Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How Immigration Beats Government Aid

We saw Meet the Patels recently--a great movie by the way--and an observation a character made got me thinking: she immigrated to the US in 1972 and was commenting to her children that there was not an Indian community to be part of. Indian immigration picked up in the '80s and '90s. This made me think of Slumdog Millionaire, a story about a boy growing up the horrific life of an orphan in Bombay in the '80s, who then competes in the titular game show in the 2000s. You get to see a surprising shift in the nature of poverty between the boyhood scenes and the adult scenes: while there is still injustice and in the interplay of poverty and power in the 2000s portion, the pervasive, grinding, dehumanizing poverty of his youth
does not seem to be a cultural norm in the way it was 15-20 years before.

This emergence of India from poverty has several factors, one of which was pointed out by Ravi's mom in Meet the Patels: while part of that emergence was the industrialization of the country, another part was the aid-in-subsidiarity-form of immigrants sending money home. In the film it's noted that Ravi's father came to America because his village pooled their money to send him. In the late 2000s of the film's setting he's a prosperous retired businessman; during a visit to India we see a yearly charity event that he hosts for his home village. This is why the village pooled their money to send him in the first place: it was understood that he'd make good on the investment and help the village out. And this is what millions of immigrants across the country are doing with their wages: sending them hope in the most effective form of aid we could ever dream up.

Because the aid is not being funneled through a rather corrupt and political government system on the Western end, before being handed to an incredibly corrupt and political government on the receiving end where simony still exists (for example, the average "teacher" paid for with aid money hires a less-well-connected, less-qualified person to show up at the school and pays them a fraction of the aid salary for doing so; this practice exists in most positions aid pays to fund*), and where the people that end up with the aid money are the people most likely to be useful to the person in power, and who are benefitted by defending the status quo, the very thing he aid money was ostensibly sent to change. Immigrants sending their money home to family are making an end-run around corrupt officials and targeting their "aid" where it will be most effective at changing the entrenched systems of power and repression.

Now, I'm using movies to point to social phenomenon better documented in studies because it's a lot more interesting for most of us to talk about movies; I just want to note that the research and studies are out there (see, for example, Kim Tan, "Why East Asia has Risen out of Poverty," Acton University, 2016 [conference lecture], and the lectures [with links to additional information] below).

I should note that this doesn't mean I'm advocating either open boarders (i.e. reasonable security, some form of background checks ["is there a warrant out for this passport holder?"], etc. are appropriate), or fast-track citizenship: it makes sense that immigrants be expected to live in a new culture long enough to learn that culture's values and codes before giving them a voice in government; but these are larger questions for a longer post, here I'm just focusing on immigration as a more efficient means of helping the poor (Lev. 19:34, Deut. 10:18-19, etc.).

*See Michael Clemens, "Aid, Migration, and Poverty," George Srour "Education, African Schools, and Building Tomorrow," and James Tooley, "Private Schools for the Poor and the Beautiful Tree" on Russ Roberts, Econ Talk.
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