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Latin America's Brain Drain

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LIKE flight capital in offshore banks, Latin America's best and brightest are abandoning their homelands in search of better opportunities. This brain drain dims the region's prospects for economic recovery. Speaking recently at the Organization of American States, President Luis Alberto Lacalle of Uruguay warned of ``the intellectual decapitalization of Latin America.'' He said that Latins educated in the United States and Europe are marketing themselves abroad rather than seeking jobs at home.

With the Gulf crisis causing a global capital crunch, it's unlikely that recovery plans for debtor nations will have the financial clout to help replace the nuts and bolts missing from Latin America's infrastructure.

Meanwhile, policymakers tend to overlook the cause-and-effect relationship between Latin corporatism, which subordinates individuals to the aims of the state, and the brain drain. Even as the Soviet Union acknowledges that its collectivist system can no longer create wealth and well-being, Latins continue to devote a large portion of their resources to protecting state interests.

Argentina's idea of privatization is to sell controlling interests in its state airline and telephone companies to state monopolies run by European governments. Venezuela is plowing windfall oil profits into state projects that ignore the structural weaknesses of its economy.

With the state continuing to regulate job opportunities by controlling the growth of free enterprise, young Latin professionals must decide between competing for high-wage jobs in Miami and Madrid, or driving a taxi at home.

Economic restructuring supported by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund won't by itself generate the growth that could lure back a generation of expatriate Latin professionals. But in-country programs that help bridge the north-south technology gap can provide Latin American children with educational opportunities relevant to the region's economic future.

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