– Angel Gurría is Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Nancy Birdsall is President of the Center for Global Development. The views expressed are their own. —
All financial crises end. The question is not if we will recover, but how we can build a resilient global economy to speed and bolster that recovery. While many immediate dangers remain, now is the time to look beyond the exigencies of today.
We must take a hard look at weaknesses in the international system that might stand in our way as we rebuild. There are several, but we take this opportunity to highlight one weakness in our ability to build a resilient global economy for the future: the inadequate state of comparable data on international migration.
This is our biggest weak spot on globalization. While many countries collect and publish detailed data on who legally enters or leaves their territory, they do not do it in the same way. In consequence, it is difficult to know clearly and to compare across countries how many persons immigrate and emigrate, for how long and for what reason. Strangely, it is much easier to get a good picture of global movements of textiles and Treasury Bills than global movements of human beings. Vast disparities in income per head between countries mean that small changes in labor mobility may have large effects on the global economy. But we cannot begin to manage such changes well if the community of nations is not counting even legal migrants in the same, systematic way.
The main obstacle to good statistics is not that labor mobility is such a hot-button political issue. That would tend to raise interest in better data. Rather, the main obstacle is that statistics are a classic “public good”: the benefits are generalized, but the costs are localized. Everyone would gain from better statistics, but the individual governments that must bear the cost of compiling them have competing priorities. Result: decades of international recommendations for better and more comparable migration data have gone largely unheeded. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, the World Bank, and many others have made great strides towards compiling better public global data, but much more is needed.