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President Obama delivers his sixth State of the Union address tonight before Congress. The media is sure to make much of the fact that the president’s constitutionally encouraged remarks will fall on the ears of a GOP-led House and Senate for the first time since he took office in 2009. But here at CGD, we’ll be listening less for signals of congressional engagement and more for commitments to global engagement.
In 2014, we were reminded again and again that many of the greatest challenges facing the United States are without borders. From terrorism to disease outbreaks, climate change to cyberattacks, in today’s connected world isolationism is not an option. The good news is that when it comes to combating these threats, the United States need not go it alone. And in fact, international cooperation can contribute to America’s success not only in tackling obstacles but in realizing economic opportunity and furthering development.
So let’s hope President Obama uses his 2015 State of the Union address to highlight the ways in which global engagement can strengthen America’s hand while also helping the developing world. Here are a few hoped-for phrases and ready ideas from CGD experts:
“We all know trade is important to our economy, but it is also a critical tool to reduce global poverty. As the United States pushes to conclude negotiations with trade partners around the Pacific and across the Atlantic, we remain committed to the multilateral trade system that is so crucial to American and global prosperity.”
In the year since I expressed a similar hope for the 2014 State of the Union speech, not much has changed. Negotiations across the Pacific and with the European Union will continue to dominate the US trade agenda. The greatest risk for smaller, poorer countries is that these “mega-regional” deals will weaken the World Trade Organization and leave those countries with no refuge from discrimination and bullying by more powerful trader partners. Some poor countries, particularly Bangladesh and Cambodia, could also see their exports fall as a result of more favorable market access granted to competitors that are included in these deals, such as Vietnam. (To mitigate the latter risk, President Obama should work with Congress to finally extend duty-free market access to the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries. But I’m already blue in the face so I won’t hold my breath.) At the WTO, I hope President Obama will direct US negotiators to focus on getting a broad food security agreement that addresses leftover issues from the old agenda, such as reducing agricultural subsidies and reforming food aid in advanced countries, and tackles new agenda items, including helping developing countries meet their food security goals without relying on beggar-thy-neighbor policies.
Michael Clemens on immigration
“In the third quarter of last year, the US economy grew at its strongest pace in more than a decade. In the year ahead, I am committed to doing even more to advance our economic priorities and help American businesses compete in the global marketplace. That’s why I’m working to establish strategic bilateral agreements that promote investment and enhance labor mobility, starting with one of our closest neighbors, Mexico.”
It’s no secret that immigration is among the most contentious issues in Washington today. But the fact remains that migration should be a part of any sensible economic policy and a key part of any development agenda. Mexican development and stability, in particular, directly benefit the United States. Mexico is the second-largest buyer of US exports and the largest supplier of labor to the US economy. But for years US development cooperation with Mexico has focused mostly on aid money for security programs. There is almost no bilateral cooperation to shape regional labor mobility in ways that benefit regional development.
And, while migration generates benefits for the US economy, immigrants also benefit on a massive scale by moving to the United States. They earn more, they send money back to their home countries, and they develop skills that can be transferred to their home countries. In a world where remittances are several times larger than foreign aid, our aid-focused development policy is losing power and relevance. It’s time to unlock a powerful 21st century development tool, labor mobility.
Charles Kenny on transparency in the response to Ebola
“I remain enormously proud of the Americans who stepped in to help, the nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals serving on the front lines of this epidemic. And I want to thank you, Congress, for approving $5.4 billion in emergency funding to combat this threat at home and abroad. That money is already making a difference on the ground in West Africa. But there is still much work to be done. I am committed to ensuring that US efforts are coordinated with other donor countries, along with the governments of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and that important information about the assistance we are delivering is made publicly available.”
In his remarks, President Obama should thank Congress for approving $5.4 billion in emergency funding to fight Ebola and commit to ensuring that the money is well spent. He should start with a pledge to disclose—in full—where the money goes and how it is used, as well as to work with other donor countries and the affected country governments to do the same.
