Paul Collier (2013), Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century

Allen Lane

While denouncing the ‘toxic context of high emotion and little knowledge’ surrounding the area of migration policy, Paul Collier urges his audience, including policy-makers, migration scholars and experts, to learn the real effects about migration as a social fact, rather than being led by value-based judgements. The long list of his publications culminates with his most recent book in a new research field, marking for the first time the territory of migration scholars and policy-makers. Exodus. Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century is an extension of his previous work, The Bottom Billion, the title of which refers to the number of people ‘trapped’ in extremely poor countries, the poorest in those countries and in the world. The bottom billion of the world’s poorest people are not the migrants we see among us in Western societies, because the poverty afflicting these poorest people is so extreme as to decouple their hopes of better lives ‘abroad’ from realistic opportunities to actually flee elsewhere. Collier, however, emphasises that the emigration of those poor who do make it to better societies, usually referring to Europe and the USA, has a number of effects on the poorest left behind; it is indeed of primary moral as well as social and economic concern whether these effects are good or bad. It is this empirical observation which triggers Collier’s engagement in his latest book, which presents a wider analysis of the social phenomenon of international migration from poor, underdeveloped and developing countries to Western affluent democracies. The question of whether migration is good or bad is not the right question to ask, he argues. We need to ask to what extent migration is ideal and how fast the international movement of people should be taking place. When it comes to the issue of international migration, he argues, immigration policies set by host states ought to weigh the interests, in terms of the social and economic costs and benefits to the indigenous population primarily, against the interests of migrants and those left behind as well.

In Collier’s view, any migration is more desirable than no migration at all. The question is more how much migration and how we establish it. Collier’s central argument is that contemporary migration is economically generally beneficial, with some exceptions, for host countries and those left behind, but socially less so. However, were migration to accelerate, the effects would firstly be socially disastrous, as this would corrode social trust and affect attitudes of cooperation not only between the indigenous people themselves but also between the indigenous population and the migrants. And secondly, even if cooperation and trust were not undermined, rapid immigration would come at the expense of cultural loss. Collier invites us to imagine England becoming Bangladeshi, or Africa becoming Chinese. Migration, therefore, would not be desirable even if the gains in economic terms were so big as to increase the wealth of the poorest left behind, of the migrants and of the indigenous population. Against global utilitarian and libertarian views which advocate cherishing the freedom of movement of individuals and which posit that open borders would lead to an enormous increase of global wealth, Collier speaks of the risk of loss of national cultures, leading to a loss of social trust and cooperation. Protecting culture in the face of diversity is, therefore, an overarching criterion in establishing migration policies.

In the five constitutive parts of the book, rich in philosophical, sociological, economic, moral, and political reflections, Collier attempts to construct his argument against the concept of open borders and to finally propose policy recommendations that mirror such reflections. Some obscure claims and assumptions are presented in this review, prevalently from a theoretical standpoint.

In Part 1, the author claims that disputes about evidence can be resolved, while value-based judgments, the moral and ethical views we hold, may be irresolvable. Migration has economic and social causes and consequences and the toolkit enabling us to get better technical answers to causes and consequences is evidence-based analysis. Furthermore, his argument suggests that migration scholars and policy practitioners should accept the introduction of more empirical considerations, or facts, insofar as values are responsive to reasons and empirics. However, contrary to evidence-based arguments, value-based judgments tell us why a given model, though efficient, is not desirable. Should we advocate a fully efficient social model signed by pervasive inequality, or a less efficient one which is morally more appealing? If the response for everyone is the second option, as it is, we agree that, even if people do not cherish the same values, discussion makes sense, since people change their view through rational deliberation. His recipe, urging us to consider evidence-based analysis when assessing policy issues, rather than ‘moral biases’, might sound like a bizarre suggestion to most philosophers whose work is to assess – for all societal issues – which values are to be endorsed and which abandoned.

Inconsistent with his suggestions that empirical evidence should anticipate value-based judgments, Collier starts his argument by justifying the values he cherishes, which provide guidance of what the ends of our actions and institutions ought to be, and which guide his policy recommendations. His account is compatible with liberal-nationalistic views, where the core assumption is that the nation is a morally justified unit. Safeguarding culture from its peril, the value cherished in Collier’s view is important because culture is a precondition for a nation, as it provides the social fabric that enables social cooperation and trust within it. It follows that, while diversity enriches economies by bringing fresh perspectives to problem-solving, in principle it threatens culture, which is why diversity should be down-sized so that it is absorbed, and thus migration policies should limit the fast international movements of people.

