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.