Saturday, February 09, 2013

Future Of Professional Economic Development

One policy recommendation from Bart W. Édes, director, poverty reduction, gender, and social development division, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Manila, Philippines:

Change the 'brain drain' rhetoric: Many developing countries that have experienced strong growth are attracting home many skilled former emigrants who enhanced their human capital with education and skilled employment abroad. Further, along with other benefits of out-migration, including remittances, the resulting enriched commercial and social networks should be considered.

When I started my blog (almost 7-years ago), I was concerned with brain drain from Pittsburgh. The evidence of exodus was lacking. Many of the metro winners were, after looking at the numbers, domestic migration losers. Most brain gain anxiety was/is unfounded.

More recently, literature in the field of international economic development changed the way I look at brain drain. This perspective meshes well with the thesis that Pittsburgh out-migration during the 1980s was a boon to regional economic development. Do the fail.

While I understood that brain drain could be good, I didn't have a theoretical framework to figure out how communities might benefit from the best and brightest leaving. For domestic migration, there isn't a flow of remittances (at least, in the orthodox definition of the term). If the talent didn't return, then the economic development game was zero-sum. Austin wins. Pittsburgh loses.

Enter "income per natural". The quick and dirty explanation is people develop, not places. If someone moves and benefits economically, then how can that be a problem? Ding-dong! Geography is dead. All economic development in the United States is place-centric. Professionals labor to make a city or state better. Thus, brain drain is bad. Individual prosperity is at odds with community prosperity. That conflict of interest is what economic developers should be trying to solve.

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