Does temporary migration from rich to poor countries cause commitment to development?

The author is Lee Crawfurd and the subtitle of the paper is “Evidence from quasi-random Mormon mission assignments.”  Here is part of the abstract:

…we address this question using a natural experiment–the assignment of Mormon missionaries to two-year missions in different world regions–and test whether the attitudes and activities of returned missionaries differ. I find that assignment to a region in the global South causes returned missionaries to report greater interest in global development and poverty, but no difference in support for government aid or higher immigration, and no difference in personal donations or other involvement.

Maybe Mormons are different in this regard, or maybe missions are different (you feel you have done your bit?), but still an interesting result.


You would not expect Mormon missionaries to be any way representative, and NGO type staff less so. How about Expat oil workers? They are not such a pre selected set, and less likely to be as homogenious a group as Mormon missionaries.

Nitpick: Selecting Mormons does relatively little to selecting on personality type (less than say picking oil workers); because all Mormon men are supposed to go a-missioning. Even if this isn't 100% universal it's still less selective than just about anything else which will send people oversees to work.

But the only reason this is possible is because by selecting Mormons you are still selecting for a very distinct kind of environment and upbringing. For example: it doesn't increase people's personal donations *above the very high amount that these people donate anyway*.

Possibly not representative, but Mormon missionaries get a much better understanding of what life is like in the countries they spend a couple of years in than the vast majority of Americans who have no personal experience of such countries at all.

Which would certainly explain 'greater interest in global development and poverty.'

Experiencing the "global South" from their perspective may trigger an emergency response (i.e. give shoes to barefoot children, medical attention) instead of taking a long breath and thinking about how to improve the overall situation (governance, corruption, crime).

Mormons help the sick while economists care about property rights. Also, Mormons don't care about immigration while economists won't react to people suffering today. So, it's OK. People is diverse, everybody helps their way.

I'd like to know what Tyler thinks about Doctors without Borders (MSF).

'instead of taking a long breath and thinking about how to improve the overall situation '

Well, Mormon men who do missionary work normally do it for two years. Whatever emergency response they experience is unlikely to last for more than weeks or a couple of months.

One would assume, using Orson Scott Card as a public (though not necessarily typical) example, that Mormon missionaries are quite aware of the overall situation of where they live for those two years. It is simply that being religious missionaries, they already have a solution. Which is a major motivation for why they went out to do their missionary work to start with, after all.

I see. A simple explanation is that their solution is "faith". Therefore, government, aid, immigration or donations are not important to them. That's the stereotype of religions, right?

I'm not sure if the simple common sense explanation is enough. It may work for barefoot preachers with vows of poverty but Mormons do care about material things. I remember they say diseases and suffering can only be overcome by using human brains and nature's resources. So, education matters, not only faith.

I'd like to see this for Peace Corps volunteers. They are of course self-selected more than LDS missionaries, but I think the results might be a bit different, at least in terms of the "other involvement" category. I'm a former volunteer myself and looking at my cohort many years later, it seems to be more of a lasting effect.

This issue is, how many Peace Corps volunteers would still have some kind of involvement with global development many years later even if they hadn't been accepted? The kind of people who apply are interested to begin with, and may instead have found a different route.

I thank President Captain Bolsonaro for having defeated Mr. Carreiro. May President Captain Bolsonaro live ten thousand years, ten thousand years, ten thousand of ten thousand years.

From what I understand about the location decisions of Mormon missionaries (from friends who have taken part in these missions), the choice of where to go is not as random as the authors think. There is a bit of randomness, but probably not enough to use it for research purposes.

They do ask you about what languages you know or have studied on the application. And also your ancestry.

My impression is that an American kid who has, say, Japanese ancestry, has a much greater chance of going to Japan than average. And if you speak a second language, you are probably somewhat more likely to go somewhere that speaks that language. Again, these are my impressions. The actual data is not public. Officially, all the decisions are made in Salt Lake "by the Spirit."

The main purpose of Christian (Mormon) missionaries is spiritual: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

After spending some time in the African Great Lakes region, I realized how poor people there are. They weren’t in an urgent humanitarian crisis, but they ate pretty much the same thing every day and did backbreaking work for extremely low wages. There was not a single fat person to be seen. There is no analogy at all to relative poverty in the United States.

Then, I became interested in development but after studying the issue, I simply didn’t see how government aid or personal charity could really make a difference. Charity can alleviate immediate humanitarian needs, but there are no examples of it lifting an entire country out of poverty. Instead, the countries that escaped third world poverty in modern times did so with little or no Western aid or charity. China developed by changing its failed domestic model and receiving private Western trade and investment at market rates that were also profitable for the Western companies, not charity and certainly not government foreign aid. The best Westerners can do is to follow a policy of noninterference and peaceful trade. Developing countries need to figure out a system that works for themselves, and then build industries based on their own system and comparative advantages that can compete on the global market. We can help by selling them technology and expertise and buying their goods and services, but not by government aid.

For a long time, Japan was the greatest giver of foreign aid and investment to China. Is Japan Western?

During the 1980s China was the largest recipient of foreign aid in the world. Today, China is transitioning to a net giver of foreign aid.

Even the Marshall Plan was foreign aid. Where is the notion of realpolitik when most needed?

greater interest in global development and poverty, but no difference in support for government aid or higher immigration, and no difference in personal donations or other involvement

This is what you're calling "commitment to development?"

In most cases, I suspect it has little long-term impact on political values.

In my case, I went to Central America. I went in as a young Mises Institute/Lew Rockwell/Ron Paul type of libertarian and my experiences there pretty much cured me of that. The idea that you just need small government and low taxes and everything will be great no longer seemed tenable to me.

Some years later I came to adopt a fairly racialist worldview and now I'm strongly in favor immigration restriction and cutting government aid. I interpret my experience in Latin America somewhat differently now, but it wasn't a key determinant of my current political attitudes. That would be Obama's second term. And the internet.

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