Foreign Policy Explained, Ep. 13: The Best Way To Lift Humanity Out Of Poverty

Christopher Coyne,

Release Date
September 20, 2016



There are ways to improve foreign societies that don’t involve military intervention or foreign assistance.
If the desired goal of invading other nations and humanitarian aid is to improve international human well-being, there’s a better way of accomplishing this goal. Professor Chris Coyne of George Mason University explains how we could create gains of $300 Billion for poor country citizens.

Foreign Policy (playlist): Learn how we can promote peace and human flourishing through our approaches to foreign policy. 
Foreign Policy (program): Join professors Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall Blanco as they explore the history of foreign policy, the military industrial complex, and the effects of war on domestic policies. 
How High-Skilled Immigrants Makes Us All Better Off (blog): Alex Nowrasteh writes about the benefits of open migration. 

>> Yan was born and raised outside a small village outside of Kyiv, Ukraine. He was the only child of a housewife and a construction management who built hospitals and schools. His house had no hot water and his parents rarely talked on the phone, in case it was tapped by the government.

At 16, Yan and his mother immigrated to California. She took up babysitting and Jan swept the floor of a grocery store to help make ends meet. By 18 Jan had taught himself computer networking by purchasing manuals from a used bookstore and returning them when he was done. Today, Jan is the CEO of the popular messaging app Whatsapp, and is worth in upwards of $8 billion.

Rags to riches stories like Jan’s are made possible not by the aid of well meaning humanitarians, but by the ability of the poor to move to countries where they have the freedom and opportunity to find productive work and create something of value for society at large. This means that if US policymakers and citizens are serious about improving the well-being of those in other societies, there are ways to do so that do not involve military intervention or foreign assistance.

Instead of focusing outward on how to fix other societies, we should focus internally to see what policies can be changed to remove barriers to economic freedom, to let the poor in and offer them the opportunity to thrive. The logic behind allowing open migration is straight forward. It not only expands the potential choices available to individuals, but allows people to seek out occupations in other countries where they are more highly valued, earning them a higher wage.

The potential contribution of migration to global economic wealth is staggering. A 2006 study by the World Bank estimates that if wealthy countries were to relax immigration restrictions to allow a 3% rise in their labor force, the result would be gains to poor country citizens of three hundred billion dollars.

In his analysis of the impact of removing barriers to migration, Harvard professor, Lant Pritchett, concludes that the potential gains to poor country citizens from even small increases in labor flows, are much bigger than anything else on the international agenda, either aid or trade. If the desired end is to improve human well-being, then the evidence suggests that open migration is the most effective means of accomplishing this goal.

This approach to foreign policy is likely to be the most effective in improving the well-being of foreigners. In addition, this approach avoids many of the pitfalls of central planning and perverse incentives. Instead of trying to plan certain specific outcomes, this approach empowers individuals to discover what is best for them by granting them the freedom to do so.