The Maghreb Miracle?

Dani Rodrik has a post on the surprising human development success stories of North Africa:


As Francisco Rodriguez and Emma Samman, two of the report’s authors, note, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria have experienced remarkable gains in life expectancy and educational attainment, leaving many Asian superstars in the dust. Only Tunisia among the three is a high growth country, underlining one of the report’s main findings that economic growth and human development often diverge significantly, even over as long a time frame as 40 years.

What was their secret? Determined policies to expand educational opportunities and access to health along with a willingness to depart from the conventional wisdom of the day and experiment with their own remedies. Even though all three North African countries are Moslem, empowering of women seems to have played an important role as well.

I’d like to know the role migration played in changing attitudes and policies in the region. As Devesh Kapur argues in his excellent new book Diaspora, Development, and Democracy, emigration from India has had a major impact on the country’s economic and political evolution. Kapur pays particular attention to the role of “exit” — the fact that members of India’s upper-caste elites had access to the “escape valve” of migration meant that they were less likely to fight the transfer of at least some political and economic power to non-elites.

As Kapur explains, emigration from India is a multi-faceted phenomena, which includes the temporary migration of young men from Kerala to the Gulf region to perform less-skilled labor, the “brain circulation” of IIT alums between Silicon Valley, New York, and London and Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, and the creation of large and flourishing Asian Indian communities in big metropolitan areas across the U.S. that increasingly flex their political muscle on issues relating to U.S.-India relations. 

The migration from the Maghreb to western Europe has been fairly different in character, and it’s not obvious that it has greatly enhanced the prospects for liberal democracy in the three countries in question. But I have to assume that the large Tunisian diaspora has had an impact on the role of women back home.

It’s interesting to think about Mexico in this context: in striking contrast to India, Mexican elites tend to stay home. The proxy I have in mind for eliteness is college completion, and only a small minority of Mexican migrants to the U.S. have more than a high school education. Crudely, this suggests that Mexican elites are more inclined to embrace “voice” at home than to pursue “exit” abroad, which could account for some of that country’s institutional pathologies. Less affluent Mexicans, it seems, are more likely to embrace “exit” as means of escaping an economic system that poses formidable barriers to upward mobility.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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