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International development experts share their ideas on how wealthy countries can promote prosperity in developing countries. Follow at

Sep 7, 2011

If you found a trillion-dollar bill on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? Michael Clemens thinks he has found a bunch of such bills—huge gains to the poor people and the world economy that could be achieved by easing restrictions on cross-border labor mobility. He has written a working paper that sets forth a new research agenda on migration and is urging economists to pay more attention to the benefits of increased labor mobility for the people who move, the people and countries that receive them, and those who remain at home. In this week’s Wonkcast we discuss his four-point research agenda, and explore why some important questions about labor mobility are so rarely investigated.

Take the topic of so-called “brain drain.” While plenty of research has gone into documenting the exodus of skilled workers from developing countries, Michael says, little research has examined the actual effects of these departures on those left behind—and even less has considered the welfare gains to those who move. “When people talk about migration at the international level, they tend to only focus on the costs,” says Michael. “This negative labeling happens to such a degree that they eventually define the movement with a pejorative little rhyme, brain drain.”

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