Tag Archives: brain drain

Why open borders are the solution to brain drain

I’m intensely ambivalent about the new book by Paul Collier, Exodus, that’s scheduled to come out in October of this year. Of course, I don’t know exactly what’s in it. But I know the author: Collier is a respected development economist and author of The Bottom Billion, one of the best books on the world’s poorest people and the causes of the world’s direst poverty. And Amazon provides a preview of the contents of Exodus.

More than ever before, those in the poorest countries-the bottom billion-feel the lure of greater opportunities beyond their borders. Indeed, the scale of migration driven by international inequality is so massive that it could make nations as we know them obsolete.

In Exodus, world-renowned economist and bestselling author Paul Collier lays out the effects of encouraging or restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies. Drawing on original research and numerous case studies, Collier explores this volatile issue from three unique perspectives: the migrants themselves, the people they leave behind, and the host societies where they relocate. As Collier shows, those who migrate from the poorest countries, primarily though not exclusive the young, tend to be the best educated and most energetic in their cultures. And while migrants often benefit economically, the larger impacts of mass migrations remain unsettling. The danger is that both host countries and sending societies may lose their national identities– an outcome that Collier suggests would be disastrous as national identity is a powerful force for equity. Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies that make the investment on which migrant gains rely.

Sharply written and brilliantly clarifying, Exodus offers a provocative analysis on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Interestingly, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution linked to the Amazon page and apparently quoted it, except with slightly different words:

…bestselling author Paul Collier makes a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies… [the rest is the same]

I don’t know where Cowen got the text he quoted, which makes the book sound a little more restrictionist than the book description that actually appears at Amazon. Will Collier “make a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of” migration restrictions, I wonder? Or not? Still, the Amazon book description still says that “Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies,” etc.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but it does seem to matter whether Collier is simply arguing that it would be in poor countries’ interest to restrict certain kinds of migration, and lazily advising this as good economic policy without inquiring into whether it’s ethically legitimate or not, or whether Collier is actually going to try to defend the ethical proposition that it is licit for countries to cage their citizens inside and not let them leave. If he is going to argue that, he is, I think, breaking somewhat new ground. Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Soviet restrictions on their citizens’ right to travel abroad or emigrate were long recognized as a violation of fundamental human rights. The Berlin Wall was built for the purpose of violating East German citizens’ right to emigrate. I don’t know as much about this as I would like to, but other than North Korea, how many states today attempt to prohibit emigration? Certainly a lot of people lack the right to emigrate de facto because nowhere will accept them, and this is one of the systemic abuses that open borders advocates want to overcome; but how many states curtail the right to emigrate per se? Or is Collier simply going to argue that other countries should cage citizens of poor countries at home so as to promote the development of their homelands, thus backing into the curtailment of the right to emigrate without attacking it head-on? Continue reading “Why open borders are the solution to brain drain” »