Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ignoring the Obvious

Problems go begging for solutions because those with power in a society are very comfy with the established socio-economic structure. They mouth words about charity and concern, but the reality is they aren't looking for real, effective solutions. From a post by economist Tim Harford:
A recent survey by the economist Michael Clemens, of the Center for Global Development, points out that although the question is largely ignored, any reasonable estimate of the economic gains from freer migration would dwarf that of the gains from, say, freer trade – if we include the welfare of the migrants themselves. Clemens points out that allowing some migration from disaster-hit countries such as Haiti or Somalia would be a far more effective way to alleviate poverty than many conventional aid programs.
I advocate free migration between countries for a different reason: it is the most effective way to undercut dictators and bad government. It is nice to have a ballot to vote, but sometimes you need something more effective, the ability to leave a bad country and go to a better country. But those with power don't like "losing control" so this option will never be. But it would be the most direct path to a better world.

Here is a bit more from Harford's post:
Clemens has, alas, attracted the attention of white supremacists, but even people with impeccable bleeding-heart-liberal credentials worry about emigration because of the “brain drain” – the harm assumed to be done to poor countries as their doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs abandon them for cushy careers in the west. It is for this reason that the NHS has its recruitment ban.

I am not convinced. 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.
Funny how people can think it is a "right" to move from neightborhood to neighborhood in a city, or within a state/province, or between states/provinces. But to cross a national border suddenly is considered a "whole other thing" where rights and liberties are suddenly not the issue but "sovereignty", "race purity", "brain drain" and other mystical ideas.

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