Don’t fear the migrant. Tim Harford

Should we seek to keep the citizens of poor nations trapped in their countries of birth for the good of their fellow citizens? Nobody would, for a moment, consider banning ambitious Mancunians or Glaswegians from working in London, purely on the principle that they might do more good in their back home. Outrageous infringements of liberty seem to be acceptable only when applied to foreigners. (Another analogy, inspired by Clemens: would we happily discuss working mothers under the heading of “the love drain”? I hope not.)

The real effects of the brain drain have also been poorly thought through by most of us. The economist Oded Stark points out that if western countries assiduously recruit doctors and engineers from poor countries on comparatively vast salaries, that is a strong incentive to train as a doctor or engineer. The result may be more doctors and engineers in poor countries, even after the migrants have left. And there is some evidence that this is indeed the case. (Robert Guest, the author of a forthcoming book on international migration, points out more nurses leave the Philippines each year than any other country, and yet the Philippines retain more nurses per head than Austria.)

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