On Wednesday, Branko Milanovic whose work deals mostly with quantifying global inequality wrote a piece about migration for the Financial Times. The piece, titled “There Is a Trade-Off Between Citizenship and Migration” bespeaks the many ways in which economists seek to improve world systems by adjusting its parameters rather than calling into question the structures which underlie them.
As the title suggests, Milanovic insists that there is a trade-off between the types of citizenship countries grant immigrants and the levels of migration those countries will see. Rather than treating such migration as a result of political and economic calamities that are disproportionately laid upon the global South by the forces of Western economic and military rapaciousness, he treats it almost as an economist might treat pollution – something generally socially undesirable, but only preventable in degree by manipulating property rights.
Taking for granted a trade-off between citizenship rights and migration, Milanovic proposes a system of graduated citizenship akin to the systems of the United States and the Arab Peninsula. Needless to say, Milanovic’s approach has already seen some push-back. Chris Bertram, writing for the blog Crooked Timber has already called Milanovic’s suggestion “reinventing apartheid.” And while it might be a tad bombastic to equate the visa system of the US or the sponsorship system of the GCC with the brutally repressive white nationalist regime of South African apartheid, Bertram does have a point that such systems create arbitrary legal gateways for brutal racial repression and a sort of ethnic caste system.
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