States Should Try Harder To Draw Talent

Attracting scientific, engineering, and business talent from across the world has been a key component of the success of the U.S. and other developed nations in the past. Today, high earnings opportunities and a prestigious higher education system makes the U.S. an attractive destination for high skilled immigrants.

Having more talent accelerates economic growth, increases innovation, and helps support an aging population, which means that encouraging high skilled immigration is a good policy for these reasons alone.

But attracting talent is also a peaceful way to handle authoritarian regimes. The U.S. already draws top talent from enemies like China, Russia, and Iran to universities in the U.S. But oftentimes these high skilled immigrants return to their country of origin, not because they prefer to leave the U.S., but because they cannot get a work visa. Doesn’t it seem strange that the U.S. is training talented students and then forcing these students to return to it’s geopolitical rivals?

By actively drawing and retaining talent from these countries, democratic nations can significantly increase their relative rate of innovation (for example, moving one genius from China means that China has one less genius and the U.S. has one more, a 2-genius difference overall). The U.S. would effectively force these regimes to find ways to retain talent, which may come in the form of higher public goods, higher salaries, or more legal rights. Note that this incentive runs both ways, as countries like the U.S. will need to compete with other countries to retain talent.

These considerations suggest that the U.S. and other developed countries should make it significantly easier for high skill workers to immigrate, and push for international accords where states mutually agree to allow their citizens to leave.

But I care about states attracting talent for other reasons.

First, because the free movement of people seems like a good thing in and of itself.

Second, because allowing people to move to the places they are best suited can accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship, thus growing the world economy.

Third, competition over talent naturally lends itself to reducing immigration restrictions which helps move the world towards open borders.

Fourth, competition would also make governments more responsive to people voting with their feet. They might design policies which make finding a job easier, or build more public parks. This is the Tiebout model in a nutshell, and a major motivation for my interest in the Archipelago.

But under this system, won’t governments only be responsive to high skill workers needs while ignoring their citizens? No. First, note that the number of high skill immigrants will remain small relative to the population of a country. Second, high-skill workers do not exist in a vacuum, they are complementary to medium and low skill labor. For example, a doctor would be useless without nurses to provide care, managers to run the hospital, construction workers to build the hospital, and restaurants to feed everyone. In order to create a nation that a doctor would want to move to, the state needs to create an inviting society for the entire network of people the doctor depends on, most of which is low and medium skill labor. Because of this complementarity, governments will naturally want to draw and retain low and medium skill labor as well.

Clearly, accepting high-skilled immigration in developed countries is a key step towards reducing the power of authoritarian regimes, accelerating economic growth, and producing competitive governance. It is important to find avenues to affect this change and secure buy-in from groups which have traditionally been skeptical of immigration in developed countries.

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