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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Security and the Political Economy of International Migration


ABSTRACT Given the strong economic gains possible through openness to migration, why do advanced industrial states advocate openness with respect to trade and capital flows but not to international labor mobility? In this article I explain this anomaly using a statist model of political behavior based on perception of threat and its effect on the equilibrium between security’s three dimensions—military, material, and societal. Emphasis on one dimension of security over another depends on the type of threat perceived. While external threats prompt an equilibrium sharply skewed toward security’s material and military poles, the changing ethno-cultural characteristics of increasing international migration flows has generated increasing societal insecurities in receiving states since the mid-1960s. Examining migration trends and border policies in the United States and Europe since 1945, this analysis explores the relationship between external and internal security interests and identifies those elements of international migration that generate perceptions of societal threat. Because societal interests clash with the material objectives of the state, especially given the growing importance of services and skilled labor as well as the economic benefits of an elastic labor supply, policy makers in advanced industrial states increasingly attempt to finesse societal fears while pursuing an overall grand strategy seeking economic maximization through openness.

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