Michael Clemens on inequality and migration

Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, says that effective migration policy must consider the long-term benefits of welcoming refugees, along with the upfront costs. He believes today’s migration crisis is being compounded by a lack of vision.


MICHAEL CLEMENS: If just one in twenty people who are now in poor countries moved to countries where they are more economically productive, that would grow the world economy by trillions of dollars every year.

[Inequality is logo. A graphic black equal sign with an orange slash through it. #InequalityIs. Michael Clemens, senior fellow, Center for Global Development. A white man with short brown hair and brown eyes, wearing a blue button up shirt and a black suit jacket.]

Migration policy is a big decision. It goes way beyond visas and walls. It has big effects on opportunity around the world. Jan Koum came from Ukraine as a refugee with his ill mother. They lived on public assistance when they first showed up. If you told people, well, this guy’s a resource, he’s going to found this incredible internet company “Whatsapp”, and generate all kinds of economic activity and employment. They would have said, “What do you mean? He’s just taking food stamps.” Refugees have an upfront cost and it’s natural for everybody to focus on that, but we can’t lose sight of the long-term benefits.

[Sketches are drawn one by one.]

You know, a refugee shot Easy Rider and Ghostbusters.

[Cinematographer László Kovács.]

A refugee co-founded Intel, whose chips you’re probably using to watch this right now.

[Engineer Andy Grove.]

A refugee became Secretary of State.

[Politician and diplomat Madeleine Albright.]

Why were those people successful? Because they weren’t trapped in a camp somewhere. If there’s one thing that is lacking in how the world is managing this crisis right now, it’s vision. It’s a crisis of lack of vision more than a crisis of migration. Extending equality of opportunity means uncaging human potential, and that is a beautiful thing.

[Inequality Is Logo. Join the conversation. #InequalityIs.]

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