The economic theory of human mobility

Published by marco on

The article Katko, Tenney to Donald Trump: Don’t tell people to leave Upstate NY discusses President Trump’s recent statement about Upstate New York:

“When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house.”

Trump is only one of many people who think that the answer to an utterly failed economy is to move. He’s also not the only one who thinks it’s super-easy to do. Pretty much all elites, right and left, are heavily invested in the idea of not just capital mobility, but also a corresponding human mobility. This is just a vastly simplified economic theory that doesn’t map well to reality. Real people have families, roots, houses (which form a large part of their equity and which need to be sold, which is nearly impossible in many markets). A move from home is an act of utter desperation for most.

Don’t be distracted by the fact that this statement comes from Trump and is so callously formulated. This is mainstream, elite economic thinking and has been for several decades. Right and left both buy into this notion. The NYT, for example, is 100% in agreement with Trump’s statement, even if they pretend to be temporarily incensed. They will dress it up with prettier words, but the essence is the same.

Where is the logical end to this? When Wisconsin collapses, should people move to Foxconn in China then? Or perhaps they should all follow fearless leader Elon Musk, whose obsession with Mars can be ascribed to more-or-less the same philosophy: if things suck where you are, instead of trying to fix it (or, God forbid, take those who are to blame for your miserable situation to task and make _them_ fix it), just pull up stakes and leave.

Isn’t that what all of those hated immigrants do, though? Does that mean that Upstate New Yorkers who flee their economic wasteland will be greeted as dirty, job-stealing rapists on whichever shore they wash up?

With advice like this, Trump et. al. (which includes pretty much all of America’s ruling class, sundry elites and media) are just trying to shuffle the blame for the predicament that they caused. It convinces people that they have problems only because they’re too stubborn to move—not because they’ve been screwed six ways to Sunday by exactly the people who are blaming them for being too lazy to move.

People should ignore this advice and, instead, hold their rulers’ feet to the fire and hold them to account for the problems and suffering they cause. Don’t let them guilt you into accepting blame for something that they did to you.