On immigration and politics of the human heart

  • February 6, 2017
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 3 minute read

Immigration is an interesting issue. There are multiple vantage points to view it from depending on where you are standing.

Although the idea is a mutual benefit to the immigrant and the host country, it’s a tough decision for both. The problem for the immigrant is dislocation, and for the host country it is designing effective filters to screen potential immigrants.

Let’s take a step back and look at the megatrends shaping global geopolitics. Many of the developed nations within the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) face an ageing population, and more importantly, an ageing workforce. This demographic shift has two solutions: mass migration from emerging market countries and automation (including robotics, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence). Interestingly, countries such as Germany, Japan, and China are countries with the highest automation and a graying workforce. The United States is also at an interesting juncture. Tech titan Apple has joined Google and others to form a partnership on Artificial Intelligence. At the World Economic Forum (WEF), Sergey Brin spoke about the centrality of neural nets and deep learning to most of Google’s applications, including search and photos. However, automation is one component of improving productivity in countries with a high component of service industries as a percentage of GDP. The other component, not surprisingly, is immigration—an import of the best brains.

Just as capital gravitates toward the highest returns, human capital migrates toward the best rewards, working conditions, and lifestyle. It seems like a fairly simple decision for an immigrant—a move toward a better life. That is, until the politics of the human heart take over.

Many immigrants face a tremendous conflict. They end up being global citizens, but also end up losing their identity and in some cases, their roots. Is that a fair price to pay for material comforts for the immediate family? Like many other questions, this is a deep grey zone; a binary answer for the mind. Not so for the human heart. Consider raising children in a foreign country. Children born in a foreign country feel the full effects of this conflict.

For humanity as a whole, immigration could end up advancing the body of human knowledge. Many scientists, geneticists, and economists have found better resources in a host country and ended up winning Nobel prizes attributable, to a large extent, to the conditions promoting their research. But for the home country of these immigrants, a migration of brains means a drain on intellectual capital.

An interesting force shaping the global landscape is reverse brain drain—an empathetic and needed migration back home. For a balance to emerge, capital flows in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign institutional investment (FII) must flow to low income countries, i.e. countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The only thing superior to logic at this point is empathy toward fellow humans. At this juncture, logic “fails” and the need for empathy really takes over.

Unfortunately, logic fails to provide answers to many of the vital questions concerning the human heart. Just like a political movement with a beating heart (such as the alt right) is a fight for survival despite logic deeming the movement illogical, it does gain momentum. In matters of the heart, logic can inform, but not guide.

Immigration, in my humble opinion, is hostage to the politics of the human heart. Uncertain times call for empathetic decisions with mutual benefit for both parties.

This post was originally featured on Medium and was republished with permission from the author (Abhishek Kothari), an Olin MBA ’14 alumnus.

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