Economist Lant Pritchett (Utah, USA, 1959) declares himself an optimist due to his age. “I am optimistic because I am 64 years old,” he argues. “When I was born, African Americans in the United States could not vote in the South, they were segregated… Women also had a very limited role. But there has been a sea change in civil rights and opportunity. I am optimistic because I have seen great positive changes of this type.”
Following this reasoning, Pritchett is convinced that humanity is on the cusp of a major positive change in the way people move across borders. He doesn’t talk for nothing. Pritchett is one of the world’s leading experts on human mobility. He has taught at Harvard and Oxford universities, among others, has worked for more than a decade at the World Bank and has published more than a hundred works on a wide range of topics, including economic growth, education and Development aid. In recent years he has focused on labor mobility “because its positive effects are radically underestimated,” he says. He is currently the co-founder and research director of Labor Mobility Partnerships (LaMP), an organization that seeks to expand the notion of possible legal avenues and their magnitude, so that everyone wins: the country of origin and the country of origin. destination.
Pritchett visited Madrid at the beginning of October to work with the Government on a possible pilot project of collaboration with Colombia in terms of training, and was received by the then Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá. The economist grants this interview after his talk in a new session of the cycle Rome Dialogues on Employment and Migration. When talking about borders, immigration and human mobility, his first statement is forceful: “If there were no mobility, we would all still be in Africa. “Most countries had almost no border restrictions until the 1920s. So this century has been an anomaly, a brief period in human history in which the world has been divided into strictly controlled borders,” he says.
Ask. Faced with the negative discourse on migration, you defend it as an opportunity for development. But in multiple countries in Europe, and in the United States as well, migrants are criminalized both politically and socially. How do you see the current situation?
Answer. The negativity about migration is the last gasp of a dying system and the transition towards a more realistic approach. There is a famous quote from John Maynard Keynes, one of the most famous economists of all time. When accused of changing his mind on a political issue, he said: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” Demographic changes are going to create such pressures on countries trying to maintain their lifestyle based solely on their nationals that they are going to have to open up to labor mobility.
Q. And how do you change that vision? If we look towards the European or American borders, for example, if we look at the tightening of the immigration control policies that the European Union is approving, it does not seem that we are going down that path.
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R. Much of the tension comes from the fact that countries, governments and societies have not yet disentangled two key questions: who are our future? And who will be allowed to live and work in our territory to provide productive services, have a job and earn a salary? Asking these questions as one will inevitably lead to tensions and negative opinions about migration. But if we separate them, you completely change the policy. People will say, “We need workers, and we are going to allow those people to live here, respecting their rights and giving them the opportunity to work, but without necessarily having an automatic and immediate path to citizenship.” When these two issues are separated in public dialogue, negative attitudes disappear.
Q. In his presentation he assured that the number of people over 80 years of age will double in the next 30 years and the number of active people will decrease greatly. At the same time, we have 1.4 billion inhabitants in Africa, of which more than half are under 25 years old looking for opportunities, and the figure will double in 2050. The equation seems easy…
R. All you have to do is join those two pieces of information. Now, what prevents that connection is the question: if I allow someone from Africa to come help me take care of my grandmother, am I obliged to give that person Spanish nationality? If the answer is affirmative, fear and the feeling of losing something valuable about being Spanish arise, and that threat generates the politics of reaction. But if you think that that person is going to work here for a few years and then come home with his earnings, invest in his country and live his life, and then someone else will come and this will all be a rotating process, you will radically expand the number of people willing to have foreigners in their country. And Spain will be better off being able to care for its elderly. We all win.
Q. But not everyone who emigrates does so because they are looking for a job; Of the 184 million migrants in the world, there are more than 40 million asylum seekers and refugees who fled a country at war or a situation of violence or the impacts of climate change.
R. Governments must create three pathways to allow people to live in their countries. One way is through the people we hope will become Spanish. Another is that of those whom we are going to allow to live and work here; The third is that of those whom we are going to allow to be in Spain as a matter of necessity. They are very different, but a big part of the current tension is that we are allowing the refugee issue to be the labor issue or the citizenship issue to drive the labor issue. If you force the three tracks to be too close, you generate tension and political blowback. Once separated, they will work well in all three ways.
Q. Expecting foreigners to become Spanish can arouse misgivings due to a nationalist or patriotic issue. So as not to end up losing cultural identity, don’t you think?
R. Sometimes it is thought that defending the idea of what it means to be Spanish is racist or xenophobic, but that is not the case. Valuing one’s traditions, culture and history is simply a legitimate part of the human experience and there is nothing wrong with preserving it. But that doesn’t mean it’s closed; It is open to change because it is part of history, since we are a mixture of many different things.
Q. In recent years, the far-right party in Spain, but also those in European countries as diverse as Finland or Italy, have been gaining more and more support or have even reached the Government. And part of it comes from the fact that they are spreading racist and xenophobic discourse and that they are using migration as a political weapon.
R. The thing about far-right parties is that they try to get people to associate all the foreigners in the country with endangering our future, but they are only gaining ground thanks to their ability to generate fear. Once the immigration regime is clarified and there is a public debate on these three channels – who is our future, who is allowed to work here, who we welcome out of necessity – the narrative will change and the xenophobes will retreat to the caves and slimy places of those that emerged. Part of the answer is to make it clear that it is possible to regulate labor mobility in an orderly manner and, therefore, that people do not see it as a threat to their opportunities.
What is going to change radically in the future relative to the past is that for the last 100 years it has been considered a key responsibility of the Government to provide jobs for all its citizens, and given overall population growth, that has always been a challenge. But once demographics reverse, the challenge will be finding a person for every job. In the coming years, the impact of demographic changes will lead to a chronic labor shortage.
Q. This especially affects Spain, which with an average of 1.23 births per woman, is the second lowest fertility rate in the European Union. How do you see our panorama?
R. With the absence of immigrants, the labor force in Spain (active population) between 2020 and 2050 would fall from 22.6 to 15.7 million people. Not all the necessary jobs will be filled in a modern and sophisticated economy like Spain with only 15.7 million people. So no one is going to see their opportunities threatened because people come to work.
In fact, for Spaniards to have the job opportunities they aspire to, they will need foreign people because, if you look at the production chain, there are many people who are necessary. You can’t do your job unless other people are doing theirs. When we talk about the future of work, it is often done as if it were only that of the upper-middle class. The future of work still involves a lot of physical effort that someone has to do and that, in fact, does not require high levels of formal education. By my calculations, there will be 3.24 million net new low-skill jobs in the United States, but there will also be 4.7 million fewer people in the workforce. So you’re not going to take a job away from an American to fill any of those 3.24 million jobs. I am sure that if we had the calculations for Spain they would be even worse because its fertility decline is much faster than in the United States and the demographic changes are going to be more dramatic. So I think ensuring that all Spaniards have adequate opportunities will be easy.
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