Pritchett, Lant (2006) Center For Global Development sample essay


When the wings are strong, even the birds fly! Birds also, as a rule migrate, flying thousands of miles to the area and the climate of their choice every year. Even before the Christian era, adventurous traders and devoted missionaries have been moving from one country to another for their purposes in view. Migration is an age-old happening. The industrial and internet revolutions, the modern materialistic civilization have commercially shrunk the world. ‘Atlas has shrugged!’ When basic conditions are created for the people to move from one country to another, irresistible demographic forces are bound to exert their pressure.

To check these forces through anti-immigration ideas is like blocking the furiously advancing avalanche with the fence of straw. Or trying to touch the moon by kite-flying! Or controlling the rising flood waters by filling pitchers! Statistical studies are no doubt needed, but it is no use digging the well when the house is on fire. In times of war, your goal should be to win the war, no matter how you win. I mean to say, all the relative efforts should be to tackle the root cause of the problem.

It is no ordinary chat on the subject of migration by Pritchett….

Pritchett’s ideas are far-sighted. The world leaders talk about globalization and “the world is one family” concept, but the so-called national interests are entrenched too strongly in them. They wish to remain dry under water. Efforts are constantly on the anvil to check labor mobility. Political interests are the main consideration; welfare of the common man is nicely swept under the carpet, by arguments and counterarguments. The governments are resisting the liberal ideas, because the rich people of the country protest against creating favorable conditions for the labor to immigrate! Some forward thinking statesmen/ politicians have to take initiative to break he deadlock if they really wish to do something tangible for the welfare of the people to whom employment means their livelihood.

Temporary work-permits and protection of migrants’ fundamental human rights are the important issues. Lant Pritchett is touching the live wire! Your book will be controversial, Mr. Pritchett, but do not bother. All great ideas have been controversial. Some centuries ago, people and intellectuals did believe that the Earth is flat and the sun does the rotations! The book is not a voluminous work by page-count, just 151 pages, but they are sufficient to stir the thinking process of the individuals concerned, the politicians and the policy-makers.

He tenders provocative ideas, on the issues where provocation is required. The book has 5 chapters, i) Four Irresistible Forces for Increased Labor Mobility, ii) The Fifth Irresistible Force: Ghosts & Zombies, iii) Immovable Ideas: Myths and Truths, iv) Accommodating Forces and Ideas to achieve development—Friendly Labor Mobility v) Conclusion: Let their People Come. To the fundamental question in Economics, what are the factors of production, the answer is, land, labor, capital and organization. Labor is the most important of them for capital without labor is dead!

It is not that Lant is unaware of the political consequences of labor immigration. But he is an economist. He has soft-corner for the labor and it is not mere wishful thinking. He gives his favorable disposition towards the labor force and makes out a brilliant case for expanded immigration in rich countries. If you are thinking in terms of globalizing everything, why not labor, is the question posed by Lant.

He has his own style of working on his projects. He is not concerned about the ideologies and methodologies. He will not stick to any special type of “ism”. He is a man without a label or a tag. He works with a pure heart and for the cause which he considers and concludes to be right. He is truly a global person with the global approach to his thinking. He doesn’t believe in half- hearted measures. He is the proverbial individual who believes—do not strike; if you strike, strike so hard that there is no need to strike again!

He gives unassailable ideas and reasons in the very first chapter of the book: He says, “Four irresistible forces today cause observed increases in labor mobility—and each promises to become even more powerful in future. Those forces are wage gaps, demographics, “everything but labor” globalization, and the services future of labor demand in industrial countries. A fifth force—rapid and massive shifts in the desired populations of various countries…. Four preliminary observations are useful.”(Pritchett, 2006, p.13)

Pritchett is on war with both left and right—and therefore, he invites controversy. His question to world leaders is why you stop at standard solutions, trade and aid. He stands solidly behind the guest-worker program. Why shouldn’t millions of the poorest of the world choose to work in richest economies? He is worried why people are so insensitive about this issue. He is willing to beat the national borders on this issue and paints the grim picture emerging on the curtain of the mind of an ordinary worker. “Gaps in per capita across countries are only suggestive of migration pressures, because the relevant question for a worker is the difference in wages that he or she would earn in two countries.”

Pritchett, 2006, p.18)

Pritchett’s critics say he thinks much ahead of his time; all great thinkers do think so!

He is opposed for, Western countries do not wish to jeopardize their sovereignty, cause tremors in the levels of domestic wages, terrorism is such a big question that involves national security, the developing countries would not like to drain their own talent on a large scale, with children migrating on such a large scale, what about the poor parents?—it is going to be such a big sociological problem, the cultural cohesion of all the affected countries will be disturbed beyond repair, the churning process will be damaging—Pritchett has some soft answers for many such important issues, but his hard critics are not willing to listen.

Pritchett says that the migrants are temporary workers; they are coming to return to their home country. They will stay 3 to 5 years, with no scope for regular citizenship, and they are coming as stop-gap arrangements to work in areas with certified labor shortages. They will not bring the families. So, the taxpayers of the host country need not take up the responsibility of educating the migrants’ children. A revolving labor pool will be created.

Lant Pritchett is no ordinary think-tank and he is always battle ready to talk and write on global issues. He is a non-resident fellow at the Centre for Global Development and is a lead socio-economist with the World Bank, based in New Delhi, India. He is to take up the assignment of Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, shortly. (I think he has since taken up his assignment.)


Labor unrest has been the cause of many devastating revolutions. Then pages of labor movements all over the world, daubed in bloodshed, ask a crying question. How to make this Planet Earth peaceful with plenty and prosperity? The answer is simple and direct. Eyes full of understanding, heart full of love, life that effuses conflicts, and employment opportunities and freedom of movement for one and all—these alone are enough!