Outsourcing Welfare: How the Money Immigrants Send Home Contributes to Stability in Developing Countries

Forthcoming in 2018 from Oxford University Press

My book Outsourcing Welfare argues that remittances—money that international migrants send to their homelands—have been a force for political and social stability in developing countries in the neoliberal era. As the governments of developing countries pull back on welfare commitments and open their economies to the vicissitudes of global markets, citizens abroad have sent increasingly larger sums of money home to help their family members cope with austerity, economic crises, and natural disasters. Remittances are now a leading source of income to many developing countries—more than triple development aid. Outsourcing Welfare shows that these financial flows are having important political impacts in developing countries. In particular, they reduce economic grievances and the likelihood of political instability and civil unrest during economic crises. My arguments are supported by ethnographic research and original survey research I conducted in rural Mexico and analyses of survey data from 50 developing countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

Outsourcing Welfare contributes to core debates in comparative politics and international political economy (IPE). One contribution is to a burgeoning literature in comparative politics and IPE on the impact of emigration and remittances on politics in developing countries. Although remittances have traditionally been studied by economists, sociologists, and anthropologists, Outsourcing Welfare shows that they also have important political causes and effects—namely, they substitute for government social spending and improve voters’ assessments of government performance during economic crises, thus boosting incumbents’ electoral prospects. Outsourcing Welfare furthermore shows that the individual-level “calming effect” of remittances cumulates to foster political and social stability in circumstances where traditional theories of comparative politics would predict protest, riots, or even revolution, thus helping to explain how new democracies have been able to survive destabilizing and austere market transitions.