Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Right Kind of Brain Drain

Recently I heard that a friend of mine who is a doctor migrated to live in the U.S. from Jamaica. Some would lament the "brain drain."

I wonder whether or not her departure might just be a non-event in the grander scheme of things, and in terms of the benefit their leaving might bring to Jamaica.

A quick look at the pros and cons would yield the following insights.

Jamaica's main source of foreign exchange "earnings" is remittances. When a doctor leaves Jamaica they are likely to earn a great deal more money abroad, and are likely to send some of it home via Western Union, thereby helping out the country.

Also, the vast majority of doctors focus on healing, and don't create new economic value. Instead, their focus is on stemming the loss of life and livelihood (in economic terms.) Cuba is a good example of a country that has thousands of doctors, good healthcare, and a backward economy.

Lawyers are a bit bit better -- they facilitate the creation of economic value (or at least some do) by allowing commerce to thrive... sometimes. Without a good legal system, it is impossible to create economic value that is sustainable.

Jamaica would really suffer, however, if it lost its business-people. The fact is, the country needs it business-people to create economic wealth, which would probably improve education, create jobs, cut crime and give people hope that things could get better.

In this sense, a business-person who migrates takes with them way more economic potential, than does a doctor or lawyer.

Yet, our shools are filled with students who want to enter college to become... doctors and lawyers. Not entrepreneurs. Not educators. Not business-people who create jobs for others.

We need a change in priorities, and to rethink the economic effect of our brain-drain.



At 12/13/2007 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, great blog! I read it often.
I agree with you to a dregree. While it is true that doctors and lawyers might not actually create the type of economic wealth you are thinking of, they do aim to facilitate healthier, more functional society. The three professions work together along with countless others to make society livable. Without the doctors, you won't have people wanting to work in a country with poor healthcare. Without lawyers, you have poorer living conditions from both social and business standpoints. Socially, the lawyers are an integral part maintaining order by keeping criminals in jail and innocent people out. From a business perspective, lawyers are necessary for the brokering of deals, etc. Businesses need both healthy employees who are aptly able to contribute to productivity and lawyers to draft their contracts and ensure their business dealings are in compliance. You need the businesses for creating wealth. Let's not forget, furhtermore, that when doctors and lawyers are successful, they do create economic wealth just not as directly. Doctors and lawyers require staff to assist them in their duties. They have to invest their earnings or otherwise prepare for the future and possibly retirement. To this end, they build houses, they invest their funds, they have kids you they send to college and maybe those children are the ones to become entrepeneurs. Perhaps they save a life or keep someone out of jail who becomes the business person.
Having said all that, there are many more problems that contribute to Jamaica's economic situation. SOme of these make it an unhospitable place to grow a business. Among the obvious ones are crime, poor infrastructure, a citizenry that is undereducated, etc. It's my understanding that the tax code isn't particularly business friendly. If this is correct, I think this is a major problem. Additionally, the points made by the young lady in Flordia were excellent. She discussed the fact that there were no opportunities for business students leaving college. That is really one of the ages where the energy and enthusiasm of youth--coupled with some knowledge gained through education--is perfect for spawning creative ideas, ultimately resulting in entrepeneurial ventures. I have cousins living in Jamaica who are all at UWI. They all have ideas, excellent ones at that. What they do not have are the necessary financial resources to bring these into fruition.
Brain drain of any kind is bad for a country that simply cannot afford to lose its already limited and already stretched valuable resources.

At 12/13/2007 7:13 AM, Blogger Dennis Jones said...

It's important not to lump things too much; in particular do not confuse lawyers with legal systems. You need good laws, rules etc for a well functioning society and economy; good and honest lawyers can help keep that legal system working well but bad and dishonest ones are part of the erosion.

Good health systems are needed to sustain a society, whether these systems are formal or informal. In a formal system good doctors are an essential part of a well functioning health system. If all the good doctors leave, Jamaica would need to import them.

Building a sound economy needs a vibrant private sector and that will work better if rules etc are consistent and clear and sanctions are properly applied. Yes, you need entrepreneurs for the economy to grow but entrepreneurs are not just who produce goods; service providers are also important and as your first commentator notes lawyers and doctors add to economic value themselves and through what they do and who they employ and what they may help get built (especially hospitals to give a simple example).

If lots of the country's well-educated people leave you get another problem, which is an unbalanced society. It's easy to see problem if you think of urban flight, when the middle class flee the urban core and leave it to those who are lower down the economic and social ladder. The area cannot support itself and starts to fall into a spiral of economic and social decay. That is what needs to be avoided with a brain drain. Jamaica could become a donut with too much of its talent abroad and too much of its dregs in its middle.

You also ignore the fact that remittances is a voluntary next step after people leave. What we know is that we lose people and skills and their economic and social impact. We then hope that we get something back. But it's only a hope and you can't build an economic future on exporting talent and hoping for them to send back money. You have to build wealth in the country, and we need see how best to retain the talent and by all means try to sell their services abroad


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