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Brain Drain: Gain, Not Bane

February 18, 2010

Half of college-educated Ghanaians do not live in Ghana. The pejorative label for this phenomenon: brain drain.

Laura Freschi at Aid Watch discusses a paper by William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko that lists the advantages of brain gain that overturns the popular conception of skilled emigration.

  1. Migrants are better off in developed countries. For example, in Zambia, a nurse earns $1,500 a year in US dollars and a doctor earns $5,500 a year.
  2. Migrants are able to send back remittances, which greatly exceed what they would have earned at home.
  3. The nomadic nature of emigration encourages the circulation of ideas and skills; emigrants often return to their home countries as entrepreneurs or educators.
  4. It incentivizes people to improve their human capital. The possibility of emigration and tremendous success abroad (“the Kofi Annan factor”) motivates students, which increases human capital. These incentives are the reason the Philippines—the world’s #1 exporter of nurses—boasts more nurses per capita domestically than developed nations like Britain.

Furthermore, Easterly and Nyarko caution against policies implemented solely to curb brain drain. For example, the World Bank and IMF noted in the 2007 Global Monitoring Report that developing countries could lower the standards of medical education so they will not be sufficiently qualified to work in developed countries.

Owen Barder, the director of aidinfo, agrees with them. Citing a Foreign Policy article by Michael Clemens, Barder concludes that limiting access to the labor markets of the developed world impoverishes developing countries and wonders why development advocates have been reluctant to adopt this cause.

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