When was the great age of migration?

by on April 3, 2014 at 1:58 pm in Books, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

Jürgen Osterhammel writes:

Between 1815 and 1914 at least 82 million people moved voluntarily from one country to another, at a yearly rate of 660 migrants per million of the world population.  The comparable rate between 1945 and 1980, for example, was only 215 per million.

That is from The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  Here is my first post on the book.

Ray Lopez April 3, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Good point, and also growth rates in the late 19th century were equal to growth rates in the late 20th century (source: Angus Maddison to 1992) and probably even greater if you include post-1992 years.

Greater growth in the late 19th century due to immigration, stronger patent laws and other ‘anti-competitive’ behavior (recall “Big Trusts” and “Cartels” were in vogue, and for a monopoly with falling costs, marginal cost is less than average cost, surely a consumer benefit to a degree as prices get cheaper with greater volume), and the absence of major wars (Crimea, US civil war, South African wars excluded). And to spite you Keynesians there was, prior to the South African turn-of-the-century gold finds, a gold standard that caused beneficial deflation of the kind pundit Gary Shilling likes to shill about.

Bring back the 19th century!

John Thacker April 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I don’t know that you can say that the gold standard “caused” the beneficial deflation. What you had was an increasing total money supply / NGDP, but a supply of goods (thanks to rapid technological progress) / real growth that exceeded the growth in money supply, leading to declining prices on particular goods.

I’m not sure that the patent laws were really stronger, either. This was back in the day when people had to submit a working model to the PTO, for instance; that wasn’t abolished until 1880. There are a lot of recent patents that lack actual models.

byomtov April 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm

That’s not all a lot of recent patents lack.

ChrisA April 3, 2014 at 8:46 pm

The biggest issue with patents nowadays is the uncertainty that they create. A clear “bad” law is actually better than a potentially more favorable law that is unclear. Right now the situation is such that any successful investor in a new area is likely to receive infringement claims, even if they had no intention of infringing any patent, because it is so unclear as to actually what constitutes a valid patent. Defending against even obviously frivolous patent claims takes very significant management time and attention and brings risks and so often large investments (I am speaking from personal experience) are not made because people just don’t want to deal with this kind of messiness. This is not socially optimum. It is reminiscent of property claims in underdeveloped countries, any successful business is likely to start receiving claims from people about the land the business is on because land ownership registries are in such a mess and the legal system is unpredictable or corrupt. This deters investment, investors literally don’t want their businesses to look too successful to avoid receiving claims. So the countries remain underdeveloped. English or common law jurisdictions usually deal with this best thanks to precedents and good record keeping, but patent law seems to be the one area where this does not work well, perhaps due to the fact that patents, by their very nature, are always on the frontier of uniqueness.

Rahul April 4, 2014 at 1:33 am

One part of the problem: Which intelligent engineer or scientist has “Patent Examiner” as his dream job?

A lot of patent office staff is there because they were good for almost nothing else. Crappy decisions are destined to happen with such mediocre people taking them.

Art Deco April 4, 2014 at 7:47 pm

A lot of patent office staff is there because they were good for almost nothing else.

Citation needed.

Ray Lopez April 4, 2014 at 4:00 am

Good points made by JT but it shows: (1) gold standard can work, and (2) “I’m not sure that the patent laws were really stronger, either. “, citing the requirement of an actual patent model back until 1880, well, you could argue that “stronger” means “better”, and if a patent model cut down on frivolous, bogus paper patents that don’t work, as arguably exist today, then indeed 19th century patents were “stronger”.

Adrian Ratnapala April 4, 2014 at 4:29 am

So when you say “stronger patent laws”, you mean “greater official skepticism about patents”. Is that right?

Ray Lopez April 4, 2014 at 10:40 am

@Adrian R: you are over-thinking this, being too clever by half. In chess, that would mean you overlooked an obvious move in response to your 9 move mating net. Stronger patent laws is simply what it means: better patent laws and bring back the rule for models. Models are cute/cool, don’t ya think? Over to you…

John Thacker April 4, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I considered the possibility that by “stronger” you simply meant “better,” but I was unsure what you meant. I’m actually still unsure, because of your use of the hypothetical, whether you simply meant “better.” If you did just mean “better,” then I think it would have been useful regardless to clarify that better meant “issuing less frivolous patents.”

I apologize for being unable to determine what you meant.

Todd April 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm

From the wikipedia article on Immigration to the United States:

“From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States” – Nicholas J. Evans,”Indirect passage from Europe: Transmigration via the UK, 1836–1914

Z April 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm

What followed was two world wars and the spread of communism. Give or take, 150 million deaths. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

John Thacker April 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Yes, and since the legal restrictions on immigration, at least in the US started preceding those wars (beginning around 1875 and reaching its apex in 1924, where it would stay until the 1960s), your argument is that the lesson is more immigration was better, and prevented wars?

Z April 3, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Just lie down and be still. You’re argument is dead on arrival. At least have a little dignity.

leftistconservative April 4, 2014 at 8:00 am

google up ‘red scare’. The immigration restrictions really only started in earnest once the elite saw that european immigrants were bringing in populist leftist ideas, ideas the elite feared would spread to all of america. And so they stopped immigration.

