Brain Drain or 'Outward Mobility'? - Pacific Standard

Brain Drain or 'Outward Mobility'?

Call it whatever you like, but it's actually good for economic development. People in certain places, like the U.K. and Brazil, understand this.
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The Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. (PHOTO: LEE PAXTON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. (PHOTO: LEE PAXTON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Brain drain is cause for celebration. That's the main lesson I learned from my muse, Pittsburgh. Ignore the population numbers. Focus on the quality of migration and workforce. I think I've finally convinced urban planner Pete Saunders to embrace this perspective:

I’m not migration expert, but I think I better understand where Jim is coming from.  Moreso than the number-padding exercise of counting heads to determine population growth, the constant and consistent flow of people into your city is crucial to its sustainability.  Flow is essential.  I view it like water in a river.  Inflow can sustain a city even if it has a substantial outflow, just like the biological diversity that can be found surrounding a waterfall.  When the inflow slows to a trickle or stops altogether, or the lack of outflow impedes movement, cities should become worried.

Emphasis added. Worth noting, Pete doesn't agree with everything I posit and offers a worthwhile critique. Namely, what works for Pittsburgh won't work in most other places. I'll have to meditate on that. More importantly, Pete says that cities should worry about the "lack of outflow." People develop, not places.

I didn't pull this idea out of thin air. Countries have put it into practice. The latest example is the United Kingdom, intentionally exporting its best and brightest to China:

Martin Davidson, British Council chief executive, said: “Business leaders have told us many times that they fear for the UK in a global economy if our young people do not gain international experience and skills. This campaign is designed to provide that.

"Currently the UK lags far behind other nations in terms of young people’s outward mobility. We can only address that challenge if our business and education leaders can work together.”

Emphasis added. Imagine the highlighted passage stating the following, "Currently Michigan lags far behind other states in terms of young people’s outward mobility."

Welcome to the world of international trade and reciprocity. Chinese institutions of higher education gain foreign-born students. In the place-centric school of thought, the U.K. loses this zero-sum game. U.K. business leaders argue otherwise. Studying abroad provides a competitive edge for the country. Brazil agrees. Brain drain is good for economic development. Brain drain is economic development.

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