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November 17, 2005

The Costs of the Brain Drain

The progressive promise of global trade is supposed to be increased wealth for poor countries. But the most important trade in the information economy is often people-- and discriminatory immigration laws too often give preferences to the educated of developing nations, encouraging them to leave their home countries. The result is a brain drain that robs those countries of what is often their scarciest and most valuable resource.

As a recent Economist article details (subscription), many developing nations spend precious investments in higher education, only to see a hemmoraging of doctors and other educated workers to developed nations:

  • Ghana, for example, has only 6.2 doctors per 100,000 people. Perhaps three-quarters of its doctors leave within ten years of qualifying.
  • Almost 47% of Ghana's highly educated native sons live in the OECD; for Guyana, the figure is 89%.

    Some studies have suggested that this emigration has some positive effects for developing nations, since it encourages others to aspire to similar education, and with the notable example of India, can be a source of returning know-how and occasionally capital. So there is an argument that limited emigration from those countries could potentially benefit those nations, but unfortunately,most of them suffer not limited emigration but an uncontrolled exodus. For as the article notes:

    The drain of educated minds from poor countries is mostly determined by host countries' rules, not home countries' interests...The rich world no longer welcomes the tired and the huddled; it looks set to compete ever more fiercely for the bright and the qualified.
    Because the United States actually has less of a bias in our immigration laws towards the highly skilled than many other countries, some people (yes this means you Matt) have suggested cutting down on lower-skilled immigrants in favor of more educated ones. But such a change would just increase the brain drain that's killing development in many countries.

    Posted by Nathan at November 17, 2005 01:40 AM