Courtesy Reuters

Mass Migration, Then and Now

The cliché runs that history repeats itself. The late Per Jacobsson was fond of stating that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. This can be disproved in two ways: (1) By finding people with a vivid memory of history who none the less slip into repetitive behavior. An example might be the French who pulled down sterling in 1930 with dire consequences for the world, and now seem interested in undermining the dollar. Or (2), by uncovering an historical analogy which has escaped general notice, and seeing if the same story unfolds itself later. The second path is the one followed here. The mass migration now taking place from Southern to Northern and Western Europe-from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey to Switzerland, France, Germany and Belgium-can be measured against the movement from Southern and Eastern Europe to the United States between 1880 and 1913 for similarities and differences. It is particularly instructive to observe whether previous pitfalls have been avoided, and if so, whether by accident, by circumstances or because of the increased social consciousness of the human race.

The economic, social and political importance of the two movements is difficult to overstate. In both cases, cheap labor fed economic growth by holding down wages, relatively at least, and maintaining high rates of profit, investment and expansion. The migrants constituted the "reserve armies of the unemployed" which Marx believed were necessary for capitalism to feed on. The Marxist model is by no means the only road to the growth of income-over-all, but also, be it noted, per head as well. In some situations it is possible for economic growth to be stimulated by mass emigration: clearing up redundant labor, or disguised unemployment, stimulates the economy by increasing the return to efficient utilization of resources, and in particular encourages the adoption of machinery which saves total resources as well as labor. Just as Ireland benefited from emigration in the nineteenth century, so Southern Italy, Spain and Greece enjoy high rates of

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