Faculty Bulletin Board

Political scientist writes new book on political economy of migration

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Margaret Peters
Peggy McInerny/UCLA

Margaret Peters

Margaret Peters, who joined UCLA in fall 2016 with a joint appointment to the department of political science and the UCLA International Institute, will release a new book with the University of Princeton Press in May.

Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization” examines the political economy of migration and free trade in historical perspective. In a comprehensive analysis of over a century of data, the volume shows that free trade and open immigration operate in contradistinction. When trade protections have been strong, open immigration has flourished, but when free trade prevails, increasing limits are placed on immigration.

Businesses reliant on low-skilled labor have traditionally been the major proponents of immigration because immigrants help lower their costs and make them more competitive. In an era of lower trade barriers and greater economic growth in the developing world, however, intensified global competition causes many businesses in wealthy countries to close or move overseas.

Only the manufacturing of high-end, complex goods remains profitable in these countries, thanks to gains in automation and productivity. Yet this type of manufacturing requires both less and higher-skilled labor.

Together, free trade and the rapid mechanization of production have sapped the crucial business support needed for more open immigration policies at home, empowering anti-immigrant groups and spurring greater controls on migration.

In our era of globalization and free trade, says Peters, “the resulting policy challenge is how to help people who have spent decades working in low-skill manufacturing, particularly if they do not have much education. These workers are being left behind because advances in technology mean that even entry-level manufacturing jobs now require a fair amount of technical know-how, such as the ability to use a computer.” 

Early responses to Peters’ volume are highly positive.

“Creative and well-researched, ‘Trading Barriers’ brings together two phenomena that scholars often examine separately: migration and international trade,” says Helen Milner of Princeton University. “Peters shows that the liberalization of trade and foreign investment in our globalized world has undercut support for open immigration. In a time of seeming backlash against globalization, this book provides a historical and rigorous empirical explanation of the politics.”

Jeffrey Frieden of Harvard University notes, “In ‘Trading Barriers,' Peters argues that we cannot understand the political economy of trade and the political economy of immigration in isolation from one another. This is a careful, original study of an increasingly important topic that will be of interest to all scholars of international politics and economics.”

A profile of Peters was recently posted on the UCLA International Institute website.

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