Stiglitz eyes payment for brain drain

Integration in some areas in Asean such as labour should come gradually to ease the risk of a “brain-drain”, according to experts speaking at the World Economic Forum on East Asia last week.

Joseph E Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in economics and a professor at Columbia University, stressed the need for a managed flow of talent in order to prevent the “hollowing out” problem. With countries investing in people who later on move somewhere else, there needs to be a form of compensation for that country, he said.

“Asia has a lot of diversity. The concern of all doctors going from poor to rich countries should be a real concern, and there should be assistance from richer companies for them to maintain adequate healthcare,” he said.

Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said unlike the European model, which uses the free movement of people, the diversity of the 10 economies in Asean requires free movement of skilled labour.

The AEC would pave the way for the free flow of skilled labour in eight professions comprising doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers, architects, accountants, surveyors and the tourism industry.

However, it has to be step by step, as there will be economic migration into a country like Thailand, which has a relatively stronger economy than its neighbouring countries, said Mr Surin.

“If there is free movement of labour, countries like Thailand and Malaysia will be engulfed,” said Mr Surin.

He said the specific industrial strengths of each nation will lead to a natural selection process. For instance, the electronics industry will go to Malaysia; banking, finance and logistics to Singapore, automotive and food processing to Thailand, and extracting natural resources to Indonesia.

“We have to invest in the creativity of our people, and countries moving fast will attract more. That’s why competition in Asean is important. A lot of multinational corporations are creating an advantage in this landscape, and we have to encourage Asean labour to move around and help develop all these economies,” said Mr Surin.

Rajat M Nag, managing director-general of the Asian Development Bank in Manila, said there has to be first a movement of goods and services, so the labour segment should not be rushed.

“But ultimately, you must not stop people from going where the opportunities are,” he said.

On the other hand, Malvinder M Singh, executive chairman of Fortis Healthcare, said the free flow of talent should happen earlier rather than later due to demand in the healthcare business.

“I would like to urge leaders to create a framework where [labour] can freely move. If you enable the opportunity, businesses will come,” he said.

“We should look at Asean as one economy and let the market decide where people want to go and work, as well as where investors will go. As long as you are able to provide a framework, let the markets play. This will ensure competitiveness and bring more investment.”