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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why is Nobody Scared of the Brain Drain in Batanes?

My last post on migration, responsibility, and Winnie Monsod got around more than a 1100 views from all over the world. That is much more than a small grad student like me could ask for. Many thought I made sense; but even more disagreed and cited my lack of intelligence. And so I thought I'd anger a few more people by furthering the argument. This time, I am bringing with me some data.

Judging from the comments I received, I realized many people are worried about this so-called "brain drain." Well then, I thought, if this is a cause for concern, we should probably figure out to what extent we have this drain. In other words, we should find out, how many educated individuals are living outside the Philippines.

It turns out the academic literature provides an answer. The go-to estimates are done by Beine, Doqcuier, and Marfoulk. Using Census data, they measure the brain drain as the fraction of people born in each country age 25 or over who have attained tertiary education (completed 13 or more years of schooling) who now reside in an OECD country. The number for the Philippines in 2000 is 13.6%.

But here's what I thought would be a little bit more interesting. What if we calculated, in general, the "brain drain" for each of the provinces in the Philippines and figured out the fraction of educated individuals living outside the province in which they were born. Certainly the people who are afraid of the brain drain must also be concerned about this, because leaving is tantamount to a net cost, wasting the resources of the province given to educating, nurturing a person.

So here's what I got*. I used 1990 Census data because that's the latest dataset where the province of birth is coded. The estimation procedure used is the same as the paper cited above. If you don't believe me, download the raw data directly from IPUMS. (I intentionally eliminated some provinces from the data to make the chart fit the space, but here's the complete picture)

The first thing that jumped into my mind upon seeing this data was, "My God, why aren't people concerned about the brain drain in Batanes?" With 55% of their educated living outside the province, the people left behind must be incredibly impoverished. There should be an uproar. Local officials should be guarding every single one of their high school and college graduates and prevent them from leaving because this would mark a waste of Batanes's prized human capital.

But no such thing happens. In fact, it would be absurd if this happened, since Batanes claims to enjoy something close to an absence of poverty. The place is a fantastic tourist destination, and it appears that there is almost zero crime. If we take Batanes as an example, then there appears to be nothing to worry about.

13.4% of our educated live outside the country. That appears to be a small number if you take the Philippines to be a small island with respect to the whole world, is it not?

Of course, I have to be careful about making strong conclusions here. Batanes after all is a single example. And we cannot make causal statements from these data alone. Internal migration might be different from international migration (but the burden of proof is to show that it is so much different that the contribution of migrants in the latter is much less than it is in the prior). Also, I have not ruled out anything for sure. I have merely casted doubt on those who are so sure to conclude that migration of the educated is tantamount to inflicting great harm to those left behind. It isn't that unambiguous.

But perhaps what we can glean from this data at least is the fact that migration is more natural than we think it is, among skilled workers. By revealed preference, we can say that people prefer to move and value this opportunity greatly, if given to them. For who would ever want to live in a world where you were restricted?

And this is why I will always argue against the nationalist who insists that the prior should be that migration is harmful, until proven beneficial. The prior should be that it IS beneficial, until proven differently. Otherwise, these internal migration rates won't show up this high. And for all the noise these nationalists seem to make, I have yet to hear cogent evidence on why the costs of migration outweigh the benefits.

*The idea to do this is not originally mine. I credit Michael Clemens, whom I worked for at the Center for Global Development for it. The full paper on which this type of analysis is used is here. I strongly suggest it for further reading.