January 12 marked the five-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, a solemn reminder that large humanitarian response efforts are hard to manage well. Transparency can help. In the case of Haiti it has been difficult for insiders as well as friendly outsiders to hold those responsible for delivering services, whether government agencies or private contractors, accountable. The president could commit to making publicly available full and timely data on government spending, including via contractors and subcontractors.
Nazanin Ash on support for reformers and US Middle East policy
“We must keep faith with reformers. From Russia to China to Egypt and Bahrain, human rights activists risk arrest, torture, and exile to promote their vision of free and rights-respecting societies. Civil-society leaders continue to pressfor greater accountability, transparency, and integrity in government institutions. These are the people who will transform their societies, and they deserve our help.”
The United States risks its interests if we fail to support the bearers of truth, the rights of all to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, and to hold accountable their leaders. To elevate, protect, and create space for activists, the United States must clearly and constantly advocate for universal rights and defend activists who share our values and speak for disenfranchised constituencies. And as regimes seek to tighten the noose, we must find ever more creative ways to give local leaders the tools they need to push back on increasingly repressive regimes. These tools include a few more human rights or constitutional lawyers as constitutions are being rewritten and legal frameworks trod upon; someone to do the books as they are out mobilizing local and international communities; or a pollster or communications strategist to help design advocacy campaigns.
The United States could help establish a multilateral marketplace of service providers—lawyers, accountants, pollsters, and communication strategists—for activists to access to bolster their operations. Such service arrangements can circumvent the increasingly difficult legal environment for local NGOs partnering with US-based and other international organizations. It can create an arm of activist support that is shielded from allegations of interference, because it’s private individuals and service providers, including service providers in the region, responding directly to specific needs articulated by civil society leaders. Activists hire the help they need, but the bills are paid by public and private donors, with appropriate safeguards to ensure that funds don’t fall into the wrong hands.
“Today I announce a $1 billion Middle East Incentive Fund, modeled on the practices of our Millennium Challenge Corporation. This fund will support economic reform and reformers, and model the transparency, constituent engagement, and citizen accountability that must characterize the next phase in the region’s transitions.”
The Middle East is experiencing tectonic shifts across the region. Bright stars like Tunisia are finding their way as new democracies. Egypt has seen the resurgence of authoritarian leadership. Countries like Jordan and Morocco are pursuing gradual reforms to respond to demands from their people. While the outcomes of the 2011 revolutions have taken dramatically different paths, one thing is clear: the region will never be the same. Therefore our engagement with the region must also change, to align ourselves more closely with the aspirations of the people of the region for dignity, justice, and jobs.
Nancy Birdsall on climate
“Climate change is among the greatest threats facing America, and the world. It is a challenge we cannot ignore, and it requires cooperation. That’s why in November, I made a joint announcement with President Xi Jinping of China, reaffirming the need for bilateral cooperation and committing to action to reduce harmful emissions. Here in the US, we’re already on our way to meeting our goals. Auto companies are manufacturing better vehicles that drive farther on less fuel. States are finding new ways to reduce pollution from power plants and invest in clean energy. But we can and should do more.”
Climate change is a global threat—as one colleague put it— awful for the rich, but catastrophic for the poor. Many economists agree that the most efficient way to tackle climate change is to put a price on carbon. While levying a carbon tax is my preference, such a strategy is likely to face an uphill battle in Congress. As an intermediate step, President Obama should call on Congress to increase the federal gas tax. Low crude oil prices have prompted members of both sides of the aisle to throw their weight behind a gas tax hike. While still a proposal with potentially long odds, an increase in the gas tax can be accompanied by other tax lowering measures that add to its palatability and ensure the change isn’t regressive.
Scott Morris on multilateral institutions:
“Just as other countries proved vulnerable to a financial crisis that ignited in this country seven years ago, the United States is also exposed to the risks of global economic problems, even when they might seem far from our shores. The IMF is vital to our interests in helping avoid crises and moving aggressively to put out economic fires when they do happen around the world. In 2010, my administration successfully led international efforts to strengthen the IMF. Unfortunately, the legislation that would implement these vital and hard won reforms has languished in this body. The IMF and its mission are too important to jeopardize due to congressional inaction. That’s why I’m giving Congress 60 days to act on long overdue IMF reform. If congressional leaders choose not to move forward, then I will use existing legal authorities to reopen the 2010 reform package and work with our allies in the IMF to negotiate a new agreement, one that does not require congressional approval.”
The international community signaled that it had run out of patience with the United States on long overdue IMF reform when it gave the US until the end of 2014 to deliver. Efforts by the IMF’s shareholders are now likely underway to revisit the package, with an eye toward a new agreement that will not depend on congressionally authorized US approval. The Obama administration should not stand on the sidelines of these efforts. As the IMF’s largest shareholder, it’s critical the United States play an active role in revisiting the reform package. Peterson Institute scholar Ted Truman has outlined the ways in which a new package could move forward. If the new congress fails to act within the next two months, the administration has some room to maneuver with existing legal authorities. It’s time to do so.
Casey Dunning on the Sustainable Development Goals
“In 2000, the world united behind a declaration that called for a more inclusive and equitable global community. From there we committed to tackling eight goals, marshaling resources to better the lives of the world’s poorest. We have made great progress toward achieving certain goals, but much work remains. This fall, the world will come together again. We will adopt a new set of goals and in doing so commit to ending extreme poverty around the world. Delivering on this commitment will require American leadership. And it will take more than just foreign assistance, it will require aligning our trade policies, engaging the private sector, and working more closely with developing country governments.”
Let’s hope President Obama gives a nod to US leadership in realizing the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. The US strategy will need to do more than mobilize aid dollars; it will need to include orienting a wide range of policies to support development objectives.
What will you be listening to hear from President Obama? Let us know in the comments below, and if you’re in DC, join us for our annual State of the Union game night.
I find it harder than ever to make such a list this year. CGD is especially concerned with the policies and practices of the rich and powerful countries, corporations, and individuals that affect the world’s less fortunate people, especially the 5 billion least fortunate who live in the developing world. In our ever-more-interdependent global system, the rich and powerful can have the largest impact for good through global cooperation on collective action problems. (Think climate change, drug trafficking, conflict-driven humanitarian crises, global financial panic, pandemic disease risk.) Failure to cooperate on these global “bads” is bad for everyone but catastrophic for the poor.
But global cooperation is becoming harder than ever to manage. For decades after World War II, the United States led, with Europe an influential partner or follower. But the United States, preoccupied with a jobless recovery and a frustrated middle class, is less able and willing to lead; and in Europe, economies are weaker and voters growing more restive and insular. With the rise of China and other emerging markets, cooperation in what is now a multipolar system is more necessary than it has been in decades, but more and more elusive.
That puts a premium on strengthening the world’s international institutions and on—yes—UN and other international conferences and convenings and conversations in search of a global consensus on norms, programs, actions, and goals. In 2015 there are three big global convenings that matter for development. Each is what insiders call an “actionable event”—actionable because its very existence creates healthy pressure on countries, particularly large and powerful ones, to come up with something to announce: some commitment for which we, the global development community, can then hold them accountable.
Here are my wishes for commitments that countries could make at each of three big development-relevant international events in the next 12 months.
Financing for Development, Addis Ababa, July
My Addis Ababa wish list is modest: if not action, I hope for at least traction for these ideas in 2015:
I refer to taxes on tobacco and on carbon—not to raise revenue (indeed they could be revenue-neutral) but to reduce the costs that these “bads” impose on everyone, with disproportionate costs on the world’s poor. I wish for rich countries to come to Addis promising to tax carbon and developing countries to come promising to tax tobacco. For more on carbon, see my 2011 and 2014 lists and this “fantasy” on a carbon-free world in 2030; on my 2009 wish for a US variable gasoline tax go here. (I’m newly hopeful with the market price of gas so low.) On smoking and tobacco taxes, go here.
