Douglas Massey: Look back at 1865-1915 (excerpts)

 

 

“To Study Migration Today, Look to a Parallel Era”

 

DOUGLAS S. MASSEY

 

Chronicle of Higher Education, August 18, 2000

 

 

 

 

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, migration has become a powerful and politically charged force, and those of us in migration studies have found ourselves in demand by academe, government, and the private sector...Whatever one's policy focus or convictions may be… migration will [likely] now play a greater role in determining the strength and tenor of our societies. To see why that is, and how it might play out, it is instructive to look back at the period from 1865 to 1915, which in many ways mirrored, and paved the way for, our own era.

 

 

 

Like our own time, the period between the end of the American Civil War and World War I was characterized by an expanding international economy based on free trade and mobile capital…That first transnational economy was closely associated with the migration of labor. Within nations, migration led to rapid urbanization; between nations, it led to massive immigration…

 

 

 

The international population flows were supported by an expanding infrastructure of personal networks and social organizations that linked people and communities in distant places. Through letters, and foreign-language newspapers published in the United States, fresh information maintaining ties of kinship and friendship coursed back and forth across the Atlantic…

 

 

 

Given the falling costs of transportation and communication, moreover, international migration by the turn of the century had become somewhat circular. Large outflows of emigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe were counterbalanced by large influxes of return migrants and remittances from the Americas and Oceania…

 

 

 

The growing prosperity, optimism, and cosmopolitanism that accompanied the first wave of globalization came to a sudden end with the outbreak of world war in August 1914…World War I opened a Pandora's box of conflicting forces, and it would take most of the next century to reconcile them…It was only with the end of the cold war that the world returned to the stage of political and economic development it had reached in 1914…

 

 

 

However, for all the astonishing parallels between 2000 and 1914, there's one stark difference. The economic powers at the core of the global economy now seek to impose controls on the international movement of people, whereas before 1914 no controls effectively existed. Even as the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and Japan work to ensure the openness of global markets, they are unwilling to accept the free flow of labor across international boundaries…

 

 

 

Of course, there's more to the story than immigration restrictions on the books…The United States [often looks] the other way as thousands of illegal immigrants work in jobs no one else wants.

 

 

 

Still, in essence, today's global economy is characterized by the deregulation and internationalization of all markets save one. It will be up to sociologists, economists, political scientists, and other specialists in migration to advise policymakers as to whether that contradiction can be sustained, and, if not, how it can best be resolved….[An] enlightened policy would be to recognize immigration as a natural outgrowth of nations' incorporation into the global economy, and to work to maximize immigration's desirable features while minimizing its negative consequences….[sand] ensure that the historical parallels, while intellectually fascinating, don't augur the same calamities humanity faced last time at this same dangerous -but potentially liberating- socioeconomic crossing.