by Fernando Lozano , Inland Empire Economic Partnership
In a black and white image, a gentleman walks away from the camera across a rural landscape, posing as a woman, holding a small child in her arms, and five standing children watching her. The lightning is such that as the viewer’s gaze moves away from the group, the perspective becomes brighter than darker. A photograph taken somewhere in Latin America allows the viewer to contemplate the possibilities of a distant journey. The sunny landscape in the background evokes a sense of hope, of possibilities, of the good things that luck can bring. Every single image in Sebastiao Salgado’s Migration: Humanity in Transition collection is equally impressive, depicting the humanity of millions of immigrants around the world.
In his series of paintings, Salgado documents not only human migration from Mexico to the United States, but also African migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Muslims crossing the Balkans, or Jews leaving the former Soviet Union.
The occurrence of people in search of new homes, better economic opportunities and security can very well define the time in which we live. In fact, according to the United Nations, 270 million people live in a country different from their place of birth. There are currently 45 million immigrants in the United States according to the Migration Policy Institute. To put it in context, 1 out of every 6 people in the United States were born abroad.
The biggest irony of our times is that during the last 30 years the world has become more globalized, we have liberalized international trade and capital flows, only international migration is highly regulated. Harvard economist Dani Roderick 20 previously highlighted: “If international policymakers are truly interested in maximizing efficiency around the world, they will all be busy liberalizing immigration restrictions.” Economist Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development estimates that liberating people and allowing people to go where they will be most productive can generate tens of trillions of dollars (23 trillion or 23% of GDP) in total world output. Will add
I am one of many immigrants who have taken advantage of the opportunities in their new home. Born in Mexico, I came to the United States in 2003. I have benefited from the generosity of my adopted home: I met my wife here, the daughter of immigrants from the Philippines. We have two wonderful American children. I have a job that most days makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world.
If I lived in Mexico, I never know what I would have become. Maybe I still would have been a professor in a different country. We’ll never know. We wouldn’t even know if my job in the United States would exist if our immigration policies were less liberal. (Most of my students are also immigrants or children of immigrants.) Mentioning these hypothetical outcomes is the unrestricted counterfactual challenge of causality inference: out of an infinite number of possible outcomes, only one is realized and observed. Guido Imbens (another immigrant) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for allowing us to make econometric estimates of these various possible outcomes.
One question that economists still debate is whether people in host countries benefit from immigration. Some argue that immigrants hurt labor market outcomes for those who compete directly with them. Others argue that any negative effects are non-existent or negligible. The answer to this question remains controversial, and the various estimates are sensitive to the sample analyzed and the methodological strategy employed by the researchers. Nevertheless, one thing is very certain: immigration increases a country’s total output, and immigration redistributes resources. It enlarges the size of the pie but replaces the slices everyone gets. When the benefits of migration are so large, policy should focus not on diverting flows, but on a more equitable distribution of total benefits from migration.
Salgado, who holds a doctorate in economics, asked himself one day whether “pictures can reveal more than figures.” Since then, he has traveled the world documenting the human experience. He has visited over 43 countries and has been photographing people on the move. Salgado’s Migration Book is made up of 300 illustrations that illustrate the difficulty of the migration experience. Images that depict the desperation of fighting against a system designed to oppress the world’s poor, preventing them from seeking a better life. In the documentary “The Specter of Hope”, the photographer demonstrates: “If you combine all the images in this book, you get no more than a second [of the migration experience], three hundred pictures shot at an average speed of three hundred and fifty images per second.” These images depict a second of hope, the human resilience and entrepreneurship that drives many people to improve their situation.
I would never claim that my migration experience is documented by Salgado. It’s not. I did not face the difficulty of fighting against the system designed to prevent me from moving forward. My father, whose migration preceded mine, sponsored me. But I have benefited from moving to America and becoming an American like many others. Over the holidays, I am grateful for my adopted home and the 270 million fellow immigrants around the world who work to make the world a better place.
The mission of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership is to help build a regional voice for business and quality of life in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Its membership includes private and public sector organizations.