Ian Goldin


On his book Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future

Cover Interview of May 31, 2011

In a nutshell

Discussions about migration in the media and elsewhere are limited by a lack of perspective of international migration’s historical role, contemporary impacts, and future prospects.  Exceptional People addresses these gaps. 

Migrants have been the engine of human progress throughout history.  The movement of people has sparked innovation, spread ideas, relieved poverty, and laid the foundations for all major civilizations and the global economy.  As processes of globalization have intensified, people have increasingly sought their fortunes outside the country of their birth.

Despite efforts to regulate and limit migration, social and economic changes during the 21st century will give more people the means and reasons to move.  We should embrace this future because of the benefits it promises for sending countries, for receiving countries, and for migrants themselves.

My optimism is based on a growing field of multidisciplinary research and the evidence we present on the dynamics and impacts of migration.

Countries as a whole typically benefit from higher levels of migration.  Particular communities and groups of workers nevertheless may be disadvantaged and see what they consider to be excessive migration as a threat to their employment and cultures.  Political and other leaders should confront this challenge by adopting a range of measures which will reduce the impact of migration on any one community.

Exceptional People begins by considering the role of human migration in the development of civilization and innovation, showing the extent to which major achievements derive from our migratory history.

Migrants have allowed scattered human communities to benefit from the circulation of ideas and technologies that emerge from diverse sources.  The movement of people across oceans and continents fueled the development of modern economies.  In the contemporary period the movement of migrants continues to generate collective benefits by promoting innovation, connecting markets, filling labor gaps, reducing poverty, and enriching social diversity.

Most migration policies are premised on misconceptions about the long-term contributions of migrants and the social dynamics of the migration process. After investigating the past and present periods of migration, this book considers the future of international migration, its emerging global demographic, economic, and environmental trends.

Migration will shape future societies and the difference between good and bad policies now will have a dramatic impact on the extent to which societies will be able to harvest the opportunities and manage the new systemic risks of the 21st century.