Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Brain Drain Games

Phil Miller at Market Power links to this story (registration required), which describes a proposal to exempt people under the age of 30 from Iowa's income tax. The purpose? To try to slow down what is described as a "brain drain"--the (alleged) tendency for recent college graduates in State A to move to State B.

This is not, apparently, something that gets people's attention only in Iowa--or only in the US. A Google search returns more than 1,250,000 results, including an International Monetary Fund
study about international mobility, a web site listing "publicly-available sites" on the brain drain in Canada Canada, an article in Time/Europe on how to "plug the brain drain in Europe," and so on. A state-by-state check of the U.S. finds reported "brain drains" for every state (although some researchers in a handful of states do present evidence that those states are not experiencing net outflows of recent college graduates).

Clearly something does not add up here. Young college graduates can't be leaving everywhere.

And, more to the point, what's the national interest in whether highly-educated young people live in Place A rather than Place B? Are states, to some extent, now throwing money at recent college graduates, in the same way they've thrown location-incentive money at businesses? Isn't this a zero-sum game, from the point of view of the nation as a whole?

Isn't our real interest in increasing the educational attainments, the knowledge, and the skills of young people?

Perhaps (and here's a subversive though) the focus on state funding for public higher education is what contributes to the hysteria.


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