Of course academia, being the tool of the elite, has shoved this fact down the memory for the most part. But the political cartoons that you can find under the search term ‘red scare’ tell the real story.

It was Big Money that wanted immigration stopped, and so it stopped.

Working class americans have always wanted less immigration, in general. But it only stopped when Big Money.

Of course that stoppage (and jim crow) led eventually to the golden age of labor in the 1950s, which the elite put an end to with the civil rights movement, which was effectively Capital’s coup against Labor.

JONFraz April 5, 2014 at 11:26 pm

It’s very hard to see how the Civil Rights ended the putative Golden Age of Labor. Better candidates would be the surge of large numbers of women into the labor force in the 70s and 80s and the reopening of the immigration gates. Both brought in workers not previously present.
Black men were already in the labor force, if somewhat segregated in many areas. But that segregation was economically meaningless: money, as usual, is endlessly fungible and has no color.

Rahul April 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm

And we got Quantum Mechanics, Antibiotics and Jet Aircraft.

Z April 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm


We can play this game all day, but it should be unnecessary.

Rahul April 3, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Precisely. It’s a silly game.

Jan April 3, 2014 at 10:28 pm

You’ve lost it.

chuck martel April 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm

In the case of the US, the immigrants were a civilian force used to push out the indigenous population and occupy the midwest and plains territories. Manifest Destiny.

Art Deco April 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Who’d pushed out previous sets of indigenous inhabitants.

chuck martel April 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm

When land is stolen from its occupants it must be re-populated or the original owners will move back in. That’s why 19th century immigration to the US was necessary. Sadly, many of those immigrants got off the boat and didn’t hurry west to the great American desert. Instead they joined the teeming millions in the cities of the eastern seaboard.

Art Deco April 4, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Stolen? With no articulate property rights (and very sparse settlement)?

JONFraz April 5, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Not all of them stayed in the coastal cities. There are huge areas of German and Scandinavian settlement through the Midwest and out into the Great Plains. As well as Eastern European settlement throughout the Rust Belt.

John April 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

An important distinction, however, is that the American frontier was still open until the late 19th century. There was still unsettled land for migrants to move to, and more importantly, for people escaping incoming migration into already settled areas to flee to.

The frontier was closed in the late 19th century. The post 1945 migration has been in the context of closed frontiers and already settled lands. This is a significant qualitative difference.

Fazal Majid April 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm

The Irish probably account for a sizeable chunk of this, specially post-1857. Whether that migration was “voluntary” is highly questionable.

Art Deco April 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

The potato famine migrations began in 1845.

dearieme April 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm

All Irish emigrants, whether they left in 1801 or 1901, were victims of the Famine. Well known fact, that.

Jan April 3, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic. Effects were certainly felt for long after but…

prior_approval April 3, 2014 at 11:11 pm

Wikipedia agrees with you – ‘The Great Famine of Ireland during the 1840s saw a significant number of people flee from the island to all over the world. Robert E. Kennedy explains, however, that this common argument of the mass emigration from Ireland being a “flight from famine” is not entirely correct. Emigration had not only been starting at the beginning of the 19th century, but with this theory it would mean that once conditions were better emigration would have slowed down. After the famine was over the four following years produced more emigrants than during the four years of the blight. Kennedy argues that the famine was considered the final straw to convince people to move and that there were several other factors in the decision making.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_diaspora

Art Deco April 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm

That’s the way it works with migration. You have a shock of some sort which induces pioneer migration and then chain migration ensues as social networks build up in the receiving country. Nothing peculiar to the Irish.

Adrian Ratnapala April 3, 2014 at 11:57 pm

But fleeing because of the famine, and fleeing because Ireland was poor and oppressively governed are much the same thing. The famine happened because ordinary Irish people could not pay spiking prices for food. And the government both supported high grain prices and and depressed earnings at all times, even if it only resulted in one discrete famine.

Luke April 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Dont mention the word: colonialism

And how does he count all the europeans moving from one country to another due to the borders changing a lot in Europe during the period 1815 and 1914.

JONFraz April 5, 2014 at 11:31 pm

The main changes were the unification of Germany and Italy and the gradual independence of a number of Balkan states.

Tom M April 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm

The question I would like to know the answer to is what would market structure look like if there were a limit on canceling orders and if data feeds were purposefully slowed down some amount, say 10 milliseconds, to level the playing field. Would HFT firms still exist? How much more/less money would HFTs make? Investors wouldn’t have as much of a reason to think they were being cheated if those two things were “fixed.”

anon April 3, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Oh for God’s sake… If you want a draconian solution just dispense with real-time trading and go with periodic auctions at a reasonably high frequency. Once a minute ought to be fine.

terell April 3, 2014 at 4:24 pm

1815-1914 seems a rather narrow perspective on human time periods…. and totally artificial political borders. plus there’s certainly a very large error margin in the stated migration numeric calculation. and why not round it off to “1815-1915″ (?); implied precision in the original period is silly.

some 110 Billion humans (total) ever existed on this planet. They migrated everywhere from the African plains, even eastward to the very tip of South America (without passports or cruise ships). their motivation for such vast and dangerous migration was, as always, to escape very unpleasant conditions…. in hopes of better.

dearieme April 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm

“Between 1815 and 1914 at least 82 million people moved voluntarily from one country to another”. How does he know?

