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This is not a bad analogy for global immigration policy. When migrants move from a poor country to a rich one, they typically make three to six times as much money as before.

If everyone who wanted to migrate 【were allowed】 to do so, the world would by one estimate be twice as rich.

Yet this vast gain cannot be realised, because most would-be migrants are forced to stay where they are. ⑤The door is locked, and voters in rich countries hold the key..

I'm wondering if it is better to replace the bolded part with.had been allowed, considering it is the 3rd conditional. It's a situation that didn't happen in the past.

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  • It's a type II conditional. Not everyone who wants to migrate is allowed to do so, but if they were...
    – athlonusm
    Dec 14, 2019 at 19:36
  • @athlonusm I think the relative clause "who wanted to migrate." indicates it's a situation in the past. If those people had been allowed... before ......the world would be rich by now.
    – ForOU
    Dec 15, 2019 at 2:41

1 Answer 1

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If everyone who wanted to migrate were allowed to do so, the world would by one estimate be twice as rich.

^ This is a use of a conditional / past tense - it emphasizes the cause and effect. IF (everyone who wanted to migrate WERE allowed to do so, THEN the world would by one estimate be twice as rich. Despite conditional tense most often using the past tense conjugation of the verb, the sense of the condition is more ongoing - IF...THEN... in the past, IF...THEN... in the present, and IF...THEN... in the immediate future.

If everyone who wanted to migrate had been allowed to do so, the world would by one estimate be twice as rich.

^ This is a use of the conditional / past perfect tense. It emphasizes that an event (or in this case possibility of an event) did not happen in the past. The sense of this is totally in the past, there is not necessarily the implication that IF..THEN... holds in the present or the future.

This is confusing, especially because conditionals often mix tenses (notice the second clause has 'would be....'). So, one common we to think about this is "real" or "likely". We get four common conditional constructions:

0th Conditional: (present tense or past/present, makes prediction about "real" event that is valid ongoing / into the future)

If I drink coffee at night, I don't sleep well.

1st Conditional: (mixes present and future, makes prediction about "real" event just one time or "tonight")

If I drink coffee tonight, I won't sleep well.

2nd Conditional: (mixes past and future, makes prediction about "imaginary" event one time / tonight only)

If I drank coffee tonight, I wouldn't sleep well.

3rd Conditional: (mixes past perfect and past/present, makes prediction about "imaginary" event, refers to past only)

If I had drunk coffee last night, I wouldn't have slept well.

This is pretty confusing, and it's difficult to get the exact meaning of conditionals correct! So don't worry too much about it, you'll get used to it in time.

The first two quotes in this answer are 0th and 3rd, by the way!

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  • I'm still kind of confused. About the first quote, If the sense of the condition is in general., why not use the present tense? To use "If everyone who wants to. ", Instead of "if everyone who wanted to."
    – ForOU
    Dec 15, 2019 at 11:13
  • "Wants to... was" is also OK for 0th condition. You'd especially use it if you only meant present, not also past and future: 'If everyone who currently wants to...". Also the 0-3 forms aren't strict, you can also "mix" conditionals and just have to get a sense for what the different uses of tense and tense moods imply. It's difficult, and will take time to know which is "best" in every situation.. (A grammar text I have says wants to... was.... is informal/conversational use only, but I'm not sure I agree...)
    – BadZen
    Dec 15, 2019 at 15:21

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