FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Greediness of Brain Drain

by RALPH NADER

The phrase “brain drain” used to mean, in the 1950s and ‘60s, the flight of professionally-trained people from dictatorships to find opportunity in the U.S. and other Western countries. Now “brain drain” is used in American media to mean an active U.S. government policy to attract foreign entrepreneurs, scientists, physicians, nurses and other skilled laborers in short supply to the U.S.

Behind this push for a “great sucking sound” are companies like Intel, Google, Microsoft, and Pfizer, with their media cheerleaders like Tom Friedman of the New York Times, and members of Congress like Kansas Republican Congressman Jerry Moran and Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner.

The arguments for a deliberate “magnet brain drain,” are porcine. Our companies need these skills. The foreigners have these skills and we want them here where they can flourish, and create profits and jobs. Never mind that our country has plenty of people waiting to have the same opportunity. By reducing tuition barriers, overcoming historic discrimination (e.g. lack of women engineers), reducing the 40 percent dropout rate from colleges, and working with youngsters on a one-on-one basis so that they are not left behind or skewered by misguided multiple-choice standardized test regimens, are all great ways to reach out to Americans.

Also, what about having ready and able specialists here who may have to be paid more than their overseas counterparts? These Silicon Valley corporations are making huge profits, pay few taxes, and receive subsidies known as R & D tax credits.

Now we see the grossest of contradictions. We have an agency for International Development (USAID), economists and politicians saying that developing countries desperately need these same skills or what they call “human capital.” They need engineers for their transportation, hydraulic and soil systems, physicists for their universities and modern industries, physicians for their sick and injured, nurses for hospital care, public health specialists for eradicating systemic diseases, and entrepreneurs to jumpstart businesses that deal directly with the necessities of life. Through many columns, the globetrotting Tom Friedman has urged developing countries to retain such native talent to build their economies. Yet he has also written that students from abroad receiving U.S. PhDs in the hard sciences be given immediate permanent U.S. residence en route to citizenship. Well, you can’t have it both ways. There is not a large surplus of such talent that we can drain them from developing countries building their own societies. The U.S. is a major importer of physicians and nurses from places in South Asia, the Middle East and other regions. These are skills far more desperately needed outside the U.S. than here, especially when you consider the undeveloped pool of talent that lies ignored in our country. Is it so much easier to have foreign workers educated in countries like Pakistan, being battered by our overflowing war in Afghanistan, than to rescue Americans from their battered high school and put them on a track toward excellence?

What if the American-made magnet brain drain took the young Mohammed Yunis away from Bangladesh to Wall Street? Would there have been the micro-credit movement there that is currently spreading around the world? What if the magnet to America brought the young Brazilian, Paulo Freire to Harvard? Would he have created and applied his now world-famous literary program in Brazil? Or if the brain drain brought the young Hassan Fathy to our shores, would Egypt’s “people’s architect” ever been able to show poor Egyptian peasants how to build small elegant homes from the soil under their feet?

Note that the people populating the IMF, the World Bank, USAID, or any of our fabled universities were not able to think up or accomplish these and many other achievements of developing country innovators.

Silicon Valley companies are lobbying Congress to expand the H-1B visas, beyond the 65,000 new visas each year they already receive for various computer-related work. The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, in a recent booster column, bewailed that if there are not more visas granted, these young people who “come here to learn math, science and engineering… would return home and start new high tech companies there.” Really! Why would that be so bad?

Already a high percentage of PhDs in the sciences in U.S. universities are granted to foreign students. Guarantee these students a job and more will deplete the ranks back in their developing country. Even fewer U.S. students – say women and deprived minorities – will be given the attention and care they need to fill U.S. job openings.

We live in a society that is known for a deficit of empathy and visualization about societies in other countries that are far below our standard of living. When, for example, medical and other science students from Africa are bid for by higher paying institutions in the U.S., is it any wonder that there are virtually no indigenous scientific laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa pioneering against infectious diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis? The same point can be made in other poor nations whose brains we’ve drained because for decades we neglect our own tens of millions of “poor and huddled masses.”

It is the edge of absurdity for the U.S. to urge and modestly assist these societies to build their educational systems and their knowledge industries – for their own future – and then aggressively pull the cream of their crop into our own orchard, while so many of our Americans are neglected.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail