Macro- and Microeconomic Theories

Closely related to push-pull theories are those proposed by orthodox economists who analyze migration as an equilibrium-restoring mecha- nism between labor-abundant but capital-poor countries and regions and those in the opposite situation. As famously proposed by Sir Arthur Lewis, areas where the marginal productivity of workers is near zero benefit from out-migration to areas where they can find gainful employ- ment. The flow is expected to continue until wage rates in sending regions rise to a level comparable to receiving ones, at which point it ceases.10 Flows of both unskilled labor and highly skilled professionals follow the same equilibrium-restoring logic. The theory focuses exclu- sively on labor-market imbalances and does not address politically induced refugee flows.

Paralleling this macroeconomic approach, there is a microtheory of individual decision making based on cost-benefit analysis. According to it, individuals move to places where they can maximize returns on their human capital, adjusted for the costs of the journey.11 Borjas elabo- rated a detailed model of this kind where “expected earnings” at places of destination, computed as those corresponding to the actor’s skills multiplied by the probability of employment there, are subtracted from expected earnings at home plus the costs of the journey. If the balance is positive for some defined period, the rational actor migrates; if not, he or she stays.

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