Skill Flow: A Fundamental Reconsideration of Skilled-Worker Mobility and Development

49 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2009

See all articles by Michael A. Clemens

Michael A. Clemens

George Mason University; Peterson Institute for International Economics; IZA-Institute for the Study of Labor; Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration; Center for Global Development

Date Written: August 27, 2009

Abstract

Large numbers of doctors, engineers, and other skilled workers from developing countries choose to move to other countries. Do their choices threaten development? The answer appears so obvious that their movement is most commonly known by the pejorative term “brain drain.” This paper reconsiders the question, starting from the most mainstream, explicit definitions of “development.” Under these definitions, it is only possible to advance development by regulating skilled workers’ choices if that regulation greatly expands the substantive freedoms of others to meet their basic needs and live the lives they wish. Much existing evidence and some new evidence suggests that regulating skilled-worker mobility itself does little to address the underlying causes of skilled migrants’ choices, generally brings few benefits to others, and often brings diverse unintended harm. The paper concludes with examples of effective ways that developing countries can build a skill base for development without regulating human movement. The mental shift required to take these policies seriously would be aided by dropping the sententious term “brain drain” in favor of the neutral, accurate, and concise term “skill flow.”

Keywords: brain drain, migration, development, labor, education, developing, labor mobility

JEL Classification: F22, J24, O15

Suggested Citation

Clemens, Michael Andrew, Skill Flow: A Fundamental Reconsideration of Skilled-Worker Mobility and Development (August 27, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1477129 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1477129

Michael Andrew Clemens (Contact Author)

George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mclem.org

Peterson Institute for International Economics ( email )

1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mclem.org

IZA-Institute for the Study of Labor ( email )

HOME PAGE: http://www.iza.org/profile?key=4270

Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration ( email )

Drayton House
30 Gordon Street
London, WC1H 0AX
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://mclem.org

Center for Global Development ( email )

2055 L St. NW
5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mclem.org

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
699
Abstract Views
3,058
Rank
71,313
PlumX Metrics