Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2011

Economics and Emigration: Trillion-dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?

Michael Clemens

August 2011

Center for Global Development


Many people born in low-income countries would like to leave those countries, but barriers prevent their emigration. Those barriers, according to economists’ best estimates to date, cost the world economy much more than all remaining barriers to the international movement of goods and capital combined. Yet economists spend much more time studying the movement of goods and capital, and when they study migration at all, they focus on the effects of immigration on nonmigrants in destination countries. In this paper, Michael Clemens investigates why this is the case and sketches a four-point research agenda on the effects of emigration. Barriers to emigration, he writes, deserve a research priority that is commensurate with their likely colossal economic effects.