Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Emigration Debate

I frequently write about how the U.S.'s immigration policy should be explicitly focused on drawing wealth and talent to drive economic growth. You're coming here from Ethiopia or Iran with an engineering degree? Welcome home! Alternatively: you're from a developing country and although you're honest and hardworking, you have no specialized skills, but your son is here? Sorry, this is a republic, not a charity.

A reader once commented that we're in trouble when foreign-born talent starts going elsewhere. Richard Florida writes in Andrew Sullivan's blog that a recent survey shows that both American and foreign-born college grads in the U.S. list the U.K. and China above the U.S. as preferred places to start their careers. While it's easy for daydreaming college grads to say this to a survey-taker without backing it up with an actual move, this should be considered a disaster. I haven't seen such surveys in the past, but I'll wager this is unprecedented. Unpatriotic? We should expect talented people to go where the best labor market is. A friend of mine took advantage of the U.K.'s rule that automatically grants work permission to top business school graduates, regardless of country. Unpatriotic? No - smart and self-interested, the very definition of capitalism! The U.S. would do well to remember that people come here not because it's the U.S., but because it offers opportunities. If those go away, they stop coming.

I typically like Florida's writing because he always focuses on the central questions of modern economies - like this one - or on how to encourage and sustain democracy (turns out wealth doesn't encourage a transition, as we're seeing in China). But I don't understand his professed excitement about China seeming a better place to launch a career, even to American college students.

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