3. More IMF resources—for global stability and growth
That Brazil, China, India, and other leading emerging-market countries, all of whom have approved the IMF quota increase, use the Addis event to call on the US Congress to act to finally end the United States’ embarrassing blockage of that increase.) Some will say this should be left to quiet negotiations between the Obama Administration and the Congress. But if by July Congress hasn’t moved on it, I wish for some international naming and shaming. After all, most Americans do care about their moral standing in the world.
4. More multilateralism in financing for development: more capital for the old and the new multilateral development banks
The United States and China could together take the lead in a renewal of multilateral financing of sustainable and inclusive growth. They should negotiate commitments of capital ($20 billion each would be reasonable) in the next five years to multilateral banking, divided between the old and the new multilateral development banks for public infrastructure. The “old” MDBs (World Bank, Asian, African, and Inter-American Development Banks) are looking for ways to stretch their capital and reform their governance to make it more representative and inclusive; the “new” MDBs (the Asian Infrastructure Bank, the BRICS Bank), are looking for capital and developing their own anticorruption rules and environmental and social standards. For the world as a whole, a commitment to maintain and extend a multilateral approach promises efficiency and fairness.
The United Nations General Assembly and the Sustainable Development Goals, New York, September
As with the MDGs, we will never be able to attribute progress ex post on a particular SDG goal to its existence. But the SDGs do matter because they reflect the consolidation of a global consensus about the rights and responsibilities of global citizens in an interdependent global community. (“Global citizens” often act locally; see good comments on Constituency Development Funds, “local faith communities,” and “local government for accountability and transparency” in the responses to my request for ideas.
My three SDG wishes have to do with tackling inequality in different ways.
5. The median: universal, robust, distribution-aware
That some meat be put on the growth (#3 on the list proposed by the Secretary-General’s Open Working Group) and inequality (#10) goals. I’m in favor of making the median a universal indicator of growth and inequality. Every country (rich and poor) commits to set its own target number, in its own currency, for higher median daily consumption per person in 2020, and to reset it in subsequent five-year intervals. Ideally the targets would be net of taxes and transfers, reflecting each country’s “commitment to equity.” The result: the resulting median targets would be widely tracked and published in every country, and would put energy (and international finance where needed) behind a data revolution on household data and tax transparency in all countries, rich and poor.
6. Immigration targets—to reduce global inequality
Rich countries should announce specific annual additional allowances for immigration quotas for victims of natural disasters and local conflicts in developing countries. The only reference to migration in the proposed SDG list now has to do with reducing the cost of remittance transfers. Yet about 70 percent of all global inequality reflects the cruel lottery of country birth, that is the huge differences in income across as opposed to within countries, and legal barriers to immigration are leaving trillions in unexploited income gains for the world’s poor on the sidewalk.
7. Publish What You Buy to reduce corruption, publish anonymous income and wealth tax data too
It’s surprising that the 17 draft SDGs and the proposed 169 targets make little mention of transparency . . . of anything. In Addis more countries should commit to publish the contracts they make with private providers. Read about who does and why here and here. And governments—all governments—should make it easy for analysts to unpack what’s behind the distribution of after-tax income (see #5 above), especially at the top of the distribution, by publishing anonymous tax return data, as Piketty says in his best-selling book (and which as I argue here matters for development.)
The climate conference, Paris, December preceded by the Climate Summit, New York, September
The best that can be hoped for from Paris is that countries’ voluntary pledges of domestic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are more ambitious than expected. Beyond that my two wishes are straightforward.
8. That in New York all countries get specific on their timetable to end inefficient and unequalizing subsidies for fuel. The barrier is politics not budgets, as eliminating subsidies adds to public coffers. Donors could commit, however, to technical help on implementing compensatory cash transfer systems to low-income households using biometric and other new technologies that minimize leakage and corruption and keep costs low.
9. That in Paris climate negotiators remember tropical forests and rich countries commit big money to paying for the outcome (see #1 above) of reduced deforestation in tropical forest countries, with conventional ODA money, or via voluntary or “market” compliance arrangements.
At all three events
10. That the delegates reflect anew on the simple point that empowering women is fundamental to more inclusive and sustainable development. May combating sex trafficking and all forms of violence against women be high on the world’s agenda this year; and may more women stay (Christine Lagarde when time comes for another term at the IMF) or rise (at USAID for example, with Administrator Raj Shah leaving) to positions of leadership in our development institutions. To transform the development landscape, we need, after all, “to put an end to the idea that toughness flows from testosterone, and that toughness is top.” Go here to see who said that.
I had to leave aside many good ideas of colleagues and you, kind readers. Please use the comment option to add yours, and complain about mine and my choices.
Britain’s highly charged debate about immigration means that migration systems and policies are potentially in flux—a chance, perhaps, for innovation. We believe there are opportunities to tweak these policies so that they deliver big benefits for poor people, avoid the most harmful unintended consequences, and make British people better-off. Granted, development is unlikely to be at the front of politicians’ minds as they weigh up the options for migration policy, but now is exactly the right time for a discussion about how to shape immigration policy for development impact within the bounds of the current political agenda.
We put our heads together to come up with thirteen innovations for immigration policy to deliver meaningful benefits for international development. (They are offered as suggestions, about which further analysis and research would be necessary). They fall into three broad categories: capturing gains from immigration, for example by training and hiring more nurses from developing countries, rationalizing our rules about immigration, for example rolling back the nonsensical limits on the number of overseas students who can come to the UK temporarily to study, and innovating, by re-jigging global rules and domestic policies to help developing countries capture more of the benefits of sending their workers to the UK, however briefly.
Capture gains: make the UK a leader in Global Skill Partnerships (GSPs)
Set up Global Skills Partnerships that help pay for training of key workers (like nurses) overseas in exchange for the right to hire them in the UK. This is good for the nurses (who earn higher wages and gain valuable skills), the sending country (which has a lower cost of training), and of course patients and hospitals that get the staff they need.
Rationalize: shelter student visas from the migration debate and use them to promote development
Current rules focus on reducing the number of non-EU students studying in the UK. This damages higher education with no offsetting gain and deprives students of the chance to gain valuable skills by studying in the UK. A study by Universities UK showed that universities contributed over £36.4 billion to the economy (2.8% of GDP) in 2011, a fifth of which is due to non-EU students (£13.9 billion). Almost 59% people responding to a poll say we should not reduce the number of international students, even if this makes it harder to reduce immigration numbers.
Innovate: make the UK a (supply-side) leader on remittances
The government can be a leader in tackling constraints that keep remittance transaction costs high. Key agencies in the UK government (including the development agency, DFID) could work with the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate competition in banking services that serve immigrant communities so that these workers lose less in fees and charges and can ultimately send more of their salaries home.
Back on the front foot
Reasonable people can disagree about some aspects of freer movement, but some things are difficult to argue with: for example, clamping down on students and productive workers who pay more into the public purse than they take out makes us— and the people who want to work and study here—worse off.
Much of the British political class would prefer not to have to discuss immigration policies. But people concerned about international development should not see this as a time to move the conversation on, but rather to make the case for immigration policies which are politically realistic, good for Britain, and which are better for development too.
I’m delighted to be helping organize again, for 2015, the world’s premier research conference on the economics of migration and development. Full-paper submissions are due January 20, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve gushed before about the uncommon rigor and innovation in the papers at this highly selective conference, year after year. The people who come are simply the best in the field. The conference is part of a historic shift in how development researchers think about migration and vice versa. Human mobility shapes, and is shaped by, the development process in ways that scholars are only beginning to understand.
This year we’ll have keynote speeches from two stars, Dani Rodrik of the Institute for Advanced Study and Ran Abramitzky from Stanford University. The papers selected for presentation will be considered for a special issue of the World Bank Economic Review. As in previous years, the heavy lifting is being done by our collaborators at the Paris School of Economics, the Agence Française de Développement, and the World Bank—to all of whom we’re very grateful.