Art Deco April 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm

His research assistant made a lot of tick marks on paper which were then lost when his office was flooded.

Art Deco April 3, 2014 at 5:40 pm

I take it that the new argument for open borders banks on everyone agreeing that precedents in the propensity to migrate are properly considered a floor for tolerable sustained migration.

Which countries were donors and recipients? The Americas and the Antipodes had large swaths of undeveloped land and were, in any case, societies of migrants with somewhat more elastic concepts of belonging than others. Russia, the Hapsburg dominions, and the Ottoman Empire were multi-national configurations and you have a range of choice with regard to the last if you are in the business of enumerating who crossed ‘international’ frontiers. Germanophone and Italophone Europe was distributed across quite an array of sovereign units. Bremen to Berlin was ‘international’ migration prior to 1871.

Chip April 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm

How many of those immigrants were a net cost the the treasuries if the countries they moved to?

Studying immigration without studying the rise of the entitlement state is pointless.

The Anti-Gnostic April 3, 2014 at 10:26 pm

And without public schools, welfare or civil rights laws. This cannot have happened.

JONFraz April 5, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Public schools most certainly did exist in the later19th century.

Steve Sailer April 3, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Yet, the current era’s raw numbers in America dwarf those of the past. The total number of Mexicans who have moved to America is several times the number of Italians and Jews combined.

Since we know a lot about the mediocrity of average Mexican-American performance over the last five generations, that says a lot about what the future of America is going to be like.

Brock April 3, 2014 at 11:43 pm

So you support increase of chinese,korean and indian immigration since they performances are above national average?

Rahul April 4, 2014 at 1:37 am


josh April 4, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Why ouch? If the majority of immigrants were from those populations, the outcomes would obviously be different. That doesn’t mean this would be advisable since the purpose of any policy should be to benefit the nation as currently constituted and their posterity (within the constraints of justice and the natural law of nations, of course).

Art Deco April 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm

since the purpose of any policy should be to benefit the nation as currently constituted

Silly goose. The purpose of the policy should be to avoid offense to Bryan Caplan’s sense of logical consistency. Elegance baby, as theoreticians use the term.

Art Deco April 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Korea is in a state of incipient demographic implosion. It is also sufficiently affluent that economic spurs to migration (and crossing cultural boundaries) have dissipated.

Migration of Indians has one advantage: English language facility is very common there among people who have a certain baseline of education. About a third of the world’s people with a 2d language facility in English are South Asian. The thing is, East Indian migration has heretofore been highly selective and creamed their small bourgeoisie. You get mass immigration from India and you get a more generic pool of people (who one might wager would not exceed the natives on performance metrics).

It would be helpful to have a modest immigration stream which is English proficient off the boat and does not include specimens from the disgruntled bachelor heard in the Near East and North Africa (so permits only family migration elder couple migration from these areas). Such criteria would induce a bias toward India as a source country for quite some time. You’re not going to get much from Europe because there just is no motive to migrate.

Our real problem is that our social betters are not loyal to the country and see the rest of us as pairs of hands. Bryan Caplan is an extreme example, of course.

Rahul April 4, 2014 at 1:38 am

Did the raw numbers of 1800′s dwarf those of the 1700′s?

MM April 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

They actually don’t. If you look at % of population, the numbers between 1890-1900 and 100 years later are the same. But as % of the population is much smaller now.

josh April 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm

What’s up with the endpoints selected here? 99 years vs. 35 years? A cut-off at 1980 for some reason? Is this explained in the book.

Riley April 4, 2014 at 1:48 pm


The decrease in immigration as % of world population seems obvious given this graph…no?

robert April 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm

1815 to 1914 was, not coincidentally, the longest era of sustained peace in the Western World.

chuck martel April 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Maybe it depends on your definition of the Western World. That period saw the Greek War of Independence, the many revolutions of 1848, the Crimean War, the War Between the States, the Austro-Prussian war, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Turkish War, the Serbo-Bulgarian War, the Spanish-American War, the First and Second Balkan Wars, and continuous conflicts between the US and various native-American tribes, among others.

JONFraz April 5, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Yes the main area that was war-free was Western Europe (in contrast to previous centuries). The Franco-Prussian War was the one major exception, though there were small scale civil wars in Spain, a brief war between Prussia and Denmark and some warfare attendant on the unification of Italy.

Don Wallace April 4, 2014 at 8:45 pm

For a literary view, try Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, which ends with the narrator leaving for America, Willa Cather’s My Antonia and O Pioneers!, and The Octopus by Frank Norris. These are not the plot-heavy multigenerational sagas (some of them quite good, particularly by the Irish-Americans).

For a view of those who could have but did not go, James Joyce’s Araby is all you need to know.

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