Bryan Caplan  

A Decade of Mexican Progress

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Competitive Government... Non-profits, yet again...
I love immigrants.  But I don't mind declining immigration when it's driven by catch-up growth.  Here's the NYT on what happened in Mexico over the last decade:
Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell. Despite all the depictions of Mexico as "nearly a failed state," he argued, "the conventional wisdom is wrong."
More:
Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.
Many forces are at work, but clearly Mexican progress has a big effect on Mexican immigration:

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton... said that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. "No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped," Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. "For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative."

More:

American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004.

Final thought: Realistically speaking, Mexican progress is the only plausible path to an open border.  Once their GDP is half of ours, few Mexicans will want to immigrate, and Americans will magnanimously acquiesce.  Maybe.

HT: Tyler


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Jaap writes:

ahh, I noticed it myself.
my fiancee is Mexican, used to live in FL, but moved back because the job-prospects were so much better is DF. at any rate, I lived there for a month, and noticed that Mexico (the part I visited) was not as poor as advertised. in fact, Romania seemed poorer.
the reason why people think it is so poor is because the neighbor is so much richer! it is more contrast than actual poverty.
free trade will make the country catch up more and more. the work-ethos is certainly there, I hardly say anyone outright begging there. most people were working one way or the other, like selling stuff on the streets. so much unlike Vancouver! all these young, healthy guys pan-handling make me crinch...

Steve Sailer writes:

Convergence.

Mexico is becoming more like America and America is becoming more like Mexico.

Tom writes:

Totally agree with Steve, instead of drug cartels running the show, we have bank cartels sucking our nation dry.

Shane writes:

It makes sense. Ireland for many decades was the source of mass-migration to Britain. By the early 2000s the growing economy meant that Ireland became a destination for migrants instead - and the biggest non-Irish nationality was British. Now that the economy is troubled, the flow has reversed once again and Irish are leaving for UK.

If Mexico grows quickly I can envisage it attracting migrants from other Latin American countries too.

Lenin said the people vote with their feet. They do, moving towards wealth and opportunity when they can.

Nathan Smith writes:

Question: if there were pure open borders between the United States and Western Europe, not only for travel but for work, how many people would move between America and Europe? I suspect quite a few. 10% of the population over the life cycle, or more.

Roger Sweeny writes:

Another reason house prices keep going down. One of the reasons demand went up was the increase in demanders. An important source of that increase is now gone.

The Engineer writes:

Where does the Caplan speculation that Mexican GDP half that of the US would stop immigration? And what is that in terms of GDP per capita (they are a much smaller country than us, right?)

Was that a joke, Bryan?

Peter Schaeffer writes:

All,

This is pretty weak stuff. B. Caplan needs to actually look at the facts. Check out the IMF WEO Database (http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2011/01/weodata/index.aspx).

Mexico's per-capita GDP in 2000 was 76,756 (constant Pesos). In 2010 per-capita GDP was 81,529 (also constant Pesos). Note that in 1990 per-capita GDP was 63,763 Pesos and in 1980 it was 65,236 Pesos. That 25% growth in 30 years.

I loved the line about

"Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined."

I guess mass murder on a scale that rivals Iraq and Afghanistan aren't part of the equation. Please don't waste bits on "failed drug war" excuses. Americans have been buying drugs for years. Only since liberalization has chaos consumed Mexico. Pure J curve stuff. Minus the right hand side so far.

Note that Mexico was once a Tiger (economic) with amazingly fast economic growth sustained over many years (decades). However, that was pre-liberalization and before mass emigration. Starting around 1980 Mexico embraced neoliberalism and mass human exports. By any economic standard the old authoritarian PRI worked better. Given the willingness of the drug lords to slaughter anyone who dares to challenge them, Mexico may have been freer as well.

Funny note. Mexico's share of global output has been declining for the last 30 years. Not impressive for a developing country.

jorod writes:

Problem is, we have an administration that wants to bring GDP in US down to Mexico level.

8 writes:

I thought the NAFTA plan was to help Mexicans and that could partially stem the flow of immigration. Then the U.S. opened up to China and all the factories that might have gone to Mexico went to China...

Evan writes:

@The Engineer

Where does the Caplan speculation that Mexican GDP half that of the US would stop immigration? And what is that in terms of GDP per capita (they are a much smaller country than us, right?)
Mexico has a little over a third of the US population. So if its GDP was half of the US' that would make the GDP per capita higher. If Bryan meant GDP per capita, maybe the average Mexican's prospects are unlikely to be increased by immigration if they're already 50% as rich as the average American, although that's just speculation on my part.

I think Bryan's speculation that a wealthy Mexico will lead to an open border depends on whether the current hispanophobia in Ameria is due to Mexicans being of a different race and culture, or due to their poverty. I think it is primarily the latter since few people seems to have strong opposition to Asian immigration in spite of their different race and culture. If Mexico was a 1st world country the border would probably be as open as the Canadian one.

I also have to say that I've noticed this trend in a lot of other 1st world countries. I don't know how reliable Wolfram Alpha is, but I once searched for the GDPs of of multiple countries by year and noticed that many 3rd world countries were increasing fairly steeply.

Matt writes:

"I thought the NAFTA plan was to help Mexicans and that could partially stem the flow of immigration. Then the U.S. opened up to China and all the factories that might have gone to Mexico went to China..."

Did you read the post or the article? Partially because of NAFTA, Mexico's economy has improved which has stemmed the flow of immigrants. Decreased opportunities in the US play a role, but the "plan" looks like it's working to me.

I also can't stand the idea that "all factories are in China." China specializes in things that are very labor-intensive. Mexico's labor is too expensive for things like t-shirts or shoes or final assembly of electronics. However, Mexico does make a lot of things like cars, car parts, air conditioning units, etc. For things heavier and more complex than stuff at Wal-Mart, the logistical and labor-force advantages (more engineers and technicians) of Mexico are useful.

steve writes:

Is the drug trade any part of this new found wealth. Are drugs their biggest export yet? It would be weird if drugs were legalized in the U.S. and perversly these greater freedoms caused Mexico to fall back into poverty.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

A few more notes from the real world about Mexico.

From 1950 to 1980 Mexico’s per-capita GDP grew by 175%. From 1980 to 2010 Mexico’s per-capita GDP grew by 23.9%. That a staggering growth decline.

In 1950 Mexico’s per-capita GDP was 26% of the U.S. By 1980, Mexico reached 40% of U.S. per-capita GDP. By 2009 Mexico was down to 28% of per-capita U.S. GDP.

From 1950 to 1980 Mexico’s GDP grew by 560%. From 1980 to 2009 output rose by 101%.

In the fantasy Open Borders world, Mexico is thriving. In the real world, not so much.

A crucial point is that in the 1950-1980 boom years Mexico was overtly authoritarian (under the PRI). Since 1980 has opened up and embraced neoliberalism (with a vengeance). Like it or not Mexico is a case study in how neoliberalism fails. See also Argentina for an epic failure of neoliberalism.

josh writes:

If you really *love* immigrants so much, there are some neighborhoods where you could save quite a bit of money on housing in the dc area.

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