Jul 19, 2009

The Political Economy of Managed Migration by Georg Menz (book review)

by Lucia Kurekova

Georg Menz. The Political Economy of Managed Migration. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 298 pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-953388-6. Forthcoming in Acta Oeconomica.

Migration continues to represent an important academic and policy issue, not least due to its critical implications for political, economic, social, demographic and cultural aspects of life of individuals as well as societies. Before the 2008 world economic crisis loomed in, labor and skill shortages in booming European economies incited ‘war on talent’, forcing the European governments to redefine the basic principles of their migration policies. A recent book by Georg Menz “Political Economy of Managed Migration” addresses a topical issue of development of migration policy in the EU, both at the level of the countries and at the level of the European Union, proposing a paradigmatic shift towards ‘managed migration’. His analysis of a range of traditional immigration countries - Germany, France and the United Kingdom – together with new immigration states - Italy, Ireland and Poland is a significant contribution to migration studies, international relations and Europeanization literature and to the field of political economy. Both the novelty in respect to theoretical cross-fertilization of different fields and the breath and depth of the evidence that the author assembles and presents about the issue of active migration policy make the book an important social science read.

The first part of the book engages with explaining and connecting the rationale of the three analytical angles: political economy angle, non-state actors angle and multiple arenas (Europeanization) angle. Acknowledging that migration in the EU takes on both security and economic dimension, an important contention of the book is that the states have moved towards ‘managed migration’ of labor while simultaneously taking more restrictive stand towards other forms of migration. The most crucial novelty that the work offers is an account of the factors that determine different predilections of the states in respect to preferred types of migrants in terms of their skill levels and occupational profiles. Advocating the competitive state thesis which is behind the convergence towards more open national-level labor migration policies, the author argues that regulation of migration is strongly influenced by differences in the systems of political economy across countries, namely the nexus of production strategies of corporations, the sectoral composition of the economy and labor market regulation. The major differences between prototypical liberal market economies (LMEs) and coordinated market economies (CMEs) are embodied in the preferences of labor market institutional actors, namely the employers associations and unions embedded in different systems of political economy that will seek to influence governments to adopt labor migration policies reflecting the profile of migrants deemed complementary to national production strategies. Along these lines, the active migration policy is treated as a case study of Europeanization processes where multiple arenas in which the governments play the games can be powerfully established but which essentially provides multitude of evidence of the bottom-up Europeanization and parallel rather than sequenced timing of the games.

After outlining the argument and methodological choices in the introductory chapter, chapter two engages with past legacies and experiences of the countries which play an important role in defining migration policies currently. However, the author deems traditional typology of post-colonial versus guest worker legacies in major immigration countries outdated. He contends that from a political economy angle, the similarities in labor migration regulation across countries are remarkable already in the after-war economic boom period, giving compelling examples of how (French) Renault, (German) Mercedes Benz and (British) London Underground conducted extremely similar recruitment activities in Algeria, Turkey and Barbados respectively. His analysis at this stage, however, makes the reader wonder in which way managed migration of the 21-st century is “a new paradigm” as he repeatedly argues throughout the work. The author’s own propositions suggest that if an attempt is made to understand migration policies in the context of economic conditions and fundamentals, it becomes evident that specific external and internal economic pressures make all governments susceptible to cater to the needs of big employers and drivers of job creation and economic growth.

Third chapter, a core of the book, outlines the logic of his two main hypotheses related to his innovative framework: 1) the varieties of capitalism and skill hypothesis and 2) the sectoral hypothesis. Using the extended typology of Hancke et al (2007), he anticipates that gradual innovation and concentration on high value added production in CMEs and relative to that more radical innovation in LMEs will induce the CME economies to be interested in migrants with specific skills and the LME employers rather to seek migrants that have general and transferable skills which are able to respond more readily to flexible corporate strategies. Further, the employers in the mixed and the emerging market economies (MMEs and EMEs) will resemble more divided strategies and their preferences will reflect the model that they are approaching. Sectoral hypothesis further contends that the employers will take into account the relative size of component sectors of the economy (primary-secondary-tertiary) and the relative importance of these sectors will affect the profile of economic migrants deemed desirable by employer associations. He sets out to evidence the predictions in the next two chapters. The author, however, succeeds only partly in providing sufficient evidence and clarity to his argumentation, which is partly due to a great density of information that he provides on each country study. In addition, an endogeneity issue of the sectoral hypothesis in relation to the varieties of capitalism theory needs to be raised – different preponderance towards secondary versus tertiary sector between the types of political economies is part of the VoC framework, deeming a separate hypothesis related to the effect of the size of sectors on migration policies essentially redundant and nearly inseparable from the first one.

In the fourth chapter the author looks at the traditional immigration countries – Germany, France and the United Kingdom and offers a careful overview of how migration policy evolved overtime and across issues (labor, asylum seekers, and family reunion). He carefully traces the positions of interests groups and NGOs within the countries and maps the trajectories of more or less successful representation (depending on their organizational capacities, domestic actor coalitions and other issues) of their interests vis-à-vis home governments and potentially the EU level institutions through the governments. Chapter four carries out similar analysis for the new immigration countries: Ireland, Italy and Poland which was chosen as a representative case from among the new accession states. The chapter argues that organizational power of interest groups has critically shaped national strategies which, however, has been much less the case in the new accession countries where a strong tendency to adopt acquis communitaire in the area of migration and asylum policies, in spite of some clearly negative implications for these countries, has prevailed. Mimicking of policy choices has taken place more generally in the new immigration countries which, the author claims adding refinement to the argument, tend to look for policies and solutions to their neighbors which are structurally similar. In that respect, his contention that the new accession countries adopt measures similar to CME economies, namely Germany, is particularly interesting and potentially creates an interesting avenue for further enquiry.

The two chapters with country studies are critical to the testing of the book’s framework. While his carefully gathered material univocally confirms that economic perceptions of migration have prevailed, clearly due to the active input of employers and support of unions who have changed their no immigration stance, the most innovative parts of his theory are not evidenced sufficiently. While his argument goes that Germany (or France) should want to attract ‘specific’ skills while liberal market economies such as the UK (or Ireland) should frame policies which favor generic skills, it rather seems to be the case that while low-skilled immigration is left to be regulated by the market, the governments irrespective of its political economy fundamentals have converged on explicit policies towards bringing in highly skilled migrants, regardless of their skill specificity. This critique can be proposed not only because of the evident gap between the designed active migration policies and the success of their implementation (Germany but also the Czech Republic provide ample evidence of the policy ‘failure’) but also because the author failed to provide any hard data about the skill profiles of the incoming migrants into at least the prototypical cases of varieties of capitalism that he scrutinizes.

The evidence about the incoming migrants seems to be crucial in order to substantiate the major argument about different skill cohorts being attracted based on the underlying political economy structures and institutions of host countries. Leaving such evidence out shows that the author has committed an unfortunate fallacy in failing to acknowledge that migration is a dyadic relationship and that sending countries matter as much as the receiving countries in determining the profiles (skill, education) of incoming migrants. To be fair with the author, in this respect he can only be blamed for not advancing the boundaries of migration policy studies which tend to vastly underestimate both structural and institutional home country parameters in the analysis of migration patterns. Nevertheless, the overview of the structure of East-West after-accession migration provides ample evidence of the above claim and is in contradiction to the predictions of Menz’ framework. For example, evidence suggests that relative not only to domestic population but also to the other migrant groups, a bulk of EU8 migrants in the UK and Ireland have gained employment in secondary tier of economy (manufacturing industry and construction). Further, important differences in terms of migrant sectors of employment can be drawn if sending country is accounted for (CSO, 2008; Accession Monitoring Report, 2008; European Commission, 2008).

In sum, the weaknesses of Menz’s book are a corollary of his ambitious attempt to perhaps answer too many questions, at the expense of fleshing out his main arguments about the uniqueness of managed migration in the new millennium and about the implications of various political economy structures and institutions on the active migration policy sufficiently. First, while the evidence that the current world economic crisis is providing about migration policies supports his point about the crucial weight of ‘economics’, it also seems to elucidate that it is economic fundamentals such as growth and job creation rather than economic structures that are substantial determinants of the form and shape of migration policy. Second, it is somewhat paradoxical that while the author at one hand validly and interestingly brings the agency in through the role he assigns to labor market associations, he at the same time leaves it out via failing to attribute necessary attention to the account of the actual (rather than hypothesized) migrant profiles and to take seriously the push side of the migration equation. Third, while he contends that migration policy reveals that state and state policies continue to matter and that the state has not retreated but rather “a recast state with new priorities is playing role in engineering the construction of regulatory regimes ensuring a steady labor supply of desirable talent and skill portfolio” (p.37), his evidence partly suggest that state is hardly insulated from interest groups. This is particularly clear through his ample reference to dilemmas and even conflicts attached to allocating private but also public resources to retraining and upskilling domestic labor versus importing foreign labor which have important implications for future economic and social development of host (and home) countries.

Against this critique, however, the pioneering and innovative aspects of author’s research, partly introduced in his earlier contributions, must be fully acknowledged. The inter-disciplinary nature of the book as well as a serious attempt to conduct comparative work not only across (six!) cases but also overtime make the book everything that the migration discipline has been calling for. I have no doubt that the book is likely to entice rich scholarly as well as policy debate across different research areas that the author draws on and valuably contributes to.

Accession Monitoring Report. 2008. May 2004 – December 2007. A Joint Online Report by the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs and Communities and Local Government.

CSO (Central Statistical Office). 2008. Census 2006. Non-Irish nationals living in Ireland. Government of Ireland. June.

European Commission. 2008. Employment in Europe 2008. DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Brussels.

Hancke, Bob, Martin Rhodes and Mark Thatcher. 2007. Beyond varieties of capitalism. Conflict, contradictions and complementarities in the European economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

No comments: