How do Kremer and his co-authors propose to solve the problem? They quickly dismiss the establishment of a centralized authority by whose decisions on refugee status the signatories to the convention would all be bound, and indeed such a solution would be politically impossible (and a quite bad idea). After reviewing the literature, they endorse an important proposal floated back in the 1990s: Wealthy countries should pay poorer countries to accept more migrants. In return, the poorer countries would agree to allow the refugees freedom of movement (no refugee camps) and the right to earn a living. Refugees, in turn, might be afforded a degree of choice over which nation to enter. Meanwhile, wealth would be transferred from developed to developing countries.

In today’s fractious era, many on the left and right alike will surely dismiss such a suggestion out of hand. But whatever your view of the paper’s solutions (the authors propose several), the deeper analysis of why immigration policy is so hard to fix deserves close attention. In common with the work for which the Nobel was awarded to Kremer and his fellow laureates, the paper on immigration represents a thoughtful and serious effort to use the tools of his trade to grapple with a pressing moral challenge. That’s a welcome contribution at a time when serious thought in public debate remains in tragically short supply.