Monday, November 26, 2012

Remodelling Migration

A typical abstraction of migration is a zero-sum game. The community of origin loses a person. The destination gains a person. Alternatively, relocation connects two places.  Brain drain promotes economic development:

As The Economist notes, diaspora networks have three great potential strengths. They can allow information – anything from news of new products to investment opportunities – to cross borders. They can encourage trust – people from shared backgrounds are often more likely to believe each other. And they can create connections between people around the world.

The potential of migrants and diasporas to contribute to development is increasingly recognised, including in recent research done here at the OECD. This research, which focuses in part on developing a better picture of migrant communities, offers some fascinating insights. One of the most striking is the level of education among migrants. Among immigrants living in OECD countries, around a million hold doctorates. Africa alone has about 2.5 million high-skilled emigrants living in OECD countries.

Some of these people will eventually decide to return home, although many others won’t. But regardless of their long-term plans, most migrants like to maintain links with home and, where possible, to contribute to their progress. Finding ways to make that happen can be challenging. Diasporas are, by their nature, widely dispersed and often invisible. That’s one reason why the Internet, and especially social media, has such potential to bring them together. One French study has already identified 8000 websites linked to just 30 of the world’s diaspora groups. As interest in harnessing the power of migrants and diasporas grows, that number will surely rise.

Emphasis added. Transactions and venture capital flow along lines of trust. Exporting talent builds a network that benefits local entrepreneurs. Businesses are moving to where the talent is produced.

Leaving home is good for the economic development of an individual. Highlighting the reciprocity of migration aligns the interests of the individual with that of the community. People develop, not places. Tackling brain drain as a problem puts the place before its people. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) is hurting the constituency it purports to help. Its attempts to make the world a better place ironically make things worse.

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