Henderson on Robert Guest
By David Henderson
His basic argument is that migration of people across borders creates, in the United States particularly, not so much a melting pot as a “rich stew.” (This is not a quote from the book; it’s actually from Cato Institute senior fellow Tom Palmer, but I think Guest would like it.) Immigrants to the United States also benefit the countries they left–in two ways. The first way is that immigrants collaborate with people in their home countries, giving them access to technology that the immigrants have discovered in their new, wealthier country. Guest’s best examples are of achievements of emigrant Indians–in particular, the “Indian fridge” mentioned in the book’s subtitle. A Mumbai-based manufacturing firm, he writes, “has developed a $69 refrigerator–the world’s cheapest.” The breakthrough occurred because three emigrant Indian engineers, visiting their home country, wangled an invitation to see an official of the Indian firm so that they could show him their new technology.
The second way immigrants help their kinsmen is by sending them money. Guest notes that remittances to people in poor countries surged from $31 billion in 1990 to $316 billion in 2009. He quotes the finding of the World Bank’s Dilip Ratha that remittances are now larger than foreign direct investment and more than twice as large as foreign aid. Because almost all foreign aid is from one government to another, most of it is wasted. Remittances, on the other hand, are typically sent directly to relatives. Guest writes that it is common for an engineer whose annual income is $5,000 in a poor country to move to a rich country, make $30,000 a year, and send $5,000 of it back home. Guest writes, “His homeland is substantially better off, since when he lived there, he spent much of that $5,000 on himself. Now all of it goes to others.”
This is from my review [scroll down about half way] of Robert Guest’s Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism. I loved the book and I also have a few criticisms.
Many Americans worry that the United States will lose its dominant place as an economic power. Not Robert Guest. He celebrates the wealth that the average American has compared to even the average German or Frenchman. Moreover, he notes, Americans welcome foreigners more than pretty much any other country. Virtually anyone can find a niche, “whether she is a socially conservative Arab or an ostentatiously gay Nicaraguan.” One of our greatest strengths is religious tolerance. Former Dutch citizen Hirsi Ali, for instance, who took great risks in the Netherlands to make a film critical of Islam, moved to America to be safer from Muslim threats. Ali reports that when American Christians find out she is an atheist, “They don’t try to kill me. They say they’ll pray for me.” Although many Americans now worry that the United States will become like France, Guest doesn’t, pointing out that the United States doesn’t have ghettos “full of permanently jobless and alienated young immigrants.” Immigrants to America are too busy making a living.
To his credit, Guest does note one other cause of Muslims’ anger: “Obama’s copious use of drone-fired missiles to assassinate suspected Taliban leaders in Pakistan, a tactic that kills hundreds of innocents.” He also criticizes the TV series 24 for popularizing the idea of torturing alleged terrorists. The most cryptic comment in the whole book, though, is his statement that 24 “popularizes the notion that American presidents just pick up the phone and have people murdered.” Is it a bad idea to popularize “notions” that are true? President Obama has claimed, and exercised, the power to kill Americans abroad whom he suspects of being terrorists. On Obama’s orders, suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone attack last fall, and his 16-year-old son Abdul-Rahman was killed in another drone attack a couple of weeks later. The father may well have deserved to die (although I’m less sure of the son’s desert), but it is difficult to square a presidential order that they be killed with the rights that they supposedly hold as U.S. citizens. I admit that I don’t know whether Obama gave the order over the phone.