A modest proposal on migration, climate and brain drain, for Halloween

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2019

Not everyone who is a sceptic about the benefits of migration is a nativist. On the contrary, many progressive opponents of migration cite the harm that is done when people leave poor countries to make better lives in wealthy ones. The grounds for their opposition vary, but two particulary common reasons given are climate change and brain drain. Here, for example, is Rupert Read, philosopher and Extinction Rebellion spokesperson, writing in The Ecologist in 2014:

There must be absolutely no compromise whatsoever on the humanity and rights of immigrants, and on our responsibility to welcome and help to integrate those who are here. But we ought to accept the power of the reasoning that shows that a high level of immigration leads to significant problems – here, abroad, and in the future. It …increases  net environmental footprint – people migrating here whether from Estonia or East Africa suddenly jump their footprint dramatically: this is bad news of course for all things ecological / for future generations.

Other writers, two numerous to mention here, are worried about “brain drain” and the decision of wealthy professionals to take their skills, often developed at the state’s expense, to rich countries when there are so many people locally who need doctors, nurses, teachers and hedge-fund managers.

Usually, such writers propose some coercive measures so that the people who would otherwise leave those countries, whether rich or poor, are prevented from doing so. Admittedly, the coercion so far seems to be mainly limited to poor people, although the UK Home Office is, these days, sometimes good enough to attend to the cases of medics and to send them back whence they came.

But coercion needn’t be a one-way thing, and if migration in one direction has these bad effects, presumably migration in the opposite ine would have good ones. Instead of keeping the citizens of poor countries in place, we could have just as marked an effect on carbon emissions by forcibly shipping some of the residents of wealthy countries to poorer ones, where they would have a smaller carbon footprint. In the brain drain case we could round up some doctors and nurses and send them to work in places that are short of medical skills. Actually, wealthy countries do already have programmes in place to take people who have grown up in their societies and remove them to such places, but so far, such measures are largely confined to black and brown people who have unaccountably failed to secure their legal residence. But perhaps we can take succour from their example: such removals have, so far, sparked little opposition from the general public, so perhaps the mass conscription and transportation of white people would also be largely accepted.

One thing that does make me hesitate, though, is the widespread perception that the last time large numbers of people from white European and other such countries were sent around the globe for noble purposes and to improve the lives of the local populations, the people they were settled among were unaccountably ungrateful. Still, now that we have leading scholars such as Nigel Biggar and Niall Ferguson pushing back and emphasising the beneficial side of empire, perhaps opinion is shifting. We could even encourage such scholars to volunteer for the first wave of relocation, bringing their scarce skills to benefit their new compatriots and shrinking their ecological footprints at the same time.

{ 23 comments }

1

Tim Worstall 10.31.19 at 10:19 am

Is it still satire if someone is already doing it?

“Instead of keeping the citizens of poor countries in place, we could have just as marked an effect on carbon emissions by forcibly shipping some of the residents of wealthy countries to poorer ones, where they would have a smaller carbon footprint. In the brain drain case we could round up some doctors and nurses and send them to work in places that are short of medical skills.”

Isn’t that how Cuba finances its emissions in fact?

2

Matt 10.31.19 at 10:29 am

Instead of keeping the citizens of poor countries in place, we could have just as marked an effect on carbon emissions by forcibly shipping some of the residents of wealthy countries to poorer ones, where they would have a smaller carbon footprint. In the brain drain case we could round up some doctors and nurses and send them to work in places that are short of medical skills.

As a former U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer (*), I’ll note that it’s not strictly necessary to do this coercively. Indeed, if the terms were made even somewhat more attractive, I’d not be surprised if a fairly large number of people were happy, even eager, to do it. And, in my own case, I’ll note that it did reduce my (already fairly modest) carbon footprint – before leaving to for the Peace Corps, I junked my rapidly dying car, and didn’t have one for 10 years after that.

Other writers … are worried about “brain drain” and the decision of wealthy professionals to take their skills, often developed at the state’s expense, to rich countries

My impression is that, both in the academic discussion and in real life, a significant percentage of the people at issue can’t be called “wealthy professionals”, at least at the time the relevant decisions are made. Many of them are recent graduates, and lots of the academic discussion is focused on people who finish their training and then leave soon afterwards. These people may yet become “wealthy professionals”, but many are not at the time when they consider leaving, or when some would have them blocked form leaving. My own view is that there are significantly less restrictive and coercive ways to achieve the important goals here, but they would take some real commitment, and small sacrifice, on the part of wealthy countries.

(*) It is debatable whether I counted as a highly skilled professional when I was in the Peace Corps. I was certainly no doctor or even a nurse. Still, perhaps the underlying idea is the same.

3

notGoodenough 10.31.19 at 10:58 am

My Irish side appreciates the theme and title.

