I was recently asked to provide opening remarks at a landmark conference on labor mobility and development sponsored by the Ministry of Labor of the United Arab Emirates (with several partners including the KNOMAD). While thinking about the topic of the conference I was reminded of the Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labor model developed by W. Arthur Lewis almost half a century ago.
What connected this model to the conference in my mind was the fact that it envisaged development as a process whereby labor in low productivity sectors migrated to higher productivity sectors. In other words, migration was the main channel through which development occurred. In the days when the model and its many variants were initially developed and debated the low productivity sectors were typically represented by non-capitalist/subsistence/agriculture occupations while the higher productivity sectors were represented by capitalist/industry/manufacturing occupations and the migration was internal to a country, from rural areas to urban areas.