About Our Guest
David Leblang is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia as well as Faculty Associate at the Miller Center where he is J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance. He is also Professor of Public Policy at UVA’s Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy. David Leblang has served as Department Chair of the Department of Politics since 2010. Among other things, he specializes in international political economy and international immigration. Professor Leblang served as consultant to the International Monetary Fund, the Director to Finance and Economics of the European Commission and the Department of Defense. His work has appeared in numerous journals inclusive of International Organization, The American Political Science Review, World Politics and The American Journal of Political Science. In 2006 with William Bernhard he co-authored Democratic Processes and the Financial Markets. He presently serves on the steering committee of the International Political Economy Society and is also editor of SSRN’s International Political Economy’s Migration eJournal. Before his arrival at UVA in 2008, Professor Leblang taught at William and Mary, the University of Colorado and the University of North Texas. He was a visiting scholar in the European Commission’s Directorate of Economics and Finance. He has also been the recipient of research grants from the National Science Foundation. David Leblang has written on the politics of economic growth, the causes of currency crises and the connection between elections and economic expectations. He is currently working on two extensive projects—one of which examines the origins and ramifications of international migration.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I would like to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. Today we are pleased to welcome to our program Professor David Leblang, Chairman of the UVA Department of Politics to discuss the economic impacts of worldwide migration, taking as our focus the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Welcome, Professor Leblang.
David Leblang: Thanks for having me.
Jan Paynter: David Leblang is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia as well as Faculty Associate at the Miller Center where he is J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance. He is also Professor of Public Policy at UVA’s Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy. David Leblang has served as Department Chair of the Department of Politics since 2010. Among other things, he specializes in international political economy and international immigration. Professor Leblang served as consultant to the International Monetary Fund, the Director to Finance and Economics of the European Commission and the Department of Defense. His work has appeared in numerous journals inclusive of International Organization, The American Political Science Review, World Politics and The American Journal of Political Science. In 2006 with William Bernhard he co-authored Democratic Processes and the Financial Markets. He presently serves on the steering committee of the International Political Economy Society and is also editor of SSRN’s International Political Economy’s Migration eJournal. Before his arrival at UVA in 2008, Professor Leblang taught at William and Mary, the University of Colorado and the University of North Texas. He was a visiting scholar in the European Commission’s Directorate of Economics and Finance. He has also been the recipient of research grants from the National Science Foundation. David Leblang has written on the politics of economic growth, the causes of currency crises and the connection between elections and economic expectations. He is currently working on two extensive projects—one of which examines the origins and ramifications of international migration. Everywhere one looks in this early 2016, the issue of worldwide migration and refugees in crisis is prominent among the pressing issues under discussion by citizens and lawmakers alike. Politicians on both sides of the aisle hasten to establish their bona fides on the subject of the acceptance or rejection of migrants. We are, as we all know, a nation built by immigrants and refugees. At the same time, we are in the process of recovering from massive recession. Unemployment, while down at five percent, is still a pressing concern. Healthcare coverage, education advancement, infrastructure spending, energy policy and environmental issues are but a few of the topics weighing upon us at this moment in our nation’s history. We are, however, also a nation for whom humanitarian consideration is a vital strain in our collective DNA. What I would like us to explore together today is this: Is it possible to reconcile humanitarian concerns—as an example, 10,000 to 65,000 Syrian refugees—with current economic realities? Can we then achieve a result which allows our host country to accommodate the increasing influx of immigrants while continuing to prosper and even thrive? Welcome again, Professor Leblang.
David Leblang: Nice to be here.
Jan Paynter: Before we begin to discuss the issues which I raised in my introduction, what interests led and inspired you to undertake your current project—Exploring the Root Causes and Consequences of Worldwide Migration?
David Leblang: Well, I’ve always been interested in the factors that link countries to one another. My work prior to this work on immigration focused on the flow of capital across countries and between economies and when I finished up a number of projects with Bill Bernhard, who you mentioned in the introduction, I decided that it was time to shift gears and to look at different kinds of flows between countries. I was at the University of Colorado and we’d hired a new scholar, a junior scholar, Jennifer Fitzgerald whose work was on the impact of immigration in Western Europe and I started reading her work and began…was really inspired to think about the processes and impact of immigration across countries and not limited just to Western Europe.
