On the Brain Drain Refrain

Reason's Kerry Howley (to whom I devote most of my energy for exclusive local attachment) introduced me to Lant Pritchett's exciting and radical work on immigration, and knows way more about this stuff than I do, being a real journalist who covers this issue. So she's got the goods on Larison's ill-supported points about brain drain:

it’s probably not a great thing for a community to lose its most motivated members. But, this, too, is far more complicated than Larison wants to admit. We don’t know nearly as much as he pretends we do about the trade-offs, but we do know that people respond to incentives when they consider whether or not to pursue education. Thus, as the Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens has shown, claims that the U.S. is stripping Africa of health care workers probably have it backward. Health care workers who immigrate to the United States may never have acquired those skills were immigration not an option. The countries Clemens studied didn’t suffer from a lack of health care workers, generally; they suffered from the fact that they could not employ the workers they educated. There is no incentive to acquire skills you have no hope of using, and the most motivated people in a community might not be motivated at all absent the hope of exit.

And Kerry's analysis of Daniel's analogy to domestic ghettos is spot-on:

Applied domestically, the alternate policy would be rather like forcing people to stay in undeveloped inner city ghettos. It would mean telling the children of poor parents that they could never leave the economically backward neighborhood they happened to be born in, even if that neighborhood offered no education or employment opportunities. It would entail prohibiting suburbanites from inviting inner city residents onto their property to perform an economic service.

You didn't know it before now, but you are anxiously awaiting Kerry's forthcoming Reason feature story on guest worker programs.

10 thoughts on “On the Brain Drain Refrain”

  1. I wonder if people really grasp the value of sustained 1% growth. In just ten years that means a 10% boost in income, and exponential benefits into the indefinite future. On guns, that’s enough to pay for improved police response times, digital camera and surveillance systems, TASERS and other less-lethal items, etc. On abortion, that’s more than enough to pay for plenty of condoms, the Pill, the male Pills in development, vasectomies, IUDs, and adoption systems, as well as research on even more effective contraception.

    1. Right … the last two questions can only be explained by people not realizing how much 1% year-on-year growth can make a difference. Add an extra percentage in annual growth, say, from 3% to 4% annually, and you will create fabulous improvements in human well-being over time. In 40 years, the span of most people’s working lives, you get a country that is almost 50% richer than the country without the extra growth. On a per capita basis, that’s the difference between living in Germany and Portugal (which means something if you’ve been to both). And that just keeps compounding over time.
      Certainly more than enough to cancel out any negative effects of banning guns, and likely the same result with abortion.

      1. I think I answered “yes” to both questions about trading GDP for liberties (it was an easy choice for the guns question and a very difficult one for abortion), but there are definitely certain liberties I would never trade away, the most obvious of which is freedom of speech.

      2. I wonder what the gender split would be on both of the GDP questions. It’s obvious which way one would expect the sexes to split, but by how much (if at all) would be an interesting question. Oh well, no data on that one.

      3. My point was that the benefits accrue in kind, e.g. in reproductive autonomy and equality for women. I think that there are very few people who would think it very important to have a right to abortion if free, 100% reliable, convenient but easily reversible, contraception was guaranteed to be universally available. Then we’re just haggling over the price.

  2. I could have predicted the Magic Button #2 response. However, the fairly even split in almost all the other categories is interesting. Any chance we could see the breakdown of which political ID voted which way?

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