Author Talk – Ian Goldin, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future

This review of our recent shop event with Ian Goldin of the Oxford Martin School was written by Heather, one of our newest members of staff:

On Thursday last Blackwell’s Caffé Nero was all filled up, this time for a talk from Ian Goldin on his new book Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future. Ian began by explaining the structure of the book. It’s comprised of three parts: ‘past,’ present,’ and ‘future.’ Each section considers the global movement of people, the way they move and the effect on the economy of the sending country and receiving country. Ian began by illuminating the benefits of migration in the early 1800s. He posited that at the time this type of global movement would only promote economic growth. With them the migrants brought new ideas that helped to develop the receiving country and in turn the receiving country presented the migrants with different ways of doing things. Many of these migrants would then return home bringing with them these new ideas and methods. Therefore, the ease of global movement, where one could travel to wherever they would be able to make the most of himself or herself, was also a good thing as it allowed for this exchange of ideas and in turn, an increase of economic growth for both countries involved. However, ‘war, nationalism, and increasingly effective state bureaucracies led to the introduction of new restrictions on migration.’ (Goldin, 2011:69). Towards the end of the nineteenth century ‘managed’ migration came about, with the states controlling the number of migrants entering the country. National identity became entwined with the right to work and move around making life harder for those whose identity was unclear. Despite the notion that economic growth could prosper with open borders more restrictions were imposed and with them came the obligatory use of passports. A more recent invention than you might expect! Ian then explained some of today’s issues surrounding migration. One of these being that nowadays, the burden of migration normally falls onto particular areas but if we share this burden there will be more economic benefits for the world. For example, the Italian island Lampedusa is bombarded with migrants from Africa and similarly, Slough’s population is now approximately 25% migrants. He proposed that receiving nations have a duty to accept migrants based on the notion of where else the migrant could possibly live. The burden should not always fall to the same countries, towns or islands as that is harmful to their local economy. Finally, there is the future to consider. In the allotted time for discussion at the end of the talk many of the questions linked back to Ian’s notions for the future of migration. And it seemed that all the while the audience members had been cooking up fantastically complex questions. One question referred back to his comment on welfare states, that sometimes as much as 80% of the educated workforce leave the country that provided their education. They find jobs abroad meaning the sending country does not benefit from the training it provided and with emigration numbers as high as 80% it will undoubtedly suffer. Ian suggested that whilst such things are beneficial for the state when the population remains static, sometimes measures such as the student loan are essential in order to keeping the economy of the sending country afloat. A number of audience members also picked up on the dichotomies prevalent throughout Ian’s talk such as illegal/legal and static/dynamic. One audience member asked in relation to this what extent is it the responsibilty of the government and its leader to define what is or is not permitted in terms of migration. To this Ian replied that politicians are followers not leaders and should respond to the demands of the citizens who voted for them. Another set of opposing ideas found within the topic was that of integration and indoctrination. To what extent is it suitable for the receiving country to enforce its norms, rules and regulations. A recurring theme throughout the talk was that there appears to be a spectrum regarding migrants and their rights. It proves exceptionally difficult to find that appropriate balance – just cast your mind back to the drama surrounding the banning of the burqa in France. Ian suggested that if the migrant believes in and wishes to practice something which is illegal in the UK, such as female circumcision, they should go somewhere that condones that belief. However, if there is nowhere else for them to go we ought to allow them into the UK but be sure to educate and integrate so that our norms are understood and accepted. Receiving societies have a right to uphold their values. Ian concluded the talk by stating that the book is called exceptional people for many reasons, a particular reason being that these people, the migrants, were and are exceptionally brave. When it comes to leaving one’s home and family there are, of course, individual stories of tragedy. However, the return for their efforts, giving up everything they love in order to provide for it, makes it worthwhile for the individual and also proves that it is not solely in the holistic, global sense that migration is beneficial.

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