Monday, November 28, 2005

Remittances: A different sort of "Soft Power"

According to Joseph Nye "Soft Power" can be defined as "the power to shape the preferences of others". Simply put it is the power that makes other nations have a favorable view of you and want to play nice in the global sandbox. Most often it stems not from the opinions the ruling elite in a given country, but rather by the way the society at large views a given foreign nation. Nye states it is derived from three sources; a desirable culture, attractive political values and a foreign policy that has moral authority. In a nutshell; just as in the case of interpersonal relationships, the relationships between nations are greatly influenced by a perception of "likeability, values and popularity".

In contrast to the sticks and carrots philosophy of realpolitik, soft power relies as heavily on the universal appeal of Levi's jeans as it does on foreign aid packages. It sees more value in the world's admiration for the American ideals of freedom and equality than for a nation's fear of our military might. According to Nye, the soft power of American culture and ideals are very powerful tools in accomplishing foreign policy goals.

In light of these theories of soft power we need to examine the following facts when discussing immigration and immigration reform. From Inter Press Services:

Remittances Rescue Millions from Poverty

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Nov 25 (IPS) - The money sent home by migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean amounted to 45 billion dollars last year, double the total from 10 years ago. Thanks to these remittances, an estimated 2.5 million people in the region have been able to escape poverty.

Although remittances do little to reduce poverty for the population at large, the impact is huge for those who directly receive the money from abroad. At least half of the people in households with ties to emigrants would be poor if they did not receive remittances, while others who are living in poverty would be extremely poor.

These are some of the conclusions reached by the Social Panorama of Latin America 2005, released Friday by the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) at its headquarters in Chile.

The report states that poverty and extreme poverty in the region, which affect a total of 301 million people, are slowly being reduced thanks to remittances.

The article goes on to say:

The remittances received by the region doubled in the past 10 years and are still growing. Mexico and Central America account for 55 percent of the total, South America 31 percent, and the Caribbean 14 percent.

The majority of the funds come from immigrants living in the United States. But significant amounts are also sent home from migrants in Canada, Spain and Japan, which is home to more than 254,000 Brazilians, according to a 2004 study by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

ECLAC notes that the economies of Haiti, Nicaragua, Guyana and Jamaica are heavily dependent on migrant remittance flows, which represent between 29 and 16 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP).

In other countries, like Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador, remittance flows outstrip foreign direct investment, and in some cases they are equivalent to over 50 percent of total export revenues.

In fact, the money sent home by those who leave their countries - whether as a result of poverty, international economic dynamics or family reunification - is of such crucial importance to the region that governments throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have adopted measures to facilitate its flow.

In the 11 countries studied - Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay - it was determined that 50 percent or more of the people who live in recipient households would drop below the poverty line if it were not for the income they receive through these money transfers.

A significant number of households are lifted out of extreme poverty thanks to the remittances sent from abroad, says the study, and while there are also households that remain poor despite receiving remittances, this source of income nonetheless reduces the gap between their total income and the poverty line.

Although the study goes on to say that these remittances do little to overcome the abject poverty that the majority of many of these populations face, the fact that it keeps a percentage of the people fed and clothed is very important.

Of course on the human level anytime the poor are fed and raised from poverty it is a great good , but from a pragmatic point of view we need to look at this in view of our current debate on US immigration policy. Quite often one of the talking points of those who would wish to close our borders and stop the flow of immigration is that the remittance system drains our nation of economic resources as immigrants "ship money" overseas.

If we were to view the situation through the prism of Nye's soft power, we see that this system is far more effective at shaping a favorable worldview of America than a lot of the more traditional channels such as government sponsored foreign aid and the work of NGO's. Here relief is sent directly to those who can most use it without the filter of bureaucratic intervention.

Additionally, the interaction between the emigrant and his/her family helps foster a positive view of America beyond just the monetary. The notion that American ideals and American culture are something to be admired and hopefully emulated is passed on with each letter and phone call. This "public relations campaign" comes not from a slick Hollywood movie or Madison Avenue , but rather from a son, daughter, brother or sister. This kind of positive image cannot be bought with all the foreign aid in the world.

When viewed in this light, the system of remittance becomes not a drain on the American economy, but rather one of the most effective forms of "foreign aid" available.

Thanks to "profmarcus" at: And yes, I Do take it personally for bringing this article to my attention


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janinsanfran said...

Since you are writing on remitances, you might be interesed in TIGRA. I don't know how real their program is of organizing the folks who make remitances, but the slant is interesting and important.

Duke1676 said...

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