Jan Paynter: One way to address the economics of accepting significant numbers of refugees is to look at some examples of recent refugee events in history. We know that the war in Syria, as the Washington Post reports recently, displaced upwards of 12 million people, resulting in the greatest crisis since the Second World War. It is, however, my no means, first in magnitude. If you would, Professor, give us a brief overview of some of the most significant migrant and refugee events recently.
David Leblang: As you said earlier, we are a nation founded by and…by refugees and by migrants so one can think of the very founding of this country as the first migration episode or migration crisis that this country has experienced. But if we fast forward, if I think about this in terms of my lifetime, the migration event that is really etched in my consciousness is the migration of Mariel refugees from Cuba. I grew up in South Florida and remember distinctly during my time in junior high school watching the pictures from the Mariel boat lift coming to South Florida, the tent city that was built under the interstate in South Miami and then living in Miami at a time when Cuban…when the Cuban population increased dramatically and thinking through and observing the ways in which the Cuban population became more and more integrated into the social, political and economic fabric of that community. If we fast forward, I don’t know, two decades, there are a couple of crises and I hesitate to use crisis in the same way but a number of episodes that drew popular and have drawn popular attention. The first wave…dramatic wave of illegal immigration into the United States in the southern border really…or across the southern border was really highlighted during George Bush’s first term. And again, it’s difficult to say that that was a crisis because the numbers were by no means anywhere near the scale that they are in Europe. But in the United States I think if we think back to the summer of 2014 when a large number…thousands of unaccompanied minors were crossing the southern border and people began talking about this as a humanitarian crisis not just because of the numbers but because these were unaccompanied children and people felt, from a humanitarian point of view, that this is something that we as a developed industrialized democratic country we should do something about.
Jan Paynter: I thought I would give some stats for people on the Syrians. Most people are aware of it but I thought something from the UN Reports would be useful. 7.6 million have been displaced since 2011. 4.1 million fled Syria. 210,000 were killed by the civil war. 840,000 were injured which equals 65 percent of the Syrian population. Life expectancy is down by 20 percent. 80 percent of Syrians live in poverty and the longevity is down by 27 percent, all of which is staggering to me. According to reports from The Guardian in December, growing numbers of stateless children without birth certificates and parents are unsure of their rights. So we now have entire generations of children growing up essentially without an identity, which if you’re thinking about security would certainly open the door as they grow up for potential radicalization by ISIS and other groups later on. Professor, what are some examples of fiscal and economic consequences for host nations experiencing a significant upsurge in refugees?
David Leblang: Before we get to that, let’s just rewind a little bit and think about some of the things that you’ve discussed from a descriptive point of view simply because I think it’d be useful for viewers to understand some of the distinctions when we talk about migrants and when we talk about the Syrian crisis and the different waves of migration and refugee flows that we’ve observed. So when we think about what’s happening in Europe and in the Mediterranean or if we think about the southern border of the United States, these are episodes of immigration. We have individuals coming from one country to another country and so we use immigration to talk about the process of people leaving one state and going to another state. And the reason why I want to make that point is because then we can talk about different kinds of migration and different kinds of status that are important if we think about the legal rights that individuals have and then the responsibilities that receiving countries have. So individuals who are fleeing an area of conflict or individuals that are leaving a place where they fear for their lives if they are returned meet the standard for being classified as refugees under the United Nations Refugee Convention and under U.S. Law. There needs to be a fear for fiscal well-being or a fear of persecution for one’s beliefs.
Jan Paynter: It’s interesting because they’re refugees but they’re migrating to particular countries.
David Leblang: That’s correct.
Jan Paynter: So it is a good distinction.
David Leblang: So when we think about migrants, we tend to think about people who are leaving for voluntary reasons and they’re going to a destination of their choice and we tend to think about them as migrating for economic reasons. That’s not a complete explanation but it’s important to make that distinction because we think of migrants as leaving of their own volition or of their own free will. When we think of refugees, we think about people who are forced. But I think again it’s important to put brackets around forced because the U.N. Convention and U.S. Law says that you are forced out of a place if again you fear for your life as a result of political persecution, which means that there’s no such thing under international or U.S. law, there’s no such thing as an economic refugee or an environmental refugee. If there’s a natural disaster, if there’s an earthquake in Haiti, if there’s a drought in sub-Saharan African, if there is an economic crisis in Central America and those individuals leave and try to come to the United States, they do not qualify for refugee status. They would be immigrants or classified as immigrants according to U.S. and European law.
