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      South-North Nurse Migration and Accumulation by Dispossession in the Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries



            Using David Harvey's notion of “accumulation by dispossession,” this article brings systematic understanding to the connections between two widely observed contemporary phenomena: growing inequality on a world scale, and the rapidly increasing shortages of nursing and other health labor in the global South. Through an exploration of the dynamics of late 20th-and early 21st-century nurse migration, it is demonstrated that the increasing flow of temporary migrant skilled labor from African and other countries of the global South, to the global North, is a new form of accumulation by dispossession. Socialist feminist notions of caring labor and the Marxian concept of unequal exchange are used to articulate how the disproportionate accumulation of global nursing labor in the global North represents a dispossession of yet greater proportions in the global South.


            Author and article information

            World Review of Political Economy
            Pluto Journals
            Fall 2012
            : 3
            : 3
            : 354-375
            Copyright 2012 World Association for Political Economy

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.


            Political economics
            unequal exchange,international nurse migration,accumulation by dispossession


            1. There are over 41,000 barangays in the Philippines.

            2. Under the assumption of perfect competition, Marx's law of value—that all identical commodities, including labor, command the same exchange value (as symbolized by price) under capitalist social relations—holds true. Use values, or goods, in Marx's theory of value, become commodities only where they are the products of the labor of individuals carrying on work and earning independently of each other (rather than collectively).

            3. Briefly put, constant capital refers to land and machines employed by the capitalist in a given production moment, variable capital refers to labor employed in a given production moment, and surplus value refers to the value produced by the worker which exceeds the wage earned, which covers only the cost of the worker's basic needs.

            4. The higher surplus value in the impoverished country helps explain the role of US capitalists in the Philippines.

            5. Stated slightly differently for the instance of the Philippines, wages remitted home by migrant workers provide for the basic needs of families in the Philippines which alleviates the Philippines state from investing in job creation and public services. This in turn allows the historically-existing polarized distribution of wealth to continue, which is seen here as socially unacceptable.

            6. In terms of the country supplying nursing labor in the world market, this holds true whether nurses are migrating on a temporary or permanent basis. The differences, as elaborated below, are in the degree of loss incurred, whereby individuals and families in situations of temporary migration incur greater economic losses and social costs.

            7. For a comprehensive discussion of the role of trade unions in responding to increased employer use of temporary migrant workers in the Canadian context, see Valiani (2007). For a global approach to the role of trade unions in responding to increasing employer use of temporary migrant labor internationally, see Valiani (2008).

            8. See, for example, Ratha et al. (2008).

            9. Super-exploitation is the Marxian term describing the process whereby some capitalists are able to draw more surplus value from labor, relative to other capitalists.

            10. Though not gaining much attention in the global North, throughout the decade of the 1990s, several states of the global South attempted to call attention to the phenomenon of brain drain and the problems caused within the global South by health worker emigration.


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