Sunday, September 6, 2009

On the Brain Drain

A study released recently talks about the negative effects of attempting to stem brain drains (ht Ian Vasquez). The authors argue, somewhat surprisingly, that the brain drains aren't nearly as bad as the underlying factors that are encouraging the brain drain. For example, probably history's biggest brain drain would be the emigration of primarily Jewish Europeans during the era of Nazi Germany. That so many intellectuals were leaving was a small problem in comparison to much bigger problems like the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist party and their megalomanic intentions.

The study also argues, even more importantly, that attempts to prevent these brains drains are more harmful than beneficial because they have many unintended consequences The author really thinks that countries need to encourage their skilled labor to stay instead of preventing them from leaving.

In the United States, we have our own mini brain drain problem. We train and educate lots of skilled laborer from other countries and then practically boot them out the door when they finish. Per the results of the above study, it would clearly be unwise for us to force these foreign college grads to stay here if they wanted to return home. But, it's equally foolish to make it prohibitively expensive for them to jump through over all the vast legal hurdles in order to remain here. Education is an investment which is paid back by the increased productivity of the labor that is educated. Tuition hardly covers the true full costs of education. Thus, it's not really smart to educate people and kick them out the door, just as it's not smart for a company to train workers that it intends to promptly fire after the training is over.

Immigration policy for American-educated college grads needs to be revised (heck immigration policy needs to be expanded for everyone, but lets start simple).

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