Jan Paynter: That’s an interesting distinction I’m sure some people might challenge considering that they are in essence forced because of climatological reasons.
David Leblang: Again, I’m not…this is not a justification but it is in terms of…
Jan Paynter: No, no. It’s very interesting.
David Leblang: But it’s important when we think about who gains admission under that classification. The one other part that I will mention is if we think about the Syrian situation, there are two other ways in which we can think about the individuals who are classified as refugees or are displaced. So there’s a classification for individuals who are called internally displaced persons. So individuals in Syria who are Syrian who have left their homes yet remain in Syria. They are internally displaced within that country. And then there are the millions of Syrians who are in refugee camps in Lebanon or in Turkey that are in those countries and they are in camps and they are looking for either remaining in Turkey, Lebanon, entering the United States or Western Europe or potentially returning back to Syria at some later date.
Jan Paynter: Well, it is interesting because so often the point is made and it’s obvious I think that they would like…the Syrians in particular would like to return home. They simply cannot at this moment. Going back to the question I was asking you before. What are some examples of the fiscal and economic consequences for host nations experience a significant upsurge in refugees?
David Leblang: The consequences are not negative. In some cases some people argue that there is a positive effect of migration. It depends on the skill level of the individuals who are migrating. But a lot of studies come to the conclusion that the fiscal costs of immigrants are offset by their contributions at the local, state and national level.
Jan Paynter: Well, it is interesting because so much from what I’ve been reading at least has to do with the skill level, where are the jobs going to be taken from. If you have somewhat unskilled native born people, obviously they’re going to be competing for the same jobs. Syrian in general as far as I know, Syrians tend to be better educated. They tend to have…be going for higher skilled jobs. Some people make the argument that that actually inspires more skilled American laborers to do better and to actually go to their particular skillsets which is fascinating.
David Leblang: And I think that’s the case again. We can talk about Syrians or we can talk about migrants in general but that’s the general consensus in the economic or in the academic literature that high skilled migrants tend to increase competition and increase wages for native born and for immigrant labor in the United States because we are a capital abundant economy.
Jan Paynter: But in terms of local economies, people come in from another country, they don’t know the language so you have to have language training, you have to have skill assessments, housing, food so there are so many things that people worry over, as you know well, about this that have an impact on local and state economies.
David Leblang: One of the big regulatory issues has to do with how a state or a locality licenses individuals to perform certain services or to engage in different professions. The State of Virginia you need a license to cut hair which there’s nothing wrong with that but if you were a hair stylist, if you were a barber in your home country, do you need to be reclassified when you come into the state in order to become a barber? That’s a simple example but we can make the same argument and use the same example if we think about medical doctors or attorneys or architects or engineers or accountants and we can go down the list. So you have skilled individuals coming in and the question is not can they perform similar tasks, it’s are they legally able to, are they regulated out of the market. And it’s in those cases where they’re regulated out of the market that you experience what has been called a brain waste. You have highly educated, highly skilled individuals who are coming into a country and they can’t perform the tasks that are equivalent to the skills that they have.
Jan Paynter: As we’re going along, as I said before the program, I want to look at the positive and negative sides of the ledger in terms of the issue of refugees and the impact of the host country. On the positive side of things, might we say that refugees take jobs from…that natives will not and also in the event that they can’t find jobs they might be inclined to set up businesses and then bring in clientele for local enterprises? Some studies show that refugees tend to earn more and work longer hours. Talk a little about this if you would.
David Leblang: Well, again, as you said, there are positives and negatives when we think about refugees or immigrants or again any group that’s moving from one area to another, oftentimes we find individuals that move to an area. In general, if we think about immigration, just like we think about…if we think about the immigration of foreign workers just like we think about the migration of individuals who are native born, we make assumptions that individuals go to areas where they can maximize their income.
Jan Paynter: To what extent does the success for refugees depend on already having a network inside the country?
David Leblang: Most stories of immigration and most accounts of immigrant assimilation are based upon this idea that there is a network of individuals that will help them adjust to their new community, provide information on regulation, licenses, customs, practices. It gives them a network. It gives them a community. Anyplace where one can have a community is very useful. Now the downside of that as has been argued by individuals who have been proponents of decreasing immigration to the United States—Pat Buchanan made this argument 30, 40 years ago when he ran for president that we needed to close the borders because we needed those immigrants who have come to the United States to have time to assimilate, to learn the local language. So if you think about areas where there is a large immigrant community, then there is presumably less of an incentive for those individuals to assimilate into the greater cultural and social environment that exists. There’s a decreased need for them to learn the local language, there’s a decreased need for them to go to…I don’t want to say public schools but to engage in social networks and relationships that are outside of their co-ethnic groups.
