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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Best Development Policy Ever?

Last Friday, I pinned this poem on my office wall. It is the inscription on the tablet where the Statue of Liberty stands.

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Lately I've been thinking, is it possible that the best development policy the US has ever had was to allow these 'huddled masses' into its shores? Could it be that the country's best contribution to the poor was to allow immigration of whoever could make it to its land of opportunity?

In the 1900s, the poor from all parts of Europe went to America in search of a better life. Although Americans did discriminate against "autistics" and "fools", the standing policy was whoever could make it, whoever could brave the 3 month voyage at sea was welcome. So thousands of the indigent from Ireland, Italy, Poland etc. moved to have a better, if not perfect, life. Millions had their lives transformed, just because they were able to move.

How are these countries doing now? Not that bad. None of these European countries are in the lower rungs of income categories. Historical wages have caught up, almost equalized with that of the US. Was it because of migration? I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

Neither has America been hurt. While in the 1900s, residents feared any additional influx could depress the US economy, here is the United States of America, 60 million immigrants after, still the most powerful, energetic economy in the world. Immigration has been part of its success.

The best development policy ever? If only we used it more and thought of it as such, migration could be the most powerful development tool in this next century, as it has been in years past.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I am significant!

Live in a foreign land and you will soon come upon this deep and humbling realization that the world is HUGE... and you, quite truthfully, are small.

The problem with graduating top of your class from a tiny and homogenous society is that you are led to believe you have made it, that you are a big shot. When the truth is, given greater perspective, you are one in a million - a disconcerting thought, I will admit, I have experienced many times here in America where I discover I am outsmarted, out-talked by a lot more people than I thought I could be, from co-workers to peers. Everyone graduated top of their class; everyone is a hot shot.

I am keeping this in mind as I start pondering on my PhD applications. Talent from around the world will be applying to the few prized spots in the best schools. It's a lottery. And everyone will be scrambling to set themselves apart.