Would it have been a step too far to note that the carbon footprint of worthy candidates could be reduced to 0 if they were consumed?

[OT sidenote]

If anyone is interested, the hearings on the ExonMobile Climate Research debacle are ongoing, and are just as dispiriting as one might expect…

4

nastywoman 10.31.19 at 12:05 pm

@
”Instead of keeping the citizens of poor countries in place, we could have just as marked an effect on carbon emissions by forcibly shipping some of the residents of wealthy countries to poorer ones”

Why ”forcible”- as there already many residents of wealthy countries ”shipping” out voluntarily to poorer ones -(not only British Retirees to Spain) – and nearly my whole family made it already from ”very wealthy California” to ”much lesser wealthy Europe” and now some of US are even thinking about permanently – ”Bali”.

5

Matt 10.31.19 at 12:13 pm

Would it have been a step too far to note that the carbon footprint of worthy candidates could be reduced to 0 if they were consumed?

Well, that’s probably right, be to be sure we’d need to do some calculations, and that depends on how they are prepared (flash fried? done up like a ceviche – maybe too much work about parasites for that – smoked over a smoldering flame for many days? So many options.) and also, whether they are likely to produce significant flatulence once consumed.

6

NomadUK 10.31.19 at 12:29 pm

Would it have been a step too far to note that the carbon footprint of worthy candidates could be reduced to 0 if they were consumed?

Is that taking into account the fuel burned in cooking them? Or are we talking carpaccio?

7

Chris Bertram 10.31.19 at 12:57 pm

Noting, that @timworstall thinks that Cuba is a wealthy country, signalling his endorsement of the historic achievements of communism , at least with respect to the economy.

8

notGoodenough 10.31.19 at 2:03 pm

To be fair I didn´t make the back-of-envelope calculations, fearing the google search history might raise some difficult queries in the future :-)

While I think the nature of preparation is better directed at the gourmets among the commentators, surely anything other than taking large, thick cuts would be a [i]big missed-steak[/i]….

9

notGoodenough 10.31.19 at 2:04 pm

To be fair I didn´t make the back-of-envelope calculations, fearing the google search history might raise some difficult queries in the future :-)

While I think the nature of preparation is better directed at the gourmets among the commentators, surely anything other than taking large, thick cuts would be a big missed-steak….

10

faustusnotes 10.31.19 at 2:14 pm

I don’t think the carbon emissions of the wealthy go to 0 when consumed. Certainly they won’t keep emitting, but energy in=energy out, and if we consume the wealthy we will presumably emit the carbon in some form, either when we die and get burned, or through some other, baser function. Think about how cows are major carbon emitters, and then we eat them. I guess.

No, if notGoodenough’s modest proposal is to be properly enacted we need to dump the rich into a carbon sink – a very deep well, for example, with some kind of lid. I should also note that if done efficiently (e.g. while alive) this would require much less fuel than Matt’s flame-grilled idea, which is frankly distasteful (I don’t like marbled meat, and I would always avoid such a restaurant in favour of yakitori, to be honest). Even then we’d have to think about food miles of course – shipping New York’s rich to a deep hole in Siberia is probably quite heavy on carbon emissions.

So given these conflicting aspects of the process, and in particular the inevitability of carbon emissions, it seems much more efficient – and dare I say it, humane – to just tax them till they squeal, and spend the money on completely reforming our energy system so everyone has access to effectively infinite amounts of cheap, clean energy. I know, I know, call me a bleeding heart liberal, a softy, but the prospect of stealing their money and using it to make our world perfect seems better than a big carbon-emitting bonfire.

11

David J. Littleboy 10.31.19 at 3:14 pm

Hmm. Eating rich folks has the same problem, except worse, as eating any meat: it’s grossly environmentally inefficient.

By the way, your title has the “I dedicate this book to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” problem. Please, use the serial comma. It’s logically correct and doesn’t leave your readers trying to figure out why migration has some sort of equivalence to “climate and brain drain”.

Also, a shout out to Peace Corp volunteers. You are way better than you think. One of my roommates when I was a grad student was (an undergrad) from Ghana. I asked him, and he said he couldn’t have made it through the interviews with affluent white male academics without the experience of interacting with Peace Corp volunteers. (This may sound snarky, but it’s not. He was serious. And a flipping brilliant bloke, which may explain my misunderstanding of the term brain drain I mention below.) Don’t worry about your expertise, just do it. Teach English, basic math, anything. Just being there is a lot.

I wonder what the history of the concern about brain drain is, since I haven’t seen it discussed recently? I seem to remember it being a thing as long as I can remember, which would make it a 60s/70s thing. Ah, what I’m remembering is the concern that _talented young folks_ would come to the US, get an education, and not go back home. Wiki reports that the original brain drain was scientists fleeing the craziness of pre-WWII Europe for the US. Whatever.

