Migrants and Porters at the Gate

The word “Morocco” conjures images of deserts, Bedouins, and souks in Marrakech, not the flamenco and Paella of Spain. Yet, there are two enclaves of Spain resting in Morocco, much to the chagrin of the Moroccans. Ceuta and Melilla are Spanish autonomous cities that lie along the Mediterranean Sea, nestled among the hills of Morocco. Both cities have been disputed by Moroccan claims, which are rejected by the Spanish government and local populations. Meanwhile, Ceuta and Melilla have become portals between Europe and Africa, both for people and goods.

A map of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean

It has been well documented that Africans are willing to endure many hardships to cross into Europe, with news stories popping up constantly about capsizing boats off the coast of Lampadusa, Italy or the coast of Greece. Ceuta and Melilla have also become a popular destination for African migration into Europe. The Spanish authorities contend that there are around 80,000 people waiting to cross into those two Spanish cities. The sheer volume of potential immigrants has led Spain to construct a triple layer of 20 foot high fences with barbed wire around Ceuta and Melilla, manned by border police with rubber bullets. These barriers were constructed at a cost of around 30 million euros, and are referred to by some Europeans as “walls of shame”.

The Valla de Melilla, or triple rows of barbed wire fence standing 20 feet high

These fences have not been a deterrent for desperate migrants looking to cross the border into Europe. There are frequent surges of people trying to cross the fences or swim to shore, hoping that their numbers will overwhelm the border guards. Earlier in February 2014, over 250 Africans  tried to simultaneously climb the fences or swim into the safety of Ceuta, while the Spanish border guards fired rubber bullets in an attempt to deter them. So far, 15 bodies have been found from that altercation. The interpretation of Spanish law is largely to blame for these surges. Would-be immigrants have not officially entered Spain until they have crossed the police line, not the border. The Spanish government is looking at reforming the law to ease the pressure. Currently, the migrants are housed in the Temporary Center for Immigrants and Asylum Seekers (CETI), which is chronically overcrowded. In 2013, the Ceuta CETI housed more than 700 people in a space built for 512. Large numbers of the migrants come from countries with whom Spain does not have treaties, giving the migrants the freedom to stay in Spain once they have their paperwork. On the Moroccan side of the border, the government has been trying to “regularise” undocumented migrants to allow them to work in Morocco, while the number of deportations of migrants to the Algerian border has decreased.

It’s not only people that try to cross the border clandestinely, as many Moroccan women attempt to take advantage of a loophole in Moroccan law through Ceuta and Melilla. Any goods that come into Morocco by foot are exempt from duties, as they are considered personal luggage, not goods for sale. Due to this loophole, many porteadoras, mostly Moroccan women, cross the border between Ceuta and Melilla into Morocco with 60 kg (132 lbs) of goods on their backs for as little as 3 euros a trip. Most of these women make 3 to 4 trips a day carrying more than their body weight in clothes, blankets, and other goods. In 2011, this trade was estimated to be worth 15 billion dirhams, or $1.5 billion, all untaxed. Up to 90 million euros is also paid in bribes every year, mostly to Moroccan border guards, according to Moroccan weekly Al Ayam. While these may seem like difficult and hellish conditions, these jobs support 45,000 people directly and 400,000 indirectly, highlighting the importance of cross-border trade and migration. Still, there is a danger, with porters dying every so often, trampled under the crowds of people loaded with kilograms of goods.

The porteadoras, or mule women, carrying goods across the border into Morocco

While these enclaves may seem small and unimportant, Ceuta and Melilla mean so much more to people who depend on them for their livelihood or their freedom into a new life. As much as they cause headaches for Spain, Morocco, and the European Union, there is no easy answer to resolve the issue. These European oases will continue shining like beacons, attracting the weary and desperate from the African continent.

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Should We Be Having More Babies?

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According to the CDC, the U.S. fertility rate fell to another record low in 2012 with 63 births per 1,000 women. In 2007, the rate was 69.3.

During a quick scan of the shelves of one of D.C.’s remaining bookstores, journalist Jonathan V. Last’s new book entitled “What To Expect When No One’s Expecting” caught my eye. The book forecasts an impending American demographic disaster by bluntly declaring that people are having too few babies. This prompted a hasty reaction from me: “But everyone says our population is growing out of control! Aren’t 3.95 million babies named Jacob and Sophia enough!?”  America’s total fertility rate, an estimation of the number of births a woman is expected to have during her lifetime based on current age-specific fertility rates, is 1.88 according to the latest figures from the CDC, a record low. This prophet of population doom argues that even this statistic is misleading because most of our fertility has been “outsourced” as we rely heavily on immigrants to prop up the fertility rate. Not including immigrants in the population profile reveals that America has a fertility rate of 1.5.

At first glance, any devout environmentalist would be thrilled with these shrinking population trends since human total environmental impact is exceeding the sustainable carrying capacity of Earth’s ecosystems. This is reflected by the I= PAT equation with I—the human impact placed upon any ecosystem—being the product of three variables: population (P),  per capita level of affluence (A), and technology (T) or more accurately described as the environmental destructiveness of production techniques. It does not take a environmental economist to realize that a lower global population, and hence a lower P value, will result in less of an impact on our ecosystems.

But an interesting deaggregation of what appears to be out-of-control growth reveals cross-country disparities and cultural differences in fertility rates: Japan has a total fertility rate of 1.3 compared to Mali’s total fertility rate of 6.25. Overall, 99% of the world’s current population growth is in developing countries while the fertility rate in each of the G-8 countries is below 2.1 children per women, the rate needed for a given generation to replace itself.  But environmentalists probably still significantly discount falling fertility rates. It is the absolute number that counts and even assuming that fertility levels will continue to decline, the world population is still expected to reach a staggering 9.6 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100, according to the U.N’s medium-variant projection.

Last retorts that a shrinking population that is disproportionately old has dire economic, political, and cultural consequences. According to the U.N., “whereas the number of persons aged 60 or over is expected to more than triple by 2100, that of persons aged 80 or over is projected to increase almost seven-fold by 2100.” Last laments that a global population reduction results in a decrease of human ingenuity: “Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care.” Negative socio-economic externalities abound like a smaller taxpayer base and labor force and the limited availability of military-age manpower to serve in our armed forces. In 1950, there were 16 covered workers for each Social Security beneficiary. Today, there are a little less than three.

But simultaneously, what can the rationale be of the coerced low fertility rates of the Chinese? Surely the Chinese cannot be dooming themselves to a demographically poor future. And is America really subjecting itself to prolonged economic stagnation via a population implosion? A competing argument can be made that a low fertility rate can actually improve living standards. Until  recently, there were few examples of developing countries with both declining fertility and rising incomes. This has changed as some countries have undergone a Goldilocks generation” of fertility—a generation with a not too high but not too low fertility rate—with the result being fewer dependent youngsters, fewer dependent grandparents, and a bulge of working adults that increase economic output. Also, women comparatively do not have to spend more time raising children and can invest more in the education of the children that they do have and add to the productivity and quality of the labor force.

Because there are fewer dependent children and old people, households are able to save more, and there is more capital and resources that can be accumulated per capita.  Economist Klaus Prettner reproduces these findings in a dynamic consumer optimization model that incorporates endogenous fertility and health investments to show that a fertility decline induces higher education and health investments that are able to compensate for declining fertility under certain circumstances. Even as absolute population levels fall, the “effective labor supply” will actually increase, proving that it’s too simplistic to reduce a country’s economic growth and productivity to a simple population numbers game.

Even as absolute population levels fall, the “effective labor supply” will actually increase, proving that it’s too simplistic to reduce a country’s economic growth and productivity to a simple population numbers game.

Consequently, questions loom about such a key determinant of our environmental and economic future. It is clear that countries concern themselves with two questions: Do we have enough people to support an ageing society? Can we take advantage of the right population numbers to spur economic growth? Viewing these questions through an environmental lens, can we find reassurance in declining fertility amidst competing claims about its effects? Are claims about the global population explosion hyperbolized? Only one thing is for certain. Motivation to stabilize population can be undermined by excessive worry that smaller numbers of young people will be supporting larger numbers of the elderly. The prevailing patterns of behavior and resource allocation can be changed in ways that reduce pensioner/worker ratios and make population stabilization more politically viable. Even if falling fertility can raise living standards—especially the living standards of poor, resource-disadvantaged people—it cannot be an excuse for inaction in the realms of smarter governance and tempered lifestyle patterns in respect to environmental crises and economic stagnation.

