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

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail