Central Line
Tuesday, October 24, 2000

The brain drain
There's been a lot of media and political fuss recently about the brain drain. Young Kiwis taking their expensive educations overseas, maybe never to return, never to pay off their student debts. As always, it's being talked about as a political problem some people blame the present government, a lot more blame the previous one.

It's nothing new, as we know well in small town New Zealand. Youngsters have always left our communities for education, work, the excitement of the city, the big OE. Or is there something different about what's happening now?

Out there, in the rest of the world, some pretty momentous things are going on. The so-called new economy driven by the internet, the enormous wealth of the US economy, new forms of venture capitalism, the spending power of a new middle class in China, South East Asia and India, and a heap of other things is changing the way the world works.

Do you feel as though we, here in New Zealand, are a part of that? I don't. Or at least, not much. We're missing the buzz that seems to be energising people in those other economies. Maybe it's happening in Auckland. But here, Central Otago? What do you think?

If you're with me so far, what do you think are the reasons? Why do we seem to be so much on the outer, all of a sudden? The answer is important, because it's that buzz, that sense of excitement and new beginnings and opportunity, that's pulling people overseas. It's not just for the traditional OE. It's more than that, this time. Something different is happening.

One question is the government part of the answer, or part of the problem? Look at Ireland, people say; booming economy, low unemployment, heaps of new hi-tech jobs, foreign investment, with the Irish returning home in droves for the first time since the potato famines. There, the key seems to be a combination of good luck (the European Community's deep pockets) and government intervention (low corporate taxes, aggressive economic development policies). Could we do something like that?

I don't know about you, but I'd be happy to support any government that gets us, as a nation, off our collective backsides and back into the world economy. Whatever it takes, we've got to do it. And we'll have to make our own good luck.

Malcolm Macpherson


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