UPDATE: The Chinese government announced late last week that they would begin to relax its “one-child policy”. The policy was introduced in the late 1970s to combat rapid population growth but has now resulted in an increasingly aging population and extreme gender imbalance. The change will allow couples the option of having two children if just one of the parents is an only child. Previously, both parents had to be only children.

Of Doctors and Immigration: The Growing Need for International Physicians

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have monumental implications for the future of healthcare. Beyond the political posturing and legal scrutiny the decision has inspired, the fact of the matter is that the healthcare law is here to stay. Absent of legislation to modify or repeal the law, it will remain, for better or worse. In the immediate future—implementation, not resistance—will be the mantra of Washington.

The Affordable Care Act will radically alter the landscape of the healthcare industry.

At the same time, the enactment of the law presents substantial challenges. Especially daunting will be the assimilation of an estimated 40 million Americans as they join the ranks of the insured because of the individual mandate. Simultaneously, some 75 million baby boomers hurtle toward retirement, greatly increasing the demand for health services. In addition, almost 40 percent of the 850,000 licensed physicians are 55 years or older, many of them intending to retire in the near future.

Variables such as these have put the healthcare industry on a collision course with massive labor shortages. Traditional models have projected that there could be shortages of more than 150,000 doctors over the next 15 years. The ACA only exacerbates the problem: the Association of American Medical Colleges projected that when the provisions the healthcare law are in full effect, the shortages will grow 50% worse. Many American medical schools are expanding their enrollment capacities, but even those measures will not fully close the gap. Continue reading

Expanding Borders: Economic Gains from Diaspora Networks

Immigration has been both praised and criticized for its effects on the development of a country. While developing countries invite the cutting-edge ideas that migrants from developed countries have to offer, some fear that unskilled laborers will take domestic jobs and drain the economy. But what if economic gains could be realized on both ends of the spectrum? Diaspora groups have the potential to stimulate development both in their countries of origin and in their countries of residence.

Chinese and Indian Diaspora Groups | Source: The Economist

An article from The Economist points out the extent of diaspora groups and the direct economic benefits reaped by people in the country of origin. In addition to remittances, markets for nostalgia goods (blogged about here), and other forms of aid, diaspora networks create good business opportunities. The article points out three ways that diaspora networks facilitate business, production of goods, and foreign direct investment:

First, they speed the flow of information across borders. Second, they foster trust. Third, and most important, diasporas create connections that help people with good ideas collaborate with each other, both within and across ethnicities.

Continue reading

Migration is Down, Remittances are Up – the Future of the US-Mexico Corridor

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple of weeks, it’s been impossible to escape the coverage and (well-deserved) acclaim for Damien Cave’s New York Times feature on the decline of Mexican immigration to the United States.

Cave tends to portray this trend as a positive development, arguing that economic progress in Mexico has decreased the incentives to work abroad. Still, it would be wise to hold off on the champagne. Many long-term forecasts by international organizations, including the BBVA Research and the World Bank, suggest that Mexican migration and remittances are here to stay. Continue reading

High Skilled Immigrants in the U.S.

Photo from Global Immigration Counsel

From taxi drivers to high-tech intellectuals, immigrants are a core element of the American economy. The U.S. immigrant population has grown by 7.4 million in a span of nine years, and immigration remains a polarized discussion today.

At a recent forum hosted by Brookings Institution and George Mason University, immigration policies toward the high-skilled migrant workforce and the role of immigrants in innovation were discussed. The event was divided into two panels. While the first discussed the brightest immigrants in America and the continuing trend of foreign workers, the second focused on high-skilled workers and their impact on the U.S. economy. Continue reading

Study Abroad Does Not Always Mean Stay Abroad

Image Courtesy: Identity Zine

While it is common for most immigrants in the US to stay back and send money and resources back to their homeland, some choose to improve the lives of their community by transferring the knowledge and skills gained in the US for the development of their country.  This can often be more challenging than what most students expect. Continue reading