Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Soaring Minds: The Flight of Israel's Economists

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Soaring Minds: The Flight of Israel's Economists

Article excerpt


The "brain drain" economics literature has traditionally tended to focus more on issues of migration from developing countries to developed countries. (1) This has begun to change in recent years as the migration has begun to manifest itself in increasingly broader spheres. With borders becoming more open to individuals with skills that are in demand, a greater number of those who can move choose to do so. This is becoming progressively clearer in the academic profession. In this realm, many of the traditional focal points of the brain drain literature appear to be receding in importance while a different set of issues rises to the surface.

The subject of this article, the flight of top academics from Israel to the United States, does not appear to be primarily a case in which the importing universities in the United States are searching for cheaper foreign skilled workers--at least, not yet. Questions of remittances back to the country of emigration, or of society bearing the costs of increasing the human capital of the star economists while not reaping the benefits from them, also do not appear to be at the heart of the issue (e.g., in the latter case, most of the top Israeli economists were trained in the United States on scholarships provided by American grants, though their primary, secondary, and undergraduate schooling was certainly funded in large part by Israeli taxpayers). On the other hand, one seemingly relevant facet of the academic brain drain phenomenon is talent poaching by American universities as a means for widening the American talent pool.

Saint-Paul's (2004) focus on European migration of skilled workers to the United States reflects this newer strand of brain drain literature, from developed to developed countries, that is more applicable to the Israel-U.S. flow of academics. His examination of the skill levels of European expatriates in the United States during the 1990s reveals that the "skill composition of expatriates is much better than in the source countries. The quantitative significance of that, however, is open to debate, as the total number of expatriates ranges between 0.5% and 1% of the population."

That said, Saint-Paul goes on to write that he believes that the proportion of Europeans in the United States who "matter" may be as high as 50%, with noninconsequential growth effects that may result. He adds that while some may dispute this conjecture, casual observation suggests that it is correct for the field of economics.

An interesting corollary to what is occurring between countries might be found within the United States--between public and private universities. Ehrenberg, McGraw, and Mrdjenovic (2006), for example, find a strong link between salaries and departmental research quality. Departments in public American universities are often finding it difficult to compete with offers made to their faculty by higher paying private universities.

Ehrenberg, McGraw, and Mrdjenovic look for a relationship between faculty quality (using the 1995 National Research Council ratings of faculty quality) and salaries by discipline, department, and rank in 75 primarily public universities in the United States in 1992-1993. They find that higher faculty quality among 1,894 full professors is significantly related to higher average salaries. However, they do not find a significant relationship of this type between associate and assistant professors. According to Ehrenberg, McGraw, and Mrdjenovic, this nonsignificant relationship is primarily due to the large impact of full professors on the quality ratings of departments.

Boyle (2007) focuses on the reverse link between salaries and research quality in his examination of academia in New Zealand. Research quality in 41 different disciplines in New Zealand universities is determined by Performance Based Research Funding grades. University salaries in New Zealand, like in Israel, are determined by rank and vary only marginally across and within disciplines. …

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