Michael Clemens and David McKenzie argue that the “movement of skilled workers from poor countries to rich ones is nothing to fear. In the long run,” they argue, “it will benefit both.”
Conventional wisdom once held that the wealth of a country declined when it imported foreign goods, since obviously cash was wealth and obviously buying foreign goods sent cash abroad. Adam Smith argued that economic development — or the “wealth of nations” — depends not a country’s stock of cash but on structural changes that international exchange could encourage. In today’s information age, the view has taken hold that human capital now rules the wealth of nations, and that its departure in any circumstance must harm a country’s development. But economic development is much more complex than that.
…But thanks to new research, we have learned that the international movement of educated people changes the incentives to acquire education, sends enormous quantities of money across borders, leads to movements back and forth, and can contribute to the spread of trade, investment, technology, and ideas. All of this fits very uncomfortably in a rhyming phrase like “brain drain,” a caricature that would be best discarded in favor of a richer view of the links between human movement and development.
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