Book Review: Exodus by Paul Collier

When migration is discussed in politics and spheres of social science today, the pressing question tends to be, is migration good or bad. Paul Collier, in his book Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World (Oxford University Press, 2013. Kindle version.) seeks to answer the question how much migration is good? Collier also recognizes migration’s effect on three distinct groups of people: the migrants themselves, the indigenous in the countries they migrate to, and those they leave behind in their countries of origin. While most discussions of migration focus primarily on the results and consequences for the host country, Collier finds it unfortunately disturbing that the concerns and consequences for those left behind in the poorest countries do not factor into the migration discussion. He therefore seeks to discover how much migration is good, both for the host countries and those left behind in countries of origin.

Collier addresses commonly discussed issues such as the “brain drain” concept in which migration “drains” poor countries of their best and brightest. He proposes a solution for illegal immigration, an issue that he says cannot be avoided, but only addressed wisely. Illegal immigrants would be registered as guest workers who pay taxes, but receive no social benefits, and then given the option to begin the process of applying for longer term residency or citizenship. Collier also suggests that policies allowing migrants to later sponsor the migration of additional family members should be curbed. This, he says, discourages migrants from sending a portion of their earning (remittances) back home since most of their family now lives with him. These remittances, however, are vital for the economy and continuing growth of the poorest countries.

Exodus is a valuable contribution to the discussion of large-scale migration, however it is largely hypothetical. Collier seeks to answer a question (how much migration is beneficial) that forces him to project current rates of migration forward hypothetically. While this is helpful in forming his proposed policy adjustments and demonstrating potential harms of continued large-scale migration, its hypothetical nature is a serious weakness. Collier is a British economist, and while he includes examples from other countries and continents in his analysis, it is evident that much of his argument is colored by what he has experienced in the UK. There and in other EU countries like France able-bodied migrants can live off of generous welfare without seeking to work or assimilate into the larger society of their host country.

All in all, Collier sets forth significant insights into global migration and presents potential consequences that policy makers would do well to consider. He presents this information in a manner that is thought provoking and accessible to the average reader with little formal background in economics.

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