…who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.

Margaret Thatcher

On Brain Drain and Migrating Scholars

Some time back there was a lot of controversy about PSC and government scholars who take up a scholarship to study overseas, only to break it when they decide to settle overseas and remain there. We no doubt felt that it was unfair that they should not return back to Singapore, after we have financed their education, and “pay back to society” what society has given them.

Recently a friend suggested to me the true reasons behind our government’s immigration policies; it is so brilliant that I feel compelled to quote it in full,

…you need to understand that it’s not the birth rate that [the government is] worried about. They don’t really care if we’re not replacing ourselves. It’s the GDP that they care. Low birth rate is just an indirect cause of lower GDP. That can be mitigated easily without trying to increase the birth rate. In fact, the lower the birth rate, the better the excuse to let in talented foreigners who can contribute immediately to our economy. Less waiting for them to grow up, get educated, before they can start working i.e. more immediate return on investment.

If this is correct, then in fact, we may be promoting, in other nations, exactly the same attitudes which we so deplore in our local scholars who break their bonds. We are promoting brain drains in these poorer nations and encouraging them to move over to our nation, thereby depriving these poorer nations of the valuable work which these talents can contribute to their society.

This will mean, of course, that in effect, we are encouraging the perpetual povety divide in these nations, and even in ours, which I shall go on to explain.

Exporting Child Raising Costs

Letting in foreign talents en masses is actually a brilliant exploitation scheme by our gahment. We can export the cost of raising a child to other nations, since the cost of living (and therefore the cost of raising children) here is so high compared to other places. Thus, it is not financially viable for our economy to spend all those resources to raise a child here from cradle to a economically productive unversityi graduate. So instead, we pay foreign talents a lump sum to come here instead, which lump sum (or free university education, etc), no matter how high, would be lower than the cost of raising a child here.

What are the consequences of such a policy mindset? First, the government will have absolutely no incentive to bring down living costs. The only relevant living cost which we are concerned with, are the living cost of the most economically productive workforce, i.e. mostly the middle class and higher, because we want them to come here and contribute to our economy (and not really any one else). As long as the living cost is situable for them, we don’t really care about the rest. If the lower classes “perish” (because they can’t sustain the cost of living here, therefore they will be discouraged from starting a family, because they can’t afford a HDB flat and the cost of raising a child), or if the middle classes are also discouraged from raising children here because of the high cost of doing so, no problem, we simply export the cost of having kids elsewhere, mostly the third world or developing nations, and AFTER their economy has spend its resources rising the (talented!) kids there, WE will lure them here with incentives of citizenship, etc.

The ultimate aim of such a policy is to have a nation of economic productive people working at maximum economic efficiency. They would be discouraged from investing their time and resources in having a family, from raising children. All they need to do is to work, work and work, and increase, increase and increase our GDP. The burdens and cost of having a family and rising children, we simply export it to the poorer nations. Poor suckers. While we laugh all the way to our national treasury hoarding lots and lots of cash.

Exacerbating the Poverty Gap

As I mentioned before, this policy will mean that there will be no incentive for the government to bring down living costs. And high living costs always hit the poor the hardest. And this is true not only of the “talent importing nations”, this is true also of the “talent exporting nations”. Remember why we resent scholars who break their bond. It is because we expect them to contribute to this society after we have spend all our resources on building them up. It is the exact same principle for these poorer third world nations. In encouraging these talents to move to our nation, we are depriving these nations of valuable work and talents which would go towards improving their nations. They will suffer a perpetual brain drain, and their nation and society will never improve, if we keep luring their talents here en masse. They will perpetually suffer the cost of raising economically inactive children, and when it is time for these children to contribute back to their society, we simply grab them here at bargain price. What a great scheme by our government!

One might argue that we import not only talents but also foreign manual labourers and workers here. That’s true. We never did have much resentment towards banglas and other assorted foreign labourers from the South Asian region. But the fact is that our government are not offering these manual labourers and workers citizenship. It is to the middle class that we are offering PRs and citizenship and luring these talents to remain here permentantly. It is entirely true that manual labourers who come here to earn a living and remit their earnings back home will lead to an improvement of the poverty back at their home country. But luring talents away from these nations is not helping their poverty at home. It is in fact, depriving them of valuable human resources.

On Nations and Families

I guess ultimately we need to ask at what level is poverty to be tackeld? At the national or individual/familial level? Perhaps this policy might maintain the “poverty” levels at the national level for developing nations, but by letting talents come here and bring their families, we will alleviate poverty at the individual/familial level for these foreigners. Thus, third world nations can be the “talent producers of the world”, they can perpetually remain poor because of their large population and low resources, while we richer nations can grab the talents from these nations and lure them here with financial incentives. So, we can remain economically rich, with maximal economic productivity, no distractions from the need to raise families, no resources needed to be spent on raising kids, and we simply let these third-world suckers bare the cost of supporting economically inactive children. (Do I hear an evil laugh?)

Or perhaps it may not be all that bad. After all, as I’ve mentioned, by letting the poorer and less talented foreigners work here (at a pittance!), and letting them remit whatever little earnings they have made here back home, we can help elevate the poverty, just a little, back at their home country. And slowly but surely, may be they can gradually improve their lot, etc.

But what however is clear is that, as a nation, we are definitely using our superior financial and economic power, to deprive and exploit these nations of their valuable human resources, and that they would definitely improve much faster and better, if their nations had their talents working and contributing to their society. Granted, these talents wouldn’t be as well off as they would be if they came here, which brings us back to our fundamental question,

Is poverty tackled at the national or individual/familial level?

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