Global Economy Means Migration

FRANZ SCHURMANN

July 11, 1993|By FRANZ SCHURMANN

Even if the agreements reached at the G-7 Tokyo economic summitshould fall apart, NAFTA not pass Congress and GATT founder on European resistance, there is no way the world economy can be undone -- unless the world gives up on economic growth. And because the ineradicable flip side of the world economy is global migration, there also is no way it can be stopped.

As these twin dynamics gain ground, the vision of European unity fades, along with giant regional economies in Europe, East Asia and North America. Even as the mainly European advocates touted their benefits, they also made clear such economies would keep out rich competitors and poor migrants.

Now the only macro-economy will be the global economy, and that means, for better or worse, that every country in the world will be interlocked with every other.

A signal that Germany could be signing off on European unity ZTC came just before the summit, when its central bank announced a major reduction in interest rates. Until then high German interest rates meant a strong mark, which has been the undergirding for European unity.

At the same time, the U.S. Commerce Department released figures showing that the United States remains the world's biggest debtor nation. Just a decade ago it was still the world's biggest creditor. It also showed that in 1992 foreigners owned $521 billion in U.S. property, and that for the first time Japan surpassed Britain as the biggest owner of U.S. property.

With this level of interlocking there is no way the G-7 nations -- East Asian Japan; North American U.S. and Canada; and European Germany, Britain, France and Italy -- can pull apart from each other to form regional economies or simply go their own ways. NAFTA must therefore be seen not just as a North American phenomenon but as another stage in the development of the world economy. Coincidentally or not, the new German-owned Mercedes plant in Mexico -- the first of its kind anywhere in the Americas -- has just started production.

In 1975, when they first came together, the G-7 nations pretty much formed the world economy; other nations were tacitly dismissed as "developing." Now the G-7 economies are the sluggish ones, while the hottest economies are in the developing world: China and most of the rest of East Asia, along with Mexico, Chile, Argentina and several other Latin American countries.

President Clinton talks about forging a new economic relationship between the United States and East Asia, yet that relationship already exists and plays a key part in America's economic revival. With exports now the key U.S. growth sector ** and U.S. exports to Mexico rising rapidly, Mexico also now plays a key part in the U.S. economic recovery, with or without NAFTA.

In 1975, the G-7 nations were unconcerned about immigration. Now, however, they realize they cannot use the developing world to spark their own recovery while shutting out immigrants from there. The fundamental truth about migration is that while poverty "pushes" people outward, they will only go if there is a strong "pull" factor. And that pull is economic growth in the target country.

But push-pull by no means completely explains the immigration phenomenon. Wherever they go, emigrants -- just like American pioneers of old -- offer labor, capital and know-how vital for new ventures. And it is only such new ventures that rescue old economies from slump. In New York City, for example, as the rich flee and the poor despair, immigrants are revitalizing the city by tapping its still enormous economic potential.

Resistance to immigration is understandable on economic grounds. Much of it comes from people who are locked into older economic institutions, like governments and big corporations. In an age of relentless globalization, decentralization and miniaturization, these institutions are destined to shrink.

But as is evident in Europe, there is also fierce cultural resistance ranging from anti-immigration laws to ethnic cleansing. Be such moves gentle or brutal, they will fail and the countries that implement them will risk turning into economic wastelands.

Globalization is far from being a panacea, but it is history's strongest current now. There is no choice but to try to ride the wave deftly so as to eventually reach calmer waters.

Franz Schurmann, author of "The Logic of World Power," teaches history and sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service. Sara Engram, whose column usually appears here, is on vacation.

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