United States has never done well on international assessments of student achievement. Instead, its level of cognitive skills is only about average among the developed countries. Yet the country’s GDP growth rate has been higher than average over the past century.” One possible explanation for this is the superior quality of America’s higher education system: as the same study notices, “By most evaluations, U.S. colleges and universities rank at the very top in the world.” Another reason has more to do with other strengths of US economic system not related to education performance, such as less government regulation, openness to free trade, and perhaps most relevant for this debate, high levels of skilled immigration.

Something that is missing from this debate is an acknowledgement that, even though American students in K-12 may not do very well at math and sciences, the US economy as a whole traditionally addressed that problem in a two-pronged approach: allowing American students to “catch up” and develop in college the skills needed to go ahead and become successful when they enter the workforce, and also allowing large numbers of international students to study, and then stay over, in the US to work as scientists and engineers. Therefore, one of the easiest and least costly ways to maintain US dominance in science and technology is to make it easier for international students in these fields to remain in the United States and work for US companies without having to go through the onerous visa process currently in place.

One last note on this supposed lack of educational achievement in math and sciences. American students, while perhaps not as capable of solving abstract problems as well as some of their peers abroad, still have some intangible advantages in terms of transferring their skills to solving real-world problems and inventing new products and services to a degree unmatched around the world. After all, had  conducted such tests been conducted during the Cold War, it is likely that the Soviet block states, with their education systems heavily focused on test-taking and abstract problem solving, would have outscored the US and the Western world in general. Yet of course the US remained the hub of technological innovation and led the way in the information revolution in the 1990s and 2000s, as it continues to do today in the era of social networks, cloud computing, and, well, iPhone apps.

Lastly, there is the thorny issue of rising healthcare costs and, by virtue of how Medicare and Medicaid programs are currently set up, of so-called “entitlements.” (The third leg of this problem, Social Security, is much more readily “fixable” in economic terms and it represents less of a long-term concern than medical costs.) It is true that high levels of government spending, if continued at the present trend, will hurt the overall prospects for economic growth by contributing to large fiscal deficits, and, incidentally, also make it more difficult to fund national defense.  However, the recent political trends in Washington point to a serious bipartisan concern about this matter, and while one’s enthusiasm for “bipartisan efforts to achieve a grand bargain” should always be firmly under control, it is not entirely unrealistic to assume that the US will find its way out of the current fiscal morass sooner than we may think.

I welcome your comments on any one of these trends, and suggestions for other areas of inquiry on the issue of the “inevitability” of US relative decline.