Usually the annual appearance of the Human Development Report is not an event worth noting. These are, after all the people who brought us the concept of ‘jobless growth’ (a bad thing, I guess), identical to what everyone else defines as ‘productivity growth’, the only long-term way to improve the wellbeing of poor people.
They are also the people who gave us the execrable ‘Human Development Index’ that values a year of life (not earning capacity—value of a life) of a Norwegian at over 80 times that of someone in Niger, an American 16 times more valuable than an Indian. How they get away with, and even get accolades for this obscenity is beyond me.
However this year is different (except for maintaining the index). This year’s topic is migration—internal and international —and gets everything important pretty much right. The report comes out courageously for encouraging more migration of both sorts and does a good job refuting many of the objections of those in both the recipient and originating countries.
Just as freedom of movement of commodities via trade potentially benefits all, so does freedom of movement of people. The report might underplay a few genuine concerns for advocacy purposes but this is a minor problem on economic and wellbeing grounds. It may be a bit more serious on political grounds.
For India, there are three big lessons to take away. One is familiar ground and much less contentious than it used to be —that the ‘brain drain’ argument is much less a problem than previously thought. In fact, on balance, it is not a problem at all but a distinct source of benefits to India. The second is less generally discussed here, is more a technical issue and should not be seriously controversial. This is that internal migration is a huge part of the total picture—much larger than international migration. Movements within India and China are huge fractions of global migration and the report might have provided a fuller discussion of these specific countries. The technical issue is simply “how are urban areas going to deal with the current and easily predictable numbers arriving every day?” Third, almost never discussed in a positive light in India, is the benefit to the recipient countries of migrants from elsewhere (read, Bangladesh). This would be much more controversial if it were ever discussed seriously. The least bit of consistency...
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