IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?


  • Michael A. Clemens


What is the greatest single class of distortions in the global economy? One contender for this title is the tightly binding constraints on emigration from poor countries. Vast numbers of people in low-income countries want to emigrate from those countries but cannot. How large are the economic losses caused by barriers to emigration? Research on this question has been distinguished by its rarity and obscurity, but the few estimates we have should make economists' jaws hit their desks. The gains to eliminating migration barriers amount to large fractions of world GDP—one or two orders of magnitude larger than the gains from dropping all remaining restrictions on international flows of goods and capital. When it comes to policies that restrict emigration, there appear to be trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael A. Clemens, 2011. "Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 83-106, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:25:y:2011:i:3:p:83-106 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.3.83

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard B. Freeman, 2006. "People Flows in Globalization," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 145-170, Spring.
    2. World Bank, 2001. "Global Economic Prospects and the Developing Countries 2001," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 14779.
    3. J. William Ambrosini & Karin Mayr & Giovanni Peri & Dragos Radu, 2011. "The Selection of Migrants and Returnees: Evidence from Romania and Implications," NBER Working Papers 16912, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output Per Worker than Others?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 83-116.
    5. Francesc Ortega & Giovanni Peri, 2009. "The Causes and Effects of International Migrations: Evidence from OECD Countries 1980-2005," NBER Working Papers 14833, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Antonio Ciccone & Giovanni Peri, 2006. "Identifying Human-Capital Externalities: Theory with Applications," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(2), pages 381-412.
    7. Batista, Catia & Lacuesta, Aitor & Vicente, Pedro C., 2012. "Testing the ‘brain gain’ hypothesis: Micro evidence from Cape Verde," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(1), pages 32-45.
    8. Michel Beine & Fréderic Docquier & Hillel Rapoport, 2008. "Brain Drain and Human Capital Formation in Developing Countries: Winners and Losers," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(528), pages 631-652, April.
    9. Carlos Vargas-Silva, 2009. "The Tale of Three Amigos: Remittances, Exchange Rates, and Money Demand in Mexico," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(1), pages 1-14, February.
    10. Frédéric Docquier & Çaǧlar Özden & Giovanni Peri, 2010. "The Wage Effects of Immigration and Emigration," NBER Working Papers 16646, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Murray Leibbrandt & James Levinsohn, 2014. "Fifteen Years On: Household Incomes in South Africa," NBER Chapters,in: African Successes, Volume I: Government and Institutions, pages 333-355 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Anna Maria Mayda, 2006. "Who Is Against Immigration? A Cross-Country Investigation of Individual Attitudes toward Immigrants," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(3), pages 510-530, August.
    13. Frédéric Docquier & Hillel Rapoport, 2012. "Globalization, Brain Drain, and Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(3), pages 681-730, September.
    14. Michael Kremer, 1993. "The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 551-575.
    15. Prescott F. Hall, 1913. "The Recent History of Immigration and Immigration Restriction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21, pages 735-735.
    16. Parsons, Christopher R. & Skeldon, Ronald & Walmsley, Terrie L. & Winters, L. Alan, 2007. "Quantifying international migration : a database of bilateral migrant stocks," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4165, The World Bank.
    17. Bhagwati, Jagdish & Hamada, Koichi, 1974. "The brain drain, international integration of markets for professionals and unemployment : A theoretical analysis," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-42, April.
    18. O'Rourke, Kevin, 1995. "Emigration and Living Standards in Ireland since the Famine," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 8(4), pages 407-421, November.
    19. Juergen Backhaus & Richard Wagner, 1987. "The cameralists: A public choice perspective," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 53(1), pages 3-20, January.
    20. Sébastien Dessus & Kiichiro Fukasaku & Raed Safadi, 2001. "Multilateral Tariff Liberalisation and the Developing Countries," OECD Development Centre Policy Briefs 18, OECD Publishing.
    21. Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1993. "After the Famine: Emigration from Ireland, 1850–1913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(03), pages 575-600, September.
    22. Amuedo-Dorantes, Catalina & Pozo, Susan, 2004. "Workers' Remittances and the Real Exchange Rate: A Paradox of Gifts," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(8), pages 1407-1417, August.
    23. Leah Platt Boustan & Price V. Fishback & Shawn Kantor, 2010. "The Effect of Internal Migration on Local Labor Markets:American Cities during the Great Depression," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(4), pages 719-746, October.
    24. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
    25. Robert Kaestner & Ofer Malamud, 2014. "Self-Selection and International Migration: New Evidence from Mexico," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(1), pages 78-91, March.
    26. Walmsley, Terrie L. & Winters, L. Alan, 2005. "Relaxing the Restrictions on the Temporary Movement of Natural Persons: A Simulation Analysis," Journal of Economic Integration, Center for Economic Integration, Sejong University, vol. 20, pages 688-726.
    27. Philip Oreopoulos & Alan J. Auerbach, 1999. "Analyzing the Fiscal Impact of U.S. Immigration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 176-180, May.
    28. Gemechu Ayana Aga & Christian Eigen-Zucchi & Sonia Plaza & Ani Rudra Silwal, 2013. "Migration and Development Brief, No. 20," World Bank Other Operational Studies 17020, The World Bank.
    29. Jagdish Bhagwati, 1984. "Incentives and disincentives: International migration," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer;Institut für Weltwirtschaft (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), vol. 120(4), pages 678-701, December.
    30. David McKenzie & John Gibson & Steven Stillman, 2010. "How Important Is Selection? Experimental vs. Non-Experimental Measures of the Income Gains from Migration," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(4), pages 913-945, June.
    31. Satish Chand & Michael A. Clemens, 2008. "Skilled emigration and skill creation: A quasi-experiment," International and Development Economics Working Papers idec08-05, International and Development Economics.
    32. Shepperson, Wilbur S., 1953. "Industrial Emigration in Early Victorian Britain," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(02), pages 179-192, March.
    33. Erik Canton, 2009. "Human Capital Externalities and Proximity: Evidence from Repeated Cross-Sectional Data," De Economist, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 79-105, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F02 - International Economics - - General - - - International Economic Order and Integration
    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:25:y:2011:i:3:p:83-106. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jane Voros) or (Michael P. Albert). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.