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Telling The Truth About The Brain Drain

I am 22 years old and next year I will graduate with two degrees, in economics and economic geography. As one of the highly skilled elite who were lucky enough (care of a $35,000 student loan) to get an education under the National Government, going overseas to pay it off is a real possibility. What is a certainty is that I’ll be coming back.

The most infuriating thing about the way this issue has sprung into the public eye (thanks to big business money and a former Young Nat) is that it paints a totally misleading picture of why people leave this country and how people perceive what the new Government is doing.

For the first time in my life at University, there have been no fees protests, or marches about loans and allowances. The reason for this, of course, is that the complaints which drove students onto the streets for a decade have begun to be addressed. In five years, when people come to uni, they’ll probably get an allowance and be paying sharply lower fees than I have had to.

Don’t underestimate the extent to which loans are a key driving force in the loss of talented young people. We face marginal tax rates of 31c per dollar on income over $14k, or 43c in the dollar on income above $38k. Those of us lucky enough to earn over $60k pay 49c in the dollar in tax and student loan repayments. The loans (not the tax rates, which are relatively low in themselves) have made it difficult to afford to stay in New Zealand. People go overseas as the best way to pay them back. Some, sensing that the loans scheme itself is a slap in the face from our selfish parents who chose tax cuts instead of education, depart to avoid them completely.

There are other reasons people go overseas. Many of my cousins have spent time in London, for example. In a city that is one of the world’s financial centres, that has double New Zealand’s entire population, and is a mecca of arts, culture, entertainment and excitement, it is hardly surprising that people can find more opportunities than they can in a sparsely populated set of islands at the end of the world. New Zealand simply doesn’t have the population to support the kinds of opportunities the so-called “Young New Zealanders” say that they want.

When you add on to our 4 million-odd population the devastating results of nine years of economic policy failures, you really get a dire picture of New Zealand’s prospects. There’s a bloody good reason why we’re stuck with an old economy – since the mid-80’s and the failures of Muldoon, we’ve been so paranoid about the idea of Government playing a role in the economy that we’ve been left totally out of the loop. It is a fact that every single country that has begun to make a successful transition to the knowledge society we all want has had substantial Government involvement in that process.

So, where to from here? Can a tiny economy on the edge of the earth (with apologies to Kevin Roberts!) provide the opportunities of the First World core? With the new Government’s policies, we can move in that direction. And New Zealand still has an unbeatable environment. If we can solve our economic problems, and get over our constant, harping negativity, the brain drain will go back to being what it was in the past – a time for real Young New Zealanders to see the world and learn a bit before coming back home. Twits like Richard Poole are simply a distraction on the way.


Jordan Carter is an Auckland University student, sometime Scoop columnist, and Labour Party activist (and unlike some Young New Zealanders, isn’t ashamed to say where he’s coming from!).

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