An article from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph goes over the bleak prospects for many younger people in Britain and then surveys emigration destinations.
It is not a great time to be a young person in Britain. The unemployment rate among under-25s is 20 per cent and rising. Highly skilled roles are being taken by German, Swiss and French graduates. At the other end of the spectrum British workers are losing out to cheaper competition from Eastern Europe, Asia and South America.
Even if you have a job, you are unlikely to be able to live very well. You might not be able to buy a house for years. The average deposit on a house in Britain, according to a survey by Santander, is £37,000. The average age of first-time buyer is nearly 40.
So far most Americans haven't felt a need to leave the United States because the country is big enough that they can move somewhere else. The big exodus from California is an example of this phenomenon. But the attraction of other places beyond America's shores will grow.
What I'm wondering: will declining telecommunications cost lead to the emergence of small countries that suck in the smartest workers? Will emigration become a means of sorting by cognitive ability? For example, could New Zealand fulfill that role? Imagine what Singapore's government could do along those lines if only it had more land to work with.
Is a solution possible in Europe? Unfortunately, the European Union's open internal borders make it difficult for a southern European country with pleasant climate to develop that niche. The smarties need a government that will enforce very selective immigration rules and also that can attract so many smart people that the smarties can basically take over the country. Could some European country manage to keep itself out of the EU and develop a brain power niche?
Between 1964 and 2001 (when the economy was sluggish), 35 per cent of the nation's most promising graduates moved abroad, according to research conducted by the Delhi-based organisation, Evalueserve, but from 2002 onwards (the period when India's GDP began to soar) only 16 per cent chose to leave. Now, the research suggests, the West no longer seems synonymous with wealth and opportunity. Asked to predict which country would 'hold the most promise for success' in 10 years' time, 72 per cent of the 677 IIT graduates surveyed named India, with only 17 per cent citing the US, 5 per cent Europe, and just 2 per cent China. The number who feel the US offers a better standard of living than India has fallen since 2001 from 13 per cent to almost zero. The study is a clear sign that the lamented flight of India's best students, which has troubled the government for decades, may be reversing, in tandem with the turnaround in economic prospects.
Another recent analysis argues the United States isn't getting the best and brightest among skilled H-1B visa workers. Well, that's not why employers use H-1B workers. The advantage of H-1B is that the workers are cheaper than natives at the same skill level. If the average skill level from abroad is lower that doesn't matter as long as some tasks do not require the highest skills. The main goal in using foreign workers is to cut labor costs.
If more skilled workers will find the United States increasingly less appealing then the mix of immigrants will shift even more heavily toward those with little or no skills. We need an immigration policy that keeps out the less able.
In a Los Angeles Times article about the on-going H-1B visa quota and the desire of American businesses to hire smart people more cheaply abroad a Microsoft executive argues that we should let in more smart people to improve national competitiveness.
Marland Buckner, a senior federal affairs manager for Microsoft Corp., said the company has had "several thousand core technology positions" go unfilled in recent years because of a limited ability to hire qualified foreign workers. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates called last year for the elimination of the H-1B cap.
"We certainly think it's in the best interests of Microsoft and, we believe, in the best interest of national competitiveness from an innovation standpoint to bring as many smart people to the U.S. as possible," Buckner said.
Because the official secular liberal religion of America holds that we are all the same in abilities and fully moldable by environments to make us smarter the claim that we should bring in more smart people really clashes with the publically professed secular religion of liberal intellectuals. Because the believers in this secular faith (and I say "faith" because it is totally at odds with copious quantities of empirical evidence) claim that IQ tests are racist and inaccurate it is rare for business executives to so bluntly speak about smartness in the public sphere.
Sure, smarter people produce more innovations. If we get more smart people (as compared to more average people or, what we are getting now, more dumber people) then the rate of innovation in America will be higher. Of course, there are other considerations that should weigh in immigration policy. Should we bring in more people at all? How smart does someone have to be for that to outweigh ideological and other baggage they might bring along?
But the more interesting point here is that Microsoft's position is that some people are smarter than everyone else. This seems obvious enough. But it takes a company absolutely driven by the need for a large staff of very smart people to cause that company to so explicitly adopt this position in the public sphere. A company that employs a more intellectually average staff would be much more reluctant to take that position. But I'm sure Bill Gates feels a desperate need for ever more smart people.
MM: Last night [at the Fall Comdex 2003 keynote address] you were talking about certain other companies who you think are real competitors, who are doing good work: Sony, Nokia, Google. What about those companies makes them the companies that you admire? What can Microsoft learn from them?
BG: Well, they have high-IQ engineers. We do too. A lot of great things happen when these companies that can take a long-term approach, and have real research, and have good engineers, go after interesting problems.
I only wish that Gates would put his money where his mouth is with his philanthropy. He could greatly speed up the search for genetic variations that boost IQ.
Brain draining is happening all over the world. While medical brain draining of Africa is a tragedy that gets a lot of continuing press what is less remarked upon is the brain draining of Eastern Europe.
According to a recent survey of the Faculty of Medicine in Budapest, 66 percent of graduates in the European Union's new member said they plan to work abroad while 33 percent said they have already started searching for work in western Europe.
Some 430 young doctors have left the country for better paying jobs since Hungary joined the bloc on May 1 of last year, according to Ivan Golub, president of the Union of Hungarian Hospitals.
Anyone know how many doctors are in Hungary? The country has a total population of about 10 million people. The United States has about 190 physicians per 100,000 population (which is similar to Norway and a few other Western countries if memory serves - though socialist Canada is of course substantially lower). So we'd expect Hungary to have about 19,000 physicians if it had a ratio similar to that of the United States.
Hungary is turning around and brain-draining even poorer countries.
The job vacancies in Hungary are often filled by ethnic Hungarians who live in poor neighbouring countries, such as Romania, Ukraine or Serbia.
Up to one-third of the vacant medical positions in central Hungary are filled with doctors from these countries, MTI national news agency reported earlier this month.
When a country that has medical doctor salaries that are a tenth the Swiss level can turn around and brain drain its neighbors you just know that the neighbors have pathetically low salaries. What will happen to those pathetically poor countries in the future?
The Ukraine and Serbia are outside of the EU and hence it is harder for their nationals to get work in European Union countries. But think about Romania. It is now in the EU and while some labor movement restrictions are still in place it is so poor that even Hungary can brain drain it. That does not bode well for the future ability of Romania's people to get health care.
One factor that makes it easier for Hungary to brain drain Romania is that Romania contains ethnic Hungarians within its borders.
Perhaps the Romanian government could work out a deal whereby it trained many more doctors in exchange for those doctors taking on training cost debts that they could pay off by working in wealthier European countries. Might the Romanian government even strike a deal with some of those countries to guarantee collection of such debts from salaries paid in those countries? If the price for the training was set high enough then the Romanian medical schools could use the debt payback to fund the training of other doctors who would be obligated to work some number of years in Romania before leaving.
The number of skilled professionals leaving the country went up by 62 percent last year, according to a report by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).
These professionals are equivalent to the canary in the coal mine. South Africa's decline must be accelerating. Consider that this flight is happening even while the labor market is very weak in the United States and not any better in Europe. The flight is happening across a large assortment of professions.
The report said 192 medical practitioners left in 2003, compared with 117 in 2002. It costs a minimum of R120 000 to train doctors over seven years.
Teachers have also left in droves to work in Britain and the US, with 666 leaving last year, compared with 410 in 2002; while 736 people in the accounting profession emigrated last year, up from 529 in 2002.
The more the brains flee the worse conditions will get for those who remain. So this process will accelerate as long as there is enough talent remaining to flee. In the white population the smarter ones probably have much easier time finding work abroad and so it is likely the remaining whites are not as smart on average as those who have already left. Therefore the remaining ones will find it harder to find places they can escape to.
In the United States supporters of high levels of immigration attempt to obscure the difference between immigrants with less ability and less skill versus immigrants with high higher levels of ability and of training and skills. Yet when one looks at the concerns of analysts in other countries that experience a net outward migration inevitably the biggest topic of concern of countries experiencing out net losses of population due to migrations are concerned about the "brain drain".
Iran has the highest rate of "brain drain" in the world. That's the conclusion of the International Monetary Fund, which recently surveyed some 61 countries. The IMF says every year more than 150,000 educated Iranians leave their home country in the hope of finding a better life abroad.
Amanollah Gharayi Moghadam, a professor of sociology in Tehran, agrees. He says many young people are forced to leave because society cannot absorb them and respond to their needs. "Based on our research, the most important cause for brain drain from Iran is unsuitable social conditions for the youth. There are several factors contributing to this unsuitable atmosphere."
The costs of the brain drain are high. Local sources put the economic loss at some $50 billion a year or higher. "For each inventor or scientist who leaves the country, it is as if 10 oil wells had been destroyed," Moghadam says.
Afshin Molavi is a journalist and author of "Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran." Molavi cites economic conditions as a main reason young people choose to leave. The unemployment rate is around 20 percent -- and higher for young people. Hidden in the statistics is massive underemployment, with students forced to take jobs below their qualifications.
I've been watching "Brain Drain" stories in the world press daily for months now using Google News (just click on the previous link to get a sense of it) and there is on big recurring theme: fear of the loss of the most talented members of a society. A typical editorial from Nairobi Kenya is entitled How to Stop Brain Drain. An article from Nigeria has Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar blaming Brain Drain on something called the Structural Adjustment Programme. An editorial from Nigeria is entitled Stemming the brain-drain tide. A report released in South Africa claims the brain drain in South Africa is 4 times larger than government estimates.
The Brain Drain fears are not limited to Africa and Iran. Even Kiwis in New Zealand worry about brain drain while the French worry about the brain drain of their top scientific talent and so do the Germans. There are even fears of brain wars in Europe as richer countries buy up the talent of poorer countries and raise the specter that the gap between the countries in living standards could become permanent. A United Nations agency even seeks to provide money to poorer states to allow them to retain their top agricultural scientists and technicians.
There is one big sign in the Brain Drain stories that suggests Americans ought to be worried about our current immigation policies. A search of Google News on "Brain Drain Mexico" never seems to turn up any stories that indicates the elites of Mexico are worried that they are losing many talented people in spite of the millions of Mexicans who have headed north into the United States. Unfortunately, that lack of concern is fairly rational. First of all, Mexican immigrants to the US have an average of 8th grade educations. Even fourth generation descendants of the Mexican immigrants as a group do very poorly in American schools (see the last line of table at the end of that post). Barely half of all Hispanics in the United States graduate from high school. The result is that immigration is increasing the supply of less skilled workers several times more rapidly than it is increasing the supply more highly skilled workers. With two thirds of Mexican immigrants high school and grade school drop-outs Mexico is clearly not being brain drained. Therefore the Mexican opinion makers are correct not to be worried about the loss of so many people from their country as those people leave every day to go to the United States.
We will know that US immigration policy has been fixed when Mexican and other Latin American opinion-makers start complaining about the brain-drain of their most talented people to the United States.
Michael Woods has written an excellent article about scientists who leave Europe to work in the United States. (same article here)
Measured in numbers, the trans-Atlantic brain drain is small. Only 4 percent of European scientists -- 400,000 of 11 million -- work in the United States. But they are the creme de la creme, ranging from brilliant young students to world-renowned superstars.
"Real innovation in science depends less on the many 'worker bees' in the enterprise than on the presence of a decent sprinkling of the very best minds," noted William Zumeta and Joyce S. Raveling of the University of Washington in a report they wrote last year for the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology.
The contention that we are preferentially getting Europe's very best scientists is backed up by the fact that while one seventh of German science doctorates end up in the United States three quarters of German Nobelists are here in the US.
Many advocates of very large scale immigration cite immigrant success stories to defend their position that immigrants are a net benefit. But as illustrated by the quote above, differences in ability vary enormously. If the goal of immigration policy is to maximize the benefits for the receiving country then the goal of immigration policy should be to emphasize quality over quantity. In a world in which American industry faces intense and escalating competition from huge numbers of Chinese and other foreign engineers and scientists it makes no sense to have an immigration policy that has resulted in the current condition where twenty-five percent of foreign resident adults who are eligible for US citizenship have less than a ninth-grade education. What we have currently is an incredibly foolish and short-sighted immigration policy that will prevent the United States from successfully competing against China, India, and other emerging competitors.
The United States ought to focus on recruiting highly talented people whose skills are being poorly utilized in their home countries.
Perhaps most galling to young Italian researchers is what many describe as an anachronistic system of distributing jobs in research. It's who you know, not what you know, that counts, say several who have left the country. Applying for research positions abroad comes like a breath of fresh air.
"The most important thing here is that you are considered a good researcher," Bruni says of Britain. If you want to find a position in Italy, he says, you have to take a different approach and adapt to the hierarchical structure. That often means garnering support from a single research director who can make or break a younger scientist's career.
Here is an interesting sampling of foreign academics who moved to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh which the Pittsburgh Post Gazette trumpets as a "brain gain".
Intel Corp. CEO Craig Barrett says we should stop sending foreign brains home after we train them in our colleges and universities.
The end result of the current educational system was a shortage of US talent and a situation where 50 per cent of all advanced degrees were awarded to foreign nationals, he said. US-funded colleges paid to educate them.
"And then we send them home and the jobs follow them," Barrett said.
To reverse the brain drain, Barrett said the US should "staple a green card to every diploma. [That] would do wonders for the US economy." While he said the ratio of domestic Intel employees has remained constant at 60 per cent during the past decade, increasing competition from US-trained IT professionals in Russia, China and India and the "dwindling number of IT graduates in the US" could change that.
"There is huge competition coming for jobs," he said.
The very smartest scientists and engineers come up with the innovations that lead to new products, new markets, and lots of jobs. A national strategy designed to deal with the competition of cheap smart engineers in China and India should be to increase the number of the very brightest and most productive innovators in the United States.
Barrett's comments follow on the heels of ominous warnings by Intel co-founder and chairman Andrew S. Grove that the United States is going to lose its lead in the software industry to India and China.
He predicted that the software and services industry is about to travel the well-worn path of the steel and semiconductor industries. Steel's market share dropped from about 50 percent to 10 percent in a few decades. U.S. chip companies saw theirs shrink from 90 percent to about 50 percent today. Now the writing is on the wall that software could suffer the same fate, said Grove, whose 1996 bestseller was titled ``Only the Paranoid Survive.''
``It would be a miracle if it didn't happen in the software and services industry,'' said Grove, noting that he was speaking on National Depression Day.
It is great that Andy Grove and Craig Barrett are speaking out on this subject. As Grove points out, US leaders are ignoring the problem.
Grove chided U.S. policymakers for all but ignoring the problem.
"What is the U.S. public policy?" he asked. "I am hard put to find a document" outlining a policy strategy.
He said he had detected no recognition of the problem from any of the presidential candidates.
While European governments are concerned about their own brain drain national governments are not the only level at which brain drain concerns can be heard. In quite a few local communities in the United States "brain drain" as an issue is attracting quite a bit of discussion. Take, for instance, a recent report released by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Boston Foundation which expresses worries that half of higher education graduates from the Boston area leave the state.
The report, "Preventing A Brain Drain: Talent Retention in Greater Boston," indicates that 50 percent of graduates in 2003 who received associate, bachelor's, or graduate degrees from 10 institutions in the metropolitan area left the state.
Where the most skilled and talented people move to will determine which parts of which countries thrive in the future.
The full text of the report is available in PDF format.
Other recent examples of brain drain worry editorials in the United States include one from the Chronicle-Tribune of Grant County Indiana entitled Let's turn brain drain into brain gain and another from the Salisbury Maryland newspaper The Daily Times entitled How do we stop the brain drain? and a Christian Science Monitor article on efforts by Iowa's government to stop brain drain. At the local level commentators and business and civic leaders recognize the importance of keeping around the brightest and most skilled workers. If only the national level politicians could be so practical we'd all be a lot better off.
The recognition that smart people are critically important is not translating into smarter policies at the national level. Immigration policy should be shaped toward raising the average level of talent of those who immigrate. Less skilled people should be kept out while we make it easier for the most skilled to come and stay. Another smart policy would be to accelerate the education of the brightest kids and get them into the workforce years sooner than is the current practice. This would result in young bright minds being able to use more years of their youthful brilliance producing new innovations and developing more better designs and ideas over their working lives. It would also reduce the cost of education while simultaneously increasing tax receipts.
For demographic reasons US power has peaked. An aging population is going to require tax increases to support them in retirement and those tax increases will have the effect of robbing the economy of its vibrancy. Increasing numbers of people in other parts of the world are pursuing scientific and engineering training. US industry is going to lose leadership in critical industries. Really wise national policies across a long list of policy areas could reduce the extent of the relative standing of US power and also produce much higher living standards for all Americans.
The Scientist has an interesting article on the German scientific brain drain to the United States. (requires free registration)
Every seventh person with a doctorate in science leaves Germany for the United States. And three of the four Germans who have won a Nobel Prize are currently working in the United States, noted Markus Albers in Die Welt am Sonntag.
...“We don't have proper career paths, people are paid according to set bands and not according to their performance. In America, scientists can earn three times as much,” Schwarz said.
This is a strong indicator that the European countries are going to continue to lag the United States in innovation and economic growth. Though it would be beneficial to the general advance of science if they improved salaries, mechanisms for handling out grants, and the general regulatory environment to give their scientists more incentive and resources to work there. All the scientists of Europe would get more work done and not just the ones that move to the United States.
The smaller numbers of more talented immigrants such as these German scientists are often pointed to as examples of the benefits of open immigration policies for the United States. But it would be simple enough to formulate immigration policies that let in these kinds of immigrants in even larger numbers while simultaneously greatly reducing the immigration of less skilled workers who will, on average, contribute far less while costing far more.
The dynamic at work is simple: supply and demand. Immigration floods the country with unskilled workers, as most new arrivals come from Mexico and other poor countries in Latin America. According to Steven Camarota of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, immigration increased the supply of people without a high-school education during the past decade by 21 percent. It increased the supply of all other workers only by roughly 4 percent.
That's an astounding figure. The United States has one of the most developed economies in the world. The automation and export of factory jobs is continuing to cause lots of long-time factory workers to lose their jobs with no prospect of getting jobs that pay as well. Salaries paid to less skilled workers are dropping because the demand for less skilled work is declining while the supply of less skilled workers is increasing. In the face of this trend it makes not the slightest bit of sense to bring in millions of workers who have less than a high school education. Some have gotten no farther than grade school. Current American immigration policy is ridiculously stupid.