Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


July 2017, Volume 23, Number 3

Compacts, Post-Truth

The world's population of 7.6 billion in mid-2017 is growing by 1.1 percent or 84 million a year, and will reach almost 10 billion in 2050. The world's current population is distributed as follows: Asia has 4.5 billion people or 60 percent, Africa 1.3 billion or 17 percent, Europe 742 million or 10 percent, Latin America 646 million or nine percent, North America 361 million or six percent, and Oceania 41 million or less than one percent.

India is expected to surpass China as the most populous country by 2025 with over 1.4 billion people, and Africa with an expected 4.5 billion people in 2050 will have almost as many people as Asia with 4.8 billion. The populations of the other continents are expected to grow slowly or shrink.

Remittances to developing countries were $445 billion in 2016 and are projected to rise to $450 billion in 2017. IFAD estimated that 200 million of the world's 250 million international migrants made remittance payments in 2016 to 800 million relatives, so that almost a seventh of the world's people make or receive remittances. About 40 percent of remittances to developing countries go to rural areas, where poverty is most severe.

IFAD estimated total migrant earnings to be $3 trillion, making remittances 15 percent of earnings. Three-fourths of remittances are from the US, $117 billion in 2016, Europe, $115 billion, and the GCC countries, $100 billion, and 80 percent of remittances go to 23 countries, led by China, India and the Philippines. Remittance costs were an estimated $30 billion, or 6.7 percent of the amount sent.

The OECD, an organization of 35 mostly rich countries, received five million settler immigrants in 2016, up from 4.7 million in 2015. In both years, 1.5 million of the newcomers applied for asylum, including over a million in European OECD countries; OECD member Turkey hosts another three million Syrians. Some 1.6 million immigrants joined family members in OECD countries in 2016.

Cities. Half of the world's people lived in cities in 2010, and three-fourths are expected to be urban residents by 2050. The future of some cities may be in doubt. For example, arid Mexico City is sinking, so that some buildings have low spots, as the mix of clay and volcanic soil sinks unevenly as water levels drop.

Mexico City, which has a metro area population of 21 million in 3,000 square miles, was built on islands in a network of lakes that were gradually filled in as the lakes were drained and the water channeled into canals. Metro Mexico City has 8,000 miles of pipes to bring fresh water to residents, but no system-wide way to deal with wastewater.

UNHCR reported almost 66 million "people of concern" at the end of 2016, including 17 million refugees. Most of the 66 million were internally displaced, people forced to move from their homes by civil war or natural disasters. There are also 5.3 million Palestinians included in the people of concern total.

Compacts. The UN General Assembly proposed a Global Compact for "safe, orderly, and regular" Migration and a Global Compact on Refugees in September 2017. The refugee compact has a normative framework, the 1951 Geneva Convention, and a lead UN agency in UNHCR to improve protections and more equitably share the burden of hosting refugees.

The migration compact has no normative framework, but the UN-affiliated IOM aims to guide governments toward common principles to strengthen global migration governance and promote the positive contributions of migrants, including migrant workers.

World leaders are scheduled to meet in September-October 2018 to endorse compacts that include specific commitments by governments, prompting a scramble among UN agencies and NGOs to influence these commitments. The final Global Compacts aim to be comprehensive and guided by the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to enhance the governance of international migration and conditions for migrant workers and refugees.

Many meetings to prepare content for the compacts tackled migration and development. The assumption is that the 3 R's of recruitment, remittances and returns can provide a short-cut to faster economic and job growth in emigration areas, making labor migration self stopping.

The challenge is to implement this vision when many destinations fear the effects of especially low-skilled newcomers. Legions of economic studies find few of the expected adverse effects of low-skilled migrants on similar natives, raising the question of whether the absence of evidence is equivalent to evidence of absence, that is, does the failure to find the adverse effects of an increased supply of labor predicted by economic theory mean that there are no such effects or that adverse effects are hard to measure?

Post-Truth. Post-truth politics are often defined as those that appeal to emotions rather than facts. Repeated assertions of false or only partially true statements become "true" via 24-hour news channels with adversarial commentators, blogs and other media. Post-truth was the Oxford dictionaries word of the year in 2016.

Political scientist Christina Boswell distinguishes between problem-solving research, substantiating research that reinforces policy positions already taken, and legitimizing research that bolsters the position of a policy maker or institution. Boswell argues that the political salience of the issue, whether the mode of settlement is democratic or technocratic, and the balance between symbols and outcomes combine to influence how research is conducted and used in policy making.

An example of problem-solving research is a public health emergency. The issue can be very salient, the mode of settlement is technocratic, and outcomes are important to policy makers. An example of substantiating research is the belief that immigrants are risk takers who foster innovation; research that finds a high share of immigrant founders in IT firms reinforces this belief. An example of legitimizing research is a government agency or an organization that wants to reduce immigration commissioning studies to show that migrants adversely affect native workers.

Research gets different "weights" in different issues. If the issue is settled through democracy or discussion, such as debates over how to foster the integration of immigrants, individual beliefs may count for more than research results. If the issue is more technical, such as the labor market impacts or the economic progress of immigrants, more deference may be paid to research. When research findings disagree, protagonists often cite those favorable to their position.

Legitimizing research may be used by NGOs and government agencies. Border control agencies count how many unauthorized foreigners are apprehended, and can point to declines in response to more agents. However, it may be hard for housing or other agencies to prove that a particular intervention improved migrant integration.

Boswell notes that many governments over the past two decades opened their doors wider to foreign students and skilled workers at the behest of universities and businesses, and that most economic research supported these policies as good for migrants and natives. Economics supports maximizing human capital within borders for faster growth, whether home grown or imported.

Issues with students and skilled workers in the US include how to police fraud and prevent adverse effects, since policies aimed at attracting global talent also permit dubious schools and a variety of contractors to operate. Populists can use examples of fraud and displacement to discredit the overall goal of adding talent and promise to end or curb such programs.

Peters argues that freer trade has led to restrictions on low-skilled migrants, as businesses that rely on low-skilled migrants have less need for such workers in a world of free trade. Her major argument is that business is the most influential single force in US migration policy making. Peters examines the positions of the Western Growers Association to argue that, because its fruit and vegetable grower members could not move overseas or mechanize, they pressed for an easy-access low-skilled guest worker program.

Trump. US foreign policy has long been based on promoting prosperity to promote peace. President Trump appears to be changing the narrative, as with a speech in Poland in July 2017 that argued that western civilization was under attack, and the proper response was to fight back.

Many US military leaders disagree with Trump. In arguing for strategic development assistance in June 2017, they asserted ?American security is undermined by frail and failing nations where hope is nonexistent, and where conditions foster radicalism, produce refugees, spark insurgency, and provide safe havens for terrorists, criminal gangs, and human traffickers.?

Social science research finds that lower per capita incomes are associated with more civil wars, as demonstrated by the Arab spring protests that had their roots in rising food prices. Linkages between poverty and violence are unclear: does violence produce poverty or does poverty lead to war?

Bowell, Christina. 2009. The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research. Cambridge.
Peters, Margaret. 2017. Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization. Princeton.