Martin Murphy, managing director of Hewlett Packard in Ireland had an important opinion piece in the Irish Times newspaper today. It prompted me to comment with the following rant.
I agree with almost all of this opinion piece apart from the opening premise. There is a broadly-held view that emigration is a bad thing for Ireland.
In some ways it is true. Splitting up families and tearing people away from their roots is always a huge personal sacrifice. When people are forced to emigrate because of lack of options at home, it is tragic. Similarly, it is a huge waste of national funds and effort to educate our young if the result is that other economies will benefit unilaterally from Irish investment.
However this misses out on some important questions.
Are we ignoring how international experience provides training that is just not possible in Ireland? As an example, Irish doctors who go to England or the USA will see exotic diseases on a weekly basis that they might only see once in a lifetime in Ireland.
The experience of living and working in another country allows us to open our minds and develop as people. To quote Mark Twain – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” That would cure a lot of ills that have afflicted Ireland's modern history.
Academic training or on-the-job experience has never been the barrier to career development in companies. In the 1970s, Irish industry already identified lack of international experience as the biggest limitation to development of middle managers and future leaders.
High value-added jobs typically are knowledge intensive. One of Ireland’s biggest opportunities from the future lies in the network of educated people who are globally welcomed and not afraid to travel.
Just because many commentators see emigration as a failure of the Irish economy does not mean the solution is to do everything in our power to retain them at home. That is NOT the issue. The missing element is the welcome for them to return.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin Yutang.
In my years of living and working overseas, I have observed an interesting phenomenon in the Irish abroad. Many Irish leave our shores with huge intentions of returning after (say) 2 years. About 18 months after leaving, a change comes over them. They start complaining about Ireland. Blaming Ireland. They talk about the traffic, the weather, the cost of living, the politicians. Most of all they talk about the tax.
Again, I am hearing about the 53% marginal tax rate. Even worse, there is an ugly undercurrent in the current political discourse that anybody earning over EUR 100,000 per year is fair game for increasing taxes further. Just like talk about increases in the corporate tax rate makes potential FDI nervous about committing to Ireland, personal taxation increases will discourage any successful person from coming back to Ireland.
The result is the following:
1) We invest huge amounts in educating people.
2) They go abroad and gain invaluable experience.
3) We create a clear barrier to educated and experienced people coming back and rebuilding our economy.
That sounds mad to me.