Homo sapiens have always been restless critters. Not content to remain in the natural environment where they evolved, they have wandered over the globe creating disruption and discontent. This flow of humanity has been channeled by forces both natural and human created. Globalization as an increasing movement and interaction of people in various parts of the world has been going on in waves for a very long time. The two world wars and the great depression were a major disruption of the great wave that took place during the 19th C. Since WWII there has been a new wave which has been strongly influenced by the neoliberal ideology of the Washington consensus.
We are concerned here with the mass flows of migrant labor which have been a part of this globalization and specifically with the flows from non-industrialized nations to industrial nations. That is not an entirely tidy characterization, but it will do as a jumping off point.
The primary data source for this diary is from the World Bank. The definition of a migrant worker being used here is someone who is working in a country of which he or she is not a citizen. The World Bank estimates that there are about 216 million people who fit this definition. There are subgroups of this population with which we are not concerned here. Some of them involve interesting stories, but they are different stories from the one that we want to look at.
The European Union has developed a fairly open labor market among its 27 member states. There are still transitional restrictions for some of the newer members. Bulgaria and Romania are still more like third world economies than advanced industrial states, but all workers in the EU do have some common rights and legal protections.
There is a special situation for the nations that were the constituent republics of the former USSR. The efforts to integrate the empire left people scattered far and wide when it fell apart. Russia for example shows about 12 M non-Russians working in Russia and about 12 M Russians working elsewhere. There is a similar pattern with the other neighboring states. The general pattern seems to be more one of people who are stuck someplace rather than moving around to seek opportunities.
There is labor flow between industrialized nations such as the US and Canada, the US and Germany, etc. that doesn't see to raise major points of conflict and controversy. There is usually not a lot of wage and skill arbitrage involved. I have weeded out these situations from the data and am focusing on labor flows that represent significant global imbalances.
There are various forms of terminology to describe the pronounced differences that exist between nations. First world/third world, developed/developing, industrial/non(pre)-industrial all are in common usage. None of them are entirely satisfactory. Global north and global south have more recently come into usage. We have one group of nations:
that share common economic and cultural characteristics. They are the world's richest nations with complex industrial economies and urban societies. Added to these we have the special case of the oil rentier states of the Persian Gulf.
We have another group of nations that are poor to varying degrees with non-industrial economies and societies that are agrarian to some extent.
Most of Africa
Much of South America and the Caribbean nations
The differences between these two groups are numerous and pronounced. In addition to the economic contrast the nations of the global north have populations with low birth rates and an increasing average age. The economies are showing slow rates of growth. The nations of the global south tend to have high birth rates and a much lower average age than the north.
These two sections have a heritage of colonialism. In some cases it was direct as with European nations and their formal colonies in Africa and South Asia. In other cases it was less direct as with the US and its historical dealings Latin America. The effects of these asymmetrical relationships have endured into the 21st C. Before exploring those relationships let us look at the picture of labor flows between these two blocs of nations.
First there are the nations where the migrant workers go to find jobs. This chart attempts to focus on the flow from global south to global north. For example with France migrant workers from other EU states, the US and Canada have been excluded.
There are essentially two different groups of countries on this list. First are small rentier states where a substantial majority of the workforce is made up of migrants from South Asian countries. All of these with the exception of Singapore are oil economies in the Persian Gulf region. The migrants are for the most part there on temporary labor contracts. However, in some cases these contracts have lasted for many years.
The migrant labor for Jordan represents the same sources of migrant labor as the gulf states but they form a smaller portion of the workforce. Israel is a particular situation. A large number of the non-citizen workers are from the countries of the former USSR and are likely in the process of becoming Israeli citizens. However, there has been a more recent trend of bringing in Asian labor.
That leaves us with the world's advanced industrial economies. The migrants working there are present under a variety of arrangements. In Europe many of them are from former colonies of the receiving nation. Many of them in Europe and the US are there on undocumented status and subject to deportation. They represent people who are willing to work for lower wages than the prevailing wage for citizen workers or to take low skilled service jobs that are supposedly difficult to fill. This of course creates conflicts with citizen workers who feel that they are faced with unfair/illegal competition.
Most of the EU nations have about 15% of their workforce from migrants from the global south. The US has 25%. The notable exception is Japan with only 3%. Japan is notable for being the world's most homogeneous population. It also has the world's oldest population. There is great resistance to allowing non-Japanese into the country.
Now let us look at where these people are coming from.
We can see that there are a number of countries that have a substantial portion of their citizens working elsewhere because they are unable to provide work and sustenance for them. The absent workers often mean families left behind. It is not simply a matter of these workers going somewhere to support themselves. The portions of their wages that they return to their home countries as remittances constitute large financial flows and for some nations are a significant aspect of national GDP.
Behind these rather impersonal statistics there are real people with real lives. There are the migrant workers and their families. Few of the workers flowing from the global south to the global north have much in the way of legal rights and protections. In the cases where they are present without documented entry they are in complete legal limbo. However, many of those on officially recognized labor contracts have experienced a wide variety of abuse and exploitation. Human rights organizations have been issuing reports on the matter for a number of years.
Fleeing extreme poverty and harsh living conditions, millions of migrant domestic workers from across Asia and Africa flock to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Leaving underdeveloped countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nepal and Ethiopia, the workers seek higher salaries which they send home as remittances. However, higher wages often come at a high cost in human rights abuses and labor violations.
In an environment of increasing labour migration, ever more restrictive immigration policy and an increasingly globalised capitalism that favours ‘flexible’, and low paid, workers, migrants have come to form the majority of those who sell sex. Debates on migration and the sex industry are often characterised by an ethnicist anti-migrant discourse, by an almost exclusive focus on women, as well as by a marked emphasis on trafficking and exploitation.
The list of documented abuses of various types goes on for many pages. For most of these people migrant work does not represent the fabled gateway to opportunity that is often portrayed for 19th C immigrants. Immigration is often not an available option, even if that were what they were looking for. It is a difficult and sometimes dangerous way to make a very modest living.
So, just how did this rather depressing state of affairs come about. One basic reality is that since WWII the world has for the first time basically reached it carrying capacity for homo sapiens, at least in terms of the way that we live or aspire to live. As a species we are out of ecological balance. We also have an economic history of arbitrary imperialism that has led to a very unequal distribution of resources. We have experienced a process of globalization and reallocation and redistribution of resources. It generally operates under an economic/political ideology that is termed neoliberalism. A set of international institutions was created at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 that were tailored to the specifications of the US. They are the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank, and what eventually developed into The World Trade Organization. They have been controlled by the governments and financial institutions of the US and EU. They have followed a consistent set of essentially integrated policies in dealing with the global economy. These policies are known as the Washington Consensus.
There is not space here to go into a detailed economic history of the post-war world. However, as far as the impact on much of the global south has been to perpetuate the imbalances of 19th and early 20th C colonialism and imperialism. Even as formal colonialism was at last brought to a close the dependent economic relationships were continued. Efforts by newly independent countries to nurture the development of more diversified economies that could provide better employment for their citizens were usually blocked by the international development agencies. Economies that remained predominantly agrarian were increasingly reoriented to agriculture for export, destroying the ability of traditional agricultural structures to provide food for existing populations.
There is of course another story of the impact of neoliberal globalization that is much better known. That is the shift of the manufacturing economy from the older industrialized nations of the US and EU to the newly industrializing nations of Asia. That has of course decreased the supply of manufacturing jobs in the nations where many of the migrant workers are headed. To some extent the shift of manufacturing jobs to countries such as India and Bangladesh provides employment opportunities for people who might otherwise have been forced to migrate. The reality for those countries is that they have such huge populations with limited ability to support them, that the flow of jobs coming in and workers going out really don't make much of a dent in the problem.
Now before everyone gets hopelessly depressed by this picture we should pause for a message from those nice people at The World Bank who provided the statistics.
This is a report focused on Europe and Middle East/North Africa but their rosy outlook would be similar elsewhere.
How does this globalizing trend impact industrial and developing countries?
Both industrial and developing countries stand to benefit from better-organized mobility schemes, more opportunities for labor migration, and better matching between skill demand and skill supply. This is very much the case for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe, where important migration links exist. Currently, migration is the main form of global integration for MENA countries, and is making an important contribution to household incomes and national economies in the region. Yet, the scope for improving migration outcomes is significant. And attracting outsourced jobs is becoming an important feature of employment creation in many MENA countries.
What is the global outlook for job mobility and migration?
The dynamics vary significantly by region, with some regions, notably Europe, facing the prospects of a rapid decline in population and labor force. In the absence of migration, and assuming that participation rates remain unchanged, Central Asia, the high-income countries in East Asia as well as China, Europe, and North America would collectively lose 216 million workers between now and 2050. The European Union alone would experience a loss of 66 million workers; a decline of almost one-third, and by 2050, there will be about two retirees per every one active person.
This is a brief excerpt from the introduction, but it conveys the general tone .
As a long time certified left wing pinko (faggot too but that's another story) I can conceive of a world that attempts to make some equitable distribution of resources to the people living on the planet. That would doubtless involve moving people, jobs and things around a bit. However, I am entirely confident that as long as the neoliberal regime retains the upper hand, the net result of the movement will be less equality and equity instead of more. There are definitely constructive steps that could be taken to make countries and their economies more self sufficient. They have been obvious for a long time. The myth that has been promoted is that by indiscriminately shaking the jug we will all be better off.