The Agenda

Devesh Kapur on the Political and Economic Virtues of Brain Circulation

I’m very excited to read Devesh Kapur’s new book:

Devesh Kapur finds that migration has influenced India far beyond a simplistic “brain drain”–migration’s impact greatly depends on who leaves and why. The book offers new methods and empirical evidence for measuring these traits and shows how data about these characteristics link to specific outcomes. For instance, the positive selection of Indian migrants through education has strengthened India’s democracy by creating a political space for previously excluded social groups. Because older Indian elites have an exit option, they are less likely to resist the loss of political power at home. Education and training abroad has played an important role in facilitating the flow of expertise to India, integrating the country into the world economy, positively shaping how India is perceived, and changing traditional conceptions of citizenship. The book highlights a paradox–while international migration is a cause and consequence of globalization, its effects on countries of origin depend largely on factors internal to those countries.

The benefits of brain circulation are one reason why I strongly advocate reforming the tax treatment of high-earning U.S. expatriates, who currently pay federal taxes on income earned abroad, less a credit that reflects taxes paid in the relevant foreign jurisdiction. This system introduces tremendous complexity, and it is based on a faulty premise. To the extent expatriates rely on the protection afforded by the U.S. government, I might countenance some small payment that reflects the insurance risk (i.e., we might have to rescue you from a strife-torn region) or the maintenance of consulates and embassies abroad, though of course those facilities ostensibly benefit all Americans, and not just travelers and expatriates. 

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