Sunday, June 10, 2007

'Let their People Come'

Via Dani Rodrik, the New York Times Weekend Magazine has an article on development economist Lant Prichard. In the article Prichard makes an impassioned plea for the globalisation of Labour. If full globalisation is not on the cards, Prichard is willing to settle for guest worker programmes as a compromise.

There are, I think, problems with guest worker programmes. I agree with Jeffrey Sachs, who is interviewed in the article that, ultimately, such programmes aren't substitutes in-country development. (Although the capital sent home in the form of remittances may help spur such development). Also, I think Paul Krugman has a point, that there are issues of political economy which need to be considered. Temporary guest workers have no political rights and so there is a considerable risk that their needs will not be considered by politicians. Hopefully, these risks can be mitigated by social justice movements of the politically enfranchised campaigning for guest workers rights. But this is a far from perfect solution. There is also the risk that guest workers will be exploited by unscrupulous employers - confident that workers without rights will not stand up to them. In the US though, this risk while real is, presumably, less than for illegal immigrants (who we can assume that the guest workers would be substituting for?). Here in New Zealand I am more confident that a well designed programme with union buy-in ought to be able to minimise these problems. Finally, there are the social costs associated with separated families etc.

All of these debates are relevant to us New Zealanders too as we've just enacted legislation around a Pacific guest worker programme.

Personally, I support this particular initiative, not because it is problem free - there are no solutions in development which are - but because, if nothing else, it should provide some Pacific Islanders with greater incomes and opportunities then they would have had otherwise.


As an aside, they New York Times article follows Prichard on a tour of Nepal and, alongside everything else, gives some stark examples of just how tough life is in extreme poverty.

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