Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hillary Clinton And Talent Migration


 Some numbers to help illustrate the point:

Policy debates in international development frequently forget to acknowledge that the actions of individual citizens are often as least as important as the large development interventions. In Haiti, benefits from remittances sent home by migrants equal nearly 20% of GDP – more than twice the earnings from the country’s exports. Similarly, the reduction of income poverty in Nepal from 42% to 26% in 15 years was not mainly due to foreign direct investments, nor due to Official Development Assistance, but rather due to outward labour migration and remittances.

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Brain drain as a problem is a stubborn mesofact. Such a worldview is ignorant. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking about impeding migration (thereby undermining economic development in Haiti):

Clinton said the United States was working to help Haiti’s youth to stay in their country and change what she called “the leading country in the world for brain drain.”

More Haitian college graduates have left Haiti per capita than any other country in the world, she said.

“When you think of the talent that Haiti has produced that benefits us and others, what we want to do is make it possible for any bright, young, ambitious Haitian to stay home and to build his or her country,” she said. “And we are excited by the progress we’re making.”

The best thing going for Haiti right is the brain drain. Clinton wants to put a stop to it. I'm sure she means well. She doesn't understand the relationship between migration and economic development. US policy is rotten from the start.

Meanwhile, international economic development experts are trying to catalyze Haitian migration. The gap between actual research and political rhetoric is huge. The narratives are polarized. But the discourse is changing, for the better. That's why I'm disappointed in Secretary Clinton's position on Haiti.


Tom Roland said...


I don't see anything wrong with making it "possible for any bright, young, ambitious Haitian to stay home and to build his or her country." Doesn't the call on whether it's a good or bad policy depend on what actions are actually taken toward this end? For example, if policies are enacted to benefit anyone who wants to come to or stay in Haiti, couldn't this be a good thing for economic development? I would agree that policies enacted to *prevent* Haitians from leaving could be counter-productive, but I don't see how policies that make Haiti a more attractive place to stay (as long as people are free to stay or go) would undermine development.

Am I missing your point?

Jim Russell said...


One should compare the benefits of encouraging the best and brightest to stay with encouraging the best and brightest to move to the United States. In terms of economic development, the former is the much lesser option. On individual level, encouraging talent to stay put is like encouraging high school graduates to enter the workforce instead of going to college. There is a short-term gain but a substantial long-term loss.

Tom Roland said...

I'm still not getting it. What if the action a government takes to "encourage people to stay" is to make the place more livable and amenable to business activity -- say, by increasing the number of hours that reliable electrical power is available each day? This might very well have the effect of encouraging some people to stay, but it could also have other benefits to everyone, regardless of whether or not they were ever considering leaving, and it seems conceivable that it would have a very positive effect on economic development.

I don't buy the generalization that "all government policies of which a stated goal is to encourage people to stay, are inherently bad for economic development." I think you have to look at the specific governmental policy and weigh all its effects, intended & otherwise.

Jim Russell said...


Sure, improving infrastructure and municipal services will benefit everyone and encourage more people to stay. The goal is the same: Economic development. The approach is different: Invest in better delivery of electricity.

Talent retention isn't an approach to economic development. The policies you enact to retain might in of themselves foster economic development. They might not. If talent retention were intrinsically economic development, then it wouldn't matter how you accomplished less of the best and brightest from leaving.

As for exporting talent, it fosters economic development. Emigrants send back remittances which are used to improve infrastructure, schools, and overall quality of life. Some return home with an extensive business network as well as entrepreneurial experience.

Tom Roland said...

Thanks for explaining, Jim. Now it's making sense to me.