While there is a clear moral obligation to help the poor who live in other countries, there is no such obligation to permit the free movement of people across borders. Furthermore, Collier argues, While nationalism does not necessarily imply restrictions on immigration, it is clearly the case that without a sense of nationalism there would be no basis for restrictions. This assertion might be problematic in regard to other accounts in the literature – according to which there is a strong basis for restriction unrelated to national identity – which are not taken into consideration. One such legitimate claim could advocate migration restriction based on the claim that democracy needs borders in order to function properly, positioning by default the will of the citizen (and not cultural identity) as bearing normative standing. The implication, consistent with Collier’s view, is that citizens forming the demos have the right to democratic decision-making (call it legitimacy claim), as in the following illustration: The citizens of Romania might well decide, via democratic decision-making, to invest in technology, and therefore to restrict the access of some immigrants working in agriculture while welcoming immigrants from other parts of the world to bolster the technological sector.

Importantly, Collier explains that, although migration is a response to extreme global inequalities, the reason why it increases is dependent on two main factors: first, the wider the gap in income between states, the stronger the pressure on the poor to migrate; second, the larger the size of the diaspora in the host country from the country of origin, the faster the immigration of newcomers, and the slower their integration into the host society. According to his model, migration policies, far from being arbitrary, are necessary for maintaining the important equilibrium between the cultural absorption rate of migrants within the host society and newcomers, the effects of which are conceptualised by the author in terms of social loss.

In Part 2, Collier explains the social and economic effects of immigration on a host society. He predicts that, if left uncontrolled, migration will accelerate. Contrary to the utilitarian universalist principle operating on the basis of the greatest happiness for the greatest while disregarding what happens to the individuals in host countries, Collier claims that mutual regard matters. It matters insofar as it normally generates cooperative action and trust, and is based on the sympathy people have for each other, of which cultural affinity is a precondition. Furthermore, since every country has its own social model – rules, norms and narratives – poor countries admittedly have worse social models in terms of cooperation, trust among citizens and institutions. Migrants moving to other countries, Collier argues, bring worse cultures with them. Migrants integrating culturally into a new society – becoming insiders – is what enables the host social model to keep on functioning. As members of a (host) society, if immigrants reject this society’s national identity, Collier adds, they are indeed choosing to be outsiders. However, contrary to Collier’s assumption, considering oneself as German as well as American by citizenship, makes one a German-American, rather than an outsider, in which case citizenship in a country confers a strong guarantee of not being an outsider. Furthermore, for many citizens identifying with their ancestors’ culture, it might be problematic to think that this per se makes them outsiders, as a dual identity is accepted by most people as good enough for someone to be and feel an insider in a social model.

One such case, in which Collier refers to the less-desirable social model which migrants bring from their country of origin, is ‘Latinos in the USA’, who free-ride (as opposed to cooperate) more than the indigenous population. Evidence that migrants, in some cases, demand fewer welfare benefits to which they are perfectly entitled than the indigenous population (and the consequential assumption that the indigenous population free-rides more than migrants) is missed in Collier’s argument. Some speculate that migrants could be motivated to cooperate more, and more fairly, than the indigenous population, due to their more precarious status and fears for the termination of their work contracts and the non-renewal of their visas. This speculation, if correct, challenges Collier’s assumption in the sense that, although it might be correct that cultural diversity suppresses social trust, it can also increase attitudes of cooperation. In line with his account, if and when this is the case, should more migration be advocated, insofar as both the social and the economic effects are highly beneficial for the host country? If this speculation is correct, it urges a more detailed explanation of how we understand and analyse social cooperation and its intertwined relation with cultural identity and attitudes of trust.

In Parts 3 and 4, Collier analyses the economic and social effects of migration, focusing on migrants and those left behind. Migrants are both the big economic winners from migration, with their income sometimes increasing up to 400 per cent, and the big losers insofar as they suffer psychological costs outweighing the economic ones, and because their wages seem to be affected by the new incoming migrants. He also claims that those left behind are also better off not only due to the money migrants send back home as remittances, but also because their political and social attitudes, such as voting, are positively affected in the direction of democratic attitudes. Contrary to the myth that migrants lower indigenous wages, Collier claims that the wages of migrants themselves are affected primarily and for the most part. Concerns arise with regards to the definition of the term migrant, loosely stated, leaving important implications of his arguments rather obscure. If the migrant is understood as a person of different origin and nationality moving to another country, it is empirically difficult to understand which migrants he analyses when he speaks about Haitian or Latinos, or any other migrant in Europe and the USA. Would there be any relevant difference for Collier between the migrant moving to Europe 80 years ago, becoming a citizen but never integrating in the relevant sense that Collier understands ideal cultural integration, and a migrant who moved 20 years ago, integrated fully, but never became a citizen? Collier might be inclined to refer to the first citizen as a migrant – on the basis that he is not integrated culturally in the relevant sense, yet for some of us at least, he is an insider – and to the second non-citizen as a non-migrant on the basis that he is integrated culturally. Is cultural identity the main decisive feature describing who falls within which category and when one stops falling in the outsiders’ box? Political scientists struggle to find which considerations should be taken into account, such as schooling, birth, naturalisation, residence and family relations in order to define a migrant as an insider or an outsider. The cultural absorption metric, according to which one at some point becomes an insider, might be ontologically and morally arbitrary, too. For many philosophers, it might be problematic to consider that cultural claims override citizenship. For instance, deporting American citizens of Japanese origin from the USA in a moment of tension between the two states is problematic precisely because their deportation is justified on cultural, or broadly ethnic grounds. This indicates that the cultural absorption metric, as an insider/outsider metric, needs constraints that are not mentioned clearly in Collier’s book. If transitioning from being a migrant, understood as an outsider, to an insider status is left to the cultural integration metric only, internal fears and the disaffection of migrants towards an indigenous population, with whom they are not equal, despite them being at some point equally citizens, can lead, contrary to Collier’s view, to social haemorrhage in the social fabric.

In asserting that the migrants are like lottery winners when they achieve migration, Collier seemingly determines that the social and economic effects on host countries are also positive. Emigration has several effects on those left behind, but the clearest, and probably the most important, are on the resident stock of educated people and on remittances. Big countries like China and India normally gain enormously from emigration, while small countries could suffer when their skilled young generation migrates en masse. Haiti is one such country, having lost 85 per cent of its educated people. In such cases, Collier recommends restrictions. Assuming that restricting migration will benefit the poor small countries left behind, states are requested to enact migration policies based firstly on national interest, and secondly on the interest of migrants and those left behind. Acting in the interest of the latter, however, is a matter of compassion, he claims. It is doubtful that a state would undermine its own interests in welcoming or not welcoming migrants (or the type of migrants, such as skilled, if needed). The harm that a small nation can experience thanks to migration policies set by host countries is therefore contingent upon the interest of the host state and its charitable spirit in mitigating these policies. Although Collier introduces the idea of admitting migrants as a charitable gesture, the best reading of his argument is finally that opening the door or closing it (if necessary) to poor immigrants reflects the economic interest of the host state. The creaming of the crop in a poor country like Haiti is compatible with Collier’s view, at least in principle. This conclusion might be surprising, as his reflections inspiring the book are concern for those left behind.

In the final part, Collier’s policy recommendations should find such a compromise between the interests of states, migrants and those left behind. The policy package that Collier proposes contains four recommendations: ceilings, selection, integration and legalisation. The task of migration policies should be to prevent the acceleration of migration to levels that would endanger both indigenous populations in the host country and those left behind in the country of origin. In this sense, if migration were to accelerate, the walls of nations should be higher, in accordance with the criteria specified in the ceiling and selection policies. The ceiling specification should restrict immigration in cases such as Haiti, even if this goes against the principle of national interest. If we follow Collier in this direction, we should bear in mind previous cases of restriction in which a clear beneficial effect applied to the poor left behind. Rich countries select immigrants based on their skills and employability, both criteria that do not refrain from draining the poorest countries of their young talent. According to the third criterion, migrants sharing more cultural affinity are preferred to those whose cultural background is more distant. Even if Collier indicates that policies should not be racist, to some of us, a selection of would-be migrants based on their cultural background might still be morally troubling; secondly, selection might be not charitable at all to most poor countries, which differ in culture from the Western world. The fourth criterion of vulnerability requires that states which receive asylum-seekers should demand their return to the home country when peace is restored; this responds to the principle of the duty to rescue, on which most migration scholars agree.

In line with integration policies, a range of strategies is adopted in order to facilitate and increase the absorption of a diaspora in the mainstream culture of their members’ particular host country. This could be understood as requiring the geographical dispersion of migrants, school policies aimed at the integration of pupils who are migrants, etc. Finally, Collier proposes the legalisation of illegal migrants by conferring on them a partial status: they pay taxes, but can only access public services as tourists.

Exodus comes across as a frank account written in a rather provoking manner. It is a book rich in reflections and suggestions that are worth exploring for migration scholars and policy-makers. The policy recommendations might accommodate the views of those cherishing culture as a value to be protected, and would produce uneasiness in those for whom such an inflation of culture is rather excessive or undesirable. The facts about international migration presented in the book prove sufficient to be sympathetic to those who share the same values as Collier, and somewhat lacking in proof of why migration would accelerate to such an extemt as to resemble an exodus; furthermore, why would mass migration ever trigger such sentiments in current indigenous populations similar to Africans who, during colonisation, did not have settlers moving in simpliciter, but ruling them, often by the use of force and violence.

Until the social losses due to immigration are proven to be such by empirically grounded research, and Collier himself signalled many gaps which scholars have not addressed, the phenomenon of immigration will take place on an individual basis, rather than as a mass invasion, given that currently 97 per cent of the world’s population is stable; current migration triggers economic and some social gains for indigenous populations, migrants and those left behind, as Collier agrees. Finally, we would be able to have sufficiently peaceful and affluent democracies like the United States, whose present indigenous population are almost all migrants.

Georgiana Turculet
Central European University