Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Economic Brain Drain

In today's Washington Post, I find an argument for immigration restrictions with which I have some sympathy.

As Washington looks south at a rising tide of Hugo Chávez-led populism, it must rue the fact that two of Latin America's most high-profile supporters of free markets now reside at U.S. universities. Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who tamed his country's inflation and transformed its economy, is now a professor at Brown University. And after serving as Mexico's budget secretary and president during the 1990s, U.S. ally Ernesto Zedillo returned to Yale, his alma mater, to direct its center on globalization.

Similarly, as U.S. policymakers contemplate how India's intransigence contributed to the recent failure of the World Trade Organization to reduce trade barriers, they must wonder whether Indian free-trade guru and economist Jagdish Bhagwati could have tilted the balance back home if he still lectured at the Indian Statistical Institute or the Delhi School of Economics rather than Columbia University....

The United States must export more pro-Americans than it imports. Maybe it's time to round up all these sympathetic foreigners -- and send them home.

Although I wouldn't actually endorse the proposed action, it is true that many of the best economists born outside of the United States end up at U.S. universities. This phenomenon is great for U.S. universities and their students (even if it depresses my salary). But I wonder if their immigration adversely affects the policies of their home countries.