Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Western Union Economy

July 13th, 2009 · No Comments

As we continue to plow through Patrick Radden Keefe’s excellent The Snakehead, we’ve been giving tons of thought to the impact of immigrant remittances. We never cease to be amazed by how much working-class immigrants are able to save and then contribute to the families they left behind—so much, in fact, that some economies become hugely dependent on those wired sums. Check out this absolutely fascinating chart from STRATFOR to get a better sense of which nations might descend into utter chaos were it not for the dedication of their sons and daughters abroad.

We were particularly struck by two data points, the first being the sheer number of Guyanese and Surinamese citizens living abroad—over half those two nations’ populations have voted with their feet. And then there was Tajikistan’s near total dependence on remittances—the chart lists that money as accounting for nearly 37 percent of GDP, but that may actually be an undercount:

Tajikistan, in particular, is one of the most dangerously exposed countries to shortfalls in remittances. Some say remittances count for up to half of its GDP (as opposed to the official 37 percent), while roughly 30 percent of working males (a total of about 1 million) are living abroad. Kyrgyzstan is much the same. While formal statistics suggest that only 170,000 Kyrgyz laborers work abroad, the actual number is closer to 1 million, or about 20 percent of the country’s population of 5 million. Kyrgyz workers have yet to begin returning home, but they are likely to do so because of massive layoffs at Russian construction sites and a rising problem of unpaid wages. While both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are highly vulnerable to remittance shortfalls, they are already beyond repair, and no significant social unrest or challenges to political rule will arise in either country because of the worsening financial situation.

In other words, these citizens of these two -Stans are simply too broke to foment revolution. When times are really desperate, individuals prioritize finding ways to put bread on the table, rather than participate in popular uprisings. Calories before revolt.


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