Click below to enlarge the full conference announcement:
In December, MCC’s Board of Directors will meet to determine which countries will be eligible for FY2015 funding. While the agency’s annual country scorecards won’t be ready for a few months, updated corruption and democracy data are available now. These are the big “hard hurdle” indicators that countries must pass to meet MCC’s scorecard criteria for eligibility. An advance look at the data gives some insights into a few big issues that the Board will likely grapple with this year, such as:
What should MCC do about a country that falls just short on the corruption indicator (again this year), but has been developing a compact proposal?
Could a country that passes the democracy criteria for the first time be a new contender for compact eligibility?
As a refresher, MCC provides funding only to relatively well-governed countries. To identify those countries, MCC relies heavily on country scorecards that show developing countries’ performance on 20 policy indicators. This is one of the MCC Board’s primary considerations for deciding which countries should be eligible for a compact or threshold program. As part of MCC’s criteria, there are two specific indicators that a country must pass (i.e., hard hurdles). A country must (1) score above the median on the Control of Corruption indicator (compared to its income group peers); and (2) score above a set threshold on at least one of two democracy indicators (either the Political Rights or the Civil Liberties indicator).
So, what jumps out this year? We ran the numbers and found several things that will certainly be key considerations of the Board.
Control of Corruption
First of all, no countries pass the Control of Corruption indicator for the first time. Nonetheless, it’s particularly relevant to consider performance for several groups of countries.
Countries Developing Compacts: It generally takes multiple years to develop an MCC compact, and the agency requires that countries be considered for re-selection each year until a compact is signed.
Last year, the Board made a controversial and unprecedented decision not to reselect two countries, Benin and Sierra Leone, whose Control of Corruption scores had dipped just below passing, even though MCC acknowledged there was no discernible decline in either country’s anti-corruption policy environment. The thing is, the Control of Corruption indicator doesn’t precisely measure small differences between countries or small changes over time (as explained here, here, and here). I have argued extensively that this decision was problematic for MCC (see here and here), making it seem like an unreasonable and unpredictable development partner. Nevertheless, the Board proclaimed they would not sign a compact with either country unless they passed the scorecard. So, how do these two countries fare this year?
Benin passes the corruption hurdle this year. In fact, Benin has passed this indicator for nine of MCC’s 12 selection cycles (see below: green=passed, red=failed). Looking at Benin’s passing record over time really highlights that periodic small dips below the median do not necessarily signify—and should not be interpreted as—alarming trends of deteriorating governance. Benin’s compact was nearly ready to go last year when the Board decided not to reselect it. The question this year is whether the Board will give it the green light to proceed.
On the other hand, Sierra Leone fails the corruption hurdle again. However, as shown below, its absolute score is actually slightly higher than it was last year. And yet again, its score is not statistically lower than it was when Sierra Leone was first selected for compact eligibility in FY2013. The Board will likely spend the next couple of months learning more about the government’s recent efforts to control corruption and discussing how to weigh this kind of qualitative, supplemental information against the stark “fail” determination made with respect to a very fuzzy indicator.
The other five countries that are currently developing compacts—Lesotho, Liberia, Morocco, Niger, and Tanzania—all pass the corruption hurdle.
Second Compact Contenders: As a reminder, MCC may consider for eligibility for a second compact those countries that have completed their first compact or will do so within the next 18 months. Currently, there are 12 countries in this category. All but two of them—Honduras and Moldova—pass the Control of Corruption indicator. What’s especially noteworthy this year is that the Philippines—which will be around 18 months out from completing its compact in December—passes the Control of Corruption indicator for the first time since it moved from the low income country group to the more difficult lower middle income country competition in FY2010. This may be a country to watch for a possible second compact at some point.
Currently implementing a compactCurrently developing a compact
Democracy (Political Rights/Civil Liberties)
First, all existing MCC partner countries pass the democracy hurdle. This is unsurprising since MCC has, throughout its history, almost exclusively selected democratic countries. New this year, however, is that Cote d’Ivoire passes the democracy hurdle for the first time. Since it’s also passed the corruption hurdle for two years in a row, it may pass the overall scorecard requirements for the first time this year making it a country to watch. Of course, a passing scorecard doesn’t necessarily guarantee eligibility. The Board must also consider the current pipeline of countries and weigh the prospects of a possible partnership with Cote d’Ivoire against that of other strong contenders.
