Douwe Osinga's Blog: European Brain-drain

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Ever since world war II, Europe has been losing lots of smart people to the US. Right after the war, it was the greater opportunities and the freedom. Later it was the money. There is still a (largish) gap between payment in Europe and the US, but I think now there are other reasons to why technical people still move overseas.

Being good at something technical counts in the US and in Europe much less, at least in the Netherlands. Here we realize that innovation drives economic growth and that innovation is mostly a technical matter, but we when push comes to shove, we rather pay his manager than the guy who invents new stuff. Of course you can't run a modern economy without managers and marketeers, you do have to sell the stuff too, but these people only make existing processes more efficient, they are not creating new processes or methods of wealth-generation. Engineers do.

Partly this is realized by the government, which tries to get more people to study technical stuff. So they're trying to educate young people, especially girls, about how important technical educations are. Of course financially it doesn't make much sense to study math or science. It is much harder and it will land you a job that pays less than if you would have studied economics.

If you're a good programmer in the Netherlands, you're expected to become a manager. Programming is supposed to be about executing a plan made by a manager. This of course takes the fun out of the equation and kills innovation. Young geeks go west. Meanwhile productivity growth in the Netherlands has been lagging for years and is hurting economic growth.