Friday, August 20, 2004

Brains Sans Borders

Dominic Basulto writes about "The Brain Gain" at Tech Central Station. He makes this point: "Only by keeping its doors open to talented immigrants can the U.S. hope to maintain its competitive advantage over the nations of Southeast Asia."

A much deeper point is overlooked by Basulto, and almost everyone else: The U.S. doesn't need a competitive advantage. International trade isn't -- or shouldn't be -- a contest in which there are winners and losers. International trade is simply an increasingly significant component of cooperative economic activity in which international borders are becoming less and less relevant.

With truly free international trade -- no tariffs, no restrictions on imports and exports -- and open borders (barring terrorists, of course), it doesn't matter whether products and services originate in Southeast Asia or beautiful downtown Burbank. I don't care whether my car is made in Ohio or Tennessee, as long as it's made by a manufacturer with a record of building reliable cars. Why should I care whether my computer chips are made in California or Taiwan?

Americans will be better off with free trade and open borders, regardless of how many "brains" we attract and keep. It doesn't matter whether Joe Brain works in Palo Alto or Taipei. Joe Brain should be able to work wherever he wants to, and I should be able to buy his products and services, wherever they originate, with no strings (or tariffs) attached.

Now, if I buy Joe Brain's products and services, I may stop buying things from some of my countrymen, like Harry Pain. Others may follow suit, and Harry may have to find another line of work. But why should a lot of American consumers pay more for products and services just because Harry lives in the U.S.?

The moral of the story: We don't have to import "brains" when we can import their products and services.