Strangers in the Land?

Migration is the side of globalization that, to borrow Oscar Wilde's phrase, dare not speak its name. Advocates of globalization dance around the topic because they fear it will incite nativist backlash. Respectable opponents of globalization avoid it in fear that they will be called racists or insensitive to the plight of the world's poorest.

This silence is not only disingenuous; it is certainly dangerous. In theory, global economic integration implies a world where the markets for goods, services, capital, and labor are perfectly integrated. Although many markets are nowadays increasingly open--even if others, notably agriculture, remain distorted by protectionism--integrating global labor markets has largely been left out of the globalization process.

This is hardly surprising. Over the centuries, governments have always been concerned to protect "their" local poor and unskilled from immigrant competition. Of course, such concerns are quickly discarded when countries become rich and local workers no longer want to perform menial jobs. The history of much of the great migrations to the US in the 19 th and 20 th centuries fits this model. So do the Indo-Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean migrations to Britain that followed the UK's post-war imperial retreat, and the migrations of Algerians to France and Turks to Germany during the "economic wonder" of the 1960s.

But political leaders and citizens in the developed world are wrong to think that economic migration can be turned on and off like a spigot. Despite massive government efforts in Europe and the developed world to restrain immigration after the oil price shocks of the 1970s, labor inflows into the rich countries started to increase in the 1980s to an annual average of about 1.4 million in Europe and 2.3 million in the US. The number of foreign-born workers increased throughout the OECD area (Japan being the sole exception). Foreign workers now account for 25% of Australia's labor force, 10.3% in the US, and 5.3% in Europe.