12

Matt_L 10.31.19 at 4:10 pm

“Still, now that we have leading scholars such as Nigel Biggar and Niall Ferguson pushing back and emphasising the beneficial side of empire, perhaps opinion is shifting. We could even encourage such scholars to volunteer for the first wave of relocation, bringing their scarce skills to benefit their new compatriots and shrinking their ecological footprints at the same time.”

Speaking as an American academic who had to leave his home state for work, could you please take Niall Ferguson back? Swarthy, grasping economic immigrants like Niall Ferguson are taking posh fellowships at the Hoover Institution and tenure track jobs at Harvard away from hardworking Californians like myself.

13

dh 10.31.19 at 4:21 pm

11.

Bravo! The serial comma is essential. There used to be a friend of this blog who ranted against it.

14

Omega Centauri 10.31.19 at 5:37 pm

Its a difficult moral dilemma. Consider the case of black Africa, which generates a significant surplus of highly educated people, who find their prospects in their home country are dismal, but their prospects if they can immigrate to a developed country are pretty good. Is denying them a chance at the good life moral? What about the brain drain effect? How much of their education was funded by the local government? What about the effect of remittances back home on the still poor country of origin? What is the effect on racial attitudes in the developed country of an influx of highly educated people of color? Does it explode myths of racial inferiority? Does it generate resentment, because foreign people who don’t look like me, are getting the good jobs?

15

Dr. Hilarius 10.31.19 at 6:38 pm

An anarchist collective in Detroit published a small cook book titled “To Serve the Rich.” I don’t have my copy at hand but recall recipes for Rocky Mountain Oysters Rockefeller, Split Priest Soup, and Lenin Harangue Pie. They were also the first in my memory to urge people to Eat the Rich! This was in the very early 70s.

16

Trader Joe 10.31.19 at 7:29 pm

Some years ago Aerosmith had a song called “Eat the Rich” The chorus of which went like this:

Eat the rich
There’s only one thing that they are good for
Eat the rich
Take one bite now – come back for more
Eat the rich
Don’t stop me now, I’m goin’ crazy
Eat the rich
That’s my idea of a good time baby

As far as migration – it could well be in the pipeline. Once Sanders/Warren are elected there will be a massive cadre of wealthy most likely Caucasians looking to become tax refugees. All the desirous third world country need do is enact tax policy similar to the Turks/Caicos and/or Jersey/Guernsey, build a 4 Seasons and wait for the pilgrims to arrive.

17

Gareth Wilson 10.31.19 at 8:52 pm

As it happens, I’ve recently spent some time in another country, where my carbon footprint was drastically reduced. I wouldn’t mind living there permanently, if I was given assistance to relocate. In fact, start spreading the news, I’m leaving today…

18

Faustusnotes 10.31.19 at 9:51 pm

Oooh how original Aerosmith are …

19

John Quiggin 10.31.19 at 10:11 pm

To be semi-serious, a global emissions trading scheme with an equal initial allocation per person would fix the problem of increased emissions associated with climate change. From the viewpoint of migrants who adopt rich country lifestyles, it would be a form of forced remittance.

20

Timothy Scriven 10.31.19 at 11:46 pm

It’s a cute little argument to be sure.

I suppose the defender of the brain drain argument (who I should be clear, I absolutely don’t agree with) would argue that the harms of being forced to leave a country are greater on average than the harms of being forced to remain.

21

J. Bogart 11.01.19 at 9:26 am

An old bumper sticker said it in a locally partisan fashion:
Republicans make good barbie, throw one on today!

22

William Timberman 11.02.19 at 3:03 pm

As long as we’re talking modest proposals:

I’m older than Donald Trump. Not by much, but by enough to make it unclear which of the two of us will be having the last laugh. That said, I’ve been pondering today’s announcement that he’s giving up his New York citizenship and exiling himself permanently to Mar-a-Lago.

How delicious would it be, before I give up and let them throw dirt in my face, to see some future Category Five Hurricane Hillary or Elizabeth or Alexandria sweep him and at least some of his works out to sea? (Blasphemy to take Mother Nature’s name in vain, I realize, but unlike the Donald, I’m mortal, and can’t help being tormented by the occasional unworthy dream.)

23

derrida derider 11.02.19 at 10:28 pm

Never mind all this, the EMPIRIC basis of green opposition to migration is mistaken. Migration in the long run reduces global environmental impact.

Any demographer will tell you that migrants everywhere very quickly adopt the fertility habits of the dominant culture/economy they move to. Migration from poor countries to rich countries therefore reduces global population growth (something that is empirically verifiable, BTW), and in the long run less global population is the only way that our environment, including CO2 levels, can be kept sustainable.

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