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J U N E 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
57
A Movable Feast
Exceptional People: How
Migration Shaped Our World
and Will Define Our Future
Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron and
Meera Balarajan, Princeton University
Press, 2011, $31, hardcover, 371 pages.
R
EVIEWED BY
D
AVID
B
OYLE
In
Exceptional People
, Ian Goldin,
Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balara-
jan make a compelling case that inter-
national migration will play a funda-
mental role in shaping global human
and economic development in the 21st
century.
They describe the social forces driv-
ing the movement of individuals across
borders, arguing that mass migration is
a phenomenon that can be understood
and managed, but never fully con-
trolled. Fortunately, it serves the inter-
ests of emerging and developed nations
alike as a powerful force for the contin-
ued dynamism of the world economy.
Drawing on numerous sources, the
authors describe how individual deci-
sions to migrate are “nested within a
broader set of family considerations, so-
cial networks, and political and eco-
nomic conditions.” This complexity
means that explanations for migration
that rely on economic disparities be-
tween countries are simplistic and over-
look the more important role social
networks play in prompting and sus-
taining migration.
Government policy also shapes the
general framework in which individuals
and groups make decisions. But inter-
national population movements are ul-
timately autonomous from the inten-
tions of states.
Citing the costs and abuses involved
in controlling national frontiers, the au-
thors advocate a return to the open bor-
ders of the 19th century, when massive
flows of immigrants set the foundation
for the economic development of the
modern world. They note that be-
tween 1820 and 1920, 60 million per-
sons left Europe for the New World.
And between 1846 and 1940, 100 mil-
lion Chinese, Indian and Russian im-
migrants moved to Central and South-
east Asia. These migratory flows
proved decisive in creating the social
dynamism and entrepreneurial innova-
tion necessary for economic growth in
the 20th century.
The authors believe that a return to
a global open border policy would pro-
duce enormous benefits. According to
the studies they cite, such a policy
could generate economic activity worth
$39 trillion over the next 25 years alone,
for both poor and rich countries — a
benefit dwarfing the $70 billion the de-
veloped world currently devotes to for-
eign assistance each year.
Even small changes would have dra-
matic results: a World Bank study esti-
mates migration equal to 3 percent of
the work force in developed countries
would produce global economic
growth of $356 billion by 2025.
Freer migration also would provide
a counterweight to the increasing au-
thority wielded by the nation-state.
Exceptional People
reminds us that the
United States did not require passports
until 1919, and Thomas Jefferson con-
sidered migration an inalienable right.
The authors argue that nation-states
can no longer manage—on their own,
at least— large populationmovements.
Moreover, emerging international
norms favor the moral claims of indi-
viduals over the absolute sovereignty of
nations, as in cases of ethnic cleansing.
Demographic changes, globalization
and technological advances, they aver,
will spur even higher levels of immi-
gration in the 21st century, renewing
debate over the right of individuals to
choose their place of abode.
Exceptional People
breaks no new
ground, but successfully synthesizes a
wide range of sources to drive home its
central point: “Migration is a natural
and irrepressible force that will only in-
tensify in the coming decades.”
To be sure, the authors acknowl-
edge the problems associated with
mass migration, including the outbreak
of disease, social conflict and the loss of
educated elites (colloquially known as
“brain drain”). But they observe that
isolated countries like North Korea and
Cuba simply cannot compete in the
modern world.
Consular officers adjudicating visa
applications should take heart in the
value
Exceptional People
assigns to
their work. And U.S. policymakers
would do well to take note of an issue
likely to be at the forefront of interna-
tional debate for years to come.
David Boyle is deputy chief of the po-
litical section in San Salvador. He has
also served in Toronto, Malabo, Manila,
Lagos, Lima and Kinshasa.
B
O O K S
Consular officers
adjudicating visa
cases should take
heart in the value
Exceptional People
assigns to their work.