Tools like Skype have redefined what it means to be in distant relationships or to leave family and friends behind. It has helped people conquer the challenges of distance and shifted the intrinsic costs of travel and migration. Although the benefits of video-calling and high-speed internet can be brought together in an analysis of implications for micro decision-making, migration and – by extension – comparative regional economic prosperity, it is important to keep in mind the deep humanity of the subject.
Artist John Clang’s moving photo series, Be Here Now, captures projected families and their international members brought together. View the whole series on Visual News.
I always assumed that people who travel, work and live abroad are successful. They’re in demand wherever they go, unhindered by geography and distance to pursue the opportunities lying outside their hometown. They’re successful because they realize there is more out there for them and have the guts and drive to go get it. Equivalently, they have to be successful really. Otherwise they would just move back to wherever they came from, and it wouldn’t appear that they moved at all. I guess there’s so much people give up in the move that failing to achieve their goals just isn’t an acceptable option.
Migration has been at the foundation of my academic, professional, and personal progress, but I never saw it that way until now. My mental rewiring around the idea of migration started when I read an article titled “Moving On Up,” by Tim Fernholz in the latest edition of GOOD magazine. Concerned about the American economy, Tim (can I call you Tim?) links the economic stagnation to meagre numbers in migrants. Drawing on examples from China’s economic history and policies since 1958, Tim makes a good case for increasing migration among the working American population (particularly among young people). People aren’t moving, and there’s too much unemployment, but they aren’t moving to where the jobs are. The Americans that I’ve met who have packed their bags and moved are doing pretty well, from marketing to international law and human rights, and they’re now spread across the UK, Netherlands, Canada, and Singapore.
The more pressing question in all of this is why aren’t people moving? Tim highlights some theories, from debt to complacency, generous social safety nets to sheer flaws in character. I could write several generous reports on the topic just trying to answer this question, and it will come to a conclusion with ifs, ands and buts. Like most things in the study of social sciences, there isn’t a concrete answer. More likely it’s a complicated combination of numerous factors, and perhaps the topic of my next paper on econometrics.