Jan Paynter: Looking at local infrastructures, a lot of people fear and politicians have talked about this a great deal, the undue burdens which accrue to local infrastructures. In 2015 the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that in small countries such as Jordan and Lebanon the burden on local economies is quite onerous and delivered a sizeable shock to those economies and the percentage of national budget went toward municipal services, water for instance, power was quite high. Therefore, should the onus for acceptance of in particular Syrian refugees rest more substantially on countries with more robust economies such as the U.S. in your view?
David Leblang: So there’s been an argument that’s been made that the Arab countries should bear more of the fiscal burden in terms of supporting Jordan or Lebanon or just funneling money directly into the refugee camps so that that burden does not fall on the host government itself. If we think about the United States, you think about this in a couple of different ways. One is, should there be a transfer of resources from the United States to the governments of Lebanon or Jordan or Turkey in terms of thinking about helping those countries out for humanitarian reasons? This is something that Germany has been negotiating with Turkey about. Looking for $2 billion Euros to transfer to Turkey to support Turkey’s efforts at managing the two million Syrian refugees that are in Turkey at present. But then there’s the question of should the United States do more in terms of resettling Syrian refugees and the one thing that’s important to note here is even when the Secretary of State said, ‘We’re going to do more,’ that was only increasing the number of refugees that the United States was bringing in from 75,000 to 100,000. So this is nowhere near 10 percent of the number of refugees that are in Turkey alone, much less the number who have been displaced from Syria.
Jan Paynter: Well, there are also a lot of confusions it has been noted when people speak about refugees, they might give stats on the total number of refugees that the U.S. accepted and confuse that with the number of Syrian refugees, which as you say is quite small.
David Leblang: Yeah, so it’s… Again, here one can have reasonable disagreement about whose responsibility this is and then there are different ways of thinking about what the responsibilities are of richer countries and then again it’s a conversation about do those richer countries include gulf states, petroleum exporting countries, does it include other wealthier countries around the world and I think those are reasonable conversations to have but engaging in those philosophical and oftentimes very principled arguments doesn’t get it done when people, as you mentioned earlier, are suffering and are dying every day. I think I saw this morning that another 40 people had died off the coast of Greece trying to get in. So us having a principled conversation about it does nothing to aid those individuals who are in need at the present moment.
Jan Paynter: Needs assessments, in Europe in particular. Are a lot of these being done to have some idea of where to settle refugees, what their needs are so that the host country can have a better idea of what they’re looking at? Is that taking place?
David Leblang: See, Europe is in the midst of having a really interesting conversation with itself. What’s going on is…what we know is that this influx of refugees that really began in earnest over the summer of 2015 and picked up…got in all the papers in September and October because you had large numbers of refugees that were trying to make their way to Germany and along the way governments of Austria, Hungary, Croatia decided that they were going to basically close their doors to third country refugees so migrants that were coming from outside the European Union. Since that time an increasing number of countries have erected borders either de jure borders or de facto borders. What I mean by that is are they checking visas for any individual who is entering their country as Denmark is or are countries literally erecting fences and ways of guarding their border like is happening in Hungary, Croatia. And so that’s happening across the board. There is and has been conversation within Europe about burden sharing. Should and how do countries contribute to either the resettlement of or payment for the resettlement of refugees who have entered the European Union. And that’s very much a process that’s unfolding in real time.
Jan Paynter: Thank you so much for being here, David. Thank you at home for joining our conversation. Please join us next time for part two of our conversation with David Leblang. If you would like more information concerning the topic under discussion today, we invite you to take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We will be posting a number of books, articles and relevant links on many of the issues under discussion today there for you. You will also find a complete archive of all prior Politics Matters programs which you may watch in their entirety at any time. We will be posting extended versions of the interviews online as well and will continue to be adding more content. As always, we are interested in hearing from you with any ideas, questions and concerns for future programs. We encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on PBS WVPT on the second and last Sunday of every month at 11:30 am. Thank you again and until next we meet, I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.