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Brian Drain

John Key was on the telly defending his tax cuts etc and I perked up when John Campbell cited back Key’s argument that we have to sort out our economy or more bright young Kiwis will go overseas.

This is the fabled Brain Drain that has been bubbling along in NZ political discourse for, I dunno, fifteen years? It has a long and contentious history in other parts of the world too. The basic idea is that valuable people take off for other places because their prospects are better there.

It is often used to justify tax cuts. Because desire for a lesser tax burden is a major driver of emigration. (No it isn’t.) Job opportunities, however, definitely drive emigration, always have, and it’s no secret that NZ doesn’t offer the wide range of high-skill, high-paying jobs that you can find in major global cities like London and New York. Heck, even Melbourne takes us to the cleaners in terms of high-end job opportunities.

I’ve finally put my finger on why I don’t care about the brain drain.

It’s because I live in a semi-diaspora. I’m a Kiwi, and I have a strong identification with this island nation, and I know people who identify in the same way and who live all over the planet. This is the underlying theme of Saatchi’s NZ Edge initiative – we’re everywhere.

So what is lost when our best and brightest go overseas? Well, their economic productivity is no longer contributing to NZ’s national balance sheet. And… that’s it, right? That’s not an insignificant concern, but you know, I value our transnational identity far more than that. And not in a purely symbolic way, either; it’s obvious that the Kiwi semi-diaspora delivers significant economic benefits to NZ, and I think those benefits are likely to cover a bunch of what we’ve “lost”.

As long as NZ continues to be a functional economic unit in this increasingly globalised world, then let our best and brightest go out into the world. This nation will never be able to provide equivalent opportunities here; it’s madness to think we could. We’re a small nation and we should focus on doing what we do best, and let the rest of the world work its charms.

Because if we’re doing it right then we’ll get high-value smart people working in this country anyway (e.g. in our film industry).

And if we’re making NZ a great place to live then those diaspora Kiwis will often find their way home.

Because there’s more to life than tax rates and income. I’d guess that every Kiwi I know could earn more money in some other country.

I guess we like it here.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. morgue | August 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Jack, you were part of the brain drain.

    But then you were part of the brain, er, suck-back-up-the-pipe!

    And here you are!

  2. Jack | August 10, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Two points about the brain drain:

    1) People often come home. We did, after seven years overseas. It’s not necessarily a brain drain so much as an upskilling program: people move overseas, start or advance their careers, then often choose to come home to raise a family. Not everyone does, but quite a few do.

    2) Our immigration requirements are very strenuous. As kiwis move overseas, people from overseas move over here, bringing their skills with them. It all evens up in the end.

  3. morgue | August 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I’ve time-skipped again.

    Anyway, forget the Brain Drain, here is an article about the real problem we have, the Brian Drain, as referenced in the title:
    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0112/S00108.htm

  4. Jack | August 10, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Well, you did the same. As did a number of our friends. And for every one who went overseas and stayed there, I can think of a couple of others who came here from overseas.

  5. morgue | August 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, my brain totally got sucked back up the pipe too.

    (Brain drain makes a hell of a lot of sense in, say, North Africa, where people fight hard for education to become doctors etc, then leave North Africe because the prospects are indisputably better elsewhere.)