Currently implementing a compactCurrently developing a compact
Watch This Space
As always, in early December, the MCC Monitor will provide: (1) deeper analysis of countries’ scorecard performance; (2) a discussion of other big MCC selection issues; and (3) our annual predictions of which countries will be selected at the Board’s mid-December meeting. So please watch this space. It’s going to be an interesting year for country eligibility decisions.
Government officials across the world will sit down in conference rooms over the next year to rebuild the global development policy agenda.
For the last 14 years their lodestar has been the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs. Those goals will expire next year. As you read this, the United Nations is running a vast process to write the sequel, a new set of global development policy goals for many years to come.
Something surprising and exciting is germinating in that process.
Early drafts have emerged from those negotiations, and so far they include a central place for migration policy. Migration policy has a massive impact on development processes, both in low-income countries and globally. Migration is by far the most profitable investment available to many of the world’s poor, and the money that migrants send to developing countries dwarfs all foreign aid. But since migration is politically sensitive, I feared that the new goal-setters might choose the easy path and simply ignore it.
Ignoring it is what they did the last time around. The roadmap for the original MDGs, back in 2000, doesn’t say a word about migration as a positive force for development. It mentions international migration only in negative terms—highlighting abuse of migrants’ rights (para. 215), and the potential for migration to spread epidemic disease (para. 104). It does not mention remittances at all. As for domestic migration, that old roadmap only mentions rural-urban migration to claim that it “tends to increase poverty” (para. 119). In fact, domestic migration is the route out of poverty for many of the world’s poor.
But this time is different. Last month, the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals finished a process of picking candidates for a new set of goals and targets. The group proposed this list of 17 possible new “Sustainable Development Goals” or SDGs. Over the next several months, the UN will seek to whittle these down to a more focused, consensus list of goals.
Here’s what the new goal-setters are saying about migration. They proposed a goal to “reduce inequality within and among countries”. Two ways to do that, the Open Working Group proposes, are to
facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies
reduce to less than 3% the transaction costs of migrant remittances and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5%.
And as for domestic migration, the Open Working Group proposes this target:
support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.
This is bold, refreshing stuff, totally absent from the discussion back in 2000. I have three reactions.
The first is: hear, hear! These visionary statements by the Open Working Group are the signs of a big shift over the last decade and a half. Development policymakers are thinking about how to harness the power of migration for global development and plan for a mobile world. This is exactly the right thing to do, and decades of social science show that there is no alternative. If the SDGs are to be a serious roadmap for global development policy, they must seriously engage with migration policy.
Second, this progress is vulnerable. Over the next few months, UN negotiations all over the globe will take a knife to the Open Working Group’s 17 goals and 169 targets. Much will be cut, much will be compromised. But negotiators must not compromise on migration. Policymakers in the last few years have reached a broad consensus that migration, if properly regulated, can be a massive force for global development poverty reduction. If policymakers allow migration to slip out of the final set of goals, they’ll miss a big and rare opportunity for constructive influence.
Third, the text misses a subtle, but important aspect of the power of international migration to make the world a better place. Notice how the Open Working Group mentions international migration as a way to “reduce inequality within and among countries.” But it doesn’t say anything about reducing inequality among people of the world, which is something different.
Think about it: Suppose a person migrated from Ghana to the UK, in the process moving from the middle of Ghana’s income distribution to the middle of the UK’s income distribution. Inequality within and between the countries of Ghana and the UK—measured at the national level—hasn’t changed. But inequality among people of the world could have risen or fallen. If enough people get this opportunity, migration like this means that global inequality among people necessarily falls.
By defining the problem of global inequality to exist only “within and among countries,” the draft SDGs overlook the immense power of cross-border migration to reduce global inequality among people.
It’s not hard to fix. If the SDGs are really to serve as a grand vision of a world with equality of economic opportunity, the text should be amended with five little words to say: migration can “reduce inequality within and among countries and among the people of the world.”