our years ago, Europeans were shocked by the photograph of the drowned three-year old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi. Now, Americans are similarly horrified by pictures of El Salvadorans Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Angie Valeria, dead on the banks of the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, in the UK we are struggling with what our immigration policy should look like after Brexit, with Boris Johnson trying to have his cake and eat it with the promise of an “Australian-style points system”.
Few subjects are more politically charged than immigration. However, like free trade, it unites most economists, regardless of their politics. Immigrants don’t take our jobs, nor do they have much impact on wages. Just look at the UK, where sustained high levels of immigration have coincided with unemployment falling to its lowest level in 40 years. More importantly, immigration makes economies more dynamic and is generally positive for productivity and prosperity. Even legitimate concerns about “brain drain” from developing countries turn out to be exaggerated, with such countries often gaining from remittances and new economic connections.
The economic and political forces driving immigration are only likely to intensify, in both Europe and the rest of the developed world. They will be powered by “demand” – demographic pressures, with every single country in Europe having a fertility rate below replacement level – and “supply” – population growth in developing countries, especially in Africa, and perhaps climate change. So the number of people seeking to move countries, whether through economic migration, refugee flows or a mix, will continue to grow. At the same time, we will need migration; even Japan, long resistant, has recently begun to liberalise policy.